roofing and roof specialties

Updating with Copper

The 1889 Hotel Holmes in Westerville, OH, has a new copper oriel roof that was designed, fabricated and installed by The Durable Restoration Company.

The Queen Anne Hotel Holmes, built in 1889, lost its oriel roof during a lightning storm several decades ago. The Durable Restoration Company of Columbus, OH, has restored the roof to its original splendor using copper that is expected to last several generations. All photos: The Durable Restoration Company

By Annabel Hsin

In the early 1880s, the city of Westerville, OH, desperately needed accommodations after the former Clymer House, a 20-room hotel, was blown up. Thomas Holmes acquired a lot on the southwest corner of State and Main Streets, where all primary north-south and east-west streets intersected, making it the ideal location for his proposed three-story Queen Anne-style hotel. The Holmes House had its grand opening on April 24, 1889, and boasted 30 hotel rooms, a barber shop, tailor shop, an additional two storefronts and two large basements; on the west side, an extended two-story wing housed a livery stable and blacksmith shop. Architecturally, the brick building has a highly decorative main façade – a finial atop a central gabled parapet and, directly below, a two-tiered projecting bay. Windows on either side were built with rounded arches and elegant fanlight transoms. Dominating the southwest corner of the building, an oriel with a bell-shaped roof clad in metal served as the building's focal point and has since become an icon of the city.

Wood rafters were all individually cut to accommodate the convex and concave surface of the bell-shaped roof design. The pieces were also carefully numbered to ensure correct installation when the base was taken apart to transport it to the rooftop.

Today, the Hotel Holmes, with many of its exterior architectural features still intact, is a landmark building in the Uptown Westerville District. Unfortunately, the bell-shaped oriel roof was struck by lightning and removed more than 50 years ago. The current owner hired the Durable Restoration Company (DRC) of Columbus, OH, to restore the roof.

"The building is located within Westerville's Uptown District, which is regulated through the City of Westerville Planning & Zoning Code in a similar manner to an historic district," says Bassem Bitar, planning and zoning officer. "Any changes to the exterior of a building are subject to review and approval by the Uptown Review Board (URB). In this instance, we were looking for details about the design and materials to examine how closely they reflected the original design. While it was expected that some of the details might be different from the original, the overall shape, proportions and character were important." Rick Ladina, general superintendent at DRC, designed the initial drawings for the review board. The client had provided an old postcard with a partial view of the oriel roof, and, together with photographs culled from Bitar's library, Rick Ladina was able to design a roof that mimics the original, with the exception of the materials and design pattern. The roof needed to be clad in copper, for maintenance reasons, with a diamond pattern as opposed to the swirl pattern depicted in the old images. "This design was presented to the URB in February 2009 and approved after a brief discussion about the differences to the original design," says Bitar. "Overall, the board was excited about the fact that the building owner was willing to go to the expense of replacing a long-lost feature of one of Uptown Westerville's most significant buildings."

A 5-ft.-tall finial was hand-soldered together using copper balls, supplied by Nevada, MO-based W.F. Norman, and cones.

The project was passed along to Ron Ladina, project manager, who developed the plans to construct the oriel roof. The location of the Hotel Holmes made it difficult to utilize a crane to lift the roof structure; it would have required blocking off two main city streets and increasing the budget. Therefore, Ron Ladina had to build the base structure in a basement workshop and disassemble it afterward to transport the pieces to the rooftop using a rope-and-pulley system.

After determining the ratio and diameter of the oriel roof, Ron Ladina created a full-scale drawing on a workbench. The underside of the roof structure was constructed of wood – starting with a 14-sided geometrical base built on top of shims for a leveled surface. The underside was separated into three levels, with each level supported by 28 pieces of 32-in.-tall rafters. The rafters were cut individually to accommodate the convex and concave surfaces of the bell-shaped roof. Once the skeletal structure was complete, 800 rectangular 1x4-in. tongue-and-groove wood pieces were screwed onto the rafters to create the surface. The wood structure was carefully numbered and taken apart to be transported.

A half-inch copper cable, part of a lightning rod system installed in the finial, runs along the underside of the wood base and extends to the exterior of the building.

Ron Ladina also fabricated the copper panels for cladding in the basement workshop. There were 17 rows, each with a different circumference. "We had to figure out the circumference of every row and divide by 14 [the number of panels in each row] in order to get the size of each panel," he says. The panels are all 12 ins. tall with varying widths, from 24 ins. at the bottom to 3 ins. at the top. In addition to copper cladding, an ice and water guard with a smooth finish was installed between the wood base and the copper, allowing the copper to slide on the surface when it expands and retracts during summer and winter months.

The diamond-shaped copper panels were made with 20-oz. copper for easy maintenance and installation. "The diamond pattern is typical in a lot of today's roofing," says Rick Ladina. "We've done a lot of concaved or convex roofs that use this pattern. It's a system where you don't have to solder the panels together. You could just snap them together."

Each row of the diamond-patterned copper panels is sized differently and was meticulously measured and cut in a basement workshop. During installation, only three panels were resized onsite with hand tools, while the rest snapped on with ease.

The design also called for a 5-ft.-tall copper finial that was hand-soldered together using copper balls, supplied by Nevada, MO-based W.F. Norman, and cones. A lightning rod system was installed in the finial to ensure that the roof wouldn't be struck again. A copper cable was connected on the inside of the finial that continued to the underside of the roof structure and ran along the exterior of the building. "It's a half-inch cable, and once it turns brown, you won't notice it," says Ron Ladina.

Before installing the roof, it was necessary to determine if the existing roof could support the additional weight. "We had a few pictures from a contractor who was previously hired by the owner that showed 2x4s inside the roof," says Rick Ladina. "We really didn't know how we were going to anchor the whole system. Once we cut the top off and were able to determine the condition inside, we went with the standard procedure of bolting the structure to the oriel roof so that wind couldn't damage it." Fortunately, it was confirmed that there was no need for additional structural repairs, and the installation process took less than three weeks to complete.

The copper panels were buffed for a luster finish to give the illusion of a swirl pattern that was depicted in historic photos of the original oriel roof.

The design team's use of quality materials to re-create a long-lost architectural feature on the Hotel Holmes has proven to be a success. Ron Ladina was recently awarded the Builders Exchange Craftsmanship Award for the roofing project. "The owner put us in a situation where we're allowed to work from old photographs and use traditional materials and techniques to reintroduce that to the structure," says Ron Pletcher, Durable Restoration's vice president. "This philosophy separates us from typical new construction. By having the leeway to do it the right way, we give something back to the building, something that will last for several generations."