Back Balcony

In an attempt to recreate the historic look of the back of the hotel, we must pay special attention to the back balcony. It provided a rear exit from the second floor to the ground by way of a long staircase. This was probably more for access to the outhouse than it was for escaping fires but who really knows? Now, it would be easy enough to just copy the original but the original design does not live up the current building codes and would never get approved by the county.


In the original, the stairs exited the left of the balcony and went straight down to land adjacent to the door to the Pony Express yard. This was a long and steep staircase which I’m okay with but it would make the building department unhappy. The new stairs have to be much less steep and there must be a landing somewhere in the middle for people to rest on their upward journey. As you can see in the above model, the stairs will have to bend in the middle and head out into the yard. Not only will this take up more space, but also, I now have a column on the wall in the same space as my breaker panel thus requiring it to move at great expense.


In this next version, I’ve flipped the balcony and put the exit stairs on the right. Not only is this more aesthetically pleasing, but also, it avoids blocking the breaker panel. It’s now up to the engineer to decide what works.

Slowly But Surely

We finally have the seismic retrofit plans but now we are faced with the county. The hurdle that the county has set in place is that, despite the special use permit for residential, this project is still considered to be commercial and we must get a general contractor to handle our subcontractors. This is frustrating because it adds another level of expense to do the coordination that we’re already doing ourselves.

While we are now looking for a GC, we’ve kept ourselves busy with the upstairs prep work.


This included another dump run with the last of the plaster.


I finally have a clean space to work.

Meanwhile, we had a side adventure on Halloween. Considering that the hotel had been broken into before, it seemed like a good idea to stake the place out for the year’s most mischievous night. So, My wife and I ordered a pizza, set up a table and played cards until the wee hours. Of course, no corporeal pranksters came by which was a bit anticlimactic but we did entertain ourselves by taking a few spooky night photos. Here we have a lot of orbs around our game table.


Are they spirits of the past or are they only dust particles captured by the camera flash? You decide.


Rainy Friday

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.

Repointing Has Begun!

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.



Batten Down the Hatches!

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!

Colorful Experiments

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last post and we should soon have the seismic retrofit design completed. In the meantime, we’ve not been idle. We’ve started a Gofundme page to help with the seismic retrofits since this is the largest line item in the budget and it benefits the historic community. We’ve also continued to clear out the lath and plaster from the second floor and expect to have that done in a week or two.

But that’s all the tedious stuff and we’ve had to have at least a little fun to keep ourselves entertained. Based on recommendations from the Historic Commission, I’ve come up with a color scheme that may work.


The red is brick, of course, and the gold and green are historically correct for Victorian trim and wall colors. You may also note that the column bases on the balcony have become rather large. This is based on the engineer’s requirement that the concrete column footings must be 14″ square and rise 5″ above the sidewalk. This Could be a trip hazard so I’ll fashion paneled wood boxes to turn the footings into architectural elements that at least look period. I’ll have to run this by the Historic Commission but it should be okay since the large footings are a structural safety issue which overrides historic correctness in many cases.

Argh! Windows!

To all my lovely readers, I’m in need of your wisdom. As you’ve probably noticed from previous photos, most of the windows in the Union are pretty much toast. The jambs can possibly be saved but the double hung sashes are crispy critter. I’ve been looking at several all wood six over six lite windows but no matter what brand, they all have bad reviews including fogging, leaking frames and even exploding glass. Have any of you had good experience with a window manufacturer? I’d love to have your input.

Sifting Clues

As we peel back the layers of old plaster and past remodels, it’s becoming apparent that the Union Hotel was not built all at once and possibly did not even start out as a hotel in the first place. Currently, it’s agreed that the stone wall of the court yard is the old Pony Express building that predated the hotel structure by many years but the evidence is tossing up some contradictions. From the following photos, it looks like the roof structure of the Pony Express building actually used the side of the hotel as a support which is impossible if the hotel was not built at the same time or before the Pony Express building.

Pocket 01

Pocket 02

The beam pockets in the pony express wall align with the beam pockets in the brick wall of the hotel. Also, it seems apparent that the rear wall of the Pony Express building was neatly tailored to the hotel wall.

Building seam

This suggests that the Pony Express building was built after the hotel structure which messes with the accepted later construction date of the hotel. Considering this, I’m contemplating the idea that there was a brick structure on the hotel site that was as old or older than the Pony Express building and that that structure was later converted into the Union Hotel on the date that is historically agreed upon. My first bit of evidence is the window headers on the first and second floors. They are not the same.

First flr header

On the first floor, the windows are deep set. The masonry is supported by multiple iron bars and a fancy flat keystone of vertically arranged bricks.

Second floor Header

On the second floor, the windows are not as deeply set. Only a single iron bar is visible and the keystone is an arch of horizontally laid brick. There is also a subtle change in brick color between the first and second floors.

Brick change

If you look closely, you can see that the bricks between the beam pockets are a lighter shade than those above the beam pockets. This can mean either that they are a different brick or possibly weathering has changed the color. The detail is inconclusive so let’s look at some other pictures. Inside the second floor bedrooms at the rear of the building is another clue.

Burn 01

Burn 02

Note the burn marks on the mortar and bricks at the base of the wall and how they stop after the sixth course of bricks. This tells me that the first floor structure burned and that when it was rebuilt, a second floor was added. That would explain the difference in window style between the first and second floors. It could also support the theory that there was an older structure on site that became the Union Hotel in later years. If that’s the case, then what was the earlier building? Perhaps there is an explanation.


This message is written in carbide lamp soot and it’s been hiding under the plaster in the Pony Express yard for a very long time. I can’t read it. Does anyone have sharper eyes than me?

When in Rome

I heard in a movie once that when the Romans didn’t know what to do next, they built stuff. In the case of the movie, they were referring to things like catapults and scaling towers but the theory still holds true in more peaceful endeavors. In my case, the bid for cleaning out the second floor lath and plaster turned out to be way more than I wanted to pay so it behooved me to come up with a another solution.

Renting a dumpster was the easy part but actually getting the construction debris to it from the second floor was a bit of a trick. The hotel’s rear balcony was a perfect exit but the decrepit old carport stood between it and the best place to park the dumpster. Then, I think of our friends the Romans and it hits me that I just need to build a solution.


Using salvaged lumber, I created a ramp from the balcony down to the roof of the carport. The sheathing on the carport was way to0 rotted to safely walk on so I located my supports over the carport rafters hiding underneath the sheathing. Now, I can just roll a wheelbarrow down the ramp and dump it in the dumpster from the top of the carport.

On another topic, we had a visitor last Friday night. It’s apparent that someone came up the stairs to the back balcony and broke in through the second floor door. This was a feat in itself because those stairs were so scary that I would not have attempted them myself. But I digress. Nothing was taken but whomever got in went on to break the only complete unbroken window in the building.

Como Window

They lifted the lower sash and then broke the glass in both the upper and lower sashes with one strike from the inside. I hope that they realize that this is a protected historic structure and that vandalizing it is a felony and not a misdemeanor.