Preservation Month at the Old State House (Part IV)

May is Preservation Month, a chance to celebrate the historic buildings that make up our cultural landscape, and to honor the continued work that is done to maintain this building. At the Old State House, we are taking this opportunity to look back on some of the preservation and restoration projects that the Society has completed in the last decade. Matt Ottinger, our Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation, concludes his series this week with a look at work that was done from 2012-2015 but read his previous posts here

West Façade, East Balcony, and Lion & Unicorn Restoration

 

West Façade

In 2012, the Society convened a team that included Judy Selwyn, a historic preservation consultant; David Storeygard, an architect; Mark Webster, a structural engineer; and myself, to review conditions of the west façade. Using a man-lift the team inspected the Old State House with a strong focus on its west façade. By viewing the conditions up close, the group found major deterioration issues.

The team concluded that the building had been hemorrhaging moisture, leading to decay and ice-damage. The OSH, built in 1713, was not designed to have a modern HVAC system and the wood and masonry of the building had not responded well in the 25 years since its installation.  During cold months, positive air pressure maintained inside the building had pushed warm humid air out, through cracks and openings in the façades.  Where the humid air encountered the cold surfaces of windows, walls, and sheathing, it condensed and froze on the building, forming ice-dams and causing cracks in masonry and rot in the wood.  Water drip marks are visible on the windows and balustrades. The Society installed a relief fan and ventilation in the building’s tower to alleviate the HVAC concerns.

Brick work at the Old State House
The Society then focused its efforts on restoration of the west façade. The preservation team recommended rebuilding the upper chimney section, salvaging and reusing fully-sound bricks, and supplementing those with new, matching bricks. Cast stone elements were replaced with Portland Brownstone, and exterior lighting fixtures were replaced with smaller LED fixtures.  On the parapet, sealant was applied to the step-flashing on the rear side and ‘L’-shaped lead caps will be added at the coping wall transition where the scrolls sit. All mortar joints of the entire west façade were cut out and repointed. This work included the resetting of loose bricks and the replacement of any isolated, deteriorated bricks. The cement wash of the two belt courses was replaced as necessary.

Windows on the west façade were in various states of deterioration. All of them required sanding, feathering, and spot-priming of their surfaces, as well as replacement of defective putty. The two ox-eye windows needed to be removed, so that they could be stripped, repaired, and painted off-site, before they were reinstalled with new flashing and sealant. The center window on the second floor needs a new wood sill and sealant.


East Balcony

The restored balcony, ready to be assembled and reinstalled
The iconic balcony, from which the Declaration of Independence was read to Bostonians in 1776, was in need of restoration. Due to exposure to severe weather conditions in Boston's historic center, wood and masonry throughout the building had deteriorated significantly over the years. The Society executed the following work in 2014-15:
  • Replacement of the decayed wooden corner posts and rails;
  • Repair of the doors and surrounds;
  • Re-flashing and sealing of areas connecting the masonry and wood;
  • Repainting of all woodwork. 

Lion & Unicorn Restoration

In the fall of 2014 the Society teamed with Skylight Studios to regild the lion and unicorn statues that sit atop the building on the east façade. Using a man-lift and crane, the two statues were carefully lowered into specially constructed crates for transportation to Skylight Studios. Once on-site and unpacked, the statues received much needed care. First the remaining gilding had to be stripped from the statues and the copper cleaned. Next, the statues were covered in a special primer and a clear material called size. The size is a tacky substance that gold and platinum leaf adheres to.  The process was complete once the many individual sheets of gold or platinum were layered on the statues. The lion and unicorn statues were then returned to the Old State House and revealed during a small ceremony before being reinstalled on their individual perches.


Preservation and restoration work at the Old State House is on-going.  For information on how you can help preserve this national treasure, please call 617-720-1713 ext. 16, or send us an email.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation