23 July 2008

Who the Hell Owns Colonnade Row?

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.


Francis Morrone said...

Nice post. I've been watching this lamentable decay for 29 years. FYI, La Grange Terrace--after Lafayette's estate in France--was the original name of Colonnade Row, not the neighborhood. (The excellent show at the N-Y Historical Society on Lafayette-mania is still up.) Washington Irving never resided there (nor in the neighborhood) except as a guest of one of his nephews. And the John Jacob Astor mentioned on the plaque was, I believe, John II--the one no one knows much about.

Ken Mac said...

Looks line an ancient ruin. Downright eerie. Especially as it almost across from that giant plastic blue thing glowing on Astor Place.

F&J tomorrow. Thanks for asking!

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Blue Man folks buy the entire building cuz they didn't wanna pay rent forever on their non-stop performance art? You'd think they'd want their theater to look at least a lil' inviting without going all gentro' on us. who knows?

Anonymous said...

Check out this webpage - some cool pictures and renderings of Colonnade Row, and the 1995 NY Times article talks a bit about the owners, currently listed as "Owned by CASPER R CALLEN TRUST"


Colonnade Row said...

Hi Lost City-

It's not such a big mystery - The Callen Family Trust - an old wacky NY real estate family with lots of internal conflict owns 428 & 430 - they also own several other old, historical buildings in the area and Soho/Gramercy. They sublet to another party who doesn't do anything to keep up the building and we (the residents) are usually left to deal with leaks, etc.

The Blue Man Group (as a corporation, I believe) own 432 & 434. Some of the original Blue Men live there with there families and have tricked out their residences quite luxuriously. The rest of their building house some of their BMG staff and employees along with a few hold outs from the old days and who didn't take their financial offer to move out.

My building is inhabited by the usual group of NY nuts but we get along - the building manager is an eccentric person and I'll leave it at that. We all just keep our distances.

I plan on posting more about the building history throughout the summer. That's about all I can tell you except it's a shame that the two owners can't get their act together and restore the facade or other necessary repairs like leaks and structural damage. It's a little like living in a haunted castle but the ghosts are harmless, so far.



Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks, Tim. Very illuminating. What a tragedy. I'll look forward to your posts in the future. For my part, I plan to shame these landlords as often as possible, especially the Blue Men, who ought to know better. Please don't take any offense when I do. I'm thinking about the building and New York's greater good.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post!

zomo said...

I moved to the East Village in 1974 to work with director and founder of the Colonnades Theatre Lab, Michael Lessac. They cleaned out the basement level of 428 and turned it into a theatre. The members of the company included Jeff Goldblum, Peter Scolari and Rhea Perlman, to name just a few. They had their own playwrights, composer, costume and scenic designers, and developed new plays with this ensemble. It was an exciting time to be working in off-Broadway theatre with Joe Papp across the street and other plays happening where Blue Man is now. Lessac later followed his good friend Danny DeVito out to Hollywood to work in television. Next door to the theatre, Bob Ogden built and ran the beautiful Lady Astor Restaurant, which has been completely changed over the years. Downstairs was the Colonnades Bar where all of us working on the block used to hang out. I remember Al Pacino, Eliot Feld and others being there when they were involved with shows at the Public. Out back we made a boule court and used to play in the summer for a dollar or a drink on our lunch breaks. Great times!