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San Francisco Pavilions Reborn

Project: Spreckels Temple of Music, San Francisco, CA
Architect: Carey & Co., Inc., San Francisco; Nancy Goldenberg, principal

Project: Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
Architects: Carey & Co., Inc., San Francisco; Charlie Duncan, senior vice president; RHAA, Mill Valley, CA (landscape)

By Eve M. Kahn

The domed classical pavilion is a tradition that has thrived when transplanted from its Mediterranean homeland to northern California. The ancient Greek and Roman ideal of breezy open colonnades works well in moderate Bay Area climes. In San Francisco in particular, these monuments have been commissioned to provide shade and gathering places in heavily trafficked public parks. Like their ancestral triumphal arches that commemorated ancient battle victories, the San Francisco structures also honor great arts patrons and historical events.

Two of the city's most spectacular circa-1900 examples, the Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park and the Palace of Fine Arts in the Presidio, have undergone comprehensive and shrewdly strategized restorations in the past few years. Both projects, supervised by architects at San Francisco firm Carey & Co., called for stabilizing and rebuilding historic fabric that was on the brink of endangering throngs of passersby.

The Spreckels Temple was, in fact, literally shedding stone when Carey & Co. was brought on board four years ago by the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department. The original architects, Reid Brothers, were an ambitious MIT-trained duo who had grown up in a remote New Brunswick village. They designed the Temple's Ionic and Corinthian expanse on the park's Music Concourse at the behest of their longtime patron Claus Spreckels.

A newspaper tycoon, Spreckels also hired the brothers for his family mansions and an office skyscraper. The Temple, dedicated in 1900, suffered damage in the 1906 earthquake (much of its Colusa sandstone cornices, balustrades and corners collapsed). And it was further rattled by the region's 1989 earthquake. Each time, the popular attraction was shored up; performers under its 70-ft. dome have ranged from John Philip Sousa to Pavarotti and the Grateful Dead.

Nancy Goldenberg, the Carey & Co. principal who oversaw the Temple restoration, began to appreciate its plein-air acoustics and graceful proportions as a teenager a few decades ago. "I'd tell my mother I was going shopping and instead go to the free afternoon rock concerts there," she recalls. In 2005, the parks department called her office to report that a cornice rosette had fallen. Fortunately, explains Rick Thall, a project manager in the department's Capital Improvement Division, "no one could have been hurt, because the whole concourse was closed, as part of a comprehensive restoration that has moved parking underground and turned a few acres of asphalt back into parkland and pedestrian space."

Goldenberg began spending time on a boom lift over the Temple. "I took pictures, recorded conditions, and found scary cracks," she recalls. Rusted iron anchors were causing corrosion jacking, modillions had sagged a few millimeters and numerous rosettes had fallen unnoticed. The problems, Goldenberg notes, were likely inevitable given the Reids' specs. "Colusa sandstone is sedimentary and very soft," she says. "It's easy to carve, but it can delaminate and lose cohesion and turn to a handful of sand," especially at a Golden Gate Park plateau exposed to fog and salty, damp ocean breezes.

The Temple had to be wrapped in safety netting while the Carey team finalized its repair plans and the city raised the needed funding of about $1 million. More deterioration occurred within the coverings. "We didn't know how much work would really be needed until everything was finally opened up," Goldenberg says. The RFP's lowest bid came from the Giampolini Group, San Francisco, ("an absolutely top-notch contractor," Goldenberg raves), which adapted well to the unpredictable project scope.

Although Carey & Co. had expected to resort to cost-saving measures like cast-stone replacements for carvings, Giampolini managed to stay within budget while supplying carved Colusa sandstone for new rosettes and coffers. He brought in Kopelov Cut Stone of Bernalillo, NM, to do the carving.

The masons pinned together new and old stone and added new steel anchors. Giampolini also repointed the sandstone (matching its original pinkish buff mortar) as well as underlying brickwork. Layers of new roof membrane and steel flashing provide further deterrents to water intrusion. However, the parks department still keeps some areas wrapped in netting: "We're carefully monitoring for exfoliation and water intrusion," Thall explains.

The onsite crowds are larger than ever, partly because the concourse is wedged between high-profile new homes for the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum (designed by Herzog & de Meuron) and the California Academy of Sciences (a Renzo Piano project). Yet for all the chatter of visitors crossing the pavement, Goldenberg reports, locals still frequent the spot to read or exercise or play cello in the resonant shadow of the coffered arch. "It's still so lovely and peaceful out there," she says.

A Carey & Co.-led team has created an equally serene retreat from city bustle at the Palace of Fine Arts, which architect Bernard Maybeck originally designed as a temporary plaster-and-wood attraction for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Its Corinthian colonnades and sculptures of toga-clad maidens proved so popular that San Franciscans, led by media baroness Phoebe Hearst, lobbied for it to outlast the fair. The dome and columns were reinforced a few times over the years, but by the 1950s, explains Carey & Co. senior vice president Charlie Duncan, "it looked like a wool coat that had been eaten by moths. It was unsafe and closed off."

In the late '60s, local philanthropist Walter Johnson stepped in to help fund the city's reconstruction of the Palace in concrete. Chunks of that concrete fell after the 1989 earthquake, and a nonprofit, the Maybeck Foundation, formed a partnership with the city to foster restoration. In 2002, Duncan's team began analyzing conditions and prioritizing solutions.

To stop dome leaks from further destroying coffers, Carey & Co. specified a urethane mop-on coating for the hemisphere, re-creating the surprising 1915 shade of burnt orange. Numerous other unexpected hues have turned up in Carey & Co.'s extensive palette research. "There were areas of monolithic concrete that had been poured in place, and pieces of cast attachments," Duncan explains. "The colors vary wildly from exposure to exposure, and from pour type to pour type. We've mixed pigment formulas in the field to match as we've gone along patching. And we've had to figure out different reattachment systems for the ornament. We've drilled into the reliefs and the maidens, to pin them from the front or the back."

Further structural reinforcements have been woven into the dome, he adds: "There's a wonderland of struts now between the rotunda ceiling and the dome." Before that intervention, he reports, "there'd been no seismic reinforcement at all for lateral loads." The contractors for the project were BBI Construction, Oakland, CA, and Aquatic Environments, Concord, CA.

While the building is now stronger than its 1910s and 1960s predecessors, the landscape has never looked more pastoral. Thanks to a redesign by city engineers and landscape architects RHAA, a new steel-reinforced stone rim runs along a formerly fenced-off lagoon. Waterfowl and turtles maneuver over the lushly planted banks to swim through newly dredged and aerated waters.

In future phases, Duncan says, the team hopes to install "articulate plantings" in place of a "landscape that's developed by accrual. There are trees that ended up there as random gifts from donors, or that are reaching the ends of their lifespans and falling into the water." He also has plans to install paving in circular patterns under the rotunda, in place of 1960s asphalt. "Maybeck thought of the building and landscape as integral, entwined elements," he says. "We're hoping to reconnect the architecture and the site, the way he originally envisioned." TB

 

 

 
 

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