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Building Conservation Associates

Central Park Police Precinct

Location: New York, New York 
Year Built: 1871 
Original Architect: Jacob Wrey Mould 

The Central Park Police Precinct, a national and New York City landmark located on the site of the original Central Park stable complex, has been home to the New York City Police Department since 1936. Designed by Jacob Wrey Mould, and erected between 1869 and 1871, the stable complex was intended by park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux to form part of the Greensward Plan’s park administration complex, which was to include a police station, four other utilitarian buildings, and a central location from which to manage the park. Because the Greensward Plan concept for Central Park called for “beautiful open green space,” Mould designed the complex at the depressed transverse level, i.e., below the main park level, so that it would not interrupt the park vistas designed by Olmstead, sinking the architecture below the level of the old Croton Reservoir retaining wall along the deep-set 85th Street transverse road to ensure an unobtrusive siting in what was to be a peaceful bucolic environment.

The Central Park stable complex, one of the few extant examples of High Victorian Gothic polychromic masonry architecture in New York City, has polychrome masonry and gothic “cottage” features such as gabled dormers, slate roofing, and multi-light glazing. The brownstone, light yellow sandstone, schist, brickwork, bluestone, encaustic tile, sheet copper flashing, and slate roofing contribute to the picturesque appearance of this Greensward development. The stable and open sheds were built in 1871, and the adjacent Keeper's House one year later; together they enclose an open central courtyard. Three major alterations to the complex architecture resulted in the present building configuration. In 1915, after over 40 years as a stable, the complex was electrified, the open sheds were enclosed with wood-panel walls, and the east end of the shed buildings were converted into a garage. By 1936, further use as a garage resulted in the loss of the horse stalls and most of the interior stable furnishings. Modifications for the police precinct in 1936 resulted in major reconstruction on the south and east walls of the stable facing the courtyard and the complete enclosure of the open sheds with brick walls. In 1958, a fire destroyed most of the interior and roofs at the east end of the complex, which soon after was rebuilt to match the original architecture. The complex continued to function as a police station until 2002.

This project involved a complete rehabilitation of the building to restore the historic fabric, provide space for contemporary program needs, and bring the stationhouse to 21st century standards. BCA was the historic preservation consultant, overseeing the façade restoration design and conducting preservation design review of all new elements. In 2002 BCA conducted a comprehensive assessment of the complex that included the stone masonry of the exterior walls and dormers, the wood timbers that support the roof, and all the windows and doors. BCA's findings provided ample justification for a comprehensive restoration of all the exterior fabric. The NYPD moved into a temporary stationhouse adjacent to the site, and the project design team initiated the design process to return the complex to the appearance of its 1935 historic period of significance. The design for the restoration had to protect historic fabric, accommodate the programmatic needs of the police department, and modernize the facility.

The conservation of the existing fabric of the original buildings included the cleaning and re-pointing of the original masonry; the removal, resizing, retooling, and reinstallation of as much original stone as possible; and the installation of new stone to match the historic. It also included the restoration of the original decorative slate roof pattern and copper roof elements, and the conservation of the remaining historic barn-loft doors, hayloft hooks, and decorative Minton tile. The cast iron columns, previously encapsulated in the brick masonry—now revealed—and the replica windows and doors have new finishes matching the earliest known decorative schemes.

Building security issues required solutions such as the use of bullet-resistant windows and replica steel doors successfully fabricated to match the dimensions and appearance of the originals. The functional programming solutions for the NYPD required strict adherence to modern building codes, as well as modification to NYPD program requirements in order to marry the program to the existing building configuration and transform an elegant though utilitarian park building into a showpiece for the New York City Police Department.

In order to provide the NYPD with the necessary space to upgrade their technology, security, and communications systems, this project implemented adaptive reuse designs that transformed the old stable building into a modern police station. The addition of a low-scale lightweight glass-and-copper canopy over a portion of the existing open courtyard allows the complex to function in harmony with its original design intent. The new roof reaches no higher than the original rooftop skylights installed in 1915 and does not disturb existing viewsheds. The transparent self-supporting glass curtain wall incorporating bullet-resistant glass creates additional new interior space, giving the stationhouse the maximum circulation space possible, while maintaining the open-air feeling of the entire original courtyard. The courtyard once again serves as the organizing principal for the complex. All stationhouse functions now center on the new lobby and main desk, which occupy the newly enclosed courtyard space. The structural glass wall and the bullet-resistant windows and doors protect the occupants while creating a welcoming appearance for the public and allow visitors to fully appreciate the restored façade of the old stable.

The adaptive reuse of the CPPP strikes a harmonious balance between new functions and historic features. The respectful intersection of old and new does not detract from the historic character of the building, because it can still be experienced in its entirety. This modern intervention assures active, respectful stewardship, and illustrates how preservation is relevant in today’s world.

Awards: New York Landmarks Conservancy Lucy Moses Award 2012