After a great deal of thought and an equal amount of waiting for the big day, we were finally able to begin the renovation on the front façade of this 1913 structure. The picture above was taken in 2006 and although at this angle the front looks acceptable, it was in much need of replacement. So to begin this page we will begin with a bit of history.
When dad purchased the building about 1959 the entire structure had its original stucco finish and the front retail space had two very large plate glass windows and a row of transom windows above that. The transoms were a patterned glass to allow light to pass through but did not provide a clear view. The glass started at the current sill height, about 22” above the floor, and the transoms went to the 12’ ceiling height. Both entrance doors had very wood heavy wood frames that would of course swell with moisture and offered no insulating value.
Above each of the entrance doors were transoms that opened for air movement. With the front facing west the afternoon sun would always raise the interior temperature well above the comfort level in the summer and in the winter the single pane glass was very cold and in many cases would frost over. So around 1980 dad was able to buy two smaller windows with insulated glass, and had a modern door installed. The door was non-insulated glass but did proved a better operation than the old wood door. When the windows were installed he had cedar siding installed to cover the old transom windows and modernize the front.
Then a few years later the stucco failed on the second floor and began falling off, a real threat to public safety. So he hired a crew to remove the stucco and install matching wood siding. Over the years he had the siding stained several times but like all wood siding it began to fail. So in 2008 it was time for a new look.
The goal was to try to return the front with a design that would offer a period look with modern materials. The cornice work is the original galvanized metal that is in remarkable condition with no signs of rust so it will remain and get a fresh coat of paint to match the stucco. The rest of the front will be replaced and the first part of the project involved some heavy-duty demolition. To begin, the entrance door was removed to make way for a new stamped concrete entrance area. Since the building had sagged a bit in this area we decided to provide a solid base for the new door.
I was going to try to form up for the new concrete without removing the entrance door, but when I removed the exiting floor I discovered that the floor had settled a couple inches around the door so the only way to effectively end up with a flat and level entrance pad was to removed the door. With it removed I was able to remove the floor joist, head them off and support them with pressure treated material against the gravel subsoil, and then form in the new concrete pad. I used a double layer of pressure treated plywood to form a 1’ 6” area about 4-foot square. I wanted the concrete poured the full depth to provide a very heavy and solid base to prevent the door from giving us problems in the future. Barely visible in the picture above are the heavy eye-bolts I threaded into the floor joist that will support the re-bar and hold the entire structure together.
From this view on the outside you can see that this new concrete pad will be about 3” above the sidewalk. This is as it would have been when the building was built. Since we wanted a barrier free entrance I used a rental center saw with a diamond blade to cut a portion of the sidewalk to allow for a concrete ramp to be poured after the new slab was poured. The existing sidewalk is in very good condition and over 6” thick so I cut a 3” hole into the surface so my new ramp will be heavy enough to prevent cracking. The pipes on the left side of the door opening are for the natural gas hook-up and a barrier to prevent damaging them. So they need to remain in place even though they are very close to the door opening.
We contracted Jeff Griffith, a family member, to do the concrete work. Jeff is in the concrete business and does a wonderful job of decorative or stamped concrete. In this picture Jeff is installing re-bar that will reinforce the slab and tie it to the floor joist.
Jeff made quick work of pouring the concrete, about three quarters of a yard, and smoothed it in preparation for the stamping. We selected a brown tone color with a natural stone pattern for the final finish. Once the concrete was smoothed Jeff sprinkled a brown powder over the entire surface and used a trowel to work the color into the top surface of the slab. Then using a dark gray release powder he used a small stone patterned “skin” to add the texture to the surface. We were amazed to watch the surface transformed from smooth concrete to what looked like a very large flat rock. The next day Jeff returned to wash the release powder off the surface leaving some of the gray embedded in the deeper fissures of the rock pattern.
As Jeff completed washing the concrete the window guys arrived to remove the large widows and frames so that the serious demolition could begin. Both widows came out without breaking and the demolition began as they departed.
I had a pretty good idea what I would find as I removed the siding. I knew that the old transom windows were still in place as I could see them from the inside when I was working above the dropped ceiling last year with the furnace ductwork. The siding came off easily as the nails had pulled loose over the years and by the middle of the morning I had opened the front to reveal the original 1913 design. The transom over the retail space entrance door was larger than I remembered and the old screen was still in place. The transom glass over the second floor entrance door was actually two different sections and the old roller shade was still hanging at the 12-foot ceiling height. Dad had added the exhaust fan many years ago to help lower the temperature above his ceiling and I removed it as we will not be keeping it in our new design.
By the end of a very long day I had framed the new openings for the door and windows and had sheathing in place. I had to temporarily close the openings for the night and the next morning the window crew returned to install the new door and windows. We decided to remove the private apartment entrance and install a matching window instead. Since our plans call for us using the apartment when we visit Estherville we felt no need to separate the entrances. The windows are bronze anodized aluminum with ¾” insulated, low E, and argon gas filled and should provide years of service and reduce the energy cost needed to keep the retail space comfortable. Barely visible in this picture is the transom design above each window and the door. Although much smaller than the original, it was designed this way to emulate the look it had originally. This provides windows from the original sill height all the way to the 8-foot ceiling, which was lowered when dad took over the building. I installed false columns on each side of the structure to frame the ground floor area and give the building a sense of structure that was not part of the original design. These along with the rest of the front will be covered with tan stucco.
I moved to the interior as my weeklong project came to an end. I leveled and plumbed all the interior surfaces with sheathing grade plywood in preparation for the final oak finish and then Sandy and I spent several hours cleaning up the mess so the Saturday morning meeting of amateur radio guys could take place as usual. I returned the following weekend to install the oak panel system that added a very elegant touch to the interior. The window sills are finished with stone patterned Formica.
Return to Brey's on Seventh Project Page