The Spice of First Church

Spicer Ramsay, First Church’s oldest member, has completed many projects over the years as both a volunteer and the Property Manager.   Here are just a few of the highlights he described to me in a 2-hour interview soon to be available in the archive.

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One of the first projects he completed was a rearrangement of the choir loft. Originally wood paneling was even across the loft so that only the heads of a standing choir could be seen. There was also a 1.5 ft. open space behind the organ that anyone could potentially fall into. When the organ was replaced in 1954 Spicer and a few friends sawed the tall barriers in half and arranged them to protect the choir from tripping into the “abyss.”

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The abyss.

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Original panels at full height (center/L) next to spiced up panel (R)

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Altered panel protecting the choir from falling

His next big project was the renovation of the basement restrooms in 1964. Apparently the men’s restroom was still using original plumbing and, as many of you know, choir practice is not easy on the pipes. In the 1970’s he worked with a local high school wood shop teacher to modify the basement. They made all of the cabinetry, enclosed the two classrooms, and replaced the lighting and flooring.

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Spicer’s namesake dining hall is the location of his earliest memory at the church, sleeping on a pallet through his mother’s meetings.

Spicer got formally got involved with the building as Property Manager after John Pownell passed him the baton soon after the retrofit was completed. With the assistance of a few contractors John and Spicer finished the interior work. Most notably the dynamic due re-plastered and repainted the sanctuary and the Narthex.

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To hide the rough edges around the doors left by the retrofit crews, Spicer made the decorative lintels over both entrances. He also added the brass rail.

Other miscellaneous woodworking projects include the trophy frame over the kids robes outside of the choir room near the drinking fountain, the cabinets with the inset glass panes in the basement, Elena’s step stool at the pulpit, and a panel in the Narthex, think you can find which one?

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These are just a handful of the many improvements Spicer has made to First Church. Next time you see him please be sure to thank him for all of the hard work he’s put into caring for this building. It definitely shows!

Metal Detected

A few weeks ago the church had a boom lift parked right outside. The city permitted the lift to block the bike lane on 3rd St. and the street parking on Cedar Ave. for only two days. Unfortunately, it happened to be raining sporadically those days so our team had to construct a little enclosure so that they could conduct their survey.

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Before the boom lift was delivered we met with conservators from Rosa Lowinger and Associates to examine the interior of the window to see what we could discover by potentially removing a small portion. The structural engineering team vetoed this idea citing that the wooden frame was, however inappropriately, carrying the load of the terracotta. So no information could be gained from the interior.

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The following two days a boom lift was employed on the 3rd St. and Cedar Ave. sides of the building to document every crack in the brick and terra cotta exteriors. Using a special metal detector called an Elcometer Protovale Imp metal detector, metal armatures were found at the connection points of the terra cotta blocks in the rose windows tracery (See prior post for schematics).

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Corrosion of these interior armatures is a significant cause of cracking in the hollow blocks that cannot expand to accommodate the change of the size of the metal. Mapping the damage allows our team to locate the areas that are structurally compromised and helps them design an appropriate solution to mitigate the damage. Stay tuned for more details!

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This is the first time we have been able to examine the north side because the trees were recently trimmed back.

Retro-FIT

Our church was one of the first historic buildings to seismically retrofit using the CenterCore system. Using this method, holes filled with grout and rebar were drilled from the bare rooftop. Water relief holes were drilled in the sides of the building to allow moisture to escape and make sure grout was packed all the way to the bottom. Jim Woods did the congregation a great service by photographing the 1980’s retrofit. His photos of the building, the work that was done to it, and what was hidden behind the walls have been instrumental in helping us understand the structural implications of the retrofit. Here are a few gems from his archive donation.

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No roof, no shirts.

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Grout and rebar being placed into the cored center of the wall,

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Drilling of water relief holes

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Relief hole showing more grout is needed

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A car accident witnessed by the crews from the roof. Notice no one is going to the phone booths to call for help.

Deck the halls with scaffolding!

Many of you who were at Christmas service may be wondering why there is scaffolding under the east window again. The answer is because of further investigations by the preservation team. Several architectural conservators will be examining the interior window to learn how it was put together. Their investigation is timed to preface the boom lift that was mentioned a few posts ago.

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Through the course of our discussions it has become apparent that the north and east facades must be treated simultaneously. There are only four terra cotta manufacturers in the world. There is a lag between when the order is placed and the replacements are made and shipped. Ordering all of the replacement parts at once reduces the cost of shipping and the time to get the terra cotta pieces. To figure out how many total parts are going to be needed both facades must be examined.

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The north side may also be built differently than the east. The north cornice collapsed in the 1933 earthquake. It was rebuilt without the decorative brickwork that the east side has. This indicates that the church was not opposed to making significant changes to meet their budget. Further study should expose their alterations and help us address those problems specifically.

 

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To reach the north window a boom lift must be placed in the bike lane on 3rd St., which needs approval from the city. A permit requires proof of licenses, insurance, city approval of the insurance, a city endorsement, and other logistical information. It takes quite a bit of time to gather all of the materials and for the city to process the information. The investigation days have had to be rescheduled twice because of difficulties with the paperwork. Hopefully the boom lift will be coming soon, and all of the internal metal will be revealed. We will keep you posted!

Dimensions of Dimensioning

To properly analyze the building our experts need to know the exact length, width, and height of the entire façade in a computer aided design software called AutoCAD. AutoCAD first developed in 1982 to help architects, engineers, and manufacturers make their creations into digital renderings. Since then, it has become the standard for making dimensioned drawings on the computer. The digitizing process was first started at First Church last spring when I took a course on AutoCAD with architect Ted Lambros at Long Beach City College.

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With help from the archive team, a portion of the class made copies of the original 1914 drawings of the First Congregational Church. The group then used those drawings as the blueprints for their final project. For bonus points, a few dedicated students met up with Ted at First Congregational to learn how to accurately dimension a building using a measuring tape and laser-measuring device.

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When our experts expressed a need for dimensioned drawings I was thrilled that these drawings could be used; however, drawings on paper are always different than what was actually built. I discovered this fact when I went around the lower façade with a measuring tape to double check the work that the students did. Unfortunately, the discrepancies were too significant to ignore so the process would have to be redone.

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To properly measure the building to accurately redraw the building I recruited Sam, the building property manager. One of his past lives was as a mover so his skills with a tape measure far exceed expectations. Here are several photos of the daring feats we accomplished with the tape measure.

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Sneak peek behind windows

This past week several lucky members of the First Church team received a behind the scenes look at where and how the rose window is being restored. Last Wednesday, Yvonne, Sam, Elena, and I drove up to the valley meet Mike Oades at his studio in Chatsworth. He greeted us in a room with a large central table covered in tracings of window designs.

These drawings, he explained, are used to help identify how the windows differ from one another. Despite being planned off of the same template, the stained glass windows are made by hand and set into wood frames that warped uniquely depending on their placement. The results are usually no more than 1/8-1/4” which might not seem like a lot but any tiny gap allows entrance to damaging elements such as rain and other pollutants. img_5918

In addition, our windows were not made according to ‘spec.’ Stained glass windows should have an exterior leading that acts as a frame to hold all of the pieces together. In our case there is little to no exterior leading and the unprotected glass sat between the wood and terracotta. Mike is adding the exterior leading so that in the future the panes will be better protected but the 3/8” displacement from the new leading has to be taken into account to re-center the designs for re-installation.

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All of the east teardrop windows in storage

Once the design is outlined, the panels are moved to the other portion of his studio where all of the ‘dirty’ work happens. The windows are first left to soak in a water bath for 24-48 hours. This allows most of the grime to wash off and helps soften the leading. After this process is complete the windows are removed from their baths and the leading is removed by hand to separate the pieces. The leading in our windows is so soft from age that even without soaking it can be peeled up in most places with a pinkie finger.

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The broken panes are saved and used to make patterns for new replacement pieces. Unlike many other types of artistic media, glass manufacturing has not changed much in the past 120 years so the same exact colors are still available. What has changed is our ability to manipulate and maintain exact temperatures which effects how well the stains adhere to the glass.

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The cleaned non-broken pieces are first re-fired to make sure that any original stain that was not properly fired originally will be well adhered before restoration. The colors then get freshened up with new paint and re-fired. I expected huge kilns but instead found two Easy-Bake Oven look a likes, which makes sense because the pieces are re-fired while separated, not put together. img_5938

After the glass is repainted and fired several times, the pieces are laid out together like a jigsaw puzzle to be re-leaded. I was hoping the leading would come out of a machine like squeezy cheese (his assistant jumped in laughing, ‘I wish!’) but not such luck. Mike cuts the leading, bends it by hand to fit the curve of the glass shapes, and solders it back together.

 

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The face panes are made of two pieces that get stacked on top of each other. These are the two separated pieces before repainting.

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The stacked panes before and after restoration.

 

Here is a finished teardrop that will be on view as a contrast soon!

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Progress on frames and FCCLB prepares for a BOOM (lift)

This week I am beginning work on the wooden frames that operate as functional stops that hold the stained glass panes in place (see second post for pictures of stops in place). The stops were removed along with the stained glass windowpanes back in August. They have been stabilized with epoxy and are now ready for fine detail work. Before that can happen, all of the stops must be photographed and notes on their condition must be taken so that future generations will know what was done to them. Here are a few shots of my documentation process.

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My lovely photography set up.

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Example of documentation image.

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Bundled teardrop frames

 

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Half of the bundled ‘circular’ window frames.

Also, the church will be renting a boom lift to complete an investigation of the terracotta to locate buried metal. The metal anchors that hold the blocks together have corroded and are potentially the cause of many of the cracks. By mapping the metal and surrounding cracks we can determine the validity of a causal relationship and begin to find ways to address the problems. I have included two images from the National Terracotta Society’s 1914 manual that illustrate the types of metal we are hoping to find.

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Momastery

For several months scaffolding was erected in sanctuary to allow for access for investigations of the rose window. It was determined to be no longer necessary and Mike Oades and his team were able to take down the scaffolding. . The timing was fortuitous because every seat in the sanctuary was needed for last Thursday’s Momastery event.

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Momastery aka Glennon Doyle Melton packed the sanctuary full of women who came together for an evening to share their stories and their struggles. After an hour meet and greet Glennon spoke about her story, the origins of her new book, and her relationship with the United Church of Christ. She explained the draw to her UCC community as ‘finally finding a place where love and the church reached out to everyone.’

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Glennon Doyle Melton is one of many illustrious authors and speakers that First Church has hosted over the years. Past lecturers include Dr. Edward Krehbiel, a Stanford history professor and member of Wilson’s post-war peace settlement working group, in 1918, the scientist who discovered the charge of an electron and Nobel Prize winner Dr. R. A. Millikan in 1923, Russian royalty and UCLA professor Prince Andre Lobanoff Rostovsky in 1933, and many many more.

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We look forward to more lectures that bring current subjects to the forefront and make the First Congregational Church a meeting place for not only religious but also intellectually and emotionally challenging discussions.

A new case and Joseph Evan Mackay

This week the preservation team put together a new encasement for the Koinonia room. This one features a teardrop window that was removed from the east rose window. In it you can find examples of almost every kind of damage inflicted on the panes: cracking, broken pieces, soft/bent leading, chips, losses, a poorly constructed patch, and several BB gun holes to top it off.

 

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Now on view in the Koinonia Room

In honor of the windows currently under restoration, here is a bit more information about the creator of our stained glass windows, Joseph Evan Mackay. Many thanks to Bob Kalayjian who spent countless hours putting together such a wonderful trove of information!

 

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Sketches for east rose window angels, Joseph Evan Mackay, 1913.

Joseph Evan Mackay was a Scottish emigrant born in the 1864 who moved to New York City in 1884. He worked with John LaFarge for three years until he began working at Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. His time at Tiffany was tumultuous. He later sued the company in 1897 for a $17,000 commission he had earned.[1] It is unknown whether or not he was successful in his suit.

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Magnolia and Irises, 1908, Tiffany Glass, Co. Now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

By the early 1900’s he had moved to San Francisco where he began to distinguish himself by diverging from traditional European iconography and including Western naturalistic imagery. He left the bay area after a few years and moved down to Los Angeles. In 1905 the Los Angeles Times reported a strike at his warehouse over his hiring of a Japanese glassmaker he knew from his time at Tiffany in New York.[2]

 

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Bay as seen from Tiburon (1904) by Joseph Evan Mackay. Now in the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in  Winona, Minnesota.

 

 

His liberal politics must have endeared him to the relatively young First Congregational Church of Long Beach. He was hired in 1913 to design all of the stained glass and interior spaces. He continued creating art glass in California until his death in 1938. He is buried in Beverly Hills.

[1] Paint, oil and drug review Vol. 24 No. 1. July 7, 1897 Chicago: D. Van Ness Pub. Co.

[2] Wouldn’t work with any Jap.” The Los Angeles Times. August, 13, 1905. [Los Angeles, Calif.]: Times-Mirror Co.

 

 

The skylights are back!

Finally the skylights in the Kononia room are back in place and boy do they look fantastic! Not only was the glass cleaned and sagging in the frame fixed by J. Michael Designs but thanks to Sam Johnson, Yvonne Samarion, and a new volunteer David Eckhous the interiors were repainted and solar powered lights were installed to illuminate the glass at night. Hopefully their efforts combined with the recaulking the Historic Preservation Committee did Spring of 2015 will mean that the skylights will be in stellar condition for the next hundred years.

Here are some during and after photos:

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Repainted interior of the skylights. Thanks again Sam!

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One of the new solar powered flood lights.

After shots:

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No more sagging!

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All three newly cleaned skylights

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Look at the intensity of the color!