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.

Eat, Greek, and Be Merry: the Greek Theatre Turns 100!

Drama and arts and crafts have been intertwined in Detroit history for more than 100 years. Under the auspices of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (DSAC), on January 19th 1910, May Morris (daughter of William Morris) captivated a capacity crowd at the Detroit Museum of Art with her illustrated lecture “Pageantry and the Mask.” Morris’s presentation helped mark a turning point in propelling Detroit onto the national stage as an arts and crafts center. Almost immediately after May Morris left Detroit, Alexandrine McEwen, a bookplate artist and founding member of the DSAC, penned what was termed a “modern immorality play” called Everywoman with characters named “Suffrage” and “Art.” Less than a month later, she wrote The Masque of Arcadia, another outdoor play held on the grounds of Clairview, J.L. Hudson’s Grosse Pointe estate. These performances led to the DSAC being the first to foster a little theatre as part of their program.

By 1914, George Booth (the first president of the DSAC) already had plans in mind for a bathing pavilion and a theatre on the hill overlooking Cranbrook House. (My own suspicion is that he did not like the fact that the DSAC performances were not held on HIS estate!) In early 1915, Booth commissioned Canadian architect Marcus Burrowes to draw up the plans for an outdoor Greek Theatre. The open-air amphitheater, constructed of stone, seats nearly 300 people and was described in contemporary news articles as a “gem of architecture” and a “temple of art.” By May 1916, landscaping was underway and red tulips graced the front of the bathing pavilion.

Invitation Card, The Cranbrook Masque, June 1916. George Gough Booth Papers.

Invitation Card, The Cranbrook Masque, June 1916. George Gough Booth Papers.

Meanwhile, the DSAC was planning the production of The Cranbrook Masque which would also serve as the public dedication for the new Greek Theatre. The play showed the development of drama from ancient to modern times in five episodes, emulating May Morris’s lecture theme from 1910. For more on the play, see an earlier blog post.

Greek Theater masque, 1916

The Cranbrook Masque at the Greek Theatre, 1916. Hand-tinted glass slide.

Fast forward to 1991 and the 75th anniversary of the Greek Theatre. A team of dedicated Cranbrook staff, historians, and theater enthusiasts initiated the restoration of the Greek Theatre and a contemporary production, using the script from the original Masque, this time with cast members from St. Dunstan’s Guild and dancers from Jessie Sinclair’s Cranbrook Kingswood Dancers.

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Cranbrook House sunken garden (originally called the kitchen garden) with staked tomato plants, ca 1915.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Greek Theatre and a long-standing tradition of theater programs at Cranbrook. In honor of this memorable event, the Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research will be presenting “Edible Landscapes: A Midsummer Night’s Dinner.”

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

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