Gabriel and Lucia Popian, born in Romania and trained in the conservation and restoration of murals and reliefs, as well as sculpture, have been working seven days a week lately to restore and recreate the rare sgraffito ornamentation on the 5-story, 27-unit cooperative building at 177-179 Columbia Heights. Sgraffito involves cutting away part of a surface layer to reveal a different-color ground.
The project was more than five years in its gestation while the building sought financing. Dr. Peter SanFilippo, president of the building’s board, said they finally remortgaged the building to raise the more than $300,000 it has cost for the highly ornamented first two stories, without raising maintenance or calling for special assessments. But, he said, “We’re maxed out,” and he has been unable to get any foundation grants to complete the job with replacement of the upper stories’ sandstone façade.
Dr. SanFilippo had the highest praise for his restorers. He called Gabriel Popian “a good human being who stuck with us, without raising his prices.” Lucia Popian, for her part, won two fellowships to Rome, one while living in Australia. The couple is now based in Yonkers, New York.
When last observed, Gabriel Popian was preparing to recreate two horses above the central downstairs window, based on a photograph of what they looked like originally. Dr. SanFilippo said he believes the two-part building dates from the 1880s, though he lacks documentary proof.
— Henrik Krogius