September 3, 2009 — Conservators are using a focused beam of laser light to strip 180 years of grime and atmospheric pollution from the column capitals on Pavilion II.
The laser cleaning is among the finishing touches of the first overall renovation in 50 years of Pavilion II on the University of Virginia's Lawn.
Leigh Hassler, a 2000 U.Va. Architecture graduate, and colleague Roy J. Ingraffia, both of Milner and Carr Conservation LLC of Philadelphia, worked from scaffolds on the pavilion balcony Tuesday morning, completely ignored by the students and visitors on the Lawn. Passersby took notice only of the boom lift that was carefully maneuvered into place in front of the pavilion, within a fenced area that extended 20 feet from the columns. Students, some iPod-ed and cellphoned, walked through the colonnade below, oblivious to the nearly silent work above their heads.
"The lasers are neater and cause less damage to the stone," said Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation planner with the Office of the Architect for the University. "And there is so much traffic in that area, the lasers cause less disruption."
The laser vaporizes the soot on the Carrera marble ionic capitals without harming the stone and with no falling debris, said James Zehmer, historic preservation projects coordinator. The treatment is restoring the original bright white color of the capitals, which have been severely discolored through the years.
"The stone is good quality and the details remain fresh," Hogg said. "This is pure white stone with almost no veining. This is why the Italians have used this stone for their art sculptures for all these years."
The front of the capitals, facing the Lawn, were cleaned in the 1980s, but that cleaning did not extend to the other sides of the stones.
"When they cleaned it then, they used Bon Ami and a sponge," Hogg said.
The laser is precise enough to clean out the crevices in the stone. Hassler and Ingraffia use eye protection and a breathing apparatus while wielding the laser, and signs on the green plastic mesh fence that surrounds the work area warn that eye protection is required.
The capital cleaning is the most visible outward sign of the pavilion's extensive $3.8 million renovation, paid for through private donations. Workers connected the pavilion to the University's central heating and air conditioning system, replacing several window units.
"That allowed us to remove the cast-iron radiators that were probably put in early in the 20th century," Hogg said. "There were also a lot of exposed pipes in some rooms and we have been able to eliminate them."
The pavilion received new wiring, plumbing, smoke detectors and sprinklers, and the 3 1/2 bathrooms were given a complete overhaul. Workmen installed a heart pine floor in the kitchen, as well as cabinets and appliances. The wooden floors will be sanded to a lighter color and then shellacked and waxed.
In the basement, a layer of bricks was installed over the concrete pad. The basement held the kitchen and other working rooms, but Hogg said pavilion basements are now generally used for family rooms, laundry and other workrooms.
"Originally, the basement had a brick floor, but at some point it was covered with cement, probably to deal with moisture issues," Hogg said. "Part of our goal is to keep the historical character of the building."
Most of the pavilion work was done by the University's Facilities Management workers.
"We have so many skilled tradespeople here who care about their work," Hogg said. "It is nice to do projects with them."