At Fulton St., checking in on the Corbin BuildingBy
A station arises at Fulton St. (Photo by Peter from Ink Lake)
Now that the MTA has a plan, a timeline and money for the Fulton St. Transit Center, the news from Lower Manhattan has slowed to a trickle. We no longer hear monthly promises of impending plans or status updates featuring more cost overruns or a delayed timeline. As Capital Construction projects go, this one is moving along smoothly right now.
As work crews continue to build atop some of Manhattan’s oldest areas and amidst landmarked buildings, the stories coming out of the Fulton St. area have taken on a different, more in-depth tone. Take, for instance, the latest from Downtown Express’ Julie Shapiro. She highlights the work at the Corbin Building, an 1889 building that abuts the new transit center.
For years, the city has neglected this beautiful building. Just twenty feet wide, it extends 160 feet down John St. and at eight stories, was one of the tallest buildings in Lower Manhattan when it opened 111 years ago. Its ties to transit extend back to its origins as it was named for Austin Corbin, the man responsible for uniting all of the Long Island-based rail lines under the LIRR umbrella.
Before Sept. 11, the building had fallen into a state of disrepair. Time had taken a toll on Francis Kimble’s intricate designs, and after Sept. 11, the building had to undergo extensive repairs. When the MTA announced initial plans for the Fulton St. Transit Center, the Corbin Building was to be demolished. After a public outcry over that plan in 2003, the MTA decided to rethink the future of the Corbin Building and asked architects to incorporate it into updated plans for the hub.
Shapiro picks up the story:
While the M.T.A. was initially against saving the building, the project team now could not be more enthusiastic about the historical details they are uncovering. “This is once in a lifetime for us,” said Uday Durg, program executive for the M.T.A., as he and [Capital Construction president Michael] Horodniceanu gave Downtown Express a tour this week. “This is not the kind of building you see every day. For an engineer, this is the highlight for us — for our whole career.”
…The belowground levels of the building are a hive of activity, as the M.T.A. builds a new foundation of steel and concrete to ensure that the building remains safe. “The foundation left quite a lot to be desired,” Horodniceanu said. “It was great for the time it was built, but not for today.”
The building’s brick supports originally went down only 20 feet below street level, and the building started sinking as the M.T.A. worked on the adjacent Fulton Transit Center. M.T.A. crews are digging down another 35 feet to underpin the building, a painstaking process that should be complete in August.
Then the preservation work will begin: The ornate reddish-brown facade will be cleaned; the intricately decorated grand staircase will be restored; and hidden historical gems, like the original boiler, will be displayed. The building will also get a new roof, new windows and a storefront restored to look just like it did in 1917.
Eventually, these historical elements of the Corbin Building will be incorporated into straphangers’ every-day rides. An escalator will take riders from the depths up Fulton St. past original arches and building boilers. Eventually commercial retailers and maybe even a museum will return to the Corbin Building.
For too many years, New York City has been willing to pile modernism on top of history. A walk around Lower Manhattan reveals little of the 400-year legacy of the Dutch colony and early New York. In the Bronx, even the original Yankee Stadium is being deconstructed. By at the corner of John St. and Broadway, the Corbin Building will remain, incorporated into a 21st Century transit center and serving as a nod to the city’s sometimes-forgotten past.