Restoration

 


Rebecca Buntrock observing roof construction at the UVA Jefferson's Rotunda, part of her work as a preservation engineer at Robert Silman Associates.

Usually when people have a big fix-it project on their to-do list, they borrow tools and supplies. At the National Trust, we borrow preservation engineers.

Meet Rebecca Buntrock, our 2012 Robert Silman Fellow for Preservation Engineering. This six-month position is sponsored by Rebecca's employer, Robert Silman Associates (RSA), a firm known nationwide for their special expertise in the engineering of historic buildings, with notable preservation projects including the Guggenheim, Fallingwater, and Ellis Island.

During her tenure at the National Trust, Rebecca worked closely with our Historic Sites department on cool projects at a number of sites, including:... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

New Life for a Maryland Log Cabin

Posted on: December 3rd, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Laurie Burch had originally intended to spruce up her 1878 log cabin outside of Hancock, MD, and rent it out to hikers before eventually deciding that it was just too far off the beaten path.

Thankfully, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), a nonprofit organization that partners with the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, and numerous state agencies and is responsible for maintaining and monitoring more than 1,200 miles of trails, more than 1,000 acres of land, and 85 cabins and shelters in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, knew just what to do with it.

“She reached out to the club and said, 'If you want it, come get it,'” says Tom Avey, a PATC member.

And that’s just what the group did.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Report from the Field: Sandy's Impact on Ellis Island

Posted on: November 30th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Roberta Lane, Senior Field Officer & Attorney, Boston Field Office


The storm surged onto the South Side of Ellis Island, depositing debris and flooding the basements of the historic hospital and administration buildings.

One month after Hurricane Sandy barreled into the East Coast, repair and restoration continues apace at homes, religious structures, downtowns, parks, historic sites, and beyond. In particular, the damage at Ellis Island (one of our National Treasures) provides a snapshot of one kind of post-Sandy reality.

Our National Treasure and America’s 11 Most Endangered Places listings for Ellis Island focused on the 30 vacant buildings on the island to highlight their plight. These buildings have stood the test of time while they wait for a reuse. We were already concerned about their condition, though, so early reports that the stormwaters surged right over the island distressed us.

Indeed, Hurricane Sandy flooded through Ellis Island with a vengeance. Today, the National Park Service is working heroically, in awful conditions, to assess and repair the damage, and we are working with them and Save Ellis Island to try to ensure a brighter future for the south side of the island, a place that has endured so much.

The following slideshow features my photos from a staff trip to the south side of Ellis Island in spring 2012. Consider it a virtual tour, one that might deepen this site's significance for you:

Since the storm, we’ve met with the National Park Service and Save Ellis Island to learn about the current conditions and coordinate our assistance. Of note:

  • One vacant building -- the Ferry Building -- was restored a few years ago by the National Park Service and Save Ellis Island. The storm blew out windows and doors at the Ferry Building and inundated the exhibits and interiors inside.
  • At the vacant US Public Health Service buildings, boarding meant to protect windows was blown out and water got into the lower areas.
  • The grand Main Building had basement flooding, destroying the island’s mechanical systems and most other parts of its infrastructure.
  • The grand Immigration Hall and most exhibits at the Main Building were unaffected.

The National Park Service is finishing its assessments and stabilization of the many units of the National Parks of New York Harbor that were damaged in the storm. We plan to work with our partners to connect preservation professionals from the field with the Park Service’s experts, as needed. And we are building a broad coalition of agencies and organizations to help support the work ahead.

Ellis Island stands for a complex and wonderful American ideal: that we should garner the benefits of major change through immigration, while always ensuring our nation’s fundamental stability and constancy. This concept of well-managed change is also, of course, a value at the heart of historic preservation -- one we hope to demonstrate at this important site.

Post-storm photos are at the National Park Service's Sandy Response Flickr site. Also check out the National Park Service’s fascinating Facebook page, NPS Hurricane Sandy Response. Ellis Island was my first Instagram adventure. Find the National Trust Instagram at @presnation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

The Statue of Liberty Shines Again

Posted on: November 16th, 2012 by Lauren Walser

 


Relighting the Statue of Liberty.

Last Friday, the lights at the Statue of Liberty were shining brightly for the first time since Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast.

The storm, which hit New York Harbor on Oct. 29, caused significant damage to Liberty Island, knocking out its heating, power, and emergency generators, as well as damaging its docks and grounds. The island is currently closed to the public.

In the days following the storm, construction crews worked around the clock to restore permanent power to the monument, providing temporary lighting to the torch and crown on the evening of Nov. 9 before fully restoring power two days later.

“It’s not often you see the Statue of Liberty without the torch lit,” says Paul Natoli, president and CEO of New Jersey-based Joseph A. Natoli Construction Corporation. “It’s important. It’s symbolic. So it was critical that we got that up and running again, as soon as possible.”

The storm hit just one day after the statue’s reopening on Oct. 28, the 126th anniversary of its dedication. The national monument closed in October 2011 for a yearlong, nearly $30 million renovation.

Much of the work took place inside the statue’s pedestal. New code-compliant stairs were built, and three new elevators were installed, including a lift to the observation deck, making that level wheelchair-accessible for the first time. Crews also upgraded the monument’s restrooms, fire alarm systems, and HVAC systems.

“This [renovation] was about making the monument more accessible, more safe, and more welcoming to visitors,” says Michael Mills, partner at Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC, a firm specializing in preservation and architectural design.


New exterior staircase.

Superstorm Sandy has been one of many hurdles faced by the team of architects and contractors working on the monument. For one, all materials had to be transported to the island via barge.

“Normally on a construction site, your trucks can roll on and off site whenever you want them to,” Natoli says. “But not when you’re working on an island.”

Tight security on the island caused additional challenges, as all materials shipped to and from the island had to go through rigorous security checks by United States Park Police, and all crew members had to undergo thorough background checks before working on the site.

Working within a historic monument provided another layer of complications. Space inside the statue’s pedestal was extremely limited (it is 27 square feet at its widest point), and massive steel beams providing support to the statue crisscross through the space.

“We had to get an elevator and two 44-inch-wide fire stairs up through those beams without touching them,” Mills says.

Mills and his team used laser scanning and three-dimensional modeling to execute their design -- methods that were quicker and more time- and cost-effective than traditional ones.

“It really was like a three-dimensional puzzle,” Mills says.

As work to the statue and Liberty Island continues, the island will remain closed to the public until further notice, according to Mike Litterst, a National Park Service information officer, adding that the NPS is still completing emergency stabilization and assessments to determine the full extent of the damage.

Updates on the statue's status are available on the Statue of Liberty National Monument website.


Damaged support dock on Liberty Island.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

[Interview] Merry Powell, Interior Designer: "Preservation is Contagious"

Posted on: October 22nd, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 


Braehead's restored exterior.

How do you balance history and home? That's the question Merry Powell was asking when she signed on to help restore and redesign the Civil War-era Braehead mansion in Fredersickburg, Va. -- and the process she documented on her blog in a series called "Braehead Revisited."

In Powell's words:

Really, most of what we did to Braehead was undo bad stuff that had been done to the house over the years. We got down to the original fabric, and then figured out creative ways to put a modern family, with 4 children, into the house comfortably without sacrificing the house in the process. I think this is an important point as we all look for meaningful ways to actually use old structures. They can’t all be museum houses, but they can be saved and be useful, if enough care and thought is put into them.

We caught up with Powell to ask her more about Braehead and the team of people it took to turn this historic treasure back into a much-loved home.

Tell me about the history of Braehead. What makes this property significant?

Braehead mansion occupies a prominent place in the beautiful Fredericksburg, Va., Battlefield. The home was completed in 1859 by Scottish immigrant, John Howison, for his family of nine. During the Civil War, Braehead provided shelter to both Confederate and Union troops.

General Robert E. Lee reportedly established his headquarters and “took breakfast” at Braehead on the morning of Dec. 13, 1862, the date of the first battle of Fredericksburg. Lee tied his horse, Traveler, to a black walnut tree that still thrives on the property. (It has since been dubbed the “Traveler Tree.”)

In May 1864, Braehead was occupied by Union troops. A Howison family member wrote that the troops “killed the cows, ate the chickens, smashed the china, tore up dress goods, destroyed or stole the family Bible which had in it…three generations [and] threw the dining room chairs through the window glass.” The house was used as a hospital for Union soldiers who scribed graffiti into the woodwork and plaster.


The historic marker (left); the Traveler Tree (right).

What has led to its restoration?

For nearly 150 years, Braehead remained the property of the Howisons and their descendents. In 2006, Braehead went on the market for the first time in its history. Since there had never been any easements or protections of any kind placed on the property, the old house, then in a sad state of disrepair, was in danger of being lost forever.

The Central Virginia Battlefield Trust (CVBT) quickly stepped in and purchased the house and surrounding 18 acres. Based on the historical significance of the property, the CVBT promptly registered it and put into place easements to protect the property.

The CVBT then searched diligently for a proper buyer to rescue the house and restore it to its former glory. A perfect match was found in a Fredericksburg family who fell in love with Braehead and has now made it their home.

What was your mission during the interior restoration project?

Braehead was always intended to be a family home. My mission, and that of architect Sabina Weitzman, and preservationist/builder Jay Holloway, was to preserve Braehead’s 19th century past, while also protecting its future, by making it a comfortable home for a 21st century family. We all understood that working on this project was both a privilege and a responsibility.


Examples of Braehead's previous condition.

What was the house like when you first saw it?

It was pretty bad. Over 6,000 square feet of broken windows, rotting wood, mold and standing water were just a few of the challenges. In a previous attempt to turn Braehead into a bed & breakfast, two horrible kitchens had been added and a row of bathrooms was built in what had been a hallway. (You literally had to step over toilets to access the bedrooms.) A sewer pipe was exposed and ran down one of the walls. No heat, inadequate wiring and plumbing, and adhering to the strict building codes of the Department of Historical Resources were the biggest issues.

But amidst the decay and garbage was a treasure trove of period antiques, many original to Braehead. Furniture, art, books, even a Victorian wedding dress, were still inside the main dwelling and adjacent outbuildings. I was overjoyed to have so much to work with!

We inventoried as best we could to determine what we could use and what was too precious or too far gone. The owners generously offered many pieces to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, but others were repaired and restored along with the house.


The foyer, or "Grand Hall," before renovation.

What surprised you during this project?

If there is anything I have learned about working on old houses, is that there is no end to the surprises! However, one thing I noticed on this job was how contagious preservation can become. The deeper we dug into the project and the more history that was unearthed, the more committed everyone was to getting it right.

As bad as Braehead had appeared when we started, we found that most of our job was not to “do”, but to “undo.” As the layers of past renovations were peeled away, the old house revealed itself. Everyone who worked on Braehead sensed that we were rescuing the house.

Do you have a background in preservation?

I do not have formal training in preservation. My passion for old houses grew from my background in antiques. My grandparents were antiques dealers in South Carolina. I spent my childhood learning about these treasures and how to care for them.

Eventually, I also went into the antiques business, which led to me purchasing a very large, very old house. From that point on, I was hooked. I’m still living in an old house now in Richmond, Va. It has been a constant educational experience for the last 25 years.


Braehead was full of antiques, including this pianoforte which is now in the restored music parlor.

What did you learn about preservation while working at Braehead?

The owners, architect, and builder for the Braehead project have experience, knowledge and education in the field of historic preservation. The goal was always to do what was best for the house. From them, I learned that preserving the history of an important structure, like Braehead, while accommodating modern day living, can be accomplished. It just takes lots of patience, dedication and resources.

How did you balance modern amenities and tastes against the history of the house?

In my earliest discussions with the owners, we decided that certain rooms -- the “formal rooms” as we called them -- would be designed in a style correct for the period of the house.

The grand hall, dining room, and music parlor would certainly be on tours for historical events and we used them to display some of the treasures found in Braehead. Almost all of the furnishings in these rooms were found in the house. The few pieces that I purchased were 19th century antiques.

The color schemes for these rooms were based on wallpaper fragments found in the house as well as hues that were popular for the time. The beautiful decorative painting on the millwork in these rooms was original to the house and was still in remarkably good shape. Careful cleaning was all that was needed.

I reupholstered the furniture in velvets and tapestry. The window treatments are made of silk. I designed period-style light fixtures, which were handmade by craftsmen in Richmond.


The home office now occupies the original kitchen with its large cooking fireplace.

The family uses these rooms less frequently, though they are not off-limits. The children take piano lessons on the restored pianoforte that was found in the house.

The private rooms of the home -- including the kitchen, family room, and office -- were designed with comfort and functionality in mind. There is sensitivity to the age and style of the house in these rooms, but this is where the family lives so they had to be tough.

The kitchen cabinets, as an example, had to be carefully designed to not encroach on the original mantel or windows. They were custom made by Mill Cabinet Shop, Bridgewater, Va. with a finish that, while certainly not 18th century-like, does relate to the house and the desire of the owner to have cabinets that were kid-proof. We also designed the soapstone backsplash to be boxed around the lower window trim so as to protect, but not damage the old wood.

What did you think when the restoration was complete?

Complete? Who said it was complete?! I don’t know if projects like Braehead are ever complete. But when I visit the house now and see children playing in the yard and toys in the hallway, I feel that John Howison would be pleased to see his beautiful house so full of happiness and love.

The family who now owns Braehead respects and cherishes the old house and considers its preservation a part of their legacy. I am honored and proud to have played a small part in not only saving such a wonderful house, but also making it into a home for a special family.


The renovated kitchen. The cabinets' handcarved detail is by Lee Stover, Mill Cabinet Shop.

What’s next for the property?

The exterior restoration of the structure is nearly complete. The owners have installed beautiful landscaping, with the Traveler Tree being the main feature. Braehead has suffered greatly throughout history, but this chapter of the story is a happy one. We hope that future generations will appreciate the care and hard work which brought Braehead back to life, and will continue to be good stewards for this very special old house.

If you would like to see Braehead firsthand, the house will be featured on the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s Candlelight Tour, Dec. 8 - 9, 2012. I will be decorating the formal rooms with greens native to Virginia, as well as thistle and decorative items, which pay homage to the Howison family’s Scottish roots. The kitchen and informal rooms will be decorated with items made by the current owners’ children. The dates of the tour fall on 150 years, almost to the day, since General Robert E. Lee visited Braehead, so it promises to be a very special event.

Merry Powell Interiors is a design firm based in Richmond, Va. Powell does residential, commercial, and historical interiors. She may be reached through her website, www.merrypowell.com.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.