Since accepting the position at Villa Finale as Buildings and Grounds Manager and my arrival in San Antonio last July I have spent a lot of time getting to know the former estate of Walter Mathis. As Sandra previously stated, the restoration of Villa Finale that Mr. Mathis conducted when he purchased the property is now Forty years old, so all of the excellent work that Mr. Mathis did is “up for renewal”. Needless to say, there are many things to keep me busy. With the first month of my being on the job all of the following things happened: A very large branch fell from the Pecan next to the Tool Shed that covered the entire top half of the drive. The electric gate for the drive quit working. Then, last but surely not least, Tropical Storm Erin came through San Antonio and left us with a hole in the ceiling of a second floor bedroom and a fair amount of water damage to the second floor. This is not to mention that the HVAC units that service the second floor decided to retire after roughly 40 years of faithful service, but that is a whole other story. For this entry I am focusing on the Opening Restoration Project and a Limestone Repair and Replacement Project.
The first thing that we had to figure out after the storm hit was what caused the water infiltration. Let me start off by stating that the original roof on the main house is a standing seam galvanized metal roof with built-in gutters. In saying this, I am sure that if any of you that know anything about built-in gutters, know that they are a maintenance nightmare. We had American Roofing come out to inspect the roof and they concluded that the galvanized metal that was in the gutter had many pin-holes in it and needed to be replaced. They then suggested that we replace the galvanized metal gutter with a EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer) membrane. We also took this opportunity to install custom chimney caps on the six chimneys. I am very pleased to say that this project went off with out a hitch and the results have been perfect: DRY!
Now that we had solved the problem of water getting into the house we need to figure out how to fix the damages that resulted from this incident. In doing so, we knew that there were a few other projects that would need to be taken care of before we opened to the public: We need to have a full evaluation of the Masonry and recommendations on long term care and maintenance. There are some water issues in the basement on the Formal Garden or South side, where when we have heavy downpours or prolonged steady rains, water comes in the wall in the utility room. The rear porches have some issues with rotten wood in some areas that need to be addressed as well as the rest of the exterior wood work on the house. Due to the labor and water intensive needs of the landscape we are looking into having a highly efficient irrigation system designed and installed. We are also interested in investigating the options of harvesting the storm water from the roof and inserting it into the irrigation system to supplement the water needs. The Carriage House will also need to have some work on it before we open. The restroom will need to be made ADA accessible. We also need to have the Carriage House Garage remodeled so that it can function as storage for collections items that are not being displayed at certain times and serve as a workshop/office for the collections position. There are also some storm water issues that will need to be addressed around the Car Port. After some time and a visit from Barbara Campagna, AIA, LEED AP, Graham Gund Architect for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, we decided that it would be in our best interest to combine all of these project along with the interior work into one “Omnibus” Project.
Last Thursday we sent the Request For Proposal for the “Omnibus” Project out for Architectural Firms to submit proposals for the project. We have a mandatory Pre-Proposal Meeting with all interested groups on June 4 and the deadline for all proposals is at 3 PM CST on June 12. We anticipate having an Architectural firm under contract by the middle of July. This is a very exciting project that we are eagerly anticipating getting under way. More updates to come…
One project that has been evident from the start is how we would deal with the deterioration of the limestone on the main house. At one point during the life of the structure, probably before Mr. Mathis bought the house, a coating was applied to the Tower Cornice and its related brackets and soffit. The intent, at the time of its application, was to help preserve the stone. Unfortunately, it had the opposite result. The coating has trapped moisture in the stone resulting in its slow deterioration from the inside out. Some areas of the cornice have reached a critical stage, so much so that a large portion of one of the brackets fell off to the ground. Luckily, no one was underneath at the time. We have since brought in WSC, Inc. a structural engineering firm and Curtis Hunt Restorations, a restoration masonry company, to investigate and solve the immediate issue of falling stone. We decided that the most appropriate way to handle the issue was to remove the damaged stone, which the piece of the bracket fell off of, and have a new in-kind stone carved to match the original. We also decided that there was one spot on the second floor balcony balustrade that needed to be pinned to ensure that it did not meet the same fate as the bracket from the Tower Cornice.
I am happy to announce that last Wednesday, May 21, a crew from Curtis Hunt Restorations arrived to erect scaffolding on the East Elevation of the Tower. Then, the next day, they came and removed the damaged stone from the Tower Cornice. In doing so we found out that it was not one stone but two. The cornice was one larger piece sitting on the smaller bracket. The two stone details were taken to Garza Masonry Stone in Boerne, Texas to be duplicated. During the all day process last Thursday, I stood over the masons with the digital camera taking as many photographs as possible to document the process. The carving of the new replacement stones is expected to start this coming week and I will make trips out to the mill every couple days to document that process also. For all of you who are wondering, yes we are keeping the old stones so that they may be used for educational and interpretive purposes in the future.
This is a very exciting project and we would like to thank the National Park Service and the Historic Sites Fund (HSF) Committee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation for awarding us with a Priority HSF Grant to make this project happen. Some Restoration/Preservation projects do not have a lot of wow factor to them, but this is one that does. I am looking forward to updating everyone interested as often as possible.