To get an idea of the restoration work needed so the Bowery redevelopment project in downtown Akron meets a critical deadline, look up at the large, ornate plaster ceiling over the ground floor of the long-neglected Landmark Building, which was built in 1923.
Paint is peeling and flaking away. The plaster itself, a design incorporating flower-like rosettes and larger pieces with eagles bearing shields, is chipped, cracked or bulging in places. Some pieces are missing in whole or in part.
It all has to be repaired and restored by Nov. 29, along with myriad other restorations and repairs inside and outside the six buildings that front along South Main Street next to the Akron Civic Theatre. Miss the November deadline and the $42 million project doesn’t qualify for historic tax credits that are an important part of its financing package.
Meet Larry Hutson and Anthony Mendoza, two journeyman plasterers with contractor A.C. Plastering Inc. in Cleveland. For the past couple of months, they have methodically worked their way along the Landmark ceiling.
The ceiling, which is securely suspended using wires and hemp-infused plaster from an intricate metal lattice, is in no danger of falling down, said Hutson, 55, a Canton resident.
“We don’t have to take it down and redo it,” Hutson said. “They want us to give them a paintable surface, so we’ll get all the loose paint off we can, get this bonded good.”
The peeling paint and damaged plaster is largely caused by exposure to water, Hutson said. “With plaster [damage], it all comes down to moisture, moisture or movement. One of the two.”
Hutson and Mendoza have been making rubber molds of the rosettes, eagle and shield, and other pieces, so they can pour plaster replacements for sections that can’t be repaired. One rubber mold allows them to make as many new pieces as needed.
Mendoza, 36, from Rocky River, spent part of his time this day coating wax over a large plaster eagle and shield section, which he called a medallion, as he prepared to make a mold of the piece.
“When we put the rubber mold over it, we will be able to peel it off without the rubber sticking to the plaster,” he said. “It will allow us to make casts of the medallion here.”
Mendoza said he is enjoying the work but said he felt overwhelmed when he walked into the Landmark Building for the first time and saw the scope of the project.
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of restoration,” he said. “Some stuff looks like it might be OK but as you go and scrape the paint off, a piece might fall off.”
When the restored ceiling is painted, no one will ever know it was repaired, Hutson said.
“It’s beautiful. Did you notice there are 13 stars on the [eagle] shield?” Hutson said. “13 colonies. I’ve got to figure that’s it. 13 stars. That’s pretty awesome.”
Plaster can last a long, long time under the right circumstances, Hutson said. He pointed to a damaged area.
“As you can see, there’s places where water just ruins this,” he said. “Keep the water away from it, plaster will sit there for almost, well, we’ve got pyramids with plaster in them.”
Because the Landmark ceiling plaster is combined with hemp or a burlap-type weave binder, that makes it extremely durable, Hutson said.
“That is amazingly strong,” he said. “That whole ceiling is bound and tight.”
Hutson and Mendoza figure they have maybe two months to go before their work in the Landmark Building and other parts of the Bowery is finished, meaning they will meet their deadline.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ