Inhabitated but unrestored

An interesting article in the New York Times about a formerly abandoned clubhouse that has been made into a very interesting home by cleaning up lots of pigeon droppings, but little actual restoration:

Selma clubhouse

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Two Stories of Passenger Ship Preservation

Certainly one of the “biggest” recent stories in preservation was the announcement that the S.S. United States would receive a reprieve from the scrappers who have been circling its rusting hull for years.

The “Big U” as the ship was known, is widely regarded as the finest American passenger ship ever built.  Launched in 1952, it is a survivor of America’s golden age of travel.  In the early 1950s, American technology, industry and and design were harnessed by commerce to create faster, more comfortable ways to travel in style.

The ship, which still holds the record for the fastest transatlantic crossing, had been for sale for months.  This last minute reprieve is only the beginning for a great deal of hard work; from fundraising to restoration, to coming up with an adaptive reuse which will keep the ship going for the foreseeable future.

With a great deal of work and luck, this ship will not wind up as a giant metaphor for the rise and fall of America’s industrial abilities.

To get a better sense of the ship’s significance, here is the trailer for the 2008 documentary S.S United States:Lady In Waiting.

Closer to home (and a bit smaller in scope), a potential project inspired me to learn more about the fittings and design that made up the interiors of ships like the United States.

After coming across a pair of rough chairs alleged to have come from the Queen Mary, I set out to research what I could about why these chairs might no longer be aboard ship.

Below is a photo of some of the chairs in their original location, the area today referred to as “Picadilly Circus”.

Like most people, I had assumed that the Queen Mary one visits today is pretty much as it was received by the City of Long Beach from Cunard.  It was eye opening to learn just how much has changed, how much was lost (after the ship had arrived in Long Beach) and how frequently the attraction has come to shutting down.

The chairs may lack the grace of the previous ones, but cruise director Zora still gives service with a smile.

In the end, I did not end up restoring the chairs.  Instead, they were acquired by a relative of a former Queen Mary engine room crew member.  Amazingly enough, the new owner had found a bolt of unused Queen Mary lounge chair material on Ebay which still featured a promotional label from its original vendor, Liberty & Co. of London.  While it was originally manufactured for chairs in the first class lounge, it was very similar to the the white patterned upholstery used on these two chairs.

For more on the restoration and proposed future of this area of the ship, see the extensive web site of a Queen Mary enthusiast:

For a related story of Peter Knego and his efforts to bring back classic ship fittings from the scrappers’ beaches of Alang, India: midshipcentury

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Inspiring Revivals:The Cosmopolitan Hotel

May 5, 2010 | Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda

This week, I came across news of the upcoming reopening of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in San Diego’s Old Town State Historic Park. While I haven’t had a chance to see it in person, what I have seen online is quite impressive. It’s clear that a great deal of effort went in to researching and uncovering many layers of long-hidden features.  Amazingly, despite the extensive multi-year restoration work, the Cosmopolitan Hotel is estimated to retain 80% of its original fabric.

Here in California, buildings this old are as rare as hens teeth. Being so rare, they’ve typically been set aside as museums; Interesting relics from an almost unimaginably rustic, distant time, understandably well protected behind velvet ropes.  Here in Los Angeles, the oldest buildings I work on are from the 1880s.

Almost unheard of in California are buildings this old, an 1820s adobe remodeled in the 1860s.  Even rarer are such buildings which continue to be a living, breathing part of the world; in this case, a historic hotel that is (once again) taking paying guests.

Old Town San Diego SHP has always been one of my favorite places. As evocative as individual historic buildings can be, its quite a different experience to be able to see an entire streetscape of period buildings and signange.     Old Town Sacramento and Harpers Ferry are two additional examples of entire districts  turning back the clock through the restoration, recreation and selective demolition of buildings.

I wonder if this month’s hotel guests will be allowed to soak in the the ambiance from the balcony with a cigar and a glass of punch?  I’m guessing not.   As much as the caretakers might appreciate authenticity, today’s carefully restored incarnation of the Cosmopolitan Hotel is probably non-smoking.

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Reviving L.A.’s last Greene & Greene

Late last year, I had the opportunity to work on the Wheeler Residence, the last remaining building left in the City of Los Angeles designed by the Greene brothers.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

There’s more information about the house, which is for sale, on the LA Times site.

I was there because a double-hung window needed reroping and the counter-balanced basement door wasn’t working right.

I have to admit, it was pretty exciting to work on the window.  I’ve reroped many, many double-hung windows over the years, but this was a little different.  Not only was it Greene & Greene designed, but every other window in the house was a casement window, which was more typical for Greene & Greene  houses.  Was I repairing the last Greene & Greene double-hung window in Los Angeles?  For a window restorer, this was pretty heady stuff.

The basement door was a puzzle.  With its pulleys, (missing) ropes and trap doors, it seemed more nautical than anything else.

After rigging it up by using the door as a counterbalance, the trap doors did work but poorly.  But there was one pulley left that I hadn’t used.  I just couldn’t figure out the purpose of a pulley that was on the basement side of the door.

Basement door closed

Running out of ideas, I called information to get Jane Powell’s number in Berkeley.  Jane is a restoration consultant, an expert on Craftsman houses and is the author of many of my favorite restoration books, including Bungalow Details: Exterior and Bungalow Details: Interior.

Apparently she hadn’t seen a mechanism like this either.

Finally, after staring at the thing long enough, I realized that the casing was worn below the inside pulley.  There must have been a weight that hung there!

I grabbed the smallest window weight I could find in my truck and rigged it up.  It worked.

Basement door open

Quite a day.  I had repaired an interesting and possibly unique architectural mechanism and reroped what may be the last double-hung window left in the City of Los Angeles designed by Greene & Greene (if one wants to get particular).

Driving away, I felt quite a bit of pride.

Just as I was turning the corner, though, I saw them.  There were three more double-hung windows in the kitchen.  Ah well, so much for my bragging rights.

The L.A. Times article says that the kitchen is a later addition though…

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Before & After: 2

Even more successful than the Jalousie salesman of the 1950s & ’60s were those responsible for the aluminum sliders that followed.

Here, a 1930s Spanish house in Glendale lost many of its original window sash.

Metal windows like this slider conduct greater heat gain & loss than the wood sash that originally sat within this jamb.

Because the window is south-facing, the homeowner wanted to maximize the insulating quality of the window.  Though it may be hard to tell from the photo, the new Douglas Fir sash replicate an original window in material and design, but are dual-glazed.

The home’s period character is restored and the homeowner is more comfortable in summer.

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Before & After:1

With this inaugural post, I’d like to show the first of what will likely be many “before & after” shots.

This example is from one of the many fine 1930s Spanish duplexes near Carthay Circle, just south of Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile.

Jalousie louver window salesman convinced many property owners to get rid of their wood window sash for the seemingly modern appearance and “low maintenance” of glass and aluminum.  I wonder though, how many drafty winters or noisy mufflers did it take for buyer’s remorse to set in?

With the new replica sash, the building’s original streamline design elements come through more clearly.

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