Belgravia Restoration Project

August 17, 2016

 

The Belgravia, constructed in 1902, was designed by the respected Philadelphia architecture team of Milligan & Webber.  The building has served as a hotel, a night club, offices and now a condominium at 1811 Chestnut Street.  Listed on the National and Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and with an easement from the Preservation Alliance the building’s exterior construction represents the Beaux-Arts architecture of the early 20th century in Philadelphia.

 

The ornate terra cotta masonry provided sculptured architectural finishes paired with conservative vertical construction.  Through the years the façades and entrance of the building had been neglected resulting in severe deterioration, ill-conceived and poorly implemented repairs and failing and unsafe conditions.  By the early 2000’s the once beautiful building was an eyesore on the Chestnut St. landscape covered with protective netting and dilapidated sidewalk bridging.   After conversion to condominiums in 2006 the new building owners endeavored to restore the façade and main building entrance back to its original proud condition while preserving much of the original building fabric including historic terra cotta masonry, wood windows and cast iron.  O&S Associates designed and managed the complex project through completion in late 2015. 

 

All of the masonry walls were extensively restored including the entirety of the primary Chestnut St. terra cotta, granite and brick masonry façade.  The program included replacement of over 500 unique pieces of terra cotta that needed to be cultivated from the failing façade for exact replication through a precise modeling and molding process.  These pieces were then installed into the façade and were carefully finished to match the weathered condition of the preserved terra cotta.  Weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, replacement of the terra cotta required specialty rigging and tremendous care to ensure that the preserved pieces were not damaged or displaced.  Working with the Philadelphia Historic Commission and the Preservation Alliance, the terra cotta repair program was designed to preserve as much of the original terra cotta construction as possible.  The installation of new fresh terra cotta pieces dispersed throughout the existing preserved pieces presented specific challenges to avoid a quilt work finish appearance of new vs. old.  In keeping with the preservation design priority the finishes of the “new” pieces of terra cotta were altered to match the original cleaned but weathered finishes using an artisan application of iron oxide colorant applied meticulously to the new pieces of terra cotta to simulate long term weathering.  This finish technique was developed and perfected through trial and error by the specialty restoration contractor, MPG, and O&S Associates. 

 

The original wood windows were in complete disrepair and unsightly storm windows had been affixed to the exterior of the window frames as a stop gap measure to keep the elements out.  The restoration program included replacement of all of the windows throughout the building via a combination of a comprehensive wood window restoration program and the use of custom extruded aluminum replacement windows designed to match the exact profile and light opening of the original window assemblies.  The wood window restoration was completed at the Chestnut St. facing façade and included meticulous preservation of the existing wood window frames to maintain the original fabric of the building.  Replacement of the windows restored the windows to their original aesthetic design while improving their performance to 21st Century standards.

 

Additional repairs included complete restoration of the projected metal clad bays at the side and rear building elevations.  Large portions of the bays had rotten out due to neglect and continuous water infiltration.  The restoration program included removal and replacement of damaged portions of the bay metal cladding and reconstruction of substrate support elements.  New metal cladding was shop and field formed to match the original cladding profile and finish and then painted to match the original painting scheme. 

 

One of the most prominent aspects of the program was the preservation of the cast iron canopy at the main entrance of the building.  The iron canopy had missing, damaged and corroded iron elements requiring replicated cast iron replacements to match the original profile. The original paint color was identified during the paint stripping process and was re-produced to complete the preservation of the canopy to its originally designed appearance.

 

The restoration and preservation project was completed in December of 2015 on time and on budget. The restored building will serve as an example of thoughtful restoration and preservation for all of the Historic Chestnut St. and Philadelphia built environment.

 

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