Well, it’s a blustery day and the mason is home warming his feet making it the perfect opportunity to take photos of his artistry. As I covered in the last post, repointing is merely the act of removing old failing mortar and replacing it with new.
This bit is in the Pony Express yard and retains some of the original plaster that is still clinging to the wall after a hundred years. The mason has paid special attention to making his work look as natural as possible.
This view is of the back of the hotel where the repointing is partially complete. The lichen has been left intact in keeping with the Ghost Town Revival style and the new mortar color has been formulated to look as old as the building. But wait until you’ve seen what the mason has done to the window in the Pony Express yard.
In rebuilding the windowsill, the mason has selected burned bricks found on site to retain the scorched look of the fire that destroyed the Pony Express building in the 1870s. You will also note in the second picture that the mason has dug down to find the stone foundation which is the next clue in this mystery. The mason and I both agree that the original Pony Express floor is around 12″ lower than the current grade level and there must be all sorts of cools stuff to find if we dig it up.
Back in the days of soft bricks and even softer mortar, repointing was a necessary practice. With wet weather and freezing temperatures, both the bricks and the mortar would slowly erode leaving loose bricks and unstable walls. Repointing is simply the process of scraping out the loose mortar joints and repacking with new mortar which is a task that should be ongoing. If neglected for 150 years, it gets to be a problem.
The Union Hotel has gone a very long time without repointing so some of the repair issues are more extreme. In this case, a window sill has gotten so much water that the bricks have disintegrated. With a little digging, the entire sill turned to rubble.
Fortunately, we were able to salvage enough old bricks from a decorative walkway in the backyard to replace what had crumbled beyond usefulness.
Using vintage brick for repairs is critical because new bricks are much harder than the original Gold Rush era bricks and using them will hasten the decay of old bricks adjacent to them. Also the new mortar has to be formulated to be as soft as the old mortar for the same reason. A modern Portland cement would just destroy the bricks around it.
Let the wind blow! Winter is fast approaching and we just got the plastic sheeting up on the windows before the first storm. We had thought that just tacking around the edges of the window would work but the wind gusts were so strong on the west side of the building that I had to add cross bars to keep the plastic from tearing out. It was fortunate that we had all that lath laying around. It was perfect for holding the plastic in place.
Speaking of lath, much of it is now stacked and ready to be shipped off to our friend in Virginia City. As for the plaster that was attached to it, I’m happy to report that we shoveled the last of it into the dumpster and it was taken to the dump where future archeologists will marvel at all the different patterns of wallpaper.
The big news is that Lyon County has just approved our Special Use Permit to occupy the hotel as a private residence. We had a lot of support from the local planner, county commissioner, fire marshal, Dayton historical society and many Dayton neighbors to whom we owe a great thank you.
Getting the permit was the second largest hurdle in making this renovation possible. The largest one is still the seismic retrofits. The design is in the review process now and once that is complete, we will be looking for construction bids. It’s sad that the design process took three months because we are running out of building time this year. The retrofits require removing the roof of the hotel which may not be possible before the onset of winter. We may have to wait for spring now.
Meanwhile, we’ve been working on cleaning out the interior. All the plaster on the second floor is down and we are in the process of shoveling it into a dumpster. It’s just like raking up fall leaves that weigh a ton and are full of nails. All the lath that is still usable will go to another restoration project in Virginia City and we are thrilled to see it recycled instead of ending up in the landfill.
Speaking of recycling, in celebration of getting the Special Use Permit, I went shopping and found a set of knobs and escutcheons for the front door of the saloon.
These are in cast bronze which I plan to gently clean so that the patina remains. The antique dealer couldn’t be sure where this set came from but it’s possible they originated in Virginia City. In any case, they’re gorgeous!