A Notable Facade Restoration

April 8, 2009

An exterior assessment determined that the original 1898 facade of the Washington Evening Star Building was in dire need of repair

In 1898, the Washington Evening Star (later known as the Washington Star), a major Washington, D.C., newspaper published from 1852 to 1981, constructed a building at 1101 Pennsylvania Avenue to house editorial, production, and managerial staff. The building was used by the newspaper until the late 1950s. Around this time, the space was converted into offices, and eventually expanded with additions in 1989.

The original 1898 building façade consisted of marble exterior walls with granite at the ground level. The original façade was adorned with numerous ornamental carvings, balconies, balustrades, and other architectural details. Two built-in gutters existed at the 9th-floor and 11th-floor levels. The gutter drains had been abandoned, causing problems due to ice and water build-up. The 1989 façade addition consisted of thick limestone cladding with granite at the ground level, similar to the original. In 2005, a hands-on exterior assessment was performed to determine loose or deteriorated components of the façade. Pieces of stone presenting overhead hazards were removed. It was determined that a full façade rehabilitation project was necessary.

The primary goals of the rehabilitation were stabilizing and preserving the existing façade elements, restoring some ornament detail, remedying water-infiltration issues, and enhancing the appearance of the façade. The project was categorized as a historical rehabilitation, defined by The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties (1995 Revision). Rehabilitation essentially intends to repair historical elements vs. replace them, while maintaining the historical integrity of the elements. Additions to the façade should match as closely as possible and practical to the construction of the period. The categories for historical projects, in approximate order of least to most intensive, are preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction. Preservation aims to protect and stabilize existing elements. Rehabilitation works as described above. Restoration seeks to return a building to the condition of a specific time period by repairing or replacing all elements using archeologically accepted materials and methods of construction. Reconstruction involves the complete fabrication and assemblage of non-remaining elements according to historical guidelines.

Construction documents were developed for repairs to the intricate and delicate ornaments, cleaning methodologies to remove decades’ worth of environmental deposits from the aging marble façade, installation of a sloped cap over the problematic gutters on the 9th and 11th floors, sealant replacement, repointing deteriorated mortar joints, and fortifying the eroding marble façade with a liquid consolidant.

The appropriate building permit and necessary permissions were obtained from the local historic and neighborhood regulatory commissions.

Construction monitoring and contract administration services were provided while the contractor implemented the repair scope. The contractor used the specified repair mortar to approximate the deteriorated ornaments based on surviving examples elsewhere on the building. Decorative wave scrollwork, dentils, fluted half-columns, column capitals, pediments, and many other varieties of ornaments were repaired in this manner. The contractor performed a series of test cleanings on the marble façade using various methods and products. It was determined that the most effective and gentle technique involved a long duration of soaking in hot water applied via misting. After soaking, light scrubbing was necessary in more heavily soiled areas.

The gutters at the 9th and 11th floors were covered with a copper standing-seam metal cap supported by wood framing. Decorative snow cleats were added to reduce the possibility of snow or ice falling onto pedestrians below.

Once all the stone repairs, cleaning, gutter cap installation, sealant, and mortar joint work was completed, the final step was to apply a consolidant to the building to protect the stone. The existing marble was so deteriorated that it essentially turned to dust at the slightest touch. A sample of the façade material was sent to the consolidant manufacturer for testing. The manufacturer was able to stabilize the stone with three applications of the specified product.

The cleaned and rehabilitated façade is readily visible to the public, and shines in the sunlight as an excellent example of what can be accomplished with a team of professionals working toward a common goal.

Nick Szakelyhidi is a project engineer at Facility Engineering Associates.

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