Archive for the ‘Historic Preservation’ Category

Saving an Old Lady   Leave a comment

Saving an Old Lady

This 30 foot stained glass and lead dome was restored by Dennis Kowal Architects in concert with the entire building restoration.

The lead and glass dome was in such poor condition, the Owner had installed a plywood ceiling to catch the falling glass and to protect the public.  Dennis Kowal Architects (DKA) saved the dome from an uncertain fate with a full historic restoration plan.  The dome constructed in 1910 is located at the center of Winchester, Virginia; a city that changed hands 70 times during the Civil War.

Years of neglect resulted in bird, dust and pollution deposits on the back of the dome rendering the dome a dark, streaked mess.

Scaffolding was erected above to clean, replace, repair and reinforce the high vaulting dome.  Over 5,000 individual panes were inspected, identified and restored per instructions specific to each condition.  Many of the panes were missing or cracked.

Painstaking restoration under the direction of DKA repaired the cracked glass pieces, re-set the fallen pieces, replaced the missing pieces and fortified the entire structure with new supports and clips.

Apart from physical impact, the glass in a leaded glass installation is relatively long-lasting.  It is the deterioration of the skeleton structure that is the most common threat. Here the structure was reinforced before final cleaning of the repaired dome commenced. Federal preservation standards note that in many cases “minor cracks, sagging and oxidation are part of the character of historic leaded glass and require no treatment.” However, in this case, the dome was failing; needing reinforcement, new glass panes and repair to broken panes.

The entire dome was surveyed and treated on a pane by pane basis.  Note the replacement glass (in the prior photo) evidenced by the slightly different color which is not noticeable from below.

The Handley Regional Library is considered the finest example of Beaux Arts Architecture in the state of Virginia because it carries the proportions, materials and unique elements like the leaded glass dome and iron and glass floors.  Dennis Kowal Architects researched the insignias placed at the four compass points of the dome.  Each represents a printers mark.  A “printer’s mark” is a symbol used as a trademark by early printers starting in the 15th century.  Here the dolphin and anchor are the 16th century trademark of Aldus Pius Manutius, a Venetian publisher who is know as the inventor of the italic typeface.

The final result is a spectacular leaded glass dome with brilliant colors which were highlighted by placing an electric light above the dome.  Originally, the dome was only lit by natural light from eight circular windows above; which never quite reached the peak and left an overly dark, colorless center.  Kowal reported “Seeing the dome restored and backlit for the first time since it was installed in 1910 was breathtaking.  Details which were not apparent because of the dim previous lighting were now fully revealed.

Dennis Kowal Architects preserves the past.

 

 

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Ben Franklin bares all!   1 comment

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Ben Franklin bares all!

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The houses and print shop owned by Ben Franklin still exist on Market Street in Philadelphia.

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Originally owned by Benjamin Franklin, the former tenant house at 318 Market Street is a unique museum that reveals more than Benjamin Franklin’s history. Unlike most house museums, 318 Market does not represent a specific moment in history or one family’s experience within the house and the City. Walls of the Franklin house have been “stripped bare”  to reveal the changes made from the time it was built in 1787 to the present. The history of the house is documented by scars on the walls that show where the partitions once stood and where architectural elements, like fireplaces, were once located.   Physical details that are still visible represent the entire history of the house and all of its owners from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.  Dennis Kowal AIA worked with the National Park Service to explain this history and develop a Museum about Ben Franklin’s involvement in the construction of the his houses.

Franklin loved to watch construction and called it “an old man’s amusement” (the name of the Museum as well).

The tools used to build houses like these and the methods employed are the features of the museum.  This original display window still contains the “bulls eye” glass that was hand blown for this purpose.   A “bulls eye” is a round thickened bulge in the glass where the glass blower removed his pontil  (blow pipe).   During the 18th and early 19th century, molten glass was blown into a “crown” (globe shape) and then spun and flattened into a large glass disk using centrifugal force.  The best window  glass was the thin and clear glass away from the center, while the thicker inner circle glass was cut for less important windows.  Machine rolled glass wasn’t developed in America until 1888 and “wire glass” (security glazing) came along in 1898.

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Dennis Kowal originally designed and field tested a projection system of how the interiors could be recreated from the wall fragments.  The photos below show how the black soot reveals where the chimney flue rose against the wall (red line) and locates the fireplace between two built-in china closets with small shelves and a central cupboard (beige line).   All that remains of the closets are plaster backs which denote where the wood shelves and construction once stood.

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Ben Franklin’s wall have been “stripped bare” of furring and layers of finishes to reveal the original bearing wall which provides a fascinating look into the original finishes, millwork and structural modifications.  From these fragments and knowledge about the period, the entire interior can be mentally recreated as it once was.

 

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS designs historic Museum in Independence Park

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Awarding Winning Book features Dennis Kowal Architects   1 comment

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Awarding Winning Book features Dennis Kowal Architects

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A book about the Handley Regional Library of Winchester Virginia, including the recent historic renovation by Dennis Kowal Architects,  won in the Best-Non Fiction category of the Independent Publishers Award (also known as the “IPPYS”).  The book details the history of the Library and how the most significant Beaux Arts Style building in the State of Virginia ended up in beautiful, but rural, Winchester.

At the time when Dennis Kowal Architects (DKA) was hired, a previous study had concluded that the nearly 100 year old structure was beyond repair and should be demolished.  DKA saved the building by determining a feasible approach and cost to the historic renovation and proved the facility could be sensitively altered to be barrier free, technologically proficient, and large enough to meet the needs of the community as a public library.  The building is now celebrating it’s centennial and functions beautifully as a state-of-the-art library within the historic structure.  Library Director, Trish Ridgeway, reports that book circulation and attendance have both doubled as a result of the renovation and because “Dennis Kowal Architects listened to what we wanted”.

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and required a strict adherence to preservation guidelines.  Technically a “rehabilitation” because while most building elements were restored to their original construction, some parts of the library were creatively altered to adapt to the current needs of an operating library. For example, the five tiered, glass floored, iron stack assembly was repaired, cleaned and restored but now as three tiers to better align with the other floors of the building.

Restoration involved almost every trade and material from the stained glass dome to the “bottle glass” cast-iron floor gratings.  When discarded components were found in the attic, they were re-purposed in the renovation such as using the old wood-shuttered toilet stall doors for the restored telephone booth.

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The book highlights the involvement of Dennis Kowal Architects in the massive renovation.

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The completed facility features frosted glass floors that were once painted, restored tiger oak millwork, furniture duplicated to match the original library desks and chairs, replacement limestone tooled to match the original, restored terrazzo, refurbished lighting fixtures,  restored and duplicated ornamental copperwork, and the original circulation desk now converted into a bench and sculpture.   The 100 year old glass floors were creatively back-lit to give the new Young Adult Room a modern flare.

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Many of the original materials of the structure were badly decomposed or missing.  DKA painstakingly reproduced copper scrolls, original light fixtures, and restored as much of the original fabric as possible including the massive tiger oak entry doors and the entire limestone exterior.

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The Library suffered from maintenance neglect, settling foundation walls, bird and air pollution staining, and some structural failures.   Thanks to the caring renovation and the completion of details on the original drawings but never executed, the  Library now looks better than the day it was first built.

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Dennis Kowal Architects saves energy, resources, and history by recycling the past.

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Bone Collector: I see dead things   1 comment

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Bone Collector: I see dead things

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The restoration of the 1777 Atchley Farmstead by DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS yielded an abundance of buried artifacts including some old bones.

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It is likely the construction materials for the center section (and oldest part of the Hendrickson/ Atchely Farmhouse) were hand made on site.  A Flemish bond brick was used for the center core and the uneven sizes and shapes indicate a hand-made brick.   Excavations at the site during construction revealed some oyster shells; often used in the making of lime for mortar in the 18th and 19th century.  Also, discovered were a variety of medicine, shoe polish, spice and other bottles as well as an old shoe from the early 1900’s.

Helping DKA with the archaeological dig was veteran bone collector, Victor Garcia, of Cuautitian Izcalli Edo De Mexico (literally a town so small it is named “the house between the trees”).  Although there are two actual graves on the site of this farm, the bone fragments discovered were identified by Victor as animal bones which were probably dressed on site for soup and then discarded.  Victor discovered many human bones while digging in Mexico.  Sometimes the bones were the remains of bodies (buried  in the fetal position) in clay vessels.

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Over 70 artifacts were recovered from the ground during the historic restoration of this house which was once part of a 134 acre working farmstead.   Some of these items can be seen on the table in front of the fireplace.  The preservation of this exterior of the house followed the Secretary of the Interior Preservation Guidelines for Restoration to a period.  Therefore, all twentieth century additions to the house were removed to restore the house to its appearance in the late 1800’s.

The condition of the property was poor when Dennis Kowal Architects began.   Many structural members were replaced, the toppling brick chimneys were replaced with the original brick, missing windows were fabricated to the exact profiles of the original, and a new metal roof, copper gutters and wood eaves were crafted.

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The restoration was provided by Lewis-Graham Inc. under the supervision of and Dennis Kowal Architects for the Opus Development Corporation.  All of the artifacts and a detailed field report will be presented by pre-arrangement to the Archaeological Department of the New Jersey State Museum.

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS preserves the past with dignity and passion.

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Does lightning strike twice!   1 comment

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Does lightning strike twice!

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More than ornament, lightning rods played an important role in building safety for over a century and long before the invention of electricity.  DKA is restoring such a structure.  American lightning rods in the 18th century were pointed like this one while the British counterparts thought a metal ball at the tip was more likely to attract the lightning charge.

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Apparently, lightning strikes twice often, because it was common in the late 18th and early 19th Century to add 4 1/2” decorative glass balls to the top of lightning rods to inform the owners if their barn had been struck by lightning.  The lightning strike would break the glass and the owner would know to check the conductor cable and ground connection, as well the structure, for damage.  Restoration is underway on four lightning rod terminals that adorn the historic Hendrickson-Atchly Farmstead (shown above) as one small part of the 18th Century Farmhouse historic restoration.  Two lightning rod terminals were somewhat intact and two terminals were badly damaged and missing components.

Dennis Kowal Architects did not want to lose this piece of history and determined to restore the lightning rod terminals.  After showing the existing broken rods to a blacksmith, the firm was told that they couldn’t be re-tapered.  It was suggested that tapered rods could be duplicated by working from new material.  Dennis Kowal, preferring restoration over duplication, said “If specialized blacksmith skills are needed to restore the lightning rods, I will learn those skills and restore the rods myself.  This piece of history should be saved and not lost or replaced with a modern look-alike if at all possible.”

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First invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1749, the lightning rod works by allowing the lightning charge to reach the ground through an external cable that is isolated from the structure. (Note how the cable is held off the metal roof by ceramic stand-offs.)  Without this diversion, the lightning would pass through the less conductive elements of a building like the timber.   Lightning that uses the wood superstructure for grounding super heats the wood moisture as it attempts to pass through and causes destruction and fire. This Kretzer Brand lightning rod is missing some isolators, the glass ball, and the vertical tip also known as the Franklin rod or air terminal.   It was hoped that two badly degraded lighting rod terminals could be restored.   After no success in finding someone able to repair the existing lightning rods, DKA decided to restore them with their own hands. 
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Dennis J. Kowal AIA,  apprenticed as a blacksmith in Guillford Connecticut to master the art of re-making the missing iron components. The lightning rod is inspected for missing components and damaged welds.  Work begins by re-forging the missing pointed air terminal. 
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Pieces of 100 year iron from abandoned cabling in the original lightning grounding were reclaimed for reworking into the air terminals.  The iron was heated in a coal forge to 2500 degrees which allowed it to be drawn and re-shaped.  Dennis drew the ends to a taper and then forged a point.   The metal can only be worked a few seconds at a time before it must be reheated; otherwise the metal fractures instead of yields. 
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Kretzer Brand lightning rods were manufactured in St. Louis Missouri.  The glass balls came in dozens of colors and finishes to personalize the lightning rods and were often sold by salesmen traveling from farm to farm by horse and carriage. The glass globes in this project were actually clear when originally installed and are a bit rare.   Today, collectors value and collect these glass globes.  The lightning rods on this house were probably installed in the early 1900’s because they match the patent drawing from the Kretzer company from about this time period.  Nearly finished, the lightning rod now has ceramic isolators, a glass ball, and a restored air terminal.

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 09 .                                 .  DESIGN FOR A LIGHTNING-ROD TERMINAL
Thomas Edison endorses the concept of a lightning rod in this letter used in a 1919 Michigan Cass City Chronicle newspaper ad stating “…I would say that in my opinion a building may be protected from lightning by a properly installed system of continuous conductors of ample capacity, WELL INSULATED FROM THE BUILDING.” Sidney D. Kretzer received patent number 42173 in 1912 for this lightning rod which matches the design of the rod on the Atchely Farmstead.  Sometimes weather vanes and attractor balls were added to the top.  There have been over 329 patents for lightning rods since the 1850’s.

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Contrary to popular belief, lighting rods do not “attract” lightning any more than the plumbing vents, old TV antennas, or any other roof structure.  Instead, lightning rods re-direct the energy (when lightning does strike) keeping it outside of the structure and running it safely to ground.  Church steeples, often the highest point in town, do have a deserved reputation for being struck by lightning.  Early Americans knew to stay away from them during storms.

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS are preservation architects that are serious about preserving the great and small buildings of our history.

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Windstorms and Preservation   1 comment

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Windstorms and Preservation

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The scroll that was blown off in the storm that left many on the east coast without power for days sat atop the dome (the scrolls are the bumps directly surrounding the cupola).  This view of the Handley Library is from the property of George Washington who surveyed this site and then owned the land until his death.

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70 mile an hour winds ripped through historic Winchester, Virginia on Friday, 29 June 2012 and lifted weighted wedding tents off the ground, destroyed trees and left its mark on the restored Handley Regional Library.  Dennis Kowal Architects (DKA) completed the full renovation of this important building with a copper dome and limestone façade in 2001 and was on site to examine the damage the following Friday.   “Fortunately, the damage was limited to one copper scroll which was blown loose from the dome and some missing bird deterrents”.     Prior to the DKA renovation,  several  other scrolls blew free and were found in back yards of neighboring buildings.  These were recovered, repaired and re-installed under the direction DKA.  The recent loss was also recovered;  a little mangled but not damaged beyond repair.  The scrolls are decorative and so the copper dome remained weather tight during the storm.

“We had to design and fabricate a new scroll in 2001 to replace the permanently lost scroll” said Dennis Kowal.  The scroll is about three feet long and 18” high and is fabricated from 20 oz. copper.   Unfortunately, this makes them a light-weight, hollow box that can be carried by the wind if the solder points break.  The original scrolls are attached by nine points of spot solder,  while the new scroll is more generously attached.

The wind-blown scroll will be repaired and replaced  to again takes its place in the center of town.  Only a few human hands in history have touched this scroll since it sits 75 feet above the street at the very peak of the 36’ diameter dome.

A distraught Library Director, Trish Ridgeway, feigns regret over the damaged copper scroll that was blown off the restored Handley Library.  The scroll will be repaired and re-installed.

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One of the spot welds from the damaged scroll can be seen as a quarter-sized silver  button at the center of the photo.  The weld split off clean at the attachment point to the copper dome sheeting indicating that the surface was not properly cleaned of oils or that the substrate copper was not made  hot enough during the fusing process.

Before the renovation, the copper was more rust -red than verdigris green; the result of chemical interaction with years of pigeon guano. 

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Dennis Kowal Architects designed a copper replica of a missing 36” scroll which once crowned the Handley Copper Dome.  It is a match to the one recently blown off.   The new copper has been pre-aged by using a commercial patina formula (ammonium sulfate, copper sulfate, and concentrated ammonia)  which will quickly turn the copper  to verdigris green (like the cap flashing beneath).  Of course, putting shiny copper in a jar with a layer of kitty litter soaked in pure ammonia is a trick used by jewelry makers and artists to do the same thing.

A “derecho” (a violent and long-lived windstorm) swept  the mid-Atlantic coast causing destruction, death and  power loss to millions for days during the heat wave.  Many trees and major limbs fell in the historic  Mt. Hebron Cemetery just a few blocks from the Handley Library.

                                                       

Stewart Barney was the original architect of the Mt. Hebron Cemetery Gatehouse (1901) and the Handley Regional Library (1913), both in Winchester, Virginia.  This Cemetery also suffered wind damage but the Gatehouse appears intact.

For a variety of old formulas to patinate copper check out www.sciencecompany.com/-W160.aspx

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DENNIS KOWAL ARCHITECTS preserves historic buildings.

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Restoring the Homes of the ”One-percenters”…in Turkey 1AD!   Leave a comment

Restoring the Homes of the ”One-percenters”…in  Turkey 1AD!

The Terrace houses (on-going excavation and restoration under the protective cover) can be seen just opposite The Hadrian Temple in the ancient city of Ephesus.  The arches in the distance are the façade of the Celsus Library which contained 12,000 scrolls.
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One of the most remarkable finds since Pompeii is under restoration in Ephesus.  Once a major Roman port city in Western Asia, the city ruins are a wonderful map of life from 1 c. BC to 4 c. AD when this bustling port city enjoyed financial success and virtually invented the concept of banking, coins and credit cards.

Of particular note are the Terrace Houses which have recently been uncovered.  They were private homes of the wealthy (1 percenters) which were tiered as three levels of attached homes buried into the side of Bulbul Mountain.  The homes have no windows but instead are built around a center, open, courtyard (called a peristyle).    While the average home in the United States is around 2,500 sf, the largest of these private dwellings is 10,000 square feet.

The walls contain frescos decorated in subject matter selected by the head of the household (as opposed to the choice of the artist) which reveals the values and aesthetics of these families.  Some of the walls contain seven layers of frescos since a new “style” would evolve every couple of generations and the house would be redecorated.

Restoration involves stabilizing the frescos so they don’t fall from the walls, matching in mortar where pieces are missing, cleaning the paint that is exposed and in some cases recreating the missing painting.  In addition, thousands of broken pieces of wall marble and hundreds of thousands small floor mosaic tiles are being sorted and reassembled.

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Dennis Kowal observing the restoration techniques used to preserve this spectacular find during a private visit. More damage was done by the elements after the houses were uncovered than by being buried for a dozen centuries under the earth.  Therefore, a 4000 s.m. weather-protective enclosure has been installed over the entire site and glass floored catwalks navigate around the six homes.
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A great view of the peristyle and the vaulted “Reception Room” that the family would use to greet their guests.  The floors were covered in mosaics and marble and the task of matching the broken fragments is underway.
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right corner of this photo.  The restoration approach is to leave this legacy of ownership and decoration.  The Romans were no different from today’s homeowners who redecorated by covering the former occupants tastes.  At the back wall are the heads of two philosophers with many holes in the surface.
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Detail of the philosopher fresco with his name still written above.  The fact that philosophers and gods adorned the homes reveals what was important to the family just as a poster of a famous rock star in a bedroom or a wall of family photos would today.
The first floor contained the family rooms for relaxing, eating and entertaining.  None of the rooms had windows except for the borrowed light coming in from the courtyard.  Entry was from a wide staircase that climbed the mountain alongside the attached homes.
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Mosaics of Dionysius and Ariadne show the incredible skill of the artists and wealth of the owners.  Money flowed to Ephesus because it acted as a central banking system for the greater Mediterranean region.
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Family rooms surround the peristyle of this home with bedrooms located on the second level. Clay pipes carried heat under the floors and to the bathrooms just like the Roman baths. While we are used to seeing the palaces of the ruling class, this is a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of wealthy citizens in early times.
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Posted June 13, 2012 by Dennis Kowal Architects in Historic Preservation