Historic Makeovers

March 22, 2016
Everyone likes a good makeover. Entire TV show franchises are built around this concept. Makeover your job, makeover your wardrobe, makeover your room or your entire home… DSC_0005 We were contracted to do the restoration makeover for the Historic Gadsby’s Tavern, in Old Town Alexandria, VA. This building is near and dear to many residents and history buffs in Alexandria, and is conveniently located right across the street from Alexandria’s City Hall. After all, when people came to town 100+ years ago for business, often that business involved a stop at the local government agencies. The Belle of the Ball for this project was the grand ballroom. Every detail mattered. From the spindles on the staircase to the molding along the floorboards, it was all an historic restoration, preservation and recreation project. DSC_0007 DSC_0009 DSC_0008 Did you know that the design of this room is historic, in it’s own sense, but isn’t even authentic? Strange but true, the room is considered to be one of the finest examples of Colonial and Federalist design in the country, enough so that all of the original room is on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York. Why is it in the museum, when the tavern itself is now a museum? Because in the 1900s, urban decay had gotten the better part of many historic buildings in Alexandria, and what we now know as Gadsby’s tavern was just another crumbling building in the decrepit old district of Alexandria. The inclusion and display of this and other noteworthy rooms in the museum spurred the historic preservation movement in the 20th century.
At left, the circa 1785 tavern. At right, the larger 1792 City Tavern (later called the City Hotel). The ballroom was originally located on the right half of the second-floor of the City Tavern. Photo, Library of Congress.
At left, the circa 1785 tavern. At right, the larger 1792 City Tavern (later called the City Hotel). The ballroom was originally located on the right half of the second-floor of the City Tavern. Photo, Library of Congress.
From the Historical Foundation of Alexandria Website:

In the early twentieth century, the woodwork from the ballroom was purchased by the Metropolitan and installed in the American Wing, where it has been displayed ever since. What follows is the story of how and why this significant piece of Alexandria’s cultural history ended up in New York City.

The opening of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on November 11, 1924, was a landmark event in the history of American decorative arts and historic preservation. A gift of trustee Robert W. de Forest, the new wing for American art was housed in a three-story building fronted by a salvaged neoclassical bank façade. Exhibited inside were a series of period rooms and galleries – including the ballroom from Gadsby’s Tavern – chronicling the history of American decorative arts from the colonial to the early Federal periods. This assemblage of historic interiors provided a sympathetic setting for the display of household furnishings, and also afforded an opportunity “for a comprehensive survey of the evolution as well as the varying characteristics of early American art such as hitherto [had] not been possible in any one place.”  Most significantly, the new wing was a clear statement that the cultural and artistic heritage of early America was worthy of display in a major art museum.

The ballroom from Gadsby’s Tavern in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 2009. Photo by Gavin Ashworth.
The ballroom from Gadsby’s Tavern in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, May 2009.
Photo by Gavin Ashworth.

….

In 1917, representatives from the Museum learned that the owners of Gadsby’s Tavern were open to selling portions of the interior woodwork from the 1792 City Hotel building. Since its prosperous years under John Gadsby, the tavern had experienced a gradual decline: the owners renovated the City Hotel structure in 1878 in an attempt to make the business profitable, but Alexandria’s economy never fully recovered after the Civil War. By the time the Museum became involved, the building no longer functioned as a hotel; instead, a junk shop occupied the first floor and the grand second-floor ballroom had been subdivided into three apartments. Miraculously, however, much of the historic woodwork remained intact, hidden beneath layers of paint, wallpaper, and grime.

In a letter written on May 16, 1917, Durr Friedley, the Acting Curator of Decorative Arts, implored the Museum’s Director, Edward Robinson, to support the purchase of the ballroom: “No other room similar to this is known to exist in the United States, and the chances of discovering another specimen are remote. Such woodwork is most desirable for use in the proposed American Wing, for the installation of the American collections. The design ranks with the best, the size is unique, and the historical connection with Washington and Lafayette adds to its interest as a Museum specimen.” Friedley’s plea was successful. The purchase was authorized on May 21, 1917, and the woodwork was removed a few weeks later. In addition to the paneling, mantelpieces, door and window surrounds, cornice, and musician’s balcony from the ballroom, the Museum also acquired two mantelpieces from the first-floor dining room and the original eighteenth-century front door. Whereas the ballroom was installed as a self-contained period room, the various architectural elements were incorporated into separate galleries throughout the wing.

Like many of the rooms that ultimately found their way into the American Wing, the ballroom’s fate seemed uncertain at the time of its purchase, and the Museum justified its acquisition as a means of preserving at least a portion of a once-venerable building. Of course, architectural salvage is never without controversy, and in the press releases leading up to the opening of the American Wing, the Museum deflected criticism that it was pillaging historic relics by noting that it had “refrained from purchasing any room or building which local pride and interest were attempting to preserve for the advantage of the public. Although the Alexandria Gazette lamented at the time of the ballroom’s removal, “The Old City Hotel…is to be denuded of its relics of bygone days,” local opposition to the purchase appears to have been minimal.

As a period room, the ballroom possessed the ideal combination of intrinsic aesthetic beauty and historical associations. Moreover, its grand proportions (48’ by 22’) made it well suited for use as a gallery for the display of eighteenth-century furniture and paintings – a function it continues to serve today. The room’s impressive scale and charming details were not lost upon the press: a review in the New York Times on November 9, 1924, singled out the ballroom as “the largest and most ambitious of the wonderful series in the new wing.”

The publicity surrounding the new American Wing and its “rescued” interiors served as a catalyst for a growing preservation movement throughout the country. In Alexandria, residents began to take stock of their city’s substantial cultural heritage, and in 1929 the American Legion Post No. 24 purchased the dilapidated City Hotel and tavern buildings with the intent of restoring them to their eighteenth-century appearance. By 1932, in time for the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the restoration of the 1785 tavern and the 1792 City Hotel was underway.

Spearheaded by local preservation groups, notably the Daughters of the American Revolution, the ballroom of the City Hotel was reproduced in 1940 based on the original woodwork in the Metropolitan [fig. 5]. Ever since, visitors to the American Wing already familiar with Gadsby’s Tavern have experienced a sense of déjà vu upon encountering the room in New York. However, not all of the ballroom woodwork in Gadsby’s Tavern is a twentieth-century reproduction: an original window, walled-in during the renovations made in 1878, was discovered in the 1970s and provided the original Prussian blue color sample that is the basis for both ballrooms’ paint colors.

The Alexandria Ballroom in the Metropolitan today with its new paint coat and revised installation plan. Photo, Metropolitan Museum.
The Alexandria Ballroom in the Metropolitan today with its new paint coat and revised installation plan. Photo, Metropolitan Museum.
The ballroom in Gadsby’s Tavern as it appears today. The room was reproduced in 1940 based on the room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The ballroom in Gadsby’s Tavern as it appears today. The room was reproduced in 1940 based on the room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
We know that all of these old buildings have a story to tell. Oh, to stand on these stairs throughout various times in history. The stories one could tell…. DSC_0010

Historic Maryland church gets fresh paint!

March 17, 2016
Maryland church Rich Winkler’s staff of painters is in the process of giving this historic Maryland church a fresh coat of paint. This process, done with sensitivity to the ancient surfaces, will help this beautiful building last for many more years. Rich Winkler Painting and Decorating is becoming well known as the painter of choice for many Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. churches. IMG_8174

Sacred Spaces

March 15, 2016
Places of worship hold special sentiments in the hearts of the people entrusted to care for their buildings. They also provide special considerations as to time, scheduling and attention. 20140628_142933 IMG_6553 Often, there are problems of maintenance and a toll taken on the structure over time, that were deferred when funds were short, or other crises required immediate attention. Many of these buildings have been designated as historic buildings or even landmarks, and this adds another layer of care and attention to repair and restoration work, that when overlooked, it can do irreparable harm to the building, and be very costly to restore to the standards required. IMG_3102 IMG_3103 IMG_3107 Through our work on historic buildings, we know the ins and outs of how to properly take care of these buildings during any paint, repair or restoration work. We have worked on a good number of churches, and all of our customers have sung our praises. IMG_6564 unnamed (1)

Bold Color

March 11, 2016
Once you are used to seeing the awakening of spring, with color popping up everywhere, what catches your eye? A bold pop of color can be the eye catching feature of your neighborhood. 20141010_125848 20141010_125815 20141010_125827 20141010_125853 Bold color doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It can be done tastefully, and look spectacular! 20141010_125943 20141010_125934 20141010_125712 20141010_125640 20141010_125747  

Springtime Color

March 9, 2016
Spring is a time of awakening and growth. Dusting off and airing out, a chance to refresh our perspectives and our homes. Green seems to be the color of the season, as everything is waking up from winter, and buds start showing and shoots start popping up in the gardens. 20141010_130250 In the spirit of the season, below are some photos of a home we painted, in a warm green color. With attention to detail, your home does not have to be boring. Consider a fresh look! Consider how your home will look, in respect to the yard, and how often you use it. An inviting space just begs to be entertained in or relaxed in.

Mercy Street and the Mansion House Hotel

January 27, 2016
Many of you have at least heard of the new series on PBS, Mercy Street. If takes place during the Civil War in Alexandria, and uses real events and real places to tell the story of how the war effected people on both sides, living and working in Alexandria during those years. Did you know that last fall, we worked on the actual building that used to be the Mansion House Hotel? We restored the windows and exterior trim to keep it in top shape for years to come. The building is on the National Register of historic Places, as the Bank of Alexandria. The image below, from Visit Alexandria, shows the evolution of the property, adjacent to the Carlyle house.
Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
Image Credit: S. Stanton for Visit Alexandria
That 3 story building on the corner is the Bank of Alexandria building. Watch our interview with Rich Winkler as he talks about the special care needs to be given to the maintenance and repair of the building, to ensure that the historical integrity remains intact. For more about the real local history that surrounds the PBS series Mercy Street, the Greene Family and the Carlyle House, as well as links to other Alexandria resources, read this article from Visit Alexandria: The Real Mansion House From PBS’ Mercy Street

Main Entrance of the Sykesville Train Depot

January 26, 2016
This is the historic train depot in Sykesville, Md. The building now houses a restaurant, but that doesn’t diminish the stature of this grand Victorian architecture on the National Register of Historical Places. If you saw our previous posts on the historic Sykesville Train Depot, you learned a bit about the level of detail and care we have to take when working on a building of this type. (If you didn’t see them, click here for the interior, and click here for the doors and windows, and click here for the platform eaves and overhangs, click here for the gables and roofline.) This time, we are focusing on the main entrance. Since the entryway is where first impressions are made, as in every other aspect of this building, we took pains to make sure it was well taken care up. From the tips of the eaves to the peak of the gable, from post to beam, and everything in between, we made sure that it will last for years to come. IMG_3718  IMG_3720 IMG_4172 IMG_4174 IMG_4156  IMG_4150  IMG_4179 The time and effort it takes to restore these beautiful buildings is always worth it in the end, because they will last in all their glory for years to come. IMG_4155   IMG_4160   IMG_4166  IMG_4177 IMG_3715  

Up in the Rafters of the Sykesville Train Depot

January 24, 2016
This is the historic train depot in Sykesville, Md. The building now houses a restaurant, but that doesn’t diminish the stature of this grand Victorian architecture on the National Register of Historical Places. If you saw our previous posts on the historic Sykesville Train Depot, you learned a bit about the level of detail and care we have to take when working on a building of this type. (If you didn’t see them, click here for the interior, and click here for the doors and windows, and click here for the platform eaves and overhangs.) This time, we are focusing on the gable ends and roof-line trim. As in any painting project, the preparation is always the most tedious. It is also the most important. Scraping and stripping of the old and loose paint will make or break the lasting impact of your new paint job. With these highly decorated gable ends, with the extensive amounts of wood trim, that is doubly and triply so. Before putting on that first coat of primer, we check to be certain that it is all sturdy, and intact. we replace any rotting wood, and fix any damage we find. This first level gable end was in good shape, and ready for priming after the old paint was removed. What a difference with the final result! IMG_3710 IMG_3712 IMG_4008  IMG_4160 The higher up on a structure, the more weathering and damage wood is exposed to. Higher elevations get stronger winds, more debris thrown from these wings, more sun exposure, and more rain exposure. All of that adds up to very weathered wood. With this upper gable end, after stripping the old paint we replaced the caulking along the seams. This helps ensure that it is sealed from water that could seep in from driving rain and snow melt, that could harm the building from leaks and water damage. IMG_3714   IMG_3717   IMG_4002   IMG_4115   IMG_4120  Even this attic vent on the gable had a lot of detail in the wood slats. As you can see, it looks beautiful in all of it’s detail with the new paint. IMG_4117 Ladders, ladders, ladders. IMG_4080IMG_4083IMG_4124 The time up on a ladder is necessary to make sure that all of the touch-ups are done, and paint isn’t just slapped on. Our painters go over every inch with a trained eye, making sure it is sealed and coated to perfection. IMG_4075IMG_4114IMG_4116IMG_4099 IMG_4168 IMG_4170 The finished gable and trim is a beautiful site! IMG_4185 Check back tomorrow for our 5th installment in this series, the Main Entrance.

Eaves and Overhangs of the Sykesville Train Depot

January 23, 2016
This is the historic train depot in Sykesville, Md. The building now houses a restaurant, but that doesn’t diminish the stature of this grand Victorian architecture on the National Register of Historical Places. If you saw our previous posts on the historic Sykesville Train Depot, you learned a bit about the detail we have to take with this building. (If you didn’t see it, click here for the interior, and click here for the doors and windows.) This time, we are taking a look at some of the lower exterior areas: the eaves and overhangs along the platforms. As we saw on the inside, there are a lot of moldings and trim. As was common in Victorian architecture, there is a LOT of trim, with a lot of detail. Especially on the outside. Trim needs special attention, to keep the profiles sharp. Letting the paint coat the grooves diminishes the craftsmanship and beauty of the woodwork. Often, we need to strip away the caked, peeling, and chilling paint, down to bare wood, to give a good coat of paint and preserve the woodwork. That’s not just any old lattice-work on those overhangs, it’s spindles. Each of those pieces was created by turning a piece of wood, in much the same fashion as a table leg or a spindle on a railing. These are then pieced together to create the frame that sets into the eave. This also served a functional purpose, to discourage birds from flying through. IMG_3711   IMG_4091   IMG_4162   IMG_4163  When it comes to the eaves, there is trim along the edges, but the supports are also heavily carved with ridges and grooves. There was not a post left unadorned with a handsome profile. IMG_4021  IMG_4023  IMG_4127  IMG_4152_2   IMG_4172   IMG_4173   IMG_4174   IMG_4175   IMG_4189  Looking up into the eaves themselves, you can see that even the rafter ends were cut decoratively. A gentle curve to the ends added a bit of charm, and the notched design to the inter-lying ends adds a bit of interest.   IMG_4084  IMG_4157   IMG_4171   IMG_4172   IMG_4186 Check back tomorrow for our 4th installment in this series, Up in the Rafters: Gable Ends and Roof-Line Trim  

Doors and Windows of the Sykesville Train Depot

January 22, 2016
This is the historic train depot in Sykesville, Md. The building now houses a restaurant, but that doesn’t diminish the stature of this grand Victorian architecture on the National Register of Historical Places. If you saw our previous post on the historic Sykesville Train Depot, you took a peek at the interior. (If you didn’t see it, click here) This time, we are taking a look at some of the lower exterior areas: the doors on the loading docks and platforms, and the exterior windows. As we saw on the inside, you can see that there are a lot of moldings and trim. That always needs special attention, to keep the profiles sharp. Letting the paint coat the grooves diminishes the craftsmanship and beauty of the woodwork. Often, we need to strip away the caked, peeling, and chilling paint, down to bare wood, to give a good coat of paint and preserve the woodwork. I’m sure that in it’s day, these freight doors on the loading dock saw more than their fair share of bumps, dings, bangs and damage. IMG_4180   IMG_4181   IMG_4183  IMG_4182  IMG_3709   IMG_3721 The stability of those Victorian window sashes to hold that beautiful stained glass is very important. Not only does the old caulking and glazing need to be carefully removed, and the wood checked for damage and rot, the pins holding the panes against the frame need to be checked, and then new glazing applied and cured, before any new paint can be coated onto the frames and trim. IMG_4120  IMG_4011   IMG_4016   IMG_4184   IMG_4189  IMG_4046  Tomorrow, we’ll post about the detail work on the eaves and overhangs of the platforms.