An update from Project Manager Chris Schneider on our effort to recreate 97 Orchard's basement.
On-site work for the architectural probes has winded down, but the conservators at Jablonski Building Conservation are already hard at work at the lab analyzing the data they’ve been collecting (material samples, paint-layer stratigraphy, molding profiles, etc). We won’t know their conclusions until next month, but we’re hoping for a lot of new information about how the basement spaces have been configured (andre-configured) over time.
In the meantime, research intern Aimee VonBokel has been able to dig up some very useful information to help connect the architectural changes in the basement at 97 to patterns of commercial use in the neighborhood. There are relatively few historical architectural records for 97 Orchard itself, but Aimee has been analyzing Tenement House Department records covering a sample of analogous buildings in the area. Like 97, these are all pre-old-law tenements, five stories tall, with raised central stoops flanked by basement storefronts. (You’ll see them in your travels around the neighborhood, usually with a lot of modern metal storefront infill on their basement and first floor levels.)With the same configuration as 97 Orchard, and with generally similar kinds of use over the years, these buildings have turned out to be useful in reconstructing how the lower floors of 97 may have arrived at their current state, and what they may have been like originally.
Here is the “B-card” sketch for 99 Orchard, the sister building to 97 (built at the same time in 1863). The oldest layer of information in the sketch shows the floorplan as of 1904, in black ink. This includes the two storefronts at the front (left), and two former apartments at the rear (right), and turns out to have been the typical layout for basements of these buildings. Later inspectors updated this sketch through the early 1920s, in red pencil. Their annotations show three major kinds of changes: Conversion of the residential space to commercial use (with the removal of many of the old partitions); removal of the stair hall (merged with the north storefront); and construction of the airshaft and hall toilets (at the top, near the center).