Jefferson's Parapet to be Restored at Pavilion X

June 23, 2009 — Pavilion X is going back to its Jeffersonian roots.

In accordance with Thomas Jefferson's original plans for the University of Virginia, Facilities Management workers will soon restore a parapet to the façade of the 185-year-old Lawn building.

Parapets – walls or railings along the front of a roof or platform – were originally installed on four of the 10 pavilions, which provide housing for professors and classroom space for students. Pavilion X's parapet was removed in the 1890s. A balustrade, which functions like a parapet, was installed on Pavilion III. All of the parapets and balustrades are now gone, two being removed as early as the 1830s or 1840s.

The new parapet will stand about 8 1/2 feet high and obscure the front view of the pavilion's roof. The restoration work also includes changing the color of the columns in front of the pavilion from the current white to the original sandstone color. The project, budgeted at about $2 million, will include work on two adjacent student rooms. It will be paid for through donations and is expected to be complete by fall.

There is speculation, but no record, on why the parapet was removed or why it was not restored.

"It was probably worn out," said Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation officer with the University. "It spent 70, plus or minus, years exposed to the weather."

"It would not have been easy to maintain," project manager Joseph Dye "Jody" Lahendro said. "They probably considered the cost and the responsibility and they didn't think it was needed."

Replacing the parapet has sparked debate over whether to follow Jefferson's vision or to adopt the changes that evolved over years.

"Do we look at the Lawn as it has evolved or at Jefferson's original vision?" Hogg said. "This a return to what Jefferson imagined."

There has been contention between the two schools of thought for a while. Hogg said the University is a World Heritage Site, but people have adjusted to incremental changes.

"There is no absolute answer," Hogg said. "Each side makes good arguments. But we did not have any tangible examples of that first period. The Lawn we know is not the one designed by Jefferson."

Hogg said the first impulse when the Rotunda burned in 1895 was to restore it exactly as it had been, but he said the interior was changed to reflect the needs of the University at the time.

Jefferson's vision is prevailing on the two student rooms immediately adjacent to Pavilion X. Workers will repair the Chinese railings atop the roofs, reestablish the original terrace designs and restore the flat roofs.

Jefferson's design for the flat roofs on the student rooms, incorporating a series of furrows and ridges to direct the water, failed soon after installation, to be replaced with peaked slate roofs in the 1830s. Parts of the original flat roofs still exist underneath the peaked roofs, which will now be replaced with a single membrane flat roof.

Both the original flat roofs and the slate roofs have historical significance for the Lawn, and Hogg said there would be careful documentation and preservation of both styles.

"Water has been the root cause for much of the loss of Jefferson's original fabric throughout the Lawn, and early efforts to thwart water infiltration have altered Jefferson's original concept more than any other intervention," according to a 2007 report on exterior Lawn restoration prepared by architects Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker.

Aside from protecting the buildings from the weather, the pavilions were also altered to accommodate the families living in them. The first addition to Pavilion X came in 1831 when the Board of Visitors approved "an addition to the basement story for the accommodation of Domestics" similar to those on other pavilions, according to the Mesick report.

Pavilion X – currently home of McIntire School of Commerce Dean Carl P. Zeithaml and his family – and its two student rooms make up a complete unit, Lahendro said, making it the perfect prototype for future restoration.

The type of wood to be used for the parapet has not been determined, Hogg said. The architect's report theorized the original parapet was made of heart pine, but suggests "some other durable wood species like African mahogany, Spanish mahogany or some similar material" for the new parapet.

Nor has it been determined if the new parapet will be built in place or fabricated elsewhere and installed. Hogg estimated that the original piece had been built in place. According to the 2007 report, the parapet will be anchored by support brackets that were installed in 1987 when the pavilion roof was restored.

All the restoration work has been reviewed and approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and is being performed by Facilities Management artisans.

— By Matt Kelly