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Follow-up: Permits Approved for Angel Orensanz Repairs

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Firefighters outside Angel Orensanz the night of March 31, when the building was evacuated due to structural instability.
Firefighters outside Angel Orensanz the night of March 31, when the building was evacuated due to structural instability.

Three months after structural instability prompted a dramatic evacuation of a glitzy fundraiser and shut down the Angel Orensanz Center, city building officials have signed off on a $240,000 repair plan. Work on the 164-year-old building, a popular arts and events venue, is set to begin later this week or early next week, according to Donald Friedman, a principal in Old Structures, an engineering firm that specializes in historic buildings and prepared the proposal.

The repair plan for the landmarked building got the green light from the city on July 1. The Landmarks Preservation Commission had signed off on the plan in May. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, Friedman said. A more specific timeline has not been made public.

The repairs will shore up the load-bearing joists on both the first floor and the first tier of balconies that ring the main floor on three sides, according to paperwork filed with the buildings department. The upper balconies will be permanently closed to the public, according to the plan. Friedman’s investigation of the underlying problems led him to conclude: “Because the building was constructed before the use of modern building codes, and before the use of structural design in buildings, the floors do not necessarily meet the requirements of current code.” While modern building standards call for floors to support loads of 100 pounds per square foot, the floors at the Orensanz Center stood up to only 50 or 75 pounds per square foot in most places, according to Friedman’s analysis.

Some of the most significant weaknesses were discovered in the south wall, where wooden joists had rotted where they abutted the masonry wall. Additionally, significant issues were found on the western half of the north balcony, where firefighters and building department officials observed a damaged joist that led to the March 31 evacuation. Friedman noted that section of the building had been reframed since the building’s original construction. The night the building was shut down, witnesses attending a star-studded gala in support of the Soho Rep theater company reported hearing loud cracking noises near there; at the time, a bar was set up on that balcony, where guests were mingling.

The former Ansche Chesed Synagogue opened in 1850 as only the second Reform synagogue in New York. It is the oldest structure built as a synagogue in the city. Angel and Al Orensanz bought the building in 1986, after it had been abandoned for a decade, and restored the magnificent structure to its former glory. The facility is a major destination for weddings, galas and other high-profile events. One bride who was forced to move her wedding, which was scheduled at the venue less than a week after its closure, filed suit last month, seeking $53,000 in reimbursement for expenses she incurred.

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