1884 Mercantile Exchange Building Gets Copper Crown It Never Had

Jim Kessler guides the spire, held by a crane, onto a waiting steel frame atop the former Mercantile Exchange Building. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 02, 2013

The former Mercantile Ex­change Building at Harrison and Hudson streets in Tribeca won’t be showing its 129 years next month when, if all goes as planned, the netting comes down from the five-story red-brick structure to reveal a meticulous multi-million-dollar restoration that was a full year in the works.

But the real topper came one Sunday morning last month when a shiny copper spire, 22 feet high and weighing some 350 pounds, arrived on Harrison Street. A crane hoisted the needle-tipped crown to just above the building’s beautifully restored slate-and-copper cupola, the domed top of the building’s tower. There, workers would gingerly guide it onto a waiting steel frame.

“It was easy,” said Jim Kessler of Skyline Restoration, Inc. The 30-year roofing veteran, who had directed the installation from atop the tower, was now watching the final work from Harrison Street. “We just dropped it on top, bolted it in and that’s about all we did.”


“We went back and forth on how we were going to do this and yesterday we went to see how it was going to be rigged up,” he continued. “That’s what made it easy. Everyone communicating on how it had to be done.”

The spire, designed by B&B Sheet Metal in conjunction with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Howard Zimmerman Architects, is new to the building. Historic photos show a flagpole rising from the tower, as was common among larger industrial buildings in the area. No one seems to know how long the pole has  been gone. But the owners of the commercial co-op, the New York Mercantile Board of Governors, chose a spire to replace it. Its design along with the rest of the work got the approval of the Landmarks Pres­ervation Commission.

Overseen by Alexei Tajzler of Howard Zimmerman Architects, the restoration was required in part because of water damage as well as periodic “local law” maintenance mandated by the city. But much of the work came down to the finest detail of historic preservation, like matching new mortar to the old and using patching materials on the terra cotta that blended with the original. B&B Sheet Metal in Long Island City designed and fabricated the gleaming copper work.

Indeed, much that was old will be new or newly restored: the masonry and granite, the skylight, the windows, dor­mers and column capitals. Kessler fabricated a new copper gutter right on site, meant to help prevent the kinds of leaks the building has suffered over the years.

The exchange building’s history dates back to 1882, when the Butter and Cheese Ex­change of New York had outgrown its building at Greenwich and Chambers streets and bought land at Harrison and Hudson for what would become, in 1884, its new home designed by Thomas R. Jackson. It then took a new name: the New York Mercantile Exchange, later to be referred to as the NYMEX.

The NYMEX vacated the building for the World Trade Center in 1977, and remained there until 1994—after which when it moved to its own shiny new home in Battery Park City.

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