Preservation Spotlight – Ornamental Plaster Restoration at the Scott House

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One of the most noticeable and impressive aspects of the Scott House at Virginia Commonwealth University is the ornamental plasterwork throughout the house.  Noted Italian-born plasterer and sculptor Ferruccio Legnaoili was known to have worked on the house, but several decorative elements were also commonly available through ready-made ornament firms like The Decorators Supply Company in Chicago.  The Scott House appears to be a combination of custom and stock ornamentation, with a water-damaged band of frolicking putti requiring custom replication in the Master Bedroom.

Completed in 1911, the 18,000 sf residence was designed by Noland & Baskervill Architects for Frederic W. Scott and his family.  A previous Preservation Spotlight highlighted the stained glass restoration in the Breakfast Room, but ornamental plaster detailing is present in nearly every room. 

Main Hall of the Scott House (Virginia Hamrick Photography)
View into the Dining Room of the Scott House (Virginia Hamrick Photography)
Dining Room of the Scott House (Virginia Hamrick Photography)
Living Room of the Scott House (Virginia Hamrick Photography)

Florentine artist Ferruccio Legnaoili came to the US to work for Sandford White in 1902 when he was working at the University of Virginia.  Legnaoili ended up settling in Richmond in 1907 where he established his own studio and worked on numerous projects, including theatres, banks, churches, office buildings, private residences and statues.  

The Noland & Baskervill drawings did not call out catalog numbers for the ornamental plaster, as they had for the exterior decorative copper panels on the Breakfast Room, but they did include detailed drawings for the location and character of the plasterwork.  This work could have been ordered from a catalog, designed and executed by Legnaoili, or a combination of both.

Noland & Baskervill Drawing for the Finish in Main Hall, 1908

As part of Glavé & Holmes Architecture’s scope for the rehabilitation of the Scott House for Virginia Commonwealth University, the Second Floor former Master Bedroom required extensive restoration of the ornamental plaster frieze, cornice and decorative ceiling elements from water damage.  In fact, water infiltration below the Third Floor set back damaged many of the Second Floor ceiling joist ends and five rooms required structural and plaster repairs.  The former Master Bedroom was one such example of the plaster restoration that was carried out.  After repairing the source of the water infiltration and sistering the ceiling joist ends, general contractor Kjellstrom & Lee brought in plaster specialists F. Richard Wilton Co. to repair and replicate the damaged and missing plaster.

Water damage to the Second Floor former Master Bedroom ornamental plaster prior to restoration.

Detail of the ornamental plaster frieze, cornice and ceiling decoration in the Master Bedroom.

The Decorators Supply Company, which has been in business in Chicago since 1883 and still produces many of the historic elements from the same molds, had a very similar frieze of putti, but it did not match exactly what was installed at the Scott House.

The Decorators Supply Company catalog No. 121.
A similar frieze to that in the former Master Bedroom of the Scott House.

Not finding the exact moldings still in production, F. Richard Wilton proceeded to make molds of the elements in need of replication.  From these molds, replacement pieces were cast for reinstallation.  Small replacements were affixed to the restored flat plaster base with wet plaster.  Heavier cornice and frieze elements were tied back into the wall structure and utilized hemp strands to support the plaster mixture.

Preparing to make a mold of intact ornamental plaster elements to replace damaged and missing ones.
Plaster molds on site.
Reproduced plaster details ready for reinstallation.
Before Restoration
During Restoration
During Restoration
The restored ornamental plasterwork in the former Master Bedroom of the Scott House.

Using traditional materials and methods ensured a compatible bond between old and new work.  The final result seamlessly replicated the damaged or missing original plaster elements to restore the unified design throughout the space. 

Preservation Spotlight – Restoring Curved Stained Glass Windows

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When Virginia Commonwealth University decided to embark on a rehabilitation of the Scott House, it was evident that the stained glass windows of the ornate Breakfast Room would require specialized repairs.  The deflection of the glass was to the point of physically separating from the metal matrix that joins the pieces of glass, known as cames, posing a threat to the physical integrity of the windows.  Adding a layer of complexity to the challenge was the fact that each window was curved and the cames were zinc, not the typical lead.

The Scott House, completed in 1911, was designed by Noland & Baskervill Architects for Frederic W. Scott and his family.  The impressive residence of over 18,000 sf includes a particularly ornamental copper-clad Breakfast Room (the Conservatory on original plans).  The one-story structure includes domed apses to the south and east with casement windows incorporating clear and textured glass with stained glass garlands of ivy on opalescent glass.

1907 drawing by Noland & Baskervill showing the Breakfast Room to the right.

1910 revised plans for the Breakfast Room.

A detailed condition assessment with recommendations and specifications was carried out by Richmond stained and leaded glass conservator, Scott Taylor, to establish the scope of repairs early on.  Significant deflection was evident on all the windows, stressing solder joints and enabling the glass panes to separate from the cames.  This not only enabled water infiltration, but threatened the structural integrity of the windows.  It was determined that a 100% restoration of the zinc matrix was required in the areas of the clear and textured glass.  A limited amount of broken glass was also identified for replacement, but the painted ivy sections were to be minimally treated and left intact.

The windows prior to restoration. 
The windows prior to restoration. 
The windows were sagging, solder joints failing and the glass separating from the zinc cames.

A detail of the painted and fired ivy detail, as well as cracked clear glass, prior to restoration.

 

Wayne Cain of Cain Architectural Art Glass completed the restoration work, starting with the careful removal of each window and transportation of them to his studio in Bremo Bluff, Virginia.  Prior to disassembly, a vellum rubbing was made of each window and then each piece of glass was removed one by one and placed on the templates to ensure reinstallation into their exact positions.  Reproduction glass was sourced for broken or incompatible replacement glass elements and the ivy garland features were removed whole. 

A rag vellum rubbing of one of the windows prior to disassembly.  

Platforms with each piece of glass in order.
Opal glass ivy garlands were kept intact.

All glass to be reinstalled was carefully cleaned and then reassembled in its original locations with any reproduction pieces into a new zinc matrix.  A custom substrate matching the original curve was constructed as a working bed.  Reinforcement bars were added at continuous horizontal locations on the exterior in order to provide additional support, while remaining visually unobtrusive.  The wood sashes were restored and the windows were reinstalled in their original locations.   In order to provide increased thermal performance as well as protect the historic windows, custom curved glass exterior panels were added as a final improvement.   

Example of cracked crinkle glass.
Original crinkle glass to match on left; reproduction crinkle glass on right.  
Custom curved working platforms.
Custom curved working platforms.
Reassembled window with new zinc cames.
Final result: Reinstalled in the Breakfast Room.
Custom curved glass storm windows were installed on the exterior of each window in order to provide improved thermal performance and physical protection.     
The restored Breakfast Room windows.

The final result retained the original character of the windows and allows them to fully complement the architectural beauty of the restored Breakfast Room.  The added structural support and custom exterior curved glass provide additional protection to ensure the windows survive for future generations to enjoy.

Lori Garrett Succeeds Randy Holmes as President of Glavé & Holmes Architecture

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Glavé & Holmes Architecture announced today that Lori Garrett, FAIA, LEED Green Associate has been named President of the firm. Garrett succeeds Randy Holmes, FAIA, who was President of the firm for 21 years. Holmes will continue to serve as a Senior Principal and focus on business development.

Lori, who has been at Glavé & Holmes for 17 years, will continue to lead projects she is managing for the firm’s Higher Education Studio. As President, she will provide strategic guidance and empower the firm to meet its goals. 

“Lori is a phenomenal leader who will continue to inspire and empower our entire team,” Randy recently noted. “This leadership transition continues our firm’s evolution and positions Glavé & Holmes for an exciting future as a woman-led and majority women-owned architecture firm.”  

With this transition, Glavé & Holmes becomes the largest woman-led architecture firm in the Commonwealth of Virginia and Lori joins a select few women in the country to lead architecture firms with over 60 employees. 

“Our firm has earned an unparalleled reputation for excellence and crafting solutions of enduring quality,” Lori said. “I see a bright future ahead because we are well positioned to meet the evolving needs of our clients and communities.”  

This change will have a minimal impact on our day-to-day operations. All project teams will remain the same and both Lori and Randy will continue to manage projects they are leading.

Lessons Learned at the Traditional Building Conference in Coral Gables

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Freedom Monument outside of the admissions building, Radcliff Hall, at Longwood University

Our team hosted a discussion about Historic Monuments, Diversity and Design at the recent Traditional Building Conference in Coral Gables. The team included W. Taylor Reveley, president of Longwood University, moderated by Lori Garrett of Glavé and Holmes Architecture, Steven W. Semes, Professor of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, C.J. Howard, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Planning, The Catholic University of America and Randy Holmes, Glavé and Holmes Architecture.  The panel exchanged ideas with the audience about a sensitive topic: what to do with monuments that memorialize slave owners and despots.

Click the link below to see highlights and what other panels were offered at the conference:
https://www.traditionalbuilding.com/opinions/lessons-learned-tbcs-coral-gables

Bring Renewed Purpose and Civic Pride to Traditional Municipal Centers

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Vibrant civic centers are a defining characteristic of a great many cities, towns and counties across the United States, and often linked to the historic roots of the community. There’s been a refreshing push in recent years to transform historic and aging buildings into modern facilities that continue to serve as civic gathering spaces rather than construct new municipal buildings on a greenfield site far from the traditional town center. With technology-dominated lives and an all too familiar sense of disconnection from others, ensuring physical gathering places and a sense of in-person connection, such as a courthouse green or town square, is more important than ever.

Read the full article by our Director of the Urban Architecture Studio, Andrew B. Moore AIA, LEED AP BD+C, CDT, by clicking the link above!

JE=DI Committee Introduction Message

Glavé & Holmes Architecture believes in elevating every human spirit. Only through focused and intentional action can this be achieved. As a firm, we are dedicated to educating ourselves about the experiences and challenges of our colleagues to cultivate a safe and welcoming workplace. We commit ourselves to expanding and diversifying our teams to better serve our clients. We believe we can positively impact the lives of those in our office and community, contributing to a just and equitable future for everyone.

To help us realize these goals, we have started a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (JE=DI.) Comprised of multiple disciplines and experience levels within the firm, including our Leadership Team, this group facilitates office-wide discussions regarding JE=DI issues and works with firm leadership to introduce and revise office policies to create a more welcoming work environment. The group also facilitates the office-wide participation in local events that help the underserved in our community.

We are continuously looking for ways we can improve the impact we have on our employees and community. In the last year, we started:

  • working with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities to provide education about implicit bias and group discussion facilitation,
  • recruiting from local Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs),
  • instituting a firm-wide volunteer day, and
  • increasing the flexibility of our paid time off for the observation of non-Federally observed holidays.

Building on the momentum of this past year, we are committed to continue creating space for this topic and evaluating our policies and actions to ensure focused growth as a firm. Watch for updates about our involvement as we learn from and participate more within our community.

Preservation Spotlight – Branch House Fireproof Construction

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What began with fixing a leaking pipe turned into a forensic exploration of the bones of the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, designed as a mansion by John Russell Pope for the Branch family.  Even though the plumbing system is nearing the end of its life, the structure of the house was built to survive the fires that occurred throughout Richmond’s history. University Circle, historically the domain of UVA professors, was roofed with ordinary asphalt shingles, but the hips and overhangs were softly curved, lending the house a very distinctive appearance in this otherwise safely Jeffersonian Charlottesville neighborhood.

Glavé & Holmes’ work at the Branch House included replacement strategies for the 102-year-old plumbing lines.  It was more challenging than expected because the building’s construction consists of concrete floor slabs and Pyrobar (gypsum block) walls.  This meant that it was very difficult to trace and replace pipes, but was informative as to fireproof construction strategies in the early twentieth century.

Branch House Structural Framing Plan (December 1916).

Part of the drawing set from John Russell Pope’s office, dated 1916, included structural drawings by the Fireproof Contractors Corporation in New York City.  This showed that the house’s fireproof design was deliberate in the early design phase of the project.  It appears construction followed the design specifications to protect the building from fire, which consists of concrete slabs supported by the brick exterior and central internal bearing walls with some steel beams and columns where needed for longer spans. Walter Dotts of the Old House Authority, and a direct descendent of John Kerr and Beulah Gould Branch, suspects a massive fire at Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel in 1901 factored significantly in the decision to make the house fireproof, as well as Richmond’s rather strict fire protection building practices at the time. 

While building with concrete dates back at least to the ancient Romans, it did not become a common commercial building material until the latter part of the 19th century when engineers experimented with reinforced concrete – in which iron and, later, steel rods embedded in the concrete helped with tensile forces in spans.  The building industry was not only interested in the novelty of reinforced concrete at the start of the 20th century but in finding ways to make it affordable by reducing the cost of on-site building of formwork.  The Branch’s slab design included one of these products, a metal tile [i.e. pan] system that is a forerunner to today’s steel decking for concrete slabs.  After researching several textbooks printed between 1900 and 1915 on common construction techniques and concrete design for buildings, G&HA architectural historian Fred Esenwein was able to decipher the structural drawings and trace the manufacturer of the metal tiles to the General Fireproofing Company based in Youngstown, Ohio.

To maintain a highly protected building, the non-structural partition walls are made of a fire-resistant material called Pyrobar, first identified by the project’s contractor Daniel & Company.  It was a product made by the U.S. Gypsum Company starting in 1903 as an alternative to terra cotta tile and in production until the 1960s when drywall became a dominate material with tested fire-resistance.  The name is likely a hybrid of pyro meaning “fire” and bar shorten from “barrier.” It is a hollowed-out molded block and looks similar to concrete block except it is about twice the size as standard concrete block and the primary material is gypsum instead of cement.  The block faces have a wavy surface so that plaster can be applied directly to the blocks.  It is usually found in buildings requiring stringent fire protection, such as civic buildings such as schools and courthouses, and less commonly found in residential construction. 

As fascinating as this construction is as a history of building technology, it has posed challenges in efforts to determine the locations of pipes, because pipes have been discovered embedded in the Pyobar walls and are possibly embedded in parts of the concrete floor slabs.  Selective demolition in this construction system also poses higher risk to damaging historic finish materials such as ornamental plaster ceilings and ceramic tile walls.  The approach has been to incrementally introduce new plumbing lines concealed where cavities exist between the slab and finished ceiling or to route the pipes exposed in service areas out of public view, which has been done dating back to the 1919 construction of the house.  Having to work around the 1919 fireproof construction gives new meaning to the phrase “they don’t build ‘em like they used to.”

Underside of the concrete floors at the Branch Museum.  The ribbing comes from the steel tile formwork. 
Cross-section of a Pyrobar block with plaster applied directly to the outside face. 
The Brody Jewish Student Center was completed in 2019 with a dimensional asphalt roof simulating the bent cedar shingles.

Pyrobar from US Gypsum Company brochure, 1919.
Inside the ceiling cavity at the Branch House.  Many GF Steel Tiles remain in place (brown surfaces).  The white Pyrobar wall is visible at the lower portion of the image; note the wavy lines on the surface for plaster adhesion.  Both materials were common fireproofing assemblies in the early 20th century.

 

Colleges and Universities Should Invest in Outdoor Spaces

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Lake Matoaka Amphitheatre at the College of William & Mary

We think colleges and universities should invest in outdoor spaces!


We all have certainly felt the pandemic’s effects across offices and functions, and now is a great time to evaluate how campus spaces have evolved and what changes are likely to be permanent. Read more about how these outdoor spaces are worth investing in from Lori Garrett, FAIA, a senior principal at our firm.

Click the link below to learn more:
https://www.appa.org/facilities-manager/colleges-and-universities-should-invest-in-outdoor-spaces/

Preservation Spotlight – A Simulated Thatched Roof

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An odd feature caught our eye while rehabilitating the historic Brody Jewish Student Center in Charlottesville. This very artistic house on University Circle, historically the domain of UVA professors, was roofed with ordinary asphalt shingles, but the hips and overhangs were softly curved, lending the house a very distinctive appearance in this otherwise safely Jeffersonian Charlottesville neighborhood.

Last time, we looked at the carved helical newel post at the Brody Jewish Student Center in Charlottesville, which was restored in collaboration with Charlottesville-based contractor Martin Horn, Inc. The 1914 house, designed by accomplished local architect Eugene Bradbury, featured another unique design element: a roof type otherwise unknown to the Charlottesville area.  Interior inspection showed that the framing at the valleys and ridge was curved, as were the eaves. In fact, the house was originally covered by a shallow hipped roof that made use of a roofing system popularized by American wood shingle manufacturers in the 1910s and 20s to resemble thatch.

A 1945 photograph of the Brody Jewish Student Center shows a wood shingle roof with curving thatch-like edges.

The trend for “American Thatch” was fostered by manufacturers like the Creo-Dipt Co. of New York and the Edam Co. of Minnesota. The curved portions of the roof were often required to have a minimum radius of 20” to place the curved shingles, which were bent at the factory.
Example of steam bent shingle roofing from the early 20th century.
Example of steam bent shingle roofing from the early 20th century.
A cedar roof replaced with asphalt shingles.
The Brody Jewish Student Center was completed in 2019 with a dimensional asphalt roof simulating the bent cedar shingles.

The Brody Center’s roof had been replaced with asphalt shingles at mid-century, when the cedar shingles wore out. The roof retained some character but with a much less robust effect. While the budget didn’t permit the recreation of the wood shingle roof, G&HA made sure the radius at the hips, ridge and eaves was maintained, and that a medium grade of shingles was used which would provide a similar thickness to the cedar shingles while permitting a similar tight curve of the junctures and eaves.

The final product, with its distinctive silhouette, preserves a historic character-defining detail and is an enhancement to the neighborhood.

 

Preservation Spotlight – Restoring a Helical Newel Post

One recent project found us briefly stumped over a battered ornamental newel post. We did some research and found out a lot more than the building owner expected. G&HA Project Manager Linda Coile, working with our in-house preservation specialists, was able to turn it into a miniature triumph of sorts.

One of Glavé & Holmes’ recent projects illuminates the interesting quirks found in significant historic properties and the technical innovation and historic expertise needed to make them whole when they have been damaged through hard usage over time.  The Brody Jewish Center, located in the University Corner neighborhood in Charlottesville, has served as a student center for Jewish students at the University of Virginia since 1949.

Watts House in 1945, before it became the Jewish Student Center.

The compact, two-story, stuccoed brick house incorporates details derived from English Arts and Crafts country houses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The architect included some details that are associated with American Colonial Revival designs.

The historic building was originally a residence completed in 1914 for Professor Stephen H. Watts and his family. It represents architect Eugene Bradbury’s work, one of the most innovative and accomplished designers working in Charlottesville in the early twentieth century. The Brody Jewish Center engaged the team of Martin Horn and Glavé & Holmes Architecture to evaluate and rehabilitate the historic portion of the existing facility. 

The restored entry hall at the Brody Jewish Student Center

As might be expected from the exterior, the interior of the Watts-Hillel House is provided with a high degree of finish and detail. The most significant interior is the entry passage. This is treated as a fully paneled 18th-century hall with an elegantly detailed staircase. The stair features wide paneled tread ends supported by applied scrolled brackets, three turned balusters per tread, ramped and eased molded rail with helical turned “barley sugar” secondary newels, and a substantial turned bottom newel with an undercut double helix surround. This masterful example of craftsmanship had been treated roughly by generations of students and was hardly recognizable. The helical portion had broken mostly off.

GH&A architectural historian Gibson Worsham recognized the detail from past reading. With a little focused research on the kinds of books available to the architect in 1914, he identified it as being derived from an important New England house dating from 1755.  The carved newel in the Mary Lindall House in Salem, Massachusetts, has the same form, but the Charlottesville example, while incorporating the helical surround, had been much simplified.

The newel was judged to be too damaged to restore and instead a copy was made by the millwork shop at Gaston and Wyatt in Charlottesville, produced on a CNC Router. Here is the final result!