Restoring First Congregational Church — Custom Case Study

First Congregational Church

Constructed in 1895, the First Congregational Church of Portland is a dominant Venetian Gothic icon along the city’s South Park Blocks. The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Portland Landmark. This historic structure towers above its neighbors quite literally, with its 175′ bell tower at the southwest corner. This tower was once accompanied by two others on adjacent corners, which were removed in 1940 following significant storm damage. Existing conditions prior to the summer 2015 restoration included extreme deterioration of the wood Gothic tracery arches at the belfry. As the last remaining tower on the building, the restoration of these elements was a crucial component in retaining the architectural integrity of this historic church.

What was the scope of the project for the First Congregational Church and what were the design goals?

With its severe level of deterioration, the restoration of the Gothic tracery was not just an aesthetic decision. It was also a safety precaution after a loose piece fell onto the sidewalk below. The First Congregational Church turned to Versatile and Arciform to stabilize and restore the wood elements of this feature. As with any preservation project, the goal was to retain as much of the original fabric as possible. Equally important is the goal to maintain the character defining features of the original design. The four tower faces all required work, but the south elevation suffered the most significant damage. This was due to exposure and UV damage. The tracery at this location was removed and restored in-house at Versatile. The other elevations were in fair enough condition to be restored on-site by the Arciform team.

First Congregational Church

What challenges did the project face?

The location of the architectural details proved to be the biggest challenge. Nearly 175′ up in the air and surrounded by scaffolding, the south elevation tracery was cut into sections and lowered to the ground for transportation to Versatile’s shop.

First Congregational Church

It quickly became apparent that not only were the face-applied details of the tracery loose and deteriorating, but the backerboard holding the element together was also unstable. It arrived to the shop in pieces, like an oversized puzzle of fragile history. Another challenge was in the design itself. What appeared to be repetitive details in the columns and tracery were in fact unique, prohibiting the efficiency of replicating one element to be reused as a template throughout the entire tracery at similar locations.

First Congregational Church

What were the Uniquely Versatile solutions?

 

Once in the shop, each element was laid out and assessed to determine which pieces were salvageable and which required replacement. After meticulous documentation, all parts were mapped and translated into CAD files. Having these otherwise inaccessible components in-house provided the unique opportunity to prepare a custom library of details for First Congregational Church in anticipation of future restoration needs and part replacement.

Intact elements were cleaned and prepped for refinishing. Substantial details such as the monolithic Corinthian columns appeared unimpaired from the surface, but experienced wood rot at their core. With the use of consolidants, these items were also saved.  

First Congregational Church

Other details were reproduced using templates created on our CNC machine. All new pieces were made of Western Red Cedar, the same wood species as the original elements to ensure historic accuracy and material performance. Replacement parts were then fit in place for sizing and routed with the cove detailing to ensure the tracery appeared seamless. Keeping the site conditions in mind, the final product was delivered in sections for ease of hoisting and installation by Arciform.

First Congregational Church

The First Congregational Church restoration marked the final project of our former shop foreman, Eric Voss. The success of this project can be credited to his skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail.  Many thanks go out to him and his multiple years of service on Versatile’s team of talented woodworkers.

First Congregational Church

This project was named one of Restore Oregon‘s Most Endangered Places in 2015. You can check out the whole list of Endangered Places here. The 2016 list will be announced at the Restoration Celebration (sponsored by Versatile Wood Products) on November 13th. Get the details and RSVP for that event here.

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Washington High School Sash Windows — Custom Case Study

Washington High School

Washington High School opened in 1906, originally under the name of East Side High School, at SE 14th & Stark. In 1909 it was renamed as Washington High School.

The original building was destroyed by a fire in October of 1922. The replacement building was designed by Houghtaling & Dougan.  It was constructed of reinforced concrete with a brick surface at the same site.

Due to declining enrollment, the school closed in May of 1981.

After sitting vacant for decades, the building was purchased by Venerable Properties and is currently being converted to retail and office space. Art DeMuro, founder of Venerable Properties, was instrumental in the sale of the school. Art’s involvement in Portland’s historical redevelopment played a large role in deciding to keep the history alive in the Washington High School building.

What was the goal for Washington High School?

To construct double-hung sash windows that are aesthetically identical to the originals, and operate with the historical and reliable system of weights and pulleys. The windows also needed to be more energy-efficient.

The windows are being primarily installed on the south side of the building.

Washington High School

What challenges did you face with Washington High School ?

Portland Public School system put in replacement aluminum windows 40 years ago. With the replacement, the original pulleys and latches were lost. Luckily, we were successful in finding accurate reproduction pieces that fit with the sashes we created.

Since double pane, insulated glass is heavier than the original single pane, we had to find a solution to create a perfectly balanced window.

Washington High School

What was the Uniquely Versatile solution for Washington High School ?

As the original window frames remain intact and the weights were preserved inside the walls, our new sashes are being installed into the original frames and reconnected to those original weights.

To balance the windows we have taken the weights from the top sash, which are now fixed in place, and added them to the weight for the bottom sash.

Once the frames and sashes are fully weather-stripped, these windows will have the same energy-efficiency as brand-new, manufactured windows.

We are excited to see the finished project…stay tuned!

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A Tale of Two (Historic) Doors

Versatile recently had the pleasure of working with Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and his partner Phillip Iosca to repair and restore the two 135 year old doors on the front of the historic building that once housed a picture frame factory and now provides both living space for Phillip and Thomas and rehearsal space for Pink Martini.

Here’s the tale of these intriguing doors and the uniquely Versatile solutions that helped prepare them for their next 135 years.

harkerbuildingjpg-46a3e61494858ba3

Why was Versatile called?

Versatile was called to the case following a very unfortunate break in at the building that not only resulted in the loss of several computers, it resulted in broken glass and significant crowbar damage to the doors. After 135 years of faithful service, it was time to return these doors to a better state of repair.

What made the doors unusual/challenging?

At 115″ tall (9 1/2 feet), these doors provided a unique challenge simply because of their height. They had also survived the flood of 1894, so almost every measurement of the doors and the jamb was slightly warped or out of square. For example, there was a 7/16″ difference in width from the door’s top to its bottom.

Another unusual feature of the doors was the use of  a”gunstock” stile. These long thin exterior edge panels angle in at the bottom, making their shape resemble a rifle stock. Typical of the Victorian era, these stiles were designed to maximize the width of the glass in the upper portion of the window while still allowing for maximum strength and stability in the lower portion of the door.

What did Versatile do to refurbish the doors?

harker building drawing

The doors needed to be completely stripped and refinished. The glass needed to be replaced and some of the wood near the locking mechanism needed to be replaced and repaired. The handles and hardware also needed to be replaced with hardware that would increase security while being consistent with the period and style of the doors.

Here are some pictures of the restoration in process:

Iosca Door 12.20.12

One intriguing facet of the repair? A metal detector uncovered over 40 screws embedded and hidden under multiple coats of paint that were evidently used to repair a previous crack in the wood.

Iosca Door c 12.20.12

The Uniquely Versatile Solution: It would have been simpler to replace many elements of the door with new reproduction elements. Instead, Versatile respected the history of the door’s original materials, retaining and restoring as much of the original wood and detail as possible. A new lever handle and updated locking mechanism improved the security of the door while staying true to its Victorian aesthetics.

You can check out the restored doors (and the beautiful home and office space they protect) on the Architectural Heritage Center’s upcoming Heritage Home Tour, July 27th from 10 am to 4 pm. Get details and tickets here.

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Oregon’s Most Endangered Places

Most Endangered Places

Versatile Wood Products is a proud sponsor of the Historic Preservation League of Oregon’s annual “Most Endangered Places” list. Yesterday’s announcement of the 2013 list includes some fascinating structures… from a blimp hanger in Tillamook Bay to a historic schoolhouse in Antelope Oregon to the iconic State Hospital.

Most Endangered Places

The list includes two projects we have already been working with. The Multnomah County Courthouse (which features doors by Versatile Wood Products) and the Pioneer Mother’s Cabin. The cabin is part of the Robert Newell House and Museum in St. Paul, Oregon. It finds itself in danger of slipping into the Willamette River.

Peggy Moretti, of the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, explains:

The list indicates which historic properties are “in imminent danger.”  The Danger of being lost to hard times, development pressures, demolition, or neglect. Over the course of the next year we’ll bring together rehabilitation expertise, resources, and local leaders to revitalize these properties. We want to help them become viable, functioning contributors in their communities and pass them forward to future generations.”

You can check out a slide show of the complete list of Endangered Places here.

 

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