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Restoration of Historic Corbin Building

In order to create a modern subway interchange in Lower Manhattan, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) first had to contend with an exquisite antique, one that stood eight stories tall.

Ten years ago, the dilapidated Corbin Building completed, in 1889, at Broadway and John Street, seemed destined for demolition. It was interfering with the Authority’s planned Fulton Street Transit Center, intended to impose order on the chaotic convergence of subway lines at Fulton Street, thereby helping downtown recover from the 2001 terrorist attack.

Judlau Contracting was the general contractor for this project, which involved the restoration and repair of several exterior aspects of this historic building, including repair of the brick and terra cotta facade, cleaning and re-pointing masonry, removal, repair and select replacement and reinstallation of cast iron facade elements, wood windows, replacement of the roof and reconstruction of two pyramidal roof towers.

Additional updates included installing new storefronts; new interior, modifications to the floor slab and new flooring; conservation efforts including cleaning of the existing open stair case; complete new mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems and fixtures; replacement of two existing elevators; and installation of two new escalators. Key improvements and benefits included structural building reinforcement and modernizing the heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system with integrated instruments and controls.

Benefits for society

The Corbin Building was added to the United State Government’s National Register of Historic Places, in December 2003; therefore, any work on it requires special care and attention. When originally constructed in 1888-89, the building was the tallest building in New York City for a short duration. The facade is composed of ornamental terracotta, cast iron, and brownstone, while the interior features Guastavino arch ceilings, elaborate mahogany window trim and a decorative curved main staircase.

The inside of the building contains a semicircular stairwell, which is open to daylight. One of the most complex and detailed items of work was the historic staircase. The treads were originally made of solid purple slate, the rails of copper plated cast-iron, and the handrail of curved mahogany. The contract required that the replica parts be exact. Adding to the project’s complexity, the curved wooden handrail was refurbished in place. 

The New York Times praised the restoration and highlighted the building’s “architectural delights” which make it an “ornament” in downtown Manhattan. The MTA received the coveted Lucy G. Moses award, presented by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, for the project. Today, the historic Corbin Building once again stands tall and proud in Lower Manhattan, one of the most significant and visited districts in the world.