Fourth in the “Building Strange Weather Blog” series by producer/engineer and studio owner Marc Alan Goodman. Click to start at Step 1: Finding A New Home; Step 2: Design; Step 3: Waiting For Permits (Part 1).
Williamsburg, Brooklyn: The building that’s going to house the new Strange Weather is an interesting beast. As far as I can find it was originally built in 1919 as a factory of some sort. The main structure is brick with ten-foot ceilings and nominal wooden joists (the ceiling and floor joists are actual inch measurements as opposed to dimensional lumber in which a 2 x 4 is really 1.5 x 3.25 inches).
There is part of a staircase in the basement that looks like it must have been for the factory. Then, at some point after that, two stories of apartments were built on top. These were built with dimensional lumber and to me look like they were probably intended initially as temporary housing for dock workers from the then newly constructed Williamsburg waterfront. Sometime after that, a hollow cinderblock addition was added to the first floor with slightly lower ceilings and no basement.
As far as the city is concerned, or at least as far as they would tell me, the building was put up in 1919 and a “shed for storing barrels” was added in 1925. There are no other records, no other plans. But in order to work with what we have it was necessary to do a lot of research. And by research I mean tearing open every wall I could find to see what’s going on in between. This brought a lot of both good and bad news.
Since the plans call for raising the ceiling on the rear structure where the new control room is going to sit, the first thing we needed to know is what kind of foundation, if any, was there. Which meant digging a hole. At the time, there was a 50 or so year old tree growing out of the rear wall of the building.
There was no internal damage but it seemed like the roots must be in the foundation, so the tree had to go. With the roots would hopefully come enough concrete and dirt to see what the foundation was like down there. I got six or seven estimates for the work, but one company cut me a really good deal because they were doing a job in the neighborhood and were going to have a truck there anyway.
They came in early the next morning, took the tree down and left the whole thing in my back yard. Plus they didn’t pull the stump up. The team that was supposed to come pick it up never showed, and their phone went out of service and website disappeared. All in all very strange, but they only got half of my money and it wasn’t even very much for the job so I figured something must be up.
A few weeks later I finally get a return phone call saying that one of the men had fallen out of a tree and they were out of commission for a week or two. Two weeks after that I got another call promising that they’d come take care of it as soon as possible as well as do some other work for free.
Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going — they still never showed. So after five weeks I hired Evergreen Tree Service to come in and finish the job. Then, after Evergreen were already on the way to my place, the first company calls and says they’ll be there at 9:30 the next morning. So I call Evergreen and apologize. The next day: again no show. Lesson learned. I called Evergreen back and they took care of it fast. Consider them highly recommended.
It turned out to be a really big job removing the stump, which is probably why the first company disappeared. The roots were not growing into the building as suspected, they were wrapped around a concrete bin and digging in about four feet away from the main growth of the tree. It looked like some crazy rain forest root. But since the whole tree was sitting on top of the concrete they couldn’t just take a chainsaw to it, and it took all day with a pick-axe to get the thing out.
If you’ve ever been to someone’s home in Brooklyn you may have noticed that every building has a strange free-standing iron ladder installed in the backyard. These were originally put up to hang clotheslines from, many of which are still around. The ladder at the new Strange Weather was directly in between the tree and its roots. When they removed the stump, the ladder bent all the way over across my yard, through a fence, across my neighbors yard, through their fence, and then into my third neighbors yard about eight inches away from one of his light fixtures.
I tried to move it but it must have weighed about a ton and was still connected to the concrete of my backyard. So, next I had to hire someone to come take it down without ruining my neighbor’s home, cut it up and dispose of it.
And after all this, we still had no information on the building’s foundation. So it was time to get a sledgehammer and a shovel and start tearing the backyard apart. The good news is that there’s a full four-foot foundation with a six inch footing which is plenty for what we need. The downside is that I had to smash up about 16 square feet of concrete with a sledgehammer and then dig a four and a half foot hole to find this out. I know you’re not supposed to dig a hole without permits in the city but I figured I was safe right up against the foundation. Plus it needed to get done. I just wish I could have done it five weeks earlier.
So it was good news in the end! If there was no foundation we would have had to put the building up on stilts, dig out underneath it and install a new one, which would have been, as I’m sure you can guess, extremely expensive. But not all news is good news.
Next up was the insides of the building itself, most notably all the internal walls. The basement of the building has a very old steel beam running its length immediately under the inside of the stairwell for the apartments. I imagine that when they took parts of the ceiling out to install the stairs to the upper floors, they had to move the support wall inward, so they added the beam underneath. It was good thinking. However the second and third floors still sank significantly towards the center of the building.
I needed to find out what was going on, so out came the hammer, drill, and sawzall and I started taking the ceiling of the ground floor apart. First things first I put a hand on the drop ceiling to get at the higher tin ceiling and the whole thing collapsed. Drop ceilings aren’t heavy but they fell all over my Studer 820 machines, which were luckily covered with a tarp. It was a gut wrenching moment.
After the dust cleared I could see a dark spot on the tin ceilings, which showed that there was at one time a wall up the middle of the ground floor. My guess is that between removing that wall and cutting a hole in the ceiling for a second stairwell they weakened the beams enough to start to dip the middle of the house. And if I hadn’t pulled the whole ceiling down on my head I never would have known!
Since I don’t want the whole thing to collapse in five years we have a problem. However it is a fixable problem and our solution is to attach new steel joists to all of the wood ones, effectively replacing them, in a process called “sistering.” It’s a big expense but it’s necessary for the longevity of the building so there it is. I suppose it’s about what it would have cost to pour a new foundation in the back. You win some, you lose some.
Next time I’ll get into the rest of the pre-permit process. Feel free to write with any questions!
Marc Alan Goodman
strangeweathersound at gmail dot com
Marc Alan Goodman is a producer/engineer who’s worked with artists such as Jolie Holland, Marc Ribot Shudder to Think, Dub Trio, Normal Love, Alfonso Velez, Angel Deradoorian and Pink Skull.