The Durable Restoration Company - Award Winning Historic Restoration Contactor
   
 

Frank Lloyd Wright's Westcott House
Springfield, Ohio

Restoration of the Burton J. Westcott house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, transformed a deteriorating structure into a dazzling house museum. The house, built in 1908, is the only example of Wright’s prairie-style architecture in Ohio. Durable Restoration served as the construction manager for this historic restoration – taking the building from an altered and dilapidated state and returning it to its former glory.

The home had been divided into apartments and had suffered drastic damage over the years despite efforts by recent owners to halt deterioration and preserve the building. Durable Restoration brought its considerable expertise in historic restoration and project management as construction manager for this project.

During the restoration of what Harvard professor Neil Levine called “one of the top twenty Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the world,” Durable Restoration uncovered new evidence of original architectural details which augmented the architects’ research on the building. Further research by Durable Restoration, such as locating a vintage bathtub to match a remaining original fixture, or tracking down a radiator escutcheon just like the originals, made possible what Tom Schmidt of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has deemed “a world class restoration.”

While preserving as much of the original structure as possible, the restoration involved extensive structural stabilization, selective demolition of alterations to the building, updating of systems (including the installation of an invisible geothermal heating system), and complete interior and exterior restoration – walls, floors, doors, windows, Wright-designed furniture, bath fixtures, light fixtures, roofing, site work, and landscaping.

Durable Restoration followed the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Guidelines and Standards throughout the restoration process.

The Westcott House first opened to the public as a museum in October, 2005.  Durable Restoration has won awards from the Dayton Business Journal and Ohio Historical Society for its work on the project

 

Phase I: Threats to Structural Integrity

The primary concern of the first phase of restoration was to immediately handle the biggest threats to the integrity of the structure. This phase was limited to selective demolition of subsequent alterations, correction of the most severe structural integrity issue, and installation of a sound roof to prevent further damage by the elements.
Exterior wall circa 1988. Photo: © 1993 Jim Davidson
Prior even to the subdivision of the interior when the house was divided into apartments during the 40’s, this addition had been constructed at the back of the house. Here it is being removed in order to restore the original floor plan as Wright designed it.

In addition to structural strengthening of the existing basement, a small extension was excavated and constructed with concrete blocks for the purpose of housing the anticipated additional mechanical equipment necessary for the HVAC, sprinkler, and fire alarm systems.

The roofs of both the main house and the garage were in need of major restoration. The original clay tile roofs had been removed and both buildings were covered with asphalt shingles. The wood roof deck was badly deteriorated, and much of the wood had to be replaced. Red clay roofing tiles were custom-ordered and installed to match Wright's original specifications.

 

Phase II: Complete structural stabilization, restore windows and stucco

As is evident from the curvature in this sagging beam above the windows in the South wall of Mr. Westcott’s bedroom on the second floor, the structure of the house had been compromised. Once the existing issues behind the walls had been assessed, there was no question: reinforcement of the bones of the building would be necessary in some areas. Stabilization of both the south wall of the house and the west wall of the garage was to be the next most crucial step in the restoration.
This area of the building had previously been repaired, but the building still sagged. Temporary shoring was set in place, and upon investigation it was discovered that the original truss had weakened over time. Here, while making the necessary structural amendments, the weight of the upper story and roof was supported so that warped and weakened wood could be removed and replaced with new, sound structural members.

This photo was taken during the structural stabilization measures taken to strengthen the south wall. The door in the foreground has received meticulous “Dutchman” repairs whereby damaged wood has been removed and replaced with a wood of comparable hardness and grain pattern. Once stained the repairs will be difficult to detect. This type of repair requires minimal destruction of the original material, so that what remains is still essentially the original door rather than a total replacement. Such treatment is desirable in the restoration of an historic structure.

Due to settling of the structure which had occurred over time, the windows of the south face of the building needed considerable restoration work. Shown in this photo is one step of that work. Steve White, one of Durable Restoration’s carpenters, is measuring a sheet of terne-coated steel in order to clad the exterior sills of the windows. The restoration of the windows proceeded from the east sleeping porch around to the front of the house and over to the other sleeping porch.

Upon completion of the second phase, the newly restored south façade had received stucco repairs, window restoration, and exterior painting. The change in appearance in just that portion of the exterior is evident here.

 

Phase III: Remaining site work, all systems and finish work

By the time the third phase of the restoration was to be undertaken, earlier investigation work had yielded a quite detailed knowledge of the building. Representatives from both the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and the National Parks Service have commented on the quality of the craftsmanship which was maintained throughout the project. It was Durable Restoration’s faithful adherence to accepted standards and ability to perform exquisite restoration which enabled the owner to receive a significant historic tax credit for this project.

  Research & Discovery
Window and door hardware was detached so that paint could be stripped and the hardware restored. Hardware was bagged and labeled according to its location in the house so that it could be reinstalled in its proper place. Each item was first inspected to ascertain whether or not it was original to the house. Then it was cleaned and restored according to specifications. The photo shows two of the Durable Restoration crew reviewing window hardware while another searches for suppliers of needed items. From left to right: Corey Benton, one of Durable Restoration’s carpenters; Shawn Beckwith, project manager; and Eddie Chu, Durable Restoration’s architect liaison.
The historical Frank Lloyd Wright drawings show kitchen cabinets and sink. However only one of the original cabinets remains today. The architects had presented the owner with a budget item to cover the search for historic fixtures such as this kitchen sink, the laundry sink, sinks for two of the bathrooms and a tub – all of which had been removed during alterations to the property. Here is an example of the fruits of such searches. Through photos, measurements, and email correspondence all over the country, this sink was found in New York and was accepted for the project. It turned out to be the exact size needed to fit the space.
This is an historic light fixture from the maid’s bathroom. In accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s standard of using the gentlest possible means for achieving restoration, after one round of paint removal the architect was asked, “was this gentle paint removal adequate or does this fixture require more cleaning?” The response: “Your methods are acceptable; try one more cleaning.” The pen is pointing at a solder joint showing the means of fabricating the original. The architects expressed their appreciation for having on this project a contractor aware of the significance of historic artifacts and responsibly caring for the artifacts during the restoration process.
The separate tile on the lower left is original to the house. The small tile was suggested by the architects because the edge profile of the tile matched the original although the size was different. The larger sheet shows tile which Durable Restoration’s research team found after an exhaustive search to match the original as closely as possible. This tile was a close match both as to its edge profile and its size. The reason for such diligence in this search was that cracks in the historic bathroom floors had to be fixed, and the aim was to effect as little change in appearance as possible.
  Site Work
With the passage of time many changes had occurred outside the house. The pergola had been made into an unsightly shed. The retaining wall bordering the back yard, on the north side of the house, was collapsing into the alley. The front terrace was deteriorating and the reflecting pool was gone, having been filled in with dirt. The yards and garden bore little resemblance to Wright’s original landscaping design. Photo: ©2004 Matt Cline
When Durable Restoration arrived on the scene, a previous owner had made repairs to the front of the property, filling in the reflecting pool and removing the planter walls. The pool has now been painted. In the foreground are the planters destined to hold annual flowers and the new Ruabon paving tile from Wales. The urn has been restored. The final layer of stucco has been applied to all the new concrete structures.
  Wood & Art Glass
The photo shows three examples of window sashes in different phases of stripping and painting. This enabled the architects to see what we had encountered in the process. The window in the center, lighter in color, shows that the house windows were delivered to the construction site in 1908 already factory primed for a later faux-finish. We were able to deduce this because as the paint was removed no stain remained in the fiber of the wood. The exact same paint removal techniques were performed on the window to the right (presumably obtained at a later date), revealing that the exterior stain had penetrated into the wood leaving the wood a darker color. This information was not apparent until the windows were stripped. The window on the left shows different stain samples under consideration.
At left, David Vottero, of Schooley Caldwell Associates, interpreted the original Wright drawing to design this art glass fixture made by Whitney Stained Glass Studio of Cleveland, Ohio. The art glass light mockup sits on the dining room table created by G. Keener & Company of New Carlisle, Ohio. To the right is Tom Dunham from Triec Electrical Services of Springfield, Ohio. All of these firms coordinated their efforts in order to (1) convert Wright’s original drawings to shop drawings, (2) create the table, (3) create the art glass fixture to fit the table, and (4) run the electrical wiring for the fixture to be functional while the wiring remained unobtrusive.
Wright’s exterior lighting against the dark of night lends an intensely sculptural quality to the shapes and forms of the structure. The influence of Japanese style on Wright’s design is perhaps even more apparent at this time. More so than in daylight, the fixture shades, lit against the dark, create the effect of glowing Japanese paper lanterns. Durable Restoration’s project manager, Shawn Beckwith, stands under the pergola. Photo: © 2005 Matt Cline
  Systems
Visible components of modern mechanical systems in a historic house would have constituted a jarring anachronism. In the same way that the search for period plumbing fixtures was worthwhile in order to match the remaining artifacts, it was obvious that making use of the still-present radiators in a modern heating and cooling system would be most desirable. In the center of the photo is a radiator which has been refurbished. The light fixture to the left of the photo is a reproduction by The Artemus Lighting Company of Cleveland, Ohio of one original to the house.
The systems which were updated include: a state-of-the art fire alarm, a limited area sprinkler system, a complete electrical upgrade, and a plumbing upgrade tied in with the innovative geothermal heating and cooling system. Planning these improvements posed several tricky problems (geothermal unit pictured).
  Walls
Behind the uppermost finish layer, no two walls were alike. Due to the various ways in which the building had been used over time, the walls in different locations had received different treatments. Some walls had been painted every six months for many years, while some had been painted only twice after the original finish was applied. In some areas the plaster had been covered with drywall, in other areas with paneling. This hodge podge of conditions meant that each individual wall had to be assessed to determine exactly what steps would be required for its restoration.
  Furniture
These two photos show the original and the replica buffet. At the top is one of two interior historic photos of the property which aided the architects in identifying various items which had once been in the house. It is presumed that the historic buffet was removed from the house in the 1930’s. The photo below is of the recreated buffet at Ted Bolle Millwork, Inc. in Springfield, Ohio, before the finish was applied.
Upper photo: courtesy of Clark County Historical Society. Lower photo: ©2005 Matt Cline

The bookcases with art glass doors which flanked the fireplace on either side had been removed from the building at some time in the past. A high level of coordination was needed between the design team, Ted Bolle Millwork, Inc. and Whitney Stained Glass Studio with the components of these furnishings.


 

The Completed Restoration

Many people contributed their time and talents to this enormous project. Pictured are contractors, architects, engineers, board members, material suppliers, that imbued life into the dilapidated structure, returning it to its former grandeur.
Facing northwest.
The dining room table with the attached lights and chairs and the adjacent buffet table were recreated from historic records. Photography by Brad Feinknopf

As with many houses at the turn of the last century, there are two stairways from the ground floor to the upstairs. The picture on the left was taken in the hallway inside the main entrance, looking up at the skylight above the front stairs.

The photo on the right was taken at the top of the landing looking toward the stairs. The first door to the left goes into son John’s bedroom. The next door on the left goes to daughter Jean’s bedroom. The door at the end of that hallway is for the linen closet. The stairs make a 180-degree turn and continue down to the first floor. Photography by Brad Feinknopf

The transom windows above the main entry.

The foyer can be seen at the far left in this view of the reception room. The table in the center of the room, the bookcase cabinet on the wall, and the light fixtures – all were recreated from historic records.
This photo, taken from the landing, looks into the master bedrooms – Mr. Westcott’s room is on the left, and Mrs. Westcott’s room is on the right. The refurbished skylight glows overhead.

Turning to the east, you can see the door which leads out to the sleeping porch. Off the short passageway, the bathroom is on the left, and a walk-in closet is on the right. A window seat is visible in the right-hand corner. A bank of windows on the south wall duplicates those on the ground floor.

Facing southwest, the garage is in the foreground. Beyond it to the left you can see the pergola connecting to the house.
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