Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Thrill of Discovery

Okay, I will admit that I enjoy designing ceramic tile elements as part of rehabs or restoration.  Tile bulkheads, the portion of the wall below a storefront window, were a typical portion of early 20th century design and bringing that feature back has been a common element of the various facade programs in Medford and elsewhere.  The original tile is almost always gone, removed by some well-meaning "update" in the 1950s or 1960s, and so we rely upon historic images and very very rarely a little physical evidence to design new tile patterns that are "in the spirit." Luckily, most basic colors are still available and the designs are simple and cost-effective. 

But there is the occasional "find," where the original tile is still there, unbeknownst to anyone.  Finding it is a great day and last week, at the Holly Theatre, it was a great day.  We have only one historic photo and no plans, of the entry to the theatre and there was no indication whatsoever of what the floor surface was.  Upon purchase it was covered with old red indoor-outdoor carpeting.

Upon purchase the old red carpet was replaced with boring tan, simply as a placeholder.  Sans any other information and looking for a historically appropriate design that would support the Spanish Colonial theme, I borrowed a painted flower detail from the proscenium and the plan was to resurface the entryway with a new terrazzo design that would include donor recognition tiles and the "H" logo that was both part of the original marquee and is to become the project logo.  I was pretty happy with the design, as was the client, but there is always the issue of creating something out of whole cloth and wondering if its "right" and really going to fit.


Well, that issue is past and the terrazzo design has been shelved.  As part of developing the bid for that work, the contractors were out exploring, looking at the substrate under the new carpet, and discovered that instead of it being the concrete slab that we'd all understood it to be, it was just a thin mortar coating, over tile. I got an e-mail last Thursday and after an inital moment of disbelief, went to check it out.  We cleaned up the tile a little and I was impressed with how good it looked after what is at minimum four decades of hiding, probably more.

Today they will strip off more of the carpet, and expose more of the original tile pattern, allowing us to assess the condition of what it there and the full scope of the design.  Certainly there is going to be damage and a design issue where the ticket booth once stood, but we can deal with that.  If we can save the tile, we will, and if not we will replicate this design using new materials that as closely match the original as is possible.  It's great fun to find a hidden piece of history that nobody knew or remembered being there.  I always wonder why somebody would cover something like this up, and hide it under mortar and boring carpet, but I am sure the Holly has more hidden secrets to reveal.  What fun!

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