Experts in Vault Lighting and all Cast Iron Work - Preservation, Restoration, Repair, Fabrication
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Why Historic Preservation is Important

Upon seeing a rickety old building or an old rusting fence, it’s easy to overlook the appeal. After all, it’s just the fading remnants of years gone by, right? Maybe not. These sites were once as important to the people who lived and worked in them as our structures are to us today. In fact, restoring such sites can bring the meaning back to life. It can even be quite beneficial to you in the process.

 

The Economic Impact

 

It might surprise you that preserving and restoring historic sites could have monetary benefits. This practice has a huge impact on the local economy by increasing the property value (both of the historic site itself and of the buildings surrounding it), bringing in sales and creating jobs in the district. This is because “heritage tourism,” as the National Park Service calls it, is a thriving market.  

 

The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program might be a motivating factor leading businesses toward preserving and restoring historic sites. In fact, over 42,000 historic sites have been preserved as a result. The program grants businesses a 20% tax credit for restoring historic buildings and structures that generate an income.

 

Historic Preservation Easements are yet another economically beneficial means to preserve history. According to the National Park Service, a business that donates the deed of its historic property to a preservation society could receive tax benefits as well. With so many opportunities for financial benefits, restoring historic sites could be quite lucrative.  

 

The Environmental Impact

 

In addition to the sheer monetary gain, there is a certain environmental impact that comes with historic preservation. This is due to the fact that preserving historic sites is, by nature, a reuse of resources. The restoration of a building or site uses significantly less energy than tearing it down and creating an entirely new structure.

 

It is simply not realistic to continuously tear down old buildings to make way for new ones. Sooner or later, the resources will run out. As the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation says, “preservation is an effective method of sustainability.” Businesses that practice historic preservation will be leaders in such sustainability.

 

The Educational Impact

 

We certainly can’t ignore the benefits that will be reaped by the younger generations. Children will be able to visualize what they learn about in history class; historic preservation brings the past to life. It can preserve a community’s culture and heritage. In the same way, it can preserve lasting memorials of past events, giving students the option to ponder the past.

 

Formal education aside, there is a certain intangible benefit that accompanies the preservation of history. It gives us a window into past, the ability to see and touch the very same things that our ancestors saw and touched. With the knowledge of history comes the knowledge of human nature, and that can be an invaluable resource.

 

Following Restoration Guidelines

 

When it comes to following guidelines for historic preservation practices, the National Park Service first recommends planning for the restoration. This could include contacting historians or archeologists, or even a historic society. Bringing in a professional ensures that the proper measures are taken to care for the historic site. It is also important from a scholarly perspective that the correct historical context is identified.

 

Once the planning is complete, the NPS gives us four approaches to historic preservation. First comes preservation, which includes making the necessary repairs to the historic site. Rehabilitation steps in when major alterations or additions are needed to maintain the site. Restoration is utilized to create a snapshot in time; it restores the structure or artifact to the way it would’ve looked at the time of its original creation. Last, reconstruction brings an entirely new life to portions of the site that are unusable or have disappeared entirely.

 

When it comes to specific guidelines offered by the NPS, creating a “false historical appearance” is strongly discouraged. Instead, focusing on maintaining the integrity of the site while incorporating modern architecture that reflects historical appearances is the way to go.

Additionally, missing elements may be replaced if there is documented evidence that they existed during the site’s historic period. These elements might include designs or structures that were commonly found in the time period or were recorded to have existed at the site itself.

 

There are also several laws in place regarding the preservation of historic sites. This is to ensure the safety of everybody involved while maintaining the historic integrity. With these measures, the sites, structures and artifacts can be preserved for future generations and for the benefit of your business. These guidelines are available to the public on the National Park Service website.

 

The next time that you encounter a site, building or artifact that looks like it may be of historic value, consider the benefits that could come from bringing it back to life. With your help, what was once a rusty old relic or crumbling site could be returned to its former glory.

If you are considering an historic preservation or restoration project that includes cast iron work, please feel free to reach out to our team at Antique Cast Iron, LLC for some additional information.  We work on projects throughout the Northeast U.S.

 

Cast Iron Structures Throughout American History

Cast Iron Structures - Fountains and Statues
Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi’s “Fountain of Light and Water”; Image credit: Architect of the Capitol; public domain.

Cast iron has been utilized in our structures for much longer than most of us realize. It was invented in China over 2,000 years ago, and was an extremely expensive luxury used only in very small amounts. Fast forward a couple thousand years: in the mid 1700’s, the English developed a much more efficient way of producing cast iron, causing it to become more commonplace. Slowly, it made its way into the decorative fountains and statues of America

 

It was in the 19th century that cast iron saw an explosion of popularity. Suddenly, it was not only found in America’s railroad and water systems, but also in the architecture. This cast iron boom began in 1849 when the Edgar Laing Stores were built in New York. The building meshed together brick with cast iron; it seemed to herald in the popularity of using cast iron to create memorable structures.

 

Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, cast iron statues and fountains became increasingly popular. This was partly due to practicality; cast iron was known for being fire resist and, at a time before electricity was widespread, this was a major benefit. Apart from this sensible reason, cast iron could be easily poured into intricate molds, creating highly decorative structures.

 

Famous Metal Structures

 

One of the most famous fountains in America is the Bartholdi Fountain, first unveiled in 1876. It is a formidable structure, measuring 27 feet tall and showcasing three sea nymphs with nautical images surrounding them. Made by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty, the fountain now resides in Washington DC. It has been restored multiple times, with the most recent and most significant restoration having occurred between 2008 and 2011. During this time, the fountain was moved from its site for a complete restoration and water treatment. Today, the structure is as awe-inspiring as ever, still standing tall in the Botanical Gardens of the nation’s capital.  

 

Well known structures like the Bartholdi Fountain are dwarfed in comparison to the largest cast iron statue in the world, the Vulcan statue, found in Birmingham, Alabama. It was originally shown at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis to awed spectators, who were taken aback by the 120,000 pound structure. More amazingly, it was created in Birmingham of entirely local iron.

 

To mark its 100 year anniversary, the Vulcan statue underwent a serious restoration costing $1 million in 1976. An observation deck was added and its tower was covered in marble, also from Alabama. This was only a small tweak compared to the $14 million restoration that would occur 25 years later. The entire statue was cleaned, repaired and stabilized to ensure that it didn’t crumble. It was then re-erected onto a steel pedestal, giving it an appearance similar to its original state over a century earlier.  

 

Less well known cast iron structures can be found scattered throughout the United States. One such structure is the Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah, Georgia, first created in 1858 to be the centerpiece of the city’s Forsyth Park. It was an ornate structure, as most cast iron fountains are, depicting a Greek nautical theme like many of its contemporaries. Its creation was followed by continuous repairs until 1935, including the addition of a basin and an iron railing (to prevent onlookers from getting sprayed by the water) and the repeated repainting of the structure. Genuine steps toward preservation began in the 1960’s when the fountain was renovated for the first time and continued in 1977 when the cast iron figure in the center of the fountain was replaced entirely.

 

How to Repair Cast Iron

 

When it comes to repairing and restoring cast iron statues and fountains, there are companies that specialize in the trade. Hiring professionals to work with the structure ensure its safety and historic preservation. Many reputable companies exist, such as ours, Antique Cast Iron, a company experienced in restoring and replicating major historic cast iron forms with a specialty in Vault Lights. 

 

Above anything else, it is recommended that you consult with a professional before making any attempts at restorations to ensure that the iron isn’t damaged. Most often today, it is the job of workers to restore rusted iron, structure failures, or missing pieces. As a preservation architect, we might do anything from minor cleaning and maintenance to a full repaint of the structure and replacement of certain parts.

 

Since their rise in popularity in the mid-19th century, cast iron fountains and statues have preserved history and American culture. Today, they act as a window into the past and a clear representation of the intricacies of American art.  If you have historic cast iron on your property that needs repair, please feel free to contact us.  We are happy to help you.

Why You Should Restore Antique Cast Iron Architectural Work

restore antique cast ironWe’ve all found ourselves walking through historic neighborhoods or business districts, admiring the beautiful handworked cast iron railings and window grills. Whether the building is brick, stone or another facade, the cast iron workings add a sense of history and romance to the scene. Sadly, the passage of time and incorrect maintenance has lead to the degradation of many of these elements. Antique Cast Iron, LLC is dedicated to preserving and repairing these fixtures – contact us if you are ready to restore antique cast iron railings, window grills and more.

 

Most people don’t realize cast iron wasn’t purley ornamental when it was originally placed. These fixtures served many purposes: to help stop fire damage, to act as protection against theft and to add structural stability to the building. To understand the importance of preserving cast iron, we should look at the history of how it became common in turn-of the century architecture.

 

These thin iron workings represent an industrial revolution in architecture. Until the mid-1820’s, all iron work was hand-wrought. This made iron too expensive to be used regularly. Once furnace technology advanced to allow rendering of cast iron elements, the material found its way into common architecture. Cotton mills first turned to the material as it was flame-resistant and strong, but it became a popular choice for all building purposes due to its strength and beauty.

 

In 1820, the first iron storefronts were being placed in New York City. Shop owners found the material especially attractive as it allowed passer-bys to view their goods and wares for sale. Churches and theaters began to explore the material as a means of attractive support for balconies.  Architects appreciated the load-bearing qualities of cast iron, and began installing it into windows and storefronts in order to allow multi-storied buildings.

 

Artists and architects began experimenting with the material, often creating one-of-a-kind designs for custom orders. Due to the nature of cast iron many of these designs survive today. With the rehabbing and remodeling of storefronts and residential areas, however, these structures are in danger of being lost as they are being removed and replaced.  

 

Despite it’s durability, no material is immune to the rigors of the environment. Cast iron is no exception, and many owners of historic shops find themselves with antique cast iron fixtures that are suffering the wear of years of use. Cast iron fittings may be loose in their seatings, rusted, broken or otherwise damaged. These defects can make them hazardous to the structure of the building as well as unattractive. Unfortunately, some shop owners choose to have the failing cast iron removed and replaced, which can be costly and alters the historic charm of the building.

 

Removal and replacement isn’t necessary if your cast-iron is failing. Antique Cast Iron specializes in the restoration and preservation of cast iron railings, fences, and window grills. Our services include maintenance, repairs and fabrication of identical replacement panels that allow you to continue to enjoy your antique cast iron while maintaining the historic value of your building.

 

While many people attempt to paint or clean antique cast iron themselves, this is potentially dangerous given the composition of the paint, contaminants in the removed coatings and, depending on the cleaning method used, damaging to the cast iron fixtures themselves. Our technicians are fully trained in how to safely restore cast iron to its original beauty without causing further damage to the material. In most cases, we can repair damage that exists while protecting your cast iron against further wear.

 

This is achieved through the proper removal of old surface coatings, remediation of any corrosion or rust, and repair of existing pieces to include recasting of new pieces that will blend seamlessly with the existing cast iron. We then utilize modern coatings that are superior at protecting your cast iron from moisture or elemental damage.

Antique Cast Iron has had the privilege of working to restore historic iron fixtures to some of the most beautiful structures found in Northeast, whether they be residential or business. You can view after photos of some of our projects on our site.

 

After nearly 30 years of Historic Cast Iron preservation, we’re proud to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. Our work has been mentioned in the National Park Tech Notes in acknowledgement of developing a procedure that allows preservation of historic street vault lights. We take our work beyond repair. We care about preserving the history and beauty of antique cast iron elements.  Contact us at http://antiquecastironplus.com/contact/

The Importance of Preserving Beautiful and Historic Vault Lighting

Services - Vault Lighting, Historic Vault LightingAntique Cast Iron, LLC specializes in historic vault lighting preservation and repair.  Vault lights, otherwise known as pavement lights or sidewalks lights, are essentially glass inserts placed into cast iron or concrete that were intended to allow light from the street to enter the area below the sidewalk, usually on business streets, that operated as storage or rental areas for the shop owners above. Due to the invention of cheap electric power, these lights fell out of favor during the early 19th century. Following the discontinuance of this architectural feature, many existing vault lights have suffered damage and decay with the passage of time. 

Historic Vault Lighting

The concept of vault lights was born in the mid 1800’s from the use of deck lights, where large prisms of glass were inserted into a ship deck to allow lighting to the berthings below. With the primary source of lighting depending on the use of gas, many businesses were reluctant to install gas lights in the small, enclosed and subterranean spaces beneath their shops for concern of fire risk. Vault lighting allowed the distribution of sunlight to these spaces, creating an inexpensive and attractive means of providing light to the areas with no secondary fire risk that would be present with the use of gas. Thaddeus Hyatt patented his invention for in-sidewalk vault lights in 1845. While the original installations of vault lights were relatively simple affairs, before they fell out of favor in the 1930’s vault lights could exhibit an array of patterns with glass in circular prisms and iron supports, or streamlined square panels in windowpane-like supports. Vault lights may contain relatively small, circular frames with five to seven circular prisms, or they can be large panels consisting of a multitude of once clear glass prisms that span several feet of sidewalk. Note that the glass was ‘once clear’, because due to the aging process and the manganese used in turn of the century glass, the clear glass takes on a purple hue as a side effect to exposure from the UV light that is present in sunlight.

 

Vault lights enjoyed use everywhere, but were common in larger cities both in the US and abroad. Over the passing years,vault lights have been subjected to the rigors of the weather and pedestrian traffic, damaging the glass panels and in some cases removing them entirely, opening the basements to water and debris from the streets. In an effort to prevent this, many shop owners resorted to the use of asphalt, concrete or wood to fill the holes left by the failing glass. The end result of these repairs is that intact, historically accurate vault lights are becoming scarce. Fortunately, there is a growing movement for the preservation and restoration of vault lights, with more outspoken advocates for preservation of the history they contain.

 

Even with the movement to preserve these fixtures of history, difficulty in finding a qualified and experienced restorer to the panels is a concern for those interested in the preservation of vault lights. The ability to remove, restore or recreate historically accurate vault lighting is further complicated by the complexity of the repairs that may have been done on the existing vault light panels, as knowledge of the composition of old cast iron is needed to ensure that the original material can be salvaged as much as possible during the restoration process. Old glass is fragile, and cast iron that has been subjected to a high degree of wear or corrosion must be handled properly to salvage the remains, or forge an identical replacement panel. Hiring a restorer with both the knowledge needed to address these concerns and the capability to recast replacement panels that match the salvageable cast iron panels for the vault lighting can be a challenge for businesses that wish to preserve these features and the historic charm of their cities.

 

Antique Cast Iron, LLC has had the privilege of working on several projects to restore, re-create and re-install several of these historical architectural fixtures, to include streets and vault light installations on Broadway, Crosby, Hudson, Greene and Spring Street. You can see an article explaining more about the history and technical process of proper restoration here, which covers the steps needed to restore the vault lights to Broadway. Through working with vault light cast iron restoration, we have developed a deep passion for preservation of these fixtures and subsequently developed a prism plug that is available for vault light owners to order in order to help prevent further improper material plugs in lost light.

 

Vault lights deserve preservation and restoration as they are a unique feature in the architectural history of our cities. If you are interested in finding out more about how Antique Cast Iron, LLC can help retain the historic integrity of your vault lighting system, please feel free to contact us and visit our Vault Lighting Services Page  to view images of past restoration projects we have completed with vault lighting.

Antique Cast Iron, LLC, Rocco V. Deangelo
425 Hoose Road, Cherry Valley, NY 13320
Phone: 607-264-3607 • Mobile: 607-435-1680
Email: antiqueiron@hughes.net