Written by Laura Wainman, Editorial Intern
When it comes to maintenance work on historic properties, the word “change” can stir up quite a controversy. Many worry that the integrity of the site will be lost if alterations are not made properly. Lucky for us, the team repairing the iconic ceilings of the Palmer House hotel in Chicago made preservation a priority.
“When you have ceilings that are 86 years old, work is going to need to be done, but we wanted to use the opportunity to analyze [the ceiling] condition and plan for the future,” says Justin Jameson, assistant director of property operations. “We made our ongoing maintenance a preservation tool.”
The Beaux Arts style ceiling is in great condition for its age, says Jameson, and only minor repairs were needed. Beva Gel clear adhesive was used to patch up small flakes, the canvas and plaster were meticulously cleaned, and a color analysis was done in order to bring back to life the vibrant colors of the romantic images.
The work took nearly three months and was organized by Jameson, supervised by Evergreen Architectural Group, and performed by Anthony and Mata Kartsonas, who are well-known art preservationists.
“This preservation initiative was more than just a work task for me; it was personal. The ceilings are the signature of the hotel, and known world-wide. It was important to me that we get the job done, but also maintain the integrity of the art,” says Jameson, who was given the ceiling preservation project when he first started at the Palmer House in 2010.
The jaw-dropping murals span the 50-foot length of the lobby, and are composed of 21 individual pieces painted in 1926 in Paris by French artist Louis Pierre Rigal. The images are mostly of love and romanticism from Greek mythology, and, according to Jameson, they transport visitors to a time when people meditated on and appreciated beauty. They have been restored before in 1982 and 1995 by Lido Lippi, who also worked on the Sistine Chapel in the 1950s.
“Our biggest burden was trying to do our work without interrupting the guest experience. We are a living business and our lobby is traversed by God knows how many people daily. To execute our work with scaffolding taking up half the lobby was a huge challenge,” says Jameson.
Thanks to this preservation-minded thinking, the Palmer House, which has played host to guests such as Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, and Prince Charles, will continue to leave a lasting impression on guests for years to come.