Battle Royale: Upper East Side institutions Metropolitan Club and Pierre Hotel spar over scaffolding

The gilded gates of the Metropolitan Club in 2010.
Jim Henderson via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the Upper East Side’s toniest old-money institutions are in a gold-encrusted battle for the ages over what else, but scaffolding.

The Metropolitan Club of New York, the 130-year-old members-only establishment on 5th Avenue at 60th Street, said in a lawsuit filed Friday that its neighbor, the five-star Pierre Hotel, has been “grossly negligent” of its surroundings across years of construction work to repair its facade, with inadequate scaffolding causing massive amounts of debris to rain down on the roof of its shorter neighbor.

The Metropolitan Club says the Pierre has failed to adequately address the issue, resulting in over $450,000 in damages to the landmarked 1894 structure. The Metropolitan Club says the Pierre’s owner, Indian hospitality conglomerate Taj Hotels, owes it at least that sum, which includes fees to pricey engineering and consulting firms but not the costs of interior damage from leaks and labor costs from cleanup.

The Pierre, built in 1930 with 41 stories and 714 rooms, has long been one of the city’s most luxurious hotels: the cheapest room will cost $690 per night, while a night in the penthouse suite overlooking Central Park puts you out over $20,000. The building is also home to residential apartments; one 27th-floor 6-bedroom with a magnificent park view is currently listing at over $11 million. All deals must be closed entirely in cash.

The ballroom of the Pierre HotelJohn Wisniewski via Flickr

The Metropolitan Club was founded by wealthy banker JP Morgan as an exclusive retreat for the masters of the universe, and stepping inside today, one might think they’ve been transported to the 1890s: formal attire is a requirement, and cell phones are strictly forbidden on the premises. Membership costs $5,000.

With magnificent ballrooms, both are popular spots among the Upper East Side elite for social events, like weddings and charity galas.

The relationship has been tense between the ritzy neighbors since at least 2015, the start of what the club deems a near-constant state of construction at the hotel, in order to comply with the city law requiring tall buildings to have their facade inspected every five years, and repair any violations.

The Metropolitan Club says the Pierre has not used “adequate” scaffolding in the renovation process, causing debris to routinely careen onto the roof of the club since early 2019. “Life-threatening” chunks of concrete, lumber, and other materials have damaged the roof and caused extensive leaks, while other chunks have landed on and destroyed air ducts. What’s more, particulate matter from construction work on the Pierre has caused damage to its fans, cooling tower, and HVAC units.

Property wasn’t the only thing put at risk, either: last April, the Metropolitan Club says its engineering director, Raymond Sipos, was repeatedly injured by falling debris from the Pierre; he was saved from potentially fatal head injuries thanks to wearing a hard hat.

The parties have been at an intractable impasse over how to address the concerns, according to the lawsuit. While the Pierre finally agreed to the Metropolitan Club’s demands for protective sheds to catch raining debris — recommended by engineering consultant WSP — the club says the hotel only agreed to an unacceptably limited scope, protecting only the club’s cooling tower instead of the entire roof area.

A Metropolitan Club air duct heavily damaged by fallen Pierre debris.WSP

Furthermore, in 2021, Pierre contractors allegedly cut through netting installed to prevent birds from landing and pooping on the Metropolitan Club’s roof. The club says it gave permission to the hotel to cut through the netting, but only on the condition the Pierre pay to replace it and clean up the pigeon doo; those conditions have not been met to the club’s satisfaction.

“The Pierre’s conduct evinces a reckless disregard for the rights of others and smacks of intentional wrongdoing,” the club wrote in its complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

The Pierre’s spokesperson, Janet Bartucci, said the hotel and its parent company deny “any and all wrongdoing.”

“The safety of its neighbors and the surrounding community is a top priority for THE PIERRE and Taj,” Bartucci said. “And we continue to evaluate all measures taken and hold ourselves to the highest standards.”

Calling it a “complicated matter,” Bartucci declined to comment further on the litigation.

It’s not the first time the Pierre’s construction practices have landed in court: last year, contractor Saga Management filed for a mechanic’s lien, essentially a court-backed guarantee of payment for construction services, against the Pierre, arguing the hotel had stiffed the contractor of $3.3 million out a $5 million tab. The Pierre countersued in an attempt to get the lien revoked, but a judge ultimately sided with Saga.

Scaffolding held in place for years on end has become a common sight in New York, where construction delays can stretch for eons; landlords often leave up scaffolding even if no work is being done. Last month, lawmakers introduced various bills in the City Council aimed at getting unsightly sidewalk sheds down faster, including one creating new timetables for scaffolding removal when construction is inactive, and allowing the city to step in and repair tarnished facades.

This story has been updated with comment from the Pierre Hotel.