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Tuesday, May 17 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Architecture) Surviving Multiple Disasters: Conserving New York’s Telephone Building Murals

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In 2001 the Verizon Building, located in lower Manhattan just north of the former World Trade Center site, was significantly damaged by the terror attack of 9/11. The building sustained damage from smoke, soot, drastic fluctuations in temperature, and moisture. Further damage from soot and grit was caused following 9/11 by the proximity of the building to the enormous Ground Zero construction site.  In October 2012 the building once again found itself in an unfortunate location as the flood waters of Super Storm Sandy filled the basements and lobbies of the buildings of lower Manhattan. Water reached four feet high in the main lobby of the Verizon Building, fully submerging 3 of 5 of the buildings subbasements. The Verizon Building, originally the Barclay-Vesey Building of the New York Telephone Company, was designed by Ralph Walker of McKenzie, Voorhees, and Gmelin and built from 1923-1927.  The building is a New York City Landmark (1999), listed on the National Register of Historic Places (2009), and the lobby interior was designated a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (1991). The lobby ceiling has a wonderful early 20th Century series of 12 murals depicting the progression of communication from early Egyptians with megaphones and Aztec runners to the telephone. The decorative painting was performed by Edgar Williams and the firm of Mack, Jenney, & Tyler. The 12 murals were originally painted free-hand and are considered to be fine art.   The Verizon building underwent an extensive 3-year interior/exterior renovation following the 9/11 attack. Prior to 9/11, the murals had been extensively overpainted—if not completely repainted—in several campaigns, the last of which was executed in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The extent of overpaint visible on the surface was often difficult to clearly define given the deteriorated condition of the mural, adding another layer of difficulty to the conservation work. Additionally, following 9/11, the entire HVAC system for the building, including ducts and vents, had to be cleaned prior to the conservation work to ensure that grit did not continue to blow on the murals. Each extensive conservation project had to be performed while the site was occupied. Following Super Storm Sandy the conditions at the site that required specific treatments included: an unevenly saturated plaster substrate, migration of salts from plaster, complications from previous campaigns of overpaint, varnishes, and dissimilar media as well as blind cleavage between layers and paint instability.  EverGreene has conserved the lobby and its murals twice, once after the damage of 9/11 and again after the damage of Super Storm Sandy. Each time, a full condition assessment was conducted, laboratory tests and analyses were performed, and treatments were carried out ranging from drying out the plaster substrate, to consolidation, and the reinstatement of gilding and lost decorative painting.  The historic murals in the lobby of the Verizon Building have now undergone two extensive conservation projects and the building presents an interesting study on the significant damage caused to a historic structure by two unpredictable disasters.

avatar for Avigail Charnov-[PA]

Avigail Charnov-[PA]

Conservation Studio Manager, EverGreene Architectural Arts, Inc.
Avigail Charnov is Manager of Conservation Services at EverGreene Architectural Arts. She is an architectural conservator who has worked on historic preservation and conservation projects across America. Ms. Charnov is a Professional Associate of the AIC and worked on conserving the... Read More →

Tuesday May 17, 2016 11:00am - 11:30am EDT
Room 515