The Devil Is in the Details For Massive Restoration
On a day in late January 2012, as members of Plymouth, Minn.-based Dominium Development gathered outside the 116-year-old brick and terra cotta Chemical Building, an empty St. Louis high-rise they were considering converting to housing, one of them eyed another empty, historic high-rise across the street, the gothic-styled Arcade Building, a 16-story brick and terra cotta clad structure built in 1913.
"Oh, that building's available, too, and I have the plans for it," said Paul Hohmann, a project manager with St. Louis-based Ebersoldt + Associates Architects, who was assisting the developer team in its evaluations.
It turns out that as an employee of now-defunct St. Louis developer Pyramid Properties, Hohmann had participated in earlier plans to convert the Arcade-a former office building so named for a lavish, three-story, rib-vaulted retail corridor bisecting its base-into a mixed-use facility combining office, retail and hotel condominiums. Pyramid was proceeding with preliminary demolition for the project when, in 2008, the condominium market collapsed and Pyramid's fortunes with it.
Ebersoldt, a veteran of Dominium projects, shared with the developer plans it had prepared for the Arcade, including floor plans, elevations and sections documenting existing conditions. Dominium was intrigued, just as the city of St. Louis, owner of the property, was intrigued by Dominium's interest in redeveloping Arcade as a 282-unit apartment building with former retail space becoming a 54,000-sq-ft "gateway campus" for Webster University.
More than three years later, on a day in late August, Hohmann was overseeing the $116-million restoration of the 538,000-sq-ft Arcade, explaining that the undertaking actually involves a pair of conjoined buildings, the other being the 1907 Wright Building, with Arcade wrapping around the smaller, plainer 18-story structure to form a courtyard at the center of the two.
RETRACING OLD STEPS
On that August day, crews on scaffolding were anchoring the restored or replicated terra cotta panels that frame three stories of arched and bayed windows along the base of Arcade's north facade. Within, in its namesake 35-ft-high arcade, a space characterized by marble flooring and walls; arched, wood-framed entrances to former shops; cast-iron railings; and marble newel posts supporting a grand stairway ascending to upper levels, a craftsman atop a scissor lift was applying the decorative stenciling required to recreate the space's faux-tile ceiling.
"We traced the patterns from old photos," says Hohmann, who notes that all restoration work for both Arcade and Wright is being performed in accordance with guidelines issued by the National Register of Historic Places, on which both facilities are listed.
"The governing principal is to preserve as much of the existing fabric as possible and, if you can't, select materials that resemble it," says Hohmann. Unlike much of the arcade's base, the budget dictated the use of glass reinforced gypsum with a glazed finish to simulate terra cotta for spandrel panels above and below upper floor windows. The same was true for 32 1-ft-tall brackets missing from balcony space on the interior arcade's mezzanine level.
In such instances, crews assembled mock-ups to ensure replacements passed muster. When repairs and replacement called for actual terra cotta, project team members collaborated with Orchard Park, N.Y.-based Boston Valley Terra Cotta, one of two remaining terra cotta fabricators in the U.S., according to Hohmann. To replace damaged pieces, Boston Valley crews carefully removed representative members and created molds in their Boston Valley shop.
In other instances, St. Louis based Paric Corp., the project's general contractor and an enterprise known for its work on historic structures, self-performed restoration work on site, particularly on components involving carpentry and marble.