Alumni Court: Restoration Update

The first phase of restoration of the Cranbrook Alumni Court commenced on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. This area, on the far western edge of the original Cranbrook School for Boys campus, contains many beautiful carvings commemorating graduating classes of Cranbrook seniors arranged around a lawn. Phase 1 of the restoration includes rebuilding the upper level walkway running east to west, relaying the paving on the courtyard interior, and restoring the columns, arches, and wall running east to west.  (Future phases include the upper level walkway, columns, and arches running north to south, the masonry stairs aside the courtyard, and all flat paving to the football oval.)

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Plan of Phase 1 activity (in color) at the Alumni Court. Phase 2 is at left (white). Courtesy of Cranbrook Capital Projects.

Over the years, salt and water infiltration caused major deterioration of the Alumni Court’s paving, walls, and walkways. One of the most important improvements we added to this project is heating the walkways.  Heating minimizes the resources needed to constantly shovel and spread ice melt, preserving the materials.

The project’s contractor began with demolition of all material that was beyond repair–mostly the flat areas and the setting beds below.IMG_2343Once the demolition was complete, the contractor replaced the underground storm drain, which was originally clay piping, with new PVC piping. Clay piping is brittle and therefore susceptible to intruding tree roots which lead to leaks and clogs.  The PVC piping will last much longer and minimize maintenance work. Once the PVC piping was installed, soil was filled in and compacted and the trenches were capped with concrete. IMG_2378The next activity was demolishing the concrete bridge. All the existing limestone newel posts and railings were in good condition, so they were set aside to be reinstalled. The masonry wall, below the bridge, was also disassembled because many of the bricks were extremely fragile and showed efflorescence.IMG_2599After a summer of careful work, the masonry wall and arches have been rebuilt to their original beauty.  IMG_0159The concrete bridge has been layered with waterproofing, reinforcing, and heating pipes, and is ready to be poured back with concrete.  The flat paving areas are being prepared for their final layer of brick and stone. IMG_0188Look forward to a final update here on the Blog once the project is complete! As always, many thanks to the contractors who are working hard on this beautiful restoration.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Pergola Restored!

On June 18, 2014, a treacherous storm passed through Bloomfield Hills with wind gusts of up to thirty-nine miles per hour.  At some point during the storm, a tree snapped and fell directly onto the Cranbrook House Pergola*, causing significant damage.  Much of the original redwood trellis was crushed and two of the column capitals were severely damaged. One of the columns was knocked completely off the wall.  In addition, the concrete slab and columns had been deteriorating over time due to water infiltration. Cranbrook was left with an unusable space, directly adjacent to the Sunken Garden.p1

Reconstruction of the pergola began two years later on June 6th, 2016.  The goal was to preserve as much original historic material as possible, while replacing anything that was beyond repair.

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The first step in the restoration process was to re-tuck point all the mortar in the stone walls which had deteriorated over time. All the mortar in the joints between each stone had to be chipped out and cleaned before the new mortar could be installed.  In various instances when mortar was removed, the stones would become loose.  In efforts to hold the stones in place, wood wedges would be inserted to temporarily hold rocks in place. In addition to improving the appearance, the new tuck pointed mortar provided renewed support for the walls, allowing us to remove the floor slab.

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Next, the crew removed the existing wood beam (to be reused) and began to systematically demolish the concrete wall caps and columns.  The northwest column, base and capital were left in place throughout the project as they were structurally sound.  However, the other three columns had to be demolished and rebuilt. Much of the concrete on the inside of the columns was so deteriorated that portions of it could be removed by hand.

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Demolition continued with removing the concrete slab which served as both the ceiling for a garden storage area and the floor for the pergola. Demolition of the slab was challenging because the stone walls were built on top of it, as opposed to the slab being poured abutting the walls.  The contractor had to leave notches of the slab in place to provide support and prevent the walls from collapsing. Each notch was then very carefully removed and temporary shoring was installed to prevent a cave in.

Next, the crew formed the ceiling/floor and installed rebar so the new structural slab would be much stronger than the original. When pouring the concrete, the crew had to be meticulous to ensure it was evenly placed under all the stone walls and through the cage of rebar.

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Once the slab was poured, the crew started building the column forms. Each column’s entasis, or taper, toward the top was achieved by building a wooden barrel that narrowed towards the top.  The concrete was then cast directly into the barrel. This process was very similar to how the columns were originally constructed.

As mentioned earlier, one of the beams was salvageable in its entirety. However, the other beam had to be rebuilt with about fifty percent new wood bolted to the older beam. Like the original construction, we used redwood. The contractor replaced all the purlins (or cross beams) with new redwood, using one of the original purlins to recreate the decorative pattern on each end.

After a few finishing touches, the new (and improved) Cranbrook House Pergola was completed. Many thanks to the crew involved in this restoration project, and come check it out for yourself soon!

* Cranbrook Archives was able to determine that the original pergola was intact as early as 1919.

View from Cranbrook House looking down “Hedge Alley” towards the pergola, ca 1925. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Special thanks to Elizabeth Fairman (CKU ’17) for research assistance.

Tree Falls on Shoe Falls: A Story of Restoration

This week’s post is from a new guest contributor, Ryan Pfeifer. Ryan works with Cranbrook’s Capital Projects Office, and we hope to feature more of his (and Capital Projects) work to preserve our historic campus in the future! -Ed.

Nestled in the forest between the Greek Theatre and Triton Pools sits an overlook known as Shoe Falls.* While researching original drawings at Cranbrook Archives, I discovered that the pond, waterfall, and overlook were designed in 1941 by Cranbrook’s civil engineer, John Buckberrough, and constructed in 1943.

During a storm in mid-November 2016, a large tree fell onto the railing, fatally cracking two railing caps and dislodging seven balusters. Cranbrook’s Capital Projects Office was tasked with managing the restoration of this historic site on campus.

The first step in the restoration process was to carefully remove the stones and set them aside. This way, the grounds crew could remove the fallen tree. The cracked limestone railing caps were digitally measured and new pieces were ordered from a local stone fabricator, who purchases new limestone from Indiana. The baluster stones were reused but meticulously cleaned of old mortar, dirt and other debris. To make sure the railing replacement was to the highest quality possible, holes were drilled in the bottom slab and stainless steel pins were inserted. The pins were epoxied into place which permanently attaches them to the bottom slab and creates an anchor point for the baluster. A small bed of mortar was placed around the pin and the balusters were set on top of the mortar. Each baluster was leveled vertically and horizontally to ensure the stone caps would sit perfectly level.

The same procedure, with the epoxied pins and mortar, was performed on top of each baluster so the railing cap would be tied to the supporting elements below. Finally, the caps were set into place, again keeping a close eye on leveling and placement so everything was put back seamlessly. Come spring, the site will be fully restored by planting grass seed. Many thanks to the contractor and crew for an outstanding historic restoration project!

*The small pond which feeds the waterfall was initially named Shoe Lake and the waterfall did not have a specific name, however, over the years, the name Shoe Falls has been adopted for this entire area.

Ryan Pfeifer, Project Manager II, Cranbrook Capital Projects

Three Women and a Conservator

One of the interesting components of our jobs as collections managers, registrars, and archivists is that we get to interact and learn from conservators in our fields. On Friday, three of us went down to Detroit and met with Giogio Ginkas of Venus Bronze Works. A non-descript warehouse building sported a gray metal door which led us into the lobby gallery where Giorgio has displayed art from his personal collection of metro-Detroit artists, including Cranbrook’s Gary Griffin. Then we walked into the “shop” where his tools and equipment are interspersed with numerous sculptures (primarily metal) in various stages of repair, restoration, and conservation.

Giorgio Ginkas explaining the conservation process for the Wishing Well. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Giorgio Ginkas explaining the conservation process for the Wishing Well. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Currently, Venus Bronze Works has three of Cranbrook’s works in his shop – two are awaiting reinstallation on the grounds, while the metal “arch” from the Wishing Well at Cranbrook House is just undergoing restoration.

Parts of the Wishing Well “arch” removed for restoration. One element was missing so a replacement piece had to be fabricated. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Parts of the Wishing Well “arch” removed for restoration. One element was missing so a replacement piece had to be fabricated. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Orpheus figure, restored and waiting to be reinstalled at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAM 1931.9). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Orpheus figure, restored and waiting to be reinstalled at Cranbrook Academy of Art (CAM 1931.9). Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

For more on Venus Bronze Works, including Detroit’s own RoboCop statue, see: http://www.dailydetroit.com/2015/08/24/remember-robo-cop-statue/

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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