A Window for Preservation

Posted: January 10, 2017

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Last year’s Preservation Carpentry (PC) project was a first in many ways. It was the first time students had worked on a building that no longer exists, but it will also be the first time their work will appear in a national museum.

Several prominent New Englanders had a hand in creating the Loring House in the Prides Crossing neighborhood of Beverly, Massachusetts. The summer cottage built on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in 1884 was designed in the Shingle Style by architect William Ralph Emerson (a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson) for Charles G. Loring, the first director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Also involved was Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture whose portfolio includes the “Emerald Necklace” series of parks in Boston and Brookline.

By the time Loring descendant Samuel Codman died in 2008, the house had lived through more than a century of oceanside wind, rain, and sun, and needed a major restoration. Each year, PC students practice their skills by doing restoration work on a historic building, so normally this would be a great opportunity to help bring it back to its former glory.

However, it turned out that restoration would have been too expensive, so the house was slated to be torn down after museums had a chance to salvage components for their collections. The National Building Museum invited the School’s PC program to help by removing and then restoring a divided window with a fanlight and raised panels as well as a curved door with brownstone threshold.

In the spring of 2015, PC students identified, photographed, and labeled pieces of the house section before it was disassembled, crated, and moved to NBSS. The subsequent restoration work included repairs when possible, or replacing missing pieces with identical pieces made of the same materials and techniques. Since the house had stood for over a century with various cosmetic changes, the students had to choose a specific point in time they would try to restore it to. They picked 1906.

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The project eventually took 11 students and one instructor more than 3,000 hours to complete, even though they deliberately worked on only half of the piece to maintain a “before and after” look. The half-restored wall is now on display in the School’s Windgate Gallery, but it will be moved soon to the National Building Museum.

Although the project didn’t employ any ground-breaking techniques, “it was all absolutely a new experience for the students. And I haven’t gotten involved in a window of these proportions in the 15 years I’ve been teaching here,” says PC Department Head Steven O’Shaughnessy PC ’99.

“It was a unique situation, because it sort of goes against why we’re here,” he adds. “We’re here to protect, preserve, and restore, so it’s sort of a melancholy experience to work on a house that no longer exists. I’m very proud of my students that they kept their heads down and really brought their game to the task at hand and didn’t let their emotions rule.”

This is one of nine program stories from the NBSS 2016 Annual Report. Download the full Report here.