Villa Finale Restoration Update

Here is a brand new video showing the progress of Villa Finale’s restoration. Enjoy!

Watching paint dry…

A shutter from the dreaded north side.

We have had the nicest people come through on Villa Finale’s Hard Hat Tours.  They are interested in just about everything, from the kitchen ceiling to the old piece of wallpaper I found upstairs behind the base board in the Green Sitting Room. (yep, wasn’t always green, it was blue and swirly at some point).  The tours are a joint effort between the Manager of Public Programs, Sylvia Hohenshelt, Manager of Buildings and Grounds, Chris Roddy and me, Manager of Curatorial Resources.  We have a great time showing our small groups of visitors through the house under construction. 

Cocooned Meissen Dog Band.

 The tour officially starts at the Villa Finale Visitor Center, but Chris and I don’t see them until they arrive at the gate.  The dialogue is a relay between the three of, Sylvia tells the visitors about the history of the house, as we’re walking from room to room, and Chris and I talk about building restoration and curatorial information, respectively.  Since there isn’t a stick of furniture on view, I must be quite creative, curatorially speaking.  I do explain how we packed up the house, piece by piece, into acid- free temporary housing, show them my finding aid for each box and tell them that, if requested by a researcher, I could unearth the …Meissen Dog Band, for example.  I show them how each delicate little piece is cocooned in polyester fluff and tissue.  We also describe how we’ve swaddled every large thing in unbleached muslin and heavy plastic sheeting. 

Even the smallest grate has a number.

We give a pretty good run-down of the project and all of its detail and subtleties.  Right now, several windows are being restored under the car-port, and they each have their own story.  You can see if panes of glass were replaced, or not, and you can tell if the person who replaced them was lazy or not by how they were replaced and glazed. And every single exterior shutter has been taken off, labeled, and will be straightened out and repaired.   If it’s a nice day, we take the group into the garden and explain what will occur there, the storm drain system, the plant removal and replacement.  And our visitors are still interested!  Storm drains! Wow!

A New Year A New Beginning

The perimeter fence goes up as we prepare for construction.

This new year promises to bring a new beginning to Villa Finale, starting with the commencement of construction at 401 King William in early January.  Updates are to be made to the interior and exterior of this historic house but it won’t stop there.  As the Landscape Technician for the grounds,  I am pleased and excited to say that the landscape will be getting a face lift as well.  Since the landscape is considered historic, we will be preserving it as best we can and attempting to restore the landscape to its original beauty.  Why stop there?  Well, we  won’t.  From the ground up with this landscape project, we will be taking a ‘Green’ approach.  No chemicals or herbicides will be used in the demolition, soil amending will be done with compost and natural materials as opposed to synthetic fertilizers.  As for the new irrigation system to be installed, great care will be taken to efficiently operate it so no water will be wasted or misused.  We will strive to be a self-sustaining and environmentally friendly site. We will not be contributing any yard or kitchen waste to our landfills, we have been and will continue to create our own compost for use in the landscape. In addition, lawn/plant fertilization and weed/pest control will all be done organically so the use of toxic chemicals will not be needed.  We look forward to this new year and eagerly await all the great changes it will bring.  Check back with me, as I will continually keep you posted of things going on with the Villa Finale grounds.

‘Tis Better to Keep than Replace

San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation, with support from the San Antonio Conservation Society, offered a three day community symposium and workshop on wood window restoration last week.  For us preservationists, this was a wonderful thing.  To see a building with its wooden windows replaced makes us shudder, and plus, the appearance of the building changes completely, and not in a good way.

The “OHP” brought in experts in historic preservation to discuss sustainability, energy efficiency, and the economics of restoring historic buildings.  The goal of the symposium was to provide citizens with information about the real value and oft overlooked advantages gained by preserving buildings.  Professionals with specific experience in restoration were there to answer any questions regarding problems that may come up during a restoration. 

Villa Finale was very pleased to assist the OHP by providing a venue for lunch, which we set up on the terrace.  Afterward, the group toured the site’s exterior and listened to a presentation about the restoration of Villa Finale’s windows by architect Sue Ann Pemberton,  of  Mainstreet Architects.  Sue Ann and her firm will be performing the restoration on every exterior opening in Villa Finale, from the banal basement grates to the grand floor-to-nearly-ceiling windows.  

For all those readers who may be grimacing, thinking we’re all off our rockers and of the efficiency of replacement windows, think again.  Properly restored, wooden windows cut energy costs, window construction employs local crafts people (most replacement windows are not made locally, or even in the United States),  restoring windows keeps perfectly salvageable materials out of landfills and lastly, wooden windows are just plain beautiful.

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The group of over thirty people listen as Sue Ann talks about Villa Finale.

Sue Ann keeps participants in rapt attention by talking windows.

Sue Ann keeps participants in rapt attention by talking windows.

Chris Roddy leads the group along a heavily windowed side of Villa Finale.

Chris Roddy leads the group along a heavily windowed side of Villa Finale.

Sue Ann reminisces about the front window that slammed down on her hand because it didn't have any sash cords.

Sue Ann reminisces about the front window that slammed down on her hand because it didn't have any sash cords.

–Meg Nowack

You Can Help Villa Finale Preserve History

Meg and I have been busy bees conducting research on and off site. We’ve enjoyed looking through old photographs and documents in our quest to put together enjoyable and informative exhibits at the Visitor Center, as well as compiling information for our research files.  Late last week we had the idea of soliciting help from you, our wonderful blog readers!  This is what we are looking for:

1)  Former residents who lived in Villa Finale (the Norton -Polk House) while it was still subdivided into apartments.  This would be any time before 1967.

2)  Residents who own old photographs, documents, and or newspapers, as well as objects having to do with the history of the King William neighborhood (pre 1985).

3)  Artwork, including paintings and drawings of the neighborhood and its historic buildings

If you or anyone you know own any of the above, we would love to hear from you.  Your help will assist us in compiling neighborhood information and adding much valued items to our research files.  Thanks everyone!

Back porch of Villa Finale during one of Mr. Mathis's events, ca. 1990

Back porch of Villa Finale during one of Mr. Mathis's events, ca. 1990

–Sylvia Hohenshelt

How Many Museum Professionals Does it Take…..

 

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Chris is perched precariously on the ladder investigating wattage and voltage.

Although I am sure that my life is far more exciting than that of anyone else, I must occasionally reaffirm this notion by partaking in activities such as organizing the plastic grocery bags under my sink or lining the cat pan with clean newspapers, or, bringing the excitement to work by counting and inventorying light bulbs in each of the museum’s lighting devices.  Indeed, the thought of it gives me butterflies: The ladders! The dust! The myriad of moth carcasses in the bottom of fixtures! And we cannot forget the bulbs-or as Mr. Mathis called them, “light globes”.

Just yesterday, Villa Finale’s  Manager of Buildings and Grounds, Chris Roddy, asked me, quite early in the morning, if I had some time to accompany him in the bulb count.  And I said yes.  Armed with a flashlight, a rag, and cotton gloves, we went to work.  We took the ladder around to each room, examined the overhead fixtures and chandeliers first, then looked at free-standing lamps.   We went in the basement, in the tower, on the porches and in the bathrooms.  I had to consider which fixtures might not be aesthetically pleasing with new compact florescent bulbs, and which needed to remain clear or flame-shaped.  We will be able to replace quite a number of the bulbs because there are only a few that are visible from below.  

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The lightbulb from the argand lamp.

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The J. & I. Cox argand lamp.

We counted 207 light bulbs.  Some of them were ridiculously small and unidentifible with regard to wattage, but perfectly suited for the lamp and location in which it was placed.  Like this one in an Argand lamp made by the J. & I.  Cox of New York City.  This type of lamp was patented in 178o and originally fueled by whale oil.  Mr. Mathis’s Argand lamps date from 1810 – and I feel as if he did not want them to have the glow of a modern lamp, therefore he found tiny flame-shaped bulbs to place in these lamps, and several others in the house.  The effect is beautiful and appropriate.

 

Visitor Center: Transition from Demo to Construction

Exciting times are here for the staff at Villa Finale, we have visions of nail guns dancing in our heads … I hope that we do not hear a clatter on the rooftop because that work is not scheduled to start yet.  We are seeing more and more progress every day on the visitor center.  The project is now starting to transition from the “Selective” Demolition phase, to the Construction phase.  The skeletal iron work  and the forms for the new concrete that is being poured for the “New” Entrance and filling in of the old loading dock. 

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Interior walls are starting to get framed. 

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The contractors have also started to cut the concrete slab floors for the new plumbing that will be going in. 

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Stay tuned for more stories of construction in the New Year.  Until then, Happy Holidays to all and to all a good night!!!