Parapet Restores Jefferson's Vision to U.Va.'s Pavilion X

January 13, 2010

January 13, 2010 — The University of Virginia's Pavilion X has been restored to its original exterior appearance.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Matt Kelly:

Last week, workers from U.Va.'s Facilities Management and Bensonwood of Walpole, N.H., erected a parapet atop the Lawn building, reflecting University founder Thomas Jefferson's original design for the pavilion.

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, probably due to deterioration. A balustrade, which functions like a parapet, was installed on Pavilion III. All of the parapets and balustrades are now gone, two removed as early as the 1830s or 1840s.

"It looks fantastic, as if it had always been there," said Joseph Dye Lahendro, a historic preservation architect at U.Va. who worked on the project. "The building looks complete again."

The new parapet, which stands 9 feet high and obscures the previous front view of the pavilion's roof, was constructed in 10 separate panels at Bensonwood's shop. The panels, the largest measuring 30 feet by 9 feet, weigh a total of about 35,000 pounds. They were shipped to U.Va. and lowered into place with a crane, set on top of steel anchoring rods built into the roof, and then braced from the rear.

"It has gone wonderfully," Lahendro said. "It was far smoother and better than I hoped for. I was very pleased with the Bensonwood workers' skill."

Bensonwood had three workers on site, coordinating closely with about 10 Facilities Management employees. Lahendro praised them all for working so closely together, as did Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation officer with the University.

"It is really a great example of U.Va.'s crew working with an outside contractor to build something special," Hogg said.

"We're very proud of being involved in this," said Jeff Coleman, Bensonwood's project manager. "We had not built a parapet of that scope before. It is massive."

The framework of the panels were made of Port Orford cedar from Oregon, which Coleman said naturally resists rot because of oils in the wood. The sheathing and the molding of the panels were made from African mahogany, which takes paint well and is durable in the weather. The parapet is painted a grayish-tan that conservators are referring to as "stone," which is very close to the original color.

The work – part of a restoration of the pavilion, which also includes changing the color of the columns in front from white to the original sandstone color and work on two adjacent student rooms – cost about $2 million, raised through private donations.

"This is the first comprehensive Jefferson restoration," University Architect David Neuman said.

"It really changes the appearance of the building, " Hogg said. "It gives you a sense of the scale of the house, and it shows the emphatic termination of the Lawn that Jefferson envisioned."

The proposal to replace the parapet sparked debate over whether to follow Jefferson's plan or to adopt the changes that had evolved over years. Hogg believes the parapet, which presents a three-dimensional example of Jefferson's original intentions, will help advance that debate.

"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," he 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.

— By Matt Kelly