Colonnade Row, the spectacular sweep of marble residences on Lafayette Street fronted by majestic, two-story Corinthian columns, is arguably one of the most poorly maintained, working landmark buildings in the City. I first laid eyes on it in 1988 and thought it grand, but in a monstrous state of deterioration.
Well, nothing's been done to it since. There used to be nine houses, making for an even more imposing facade. Now there are only four. When they were built in 1833, the area above Houston was the City's fashionable district. It was called La Grande Terrace back then, and houses were sold to the Astors, Vanderbilts and Gardiners and author Washington Irving. A few decades later they were out of fashion, and the downfall began.
Back in 1923, the Times reported in 1995, a Princeton architectural student studied the buildings and noted "the marble is disintegrating very rapidly, and portions have been covered with a plaster coat of cement, applied without any regard for the original motives." Imagine what the student would think now. I am surprised the pillars are still standing or that people are allowed to live inside. The columns are chipped and discolored. There are cracks in the ceiling. Ornamentation is fast falling away. I noticed some defunct old Christmas lights wrapped around one column.
The buildings were among the first to be honored by the Landmarks Commission back in 1965. If ever there was a case for the Commission to come down on the heads of a derelict landmark owner, it's this one. The jerks don't ever keep their landmark sign in good condition! A sign inside the lobby lists something called Colonnade Management as the owner. A certificate listing building inspections shows that the most recent one was in 2001.
One Tim Ranney started an interesting blog this year called Colonnade Row. The man actually lives in the building. He reports, "The Colonnade is still a home to about 50 people in various types of apartments - some are the original ornate rooms with elaborate crown moldings and white marble fireplaces, others have been cut up and modified into smaller units, and a couple are very swank, tricked-out, multi-story townhouses... Today, the Colonnade is dirty, decaying, and somewhat decadent. And, frankly, that's exactly the way I like it. A lot has gone on here over the past 175 years which I will be getting into later. The facade was supposed to have been restored a few years back but that fell through and I wouldn't be surprised if it's never fixed up. I'd thought of starting a Save The Colonade non-profit, but couldn't get the cooperation of the owners and had to abandon that idea."
Couldn't get the cooperation of the owners. Whaddaya know.