posted 2012-03-22 00:40:43

Thomas Hunter Hall Unveiled After Restoration Project

Historical landmark is revived and restored

Jenady Garshofsky


Thomas Hunter free of scaffolding and black netting. Photograph by John Bolger.
Many students have never marveled at the architectural majesty of Thomas Hunter Hall, Hunter College’s oldest building and historical landmark – that is because it had been covered by scaffolding for the past two years. Now, after an ambitious restoration project, Thomas Hunter Hall is being unveiled from the black netting and scaffolding which has hid the building’s intricate crenellations and gargoyles from the eyes of students.

Rick Chandler, assistant vice president for facilities, told the Envoy that the $10 million restoration project entailed repairing the façade to replace loose and spalled stones, as well as to replace and refurbish the building’s windows. The project is now nearly complete with only four windows remaining to be replaced, according to Director of Planning and Construction Ed Pearlmutter. The restoration was managed and funded by the Dormitory Authority State of New York, which offers financial and construction services to public and private universities.

Hunter College was required to perform the restoration by the New York City Department of Buildings, which assesses the façades of buildings every five years to determine whether a building is safe, unsafe, or safe with the need for repairs.

The restoration project also included “repointing the building’s deteriorated joints to prevent water infiltration, and [power washing] this landmark building to restore its original color,” Chandler said. Another key point was to replace windows of the building to “improve energy efficiency and sound abatement.” Roof work was also done.

While the scaffolding has been up for a while, Pearlmutter said he thought the project took longer to complete than necessary or expected because of difficulties in communication between contractors and faculty and students of the school. Contractors had to plan their construction around the schedules of students and faculty using the building. Thomas Hunter Hall houses most student organizations and club spaces as well as the Student Resource Center, the Writing Center, classrooms and the dance department.

Decorative ornaments on Thomas Hunter Hall, previously hidden by scaffolding. Photos by Jenady Garshofsky and John Bolger.
Thomas Hunter Hall, designed by C.B. J. Snyder and erected in 1912, resonates a gothic revivalist structure. With the black netting removed and scaffolding in process of being fully disassembled, the Hunter and the Upper East Side communities can once again look at the building’s decorative elements such as: gargoyles, castle like crenellations, arched windows, spires and ornaments depicting mysterious-looking faces. The fifth edition of the American Institute of Architects’ Guide to New York City cites Thomas Hunter Hall as having “an academic shell” similar to Ivy League universities like Yale and Princeton, so as to create an environment to “suggest higher education.”

While discussing Thomas Hunter Hall’s history, Pearlmutter pulled down an old photograph from his corkboard. A Ford Model T is parked in front of Thomas Hunter Hall, and he stared at the iconic image, which was taken in 1915. The building once sported a terrace walkway which wrapped around the building above the fifth floor, but the partition as well as access to the area has long since been removed.

Nearly 100 years since it’s erection, one of the building’s spires is damaged, it’s peak mysteriously missing. Chandler assured the Envoy that “the spiral ornament to which you refer was not affected during this renovation. There are no plans at this time to recast the missing piece of stone.” The cut-off spire can be seen from the third floor bridge, standing directly to the right of the bridge as one walks towards the North Building.

Aside from the aesthetic improvement to the campus, some students are happy to see the scaffolding come down for the safety of club spaces. Earlier this semester the Envoy reported a string of burglaries that occurred in Thomas Hunter Hall, raising concern to the misuse of the scaffolding which gave intruders easy access to the office windows from the street. Offices which were repeatedly broken into included the offices of The Envoy, The Olive Tree Review and the College Association.

Jennifer Yeung, 20, an English Creative Writing major, and the editor in chief of the Olive Tree Review, said she was excited about the scaffolding removal. “I’m pretty relieved,” Yeung said. “We started locking our windows, but we feel safer now.”

From outside Hunter West, Hunter students can gaze at the historical landmark and appreciate its architectural beauty. Stanislav Chernobayev, a 23-year- old senior studying Russian language said “Now that it’s [the scaffolding] down, I can sit outside and enjoy the view. It’s beautiful.”

William P., a Hunter Alumni, spends a lot of time outside Hunter’s main campus managing the used book stand. “ It is nice to see the historical building [Thomas Hunter Hall] and the façade. It’s cool that they cleaned [the building] up.”

Rebecca Bass, a 24-year-old English major said Thomas Hunter Hall is “beautiful ... I know people who went to high school at Thomas Hunter in the 60s, and they are very fond of Thomas Hunter.”