April 2018

Clues For A Minor Mystery

by Don Friedman on April 30, 2018


We’re looking at the side wall of a small, 1920s industrial building in Brooklyn, with the front facade on the left. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.) The two street facades – the one we’re facing and the front – have some ornament constructed entirely of brick. The only non-brick masonry is the cornice cap in stone.

There’s what looks like a long vertical crack in line with the lower step in the parapet, five full brick lengths (40 inches) from the corner. I believe that’s the left edge of a filled-in window, although I can’t prove it with just the information in this photo.

The first reason I think it’s not actually a crack is that I’m stumped as to what caused it and why it’s so straight. The crack continues down to the bottom, running diagonally for the last 6 or 7 courses of brick (16 inches or more) but goes nowhere at the top. A force capable of creating a sharp linear crack like that would surely crack the brick at the top of the wall as well. There’s no evidence that the top of the wall has been rebuilt.

The second reason is more subtle, more based on brick masonry than on structural engineering. The brick pattern is common bond, where there’s am all header course every so often, with a number of stretcher courses between. The headers courses don’t line up on either side of the vertical “crack”* but they do line up below (where the diagonal crack is) and above (where there’s no crack). That seems like infill, like two separate campaigns of brickwork.

The last reason is that there are two horizontal lines associated with the top of the vertical “crack.” The first is in line with the top of the vertical, and consists of some faint irregularities in the brick joints. The second is five courses higher, and consists of a slightly wider and discolored bed joint. Those two lines seem to me as if they could be defining the bottom and top of a steel beam serving as a lintel.

A lot of field investigation starts this way, looking for minor discrepancies that might tell us something about what we can’t see. You have to like mysteries.


* As a matter of fact, left of the vertical “crack” the header courses are spaced one every six courses, while to the right it’s one every seven courses.

A Traditional View

April 30, 2018

That’s a view up Trinity Place from Rector Street, looking past the construction of the new 74 Trinity Place on the left. The building on the far left is 2 Rector Street; the building past the construction is the old – currently empty – American Stock Exchange. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, […]

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Lack Of Ornament Is Crime

April 29, 2018

The brown building in the center is an apartment hotel from around 1890; the tall building just beyond it is a hotel from circa 1930; the building on the left is an apartment house from circa 1960. Putting aside the stupidity of using white brick in New York, where it will inevitable look dingy as […]

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As The Century Progressed

April 29, 2018

That’s the intersection of Broome Street and Broadway, looking west. Again, we’ve got multiple eras in a small area. The little building with the white facade on Broadway, just above the white van, is a commercial structure from 1860, the tall building wrapped around it, with facades on both Broadway and Broome was built in […]

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The Past of the Future

April 28, 2018

As previously noted, I’m currently at the IABSE Future of Design NYC Conference. Looking forward is nothing new, of course: Here’s “Engineering as Prosperity Insurance” from 1920. Also from 1920 is Manhatta, the movie above, which was in part using architecture and engineering as a way of signifying modernity.

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Iconic Even In Terrible Movies

April 28, 2018

That’s the stepped-pyramid crown to the 1912 Bankers Trust Building on Wall Street as seen from the Equitable Building. Why a bank thought a Aztec temple was a good model for a modern building is one of life’s mysteries, but it certainly created a unique image on the skyline. The only official recognition of the Aztec […]

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Spring, Finally

April 27, 2018

Spring is here. The trees are blooming, the tourists are lining up, the sky is blue. Oh, and I was standing on top of Castle Clinton when I took the picture.

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A Pioneer, Gone

April 27, 2018

Hidden in that picture is one of the early skyscraper factories, the 1889 Western Electric Building at the corner of Thames and Greenwich Streets. Here it is, with its newer and taller neighbors cropped out: Despite its industrial use, it had some pedigree: the Western Electric Company was at the forefront of new electrical technology […]

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The Big Time

April 26, 2018

I missed the showing of “At the Corner of 3rd and 3rd,” a documentary about the Coignet Building. This is, to my knowledge, the first time a movie was made about a project we worked on. The picture above is – and I hope this is obvious – pre-restoration.

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Adaptations For Use

April 26, 2018

New York Hospital has a nice long history, dating back to a royal charter before the American Revolution. In 1932, after affiliation with the Cornell University Medical School and a number of other institutions, it moved to the building in the photo above, a skyscraper with a whole bunch of low-rise wings connected at the […]

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