The seismic retrofit plans are still in the works but, in the meantime, I’ve been keeping busy with prep work. This week saw a minor victory in making demolition more safe. The scary electrical wiring has been disconnected at the source and I now have two new J-boxes with GFIs to safely power my tools. A big thanks goes out to my electrician.
With that done, it’s back to the plaster demolition on the second floor without any fear of lighting myself up like a Christmas tree.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with lath and plaster but for those who’ve not experienced the pleasure, the following is a brief description of what it’s like.
This image is of what a lath and plaster wall looks like after being whacked a few times with a crowbar. It’s basically a 1/2″ thick layer of very soft cement that’s been troweled onto a series of 1 1/2″ wide slats which are nailed to the wall studs beyond. The fun patterns that you see are many layers of wall paper adhered to the exterior face of the plaster and, in this case, it’s mostly what’s holding the old plaster together.
On the back side of the wall, you can see how the plaster spludges through the lath. Is spludge a real word? Well anyway, the spludging is what causes the plaster to anchor to the lath thus making it stay in place for a hundred years or until someone like me whacks it with a crowbar. Why you don’t see this material used anymore is that it is very labor intensive to apply and requires a highly skilled craftsman. A typical house could take weeks to plaster and months to dry. With the invention of drywall or gypsum board, the process of covering walls could be done much more rapidly with less skilled laborers thus leaving the skilled craftsman out on the street corner selling pencils.
Now, back to the project. I’ve pulled down about as much plaster as I can by myself and I’m hip deep in rubble. It’s now time to call in my contractor with his crew of very strong guys and a dumpster to clean up the mess. While I’m waiting for a window on his calendar, I’ve taken the time to start scrounging whatever elements that I can use.
It’s a shame to let any of this stuff go to waste particularly when you see the prices for this sort of thing at the architectural salvage places in Berkeley. Oh, and lest I forget, this little beauty came out of the Guv-Nor’s-Sweet and will look fabulous once restored.
As part of the engineering plan for seismic retrofits, a shear test is required to determine the strength of the original mortar in the hotel walls. In preparation for this test, one brick is removed from the wall and one vertical mortar joint is removed from the far side of an adjacent brick.
Into the hole left by the missing brick, a hydraulic ram is inserted.
A hand activated pump will cause the ram to exert force against the adjacent brick with the goal of sliding the adjacent brick into the space left by the missing mortar joint. Once that happens, a gauge on the pump will report how much pressure was exerted before the mortar failed allowing the brick to slide.
Something to note on this particular test is that the wall is painted with latex paint which, in this case, served to protect the brick making it one of the strongest walls of the building. This runs counter to what I’ve been reading about old brick walls and their need to breath. Moisture being trapped inside bricks by paint is supposed to hasten brick deterioration but apparently, Nevada is so dry that moisture doesn’t get trapped in the first place. This makes the project a lot easier since I don’t have to worry about removing all that latex paint from the masonry.
Now, everyone please send your good thoughts. Once the test results are in, the structural engineer will create his plans and we’ll know if this project is financially feasible.
I’m still waiting for the seismic retrofit design to be completed but in the meantime, I’m exploring the structure with a bit of delicate crowbar work. One of the first things I discovered had me running for the breaker box. This photo is of the main connection that powers the second floor. Can you say EEEK! boys and girls?
It was simply stuffed into a wall cavity with no junction box and I expect more of same throughout the rest of the building. The plan is to completely replace the old electrical so that I don’t have to trust wiring like this.
On a better note, the only vermin that I’ve found inside so far has been this little fellow. I suspect he won’t be much of a problem.
Oh, and there’s also mud swallows nesting in the bathroom light fixture but they’re too cute to be counted as vermin.
The best news is that I opened up the second floor ceiling to check the roof structure and I was amazed at how solidly it was built. The ceiling joists are 2″ x 10″s of knot free cedar and they are all 24′ long! They just don’t make trees like that anymore.
You can also see that the roof is sheathed with full cedar planking and that the attic space has plenty of room for the new HVAC ducts. Looking at how fresh the lumber looks, it’s mind boggling to consider that this was cut 150 years ago.
While looking for the water line to the hotel, I found this cap buried in the yard. Does anyone recognize what it is? It’s about 5″ in diameter and mounted on a white PVC pipe. I don’t think it’s sewage because a sewage cleanout would be black with a square nut on the cap.
While we are waiting for the structural engineer to figure out how much concrete to add to the hotel, I’ll take a moment for some back story and flagrant self aggrandizement.
My fascination with the Union is a mix of several background interests that I’ve had since I was a child. The most important being interests in antiquities, architecture and reuse of materials. This inspired many possibilities including building a home from scratch.
This is one of numerous house ideas that I’ve toyed with over the years. This particular design uses shipping containers as the structural component with the idea that once the sheathing and dry wall goes on, it would be impossible to tell it apart from a normal stick built house. I’ve toyed with other concepts as well such as rammed earth and straw bale construction.
The Union; however, has provided a suitable shell for my passions so there is no reason to start from scratch anymore. The Union’s architecture, both interior and exterior, is aesthetically pleasing to my taste and the building provides enough room for my other endeavors as well.
As for the other endeavors, I’m an artist of scattered interests. In other words, I try everything that I can. I started by learning wood craft from my father and went on to glass, ceramics and metal. Mix that with the interest in recycled materials, and it makes for a fun menagerie of creations.
This box was made of old book shelves and salvaged hardware.
The two lamps are assembled out of numerous broken fixtures that I combined to make whole again. The stove; however, was just a straight restoration so I take no credit for the beautiful design. My job was to remove a lot of rust and apply liberal coats of Rutland Stove Polish. Oh, and the mica windows are new as well.
One of the early items on the to do list is to take stock of existing elements that can be reused. The most obvious one is the bar with the drawback being that only half of it remains.
The other half was left outside until it was a lump of dry rot and beyond salvage. The trick now is to use the remaining half in a way that looks correct and not contrived out of scraps. To start, I’ve created a 3D model to experiment with different design options.
Currently, the bar is pushed into the left rear corner of the saloon which is probably not the original location. It seems like it was originally parallel to the east saloon wall but to make that look right, I would need to recreate the missing half of the bar which would be difficult and expensive.
Today we did a little bit of testing to see how bad the plaster was upstairs and got carried away in the process. The plaster is so soft that it just crumbles away and it seems like the only thing holding it together is the wallpaper.
By the way, those studs actually measure 2″ x 4″ and the lath was held in place with square nails.
One of the cleanup chores that has been a real pain is all of the paint that came with the Hotel. Many of the cans were partially dried out and others had never been opened but had gone through freezing temperatures last winter which renders it unusable. Since the dump won’t take wet paint we are drying everything out so it can be disposed of properly.
At least it makes for a pretty picture.
Now that we’ve moved out most of the debris and the structural engineer is deciding how to make the masonry earthquake resistant, it’s time to start designing again. Based on historically available colors, I’ve started experimenting with the hotel exterior. Note that having 3D modeling software is a big advantage for daydreamers like me.
I’ve also been toying with the saloon interior.
Compared to what it is today, it will be a vast improvement with very little change to the existing structure.
Now that the second 30 yard tip is full, the back yard is looking better. Here are some before and after shots.
All that work, however, was not without its rewards. Each rake full of debris pulled up more clues to the past. There was plenty of new trash to throw one off the scent but hidden in the dust were artifacts that spurred curiosity.
There were other signs of the past as well. Here we have a row of foundation stones from a long lost outbuilding. Since this is just a straight row of stones with no corners, I suspect that there is another row of stones running parallel to it. Wood timbers would have been set on top of these with floor joists strung across them.