Front Page of the Staunton News Leader – “City’s New Jewel Shines”
By Melanie G. Snyder
“Marion Anne Ward practically danced onto the scaffolding outside her building on South Augusta Street Thursday. Workers were placing the last pieces of ornamental metalwork on the top of the old saloon, closing the most fascinating chapter of the building’s restoration. The story involves a daring rescue, detective work, clever inventions and providential discoveries. The players are a team of dedicated area residents, including a potter, a painter, and a pipe-organ maker. The potter was Jim Hanger, who is also an avid preservationist. On April 3, 1975, when fierce winds blew back the ornamental cornice, he crawled along Lewis Creek to save what he could of the metalwork.
The owners of the building at the time had no plans to put the cornice back, so Hanger held onto them — until Ward bough the building with the promise to accurately restore it.
Ward and Hanger loaded the cornice pieces into a truck and too them to the shop of Staunton’s Willy Ferguson, nationally known metal artisan. There they met with Strassler and tried to piece together the cornice from what was salvaged. It appeared the pieces Hanger had recovered made up less than half of the original cornice.
So armed with her research, many pieces of the original cornice and a top-notch team of contractors, Ward was only missing one thing: Just how was the cornice supposed to look? She had enough of the puzzle pieces, but she had no idea what the puzzle picture looked like.
Ward searched local library archives and contacted local historian Dick Hamrick but neither had any photos of the building showing the complete original cornice. The best they could come up with was a photo from 1912, when South Augusta Street was decorated for the coming visit of Staunton-born President Woodrow Wilson. But the picture showed only a portion of the building front.
Then she remembered seeing the cornice work in a painting at Historic Staunton Foundation. The painting was of the foundation building, across the street from Ward’s building, but portions of her building were shown in a reflection in the windows. That had to be a clue, she thought.
“And so I went back to Frank. I remember bursting into his office, and I said, “the artist who painted this, he had to have a photograph,” she recalled.
“I thought, if I could track him down to talk to me. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know if he was alive. I knew he had done these paintings a while ago.”
Not only was the artist alive, he was quite well. John Ruseau had made the Historic Staunton Foundation painting in 1985, using a photo he had taken in 1965. But when Ruseau called Ward back, he wasn’t sure if he still had the slide.
“I was just beside myself, to imagine that he had the photograph,” Ward recalled.
Seeing An Old Friend
Intrigued by Ward’s enthusiasm and still an avid fan of Staunton’s beautiful Victorian architecture, Ruseau went through his files and found the slide.
“It was kind of like seeing an old friend,” Ruseau said. “When you paint pictures, you never forget. But when you take a photograph — a year later, you don’t remember when you took it.
“I remembered immediately needing to have that reflection, and going back to pictures I had taken of that building years ago, when I was painting for the historic society.”
Ward made large prints from the slide and her primary contractors, Jim Pile and Steve Carpenter used them to determine which pieces of the cornice remained and what still had to be created.
Ruseau said hearing Ward’s enthusiasm made his part of the process even more rewarding.
“I don’t know what is is about these people who do these kind of things,” he said. “They are amazing.”
Ward then hired pipe-maker Robbie Lawson, of Taylor & Body Organ Builders, to re-create missing pieces as well as original pieces too damaged to use. Lawson, together with his father ,John Lawson and Taylor & Boody co-worker Jeff Peterson, began to process of measuring the originals, drawing paper templates to recreate missing pieces and figuring out how to take flat sheets of galvanized metal and turn them into gracefully curving brackets, arcehs and finials. Using an ancient sheet metal roller and cutter Lawson acquired from John Boody, of Taylor & Boody, they created new coronoas (the circular pieces that rise above the top of the cornice), a new obelisk to match one surviving original (the tall “dunce caps” that soar above each end of the cornice) and new end brackets. Ferguson crafted new corwn moldings to cap the entire length of the cornice. He also cut ornate scrolls into the end brackets and Lawson made them three dimensional.
Making It All Work
A few pieces, like the intricate rosettes for the coronas, were too difficult to craft by hand, so Lawson began to research ornamental sheet metal manufacturers. He discovered that W.F. Norman of Nevad, Mo., had coincidentally just created a special mold to make rosettes for another restoration project — and those rosettes matched the originals from Ward’s building exactly. Norman & Co. also made a rpoe molding for the brackets that was a perfect match for existing salvaged pieces and carried stock ornamental pieces that would complement the style of the cornice.
Meanwhile, Ward researched Victorian “Painted Ladies” palette of Salon Rose, Rookwood Sash Green, Rookwood Blue Green and Downing Sand. She scraped old paint from the original pieces, primed the new pieces and began the intricate four-color painting work.
Jim Pile and Steve Carpenter, chief members of the building restoration crew removed the rotting plywood from the building facade and prepared the underlying surface fro remounting the cornice. Last Monday, 28 years and eight months after the cornice disappeared, Pile and Carpenter restored the two main arches back to their original perch high atop the building. Piece by piece, the same way the cornice had been recovered and restored, they attached decorative brackets, crown moldings and ornamental joinery to the cornice.
The final step is to reattach the cornice to the roof. In another circular twist, this work will be done by Sid Kyger of R.L. Fauber Roofing. Sid’s first exposure to this historic building came when he was called in to help repair the damaged roof after the 1975 storm ripped away the cornice.
The gaily painted cornice is now the crowning glory of a long abandoned building. Originally built as a saloon (part of Saloon Row outside the train station) between 1885 and 1891, this building has been the home of a wholesale cigar manufacturer, a veterinary practice and the Odd Fellows Fraternity, among others. While it has not yet been determined what will reside there next thanks to the efforts of this team of area residents and craftsmen, the building is no longer a diamond in the rough but a true jewel in the Queen City’s crown.
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