Conservation

Dealing with Graffiti at Historic Places

Historic places are unfortunately fair game for graffiti attacks – sometimes especially so when these places are visible and widely recognized landmarks. Defined as writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly onto walls and other surfaces, graffiti from a heritage conservation perspective is an intervention to be removed or reversed. It clearly differs from old markings that are an acknowledged and legitimate part, or “character-defining element”, of a historic place. Examples of the latter are prisoners’ inscriptions etched into the basement cell walls of the Cardston Courthouse or, on the opposite side of the law, North West Mounted Police members’ initials carved into the sandstone outcrops overlooking Police Coulee at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park. These special cases contribute to heritage value rather than obscure or detract from it. (more…)

Sand Paint

Sand painting is a faux finish technique that was not uncommon for exteriors of masonry buildings in the early part of the twentieth century.  By dusting sand onto paint while still tacky, painted wood or metal details were made to resemble stone.  If you guessed you were looking at magnified grains of sand in the teaser photograph above, you were right.  The photograph, taken through a binocular microscope, is actually of a sand paint sample taken from the Senator Lougheed Residence in Calgary.

Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary

Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary.

Sand painted wood details at the Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary

Sand painted wood details at the Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary.

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In Search of Historic Colours: The Empress Theatre Marquee

The historic downtown of Fort Macleod, one of two Provincial Historic Areas in the province, is well known for its impressive commercial buildings of brick and sandstone masonry. Collectively, these Classical Revival buildings exemplify an Edwardian commercial streetscape just prior to the First World War.

One of the main street’s crown jewels is the Empress Theatre, an elegant brick building with decorative sandstone details built in 1912. Historically a hub of the town’s social life, the theatre hosted plays, vaudeville acts and performers from Alberta, across North America and even overseas, as graffiti preserved in the original basement dressing rooms attests to this day. The original façade was theatrical in its own right and featured a grand arched entrance and recessed box office. As tastes changed and motion pictures grew in popularity, the original entry was enclosed to provide a lobby and concession, the auditorium was renovated with plush upholstered seats in the Art Deco style and neon tulips mounted on the ceiling, and a bold new neon sign and marquee replaced the original blade sign on the front facade. These 1930s and 1950s renovations added layers of architectural history and significance to the building and contributed to its designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1982.

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The Empress Theatre in April 2016 (top). Bottom from left: View west along 24 Street in 1953, Glenbow Archives photograph NA-5600-6653 (cropped slightly from original); detail of 1953 streetscape showing the Empress marquee in essentially its present form; historic colours exposed on a blade sign letter; a plywood mock-up to evaluate proposed blade sign colours.

The Town of Fort Macleod owns the theatre and has embarked on an extensive rehabilitation project that includes rehabilitation of the historic neon marquee. The marquee was refurbished in the late 1980s by Fort Macleod’s Main Street Project but a generation of exposure to the elements has taken its toll on the galvanized sheet metal, paint, and fragile neon tubing. Removal of the signs for other façade repairs was an ideal opportunity to re-examine and document the marquee’s colour history. (more…)

The Butterfly Effect

Peeling paint and powdering plaster were the first indications something was amiss at the Blairmore Courthouse, a Provincial Historic Resource in the Crowsnest Pass. A leak in the cedar shingle roof, replaced just the previous year, was immediately suspected. Detailing around the dormers in particular, part of the 1922 building’s distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival design by architect R.P. Blakey, is tricky and vulnerable to water penetration.

1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives)

1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives NA-712-3)

Nippon School of Technology, which owns the building and runs a technical school and exchange program for Japanese engineering students there, inspected the roof from the attic and found no active leaks. Puzzled, N.I.T. engaged a conservation architect to inspect the building and identify sources of moisture causing the paint and plaster failure. The findings were at once surprising and (in hindsight) credible.   (more…)

Conservation at the E.P. Ranch

E.P. (Prince Edward) Ranch, established by the Bedingfeld family in 1886, is located in the foothills southwest of Calgary near the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site. In 1919, during a cross-Canada tour, the Bedingfeld’s ranch captured the fancy of His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales, upon his visit to the area.  Prince Edward purchased the ranch shortly thereafter from Frank Bedingfeld. Under Edward’s direction, the ranch developed a breeding program for sheep, cattle, and horses with livestock imported from the Prince’s breeding farms in the Duchy of Cornwall in England.  Prince Edward, later King Edward VIII, visited the ranch in the 1920s and in the 1940s and 1950s, after his abdication, as the Duke of Windsor.  Photographs in the Glenbow Archives show Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, strolling among the ranch buildings that still stand at the site today. The E.P. Ranch was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 2004 for its association with Edward, who owned the site from 1919 to 1962. Fans of the 1992 movie Unforgiven will also recognize scenes shot on location at the ranch.

The main ranch (or Prince's) house prior to restoration, April 2014.

The main ranch (or Prince’s) house prior to restoration, April 2014.

In June 2013, the E.P. Ranch found itself at the epicentre of the torrential rains that flooded communities and historic sites across southern Alberta. Pekisko Creek overflowed its banks and swept through the site, turning grazing lands into a virtual river.  While the large and distinctive horse barn was unaffected, four other buildings were damaged. (more…)