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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.