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Trinity Cathedral Burial Ground Restoration


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Article published on the preservation and redesign of a unique urban space in downtown Pittsburgh - Trinity Cathedral Burial Ground. Read the story here.

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Trinity Cathedral Burial Ground Restoration

  1. 1. BUILDOUT Of A Grave Concern By K. Schipper Client: Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh Designer: Andropogon Associates Ltd., Philadelphia Landscape Contractor: Eisler Landscapes, Prospect, Pa. Gravestone Preservation: University of Pennsylvania Architectural Conservation Laboratory, Philadelphia AS&LD Copyright© 2008, Western Business Media MARCH/APRIL 2008 8
  2. 2. PITTSBURGH – The landscape designer called it “an unlikely project.” The contractor described the setting as “a little difficult.” Both admit they’re not normally called in to reshape a cemetery, and an historic one at that. Still, Marita Roos, a principal with Philadelphia-based Andropogon Associates Ltd., and G. Eric French, president of Prospect, Pa.-based Eisler Landscapes, say they’re pleased As work began in earnest on assessing the burial stones, it became their firms are involved with this high-profile downtown proj- apparent that little had been done in recent years to make the space ect that’s bringing a new look to Trinity Cathedral, the seat of inviting (left). The team working on the old stones definitely experi- enced the not-too-glamorous side of historic preservation (right). the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. (Photos courtesy Eric Pomaybo). AS&LD 9
  3. 3. BUILDOUT Last summer, work began on a $2 million cleaning and restoration project for the almost-140-year-old structure. The Rev. Canon Catherine Brall, provost of the cathedral, explains that portion of the makeover was several years in the making, and is being done for two very important reasons. “Pittsburgh is having its 250th anniversary this year,” Brall explains. “In addition, at Thanksgiving, our Episcopal diocese will observe the 250th anniversary of the first Protestant worship service held in Pittsburgh, which happened to be an Anglican service. We wanted to celebrate in a big way.” Starting in early June, a team of stone-restoration experts began blasting away at more than a century’s worth of industrial soot – and revealing a nice, light, Pennsylvania sandstone under what many people had assumed was a naturally black stone. At the same time, another type of stone restoration began taking place at ground level. Trinity sits on the site of Pittsburgh’s oldest cemetery; internments began there around the time of the American Revolution, and continued just about until the cathedral was finished in 1871. Initially considerably larger, the burial ground shrank in size over the years as bodies were Looking down on the site, it’s easy to see the space’s potential – even with the reburied at other cemeteries and the ground converted to burial markers taking up much of the green areas. (Photo courtesy Eric Pomaybo). commercial use. Brall explains that, twice previously, the congregation has availed itself of the services of the University of says Roos. “Basically, he asked them what they wanted Pennsylvania’s Architectural Conservation Laboratory to the grounds to be. help maintain that remaining grave markers of the burial “My partner, Carol Franklin, met with the people at ground. (See “Mending the Markers,” page 12) the cathedral and talked very eloquently about the capac- “The work started in 1990, and part of it was done ity of the site to be a contemporary memorial, as well as a then,” the canon says. “Later, more funds were available piece of history,” she says. “We also have quite a bit of and another phase of the work was done.” expertise in urban historic-preservation projects.” As church officials were planning for the restoration of That combination of sensitivity to the old while creating the cathedral’s exterior, they received a separate bequest a new vision for the space seems to have sold the job, Roos aimed at finishing the university’s preservation work. says, and Andropogon was the only firm considered. “The donor had an interest in the historic burial Roos, who grew up in Pittsburgh, seemed like the ground,” Brall says. “This should allow us to finish the natural choice to head up the job. She recalls walking by work of restoring and preserving the burial grounds and the site as a child. stones as much as possible. “I remember thinking, ‘Gee, that looks like an “We also decided to do grading and landscaping to the interesting place, but I’m not sure I can go in there,’” she site because sooty conditions have raised the ground level says. “It didn’t look particularly inviting.” anywhere from 4quot;-12quot;. And, there have been drainage Even more forbidding: the street elevation had been problems around the stones and around the building.” lowered, leaving the site about four-and-a-half feet above the sidewalk. “Our first challenge was how to make this more HISTORIC AND CONTEMPORARY welcoming to people who are just off the street,” she says. Roos says the involvement of Andropogon on the “Given that we couldn’t make many changes to the project is a direct result of the architectural conservation entrance, we felt that widening and curving the steps lab’s history on the site. using some really nice materials is going to help a lot.” Several members of the firm help teach classes in the Those “nice materials” are led by Pennsylvania historic preservation department at Penn, and Frank G. bluestone. Roos says the preferred stone, with a Matero, the department head, suggested to church tan/lavender cast, sets off the Pennsylvania sandstone of officials that they’d benefit from the assistance of a good the cathedral. landscape architect. The bluestone is also incorporated into new spaces in “He saw there would be a number of issues that need- the graveyard, created with the help of the grading ed to be addressed once the markers were preserved,” project. Because of the way the soils had settled and AS&LD MARCH/APRIL 2008 10
  4. 4. BUILDOUT A REAL CHALLENGE compacted around the stones, Roos says the old grave- yard wasn’t a nice place to walk. The choice of Eisler to turn Andropogon’s designs into “Because they were taking up the markers and then reality came as the result of a restricted-bid process, accord- wanted to put them back at their original elevations, we ing to both that company’s president and Rev. Canon Brall. had an opportunity to change the grades and at the same “We put out bids to companies based on time make sure the paths will all drain properly,” she says. Andropogon’s advice,” says Brall. “Our committee liked “We can amend the soil to make it drain better, and put in Eisler. They’re very excited about the project and they gravel in places, as well as grading.” were willing to be flexible.” Along with pathways around the burial area, Roos says She explains that flexibility was a must, since the the design also creates inviting spaces to lure people in. landscape contractor would be working in a very con- “We’ve created little nooks for seating, and they’re stricted space with the architectural conservationists and arranged primarily for people who want to sit and read,” with Young Restoration Company Inc., the firm cleaning she says. “A couple might support conversation, but most the cathedral. of it is just to be a place of respite, a calm green oasis in Eisler’s French says the project is fairly typical of the the city.” landscape work the firm does (it’s also expanded into gener- The most ambitious part of the project, from a design al contracting), but the setting made the job a real challenge. standpoint is what Roos refers to as a commemoration “It’s in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh – a com- circle that will provide a space for small events – she men- plete urban environment,” he says. “The project is also tions wedding photos – and memorial activities. elevated above street level, and surrounded by a “We’re making more of a space between the street wrought-iron fence that’s more than 100 years old.” and the entrance to the church by arching the top part of French compares the job to painting a floor, where the walkway around the paths,” Roos explains. “We’ll you start in a back corner and work your way out. have overlooks on either side that are formed by new, “We poured a concrete ramp on the church steps to small circle patterns. The stone is supporting all that, and get in and out of the site, we used slinger trucks to throw I’ll be interested to see how they’ll use the space.” material in, and boomed it in with a crane truck,” he says. Mending the Markers PITTSBURGH – While new Pennsylvania bluestone will improve the appearance of the Trinity Cathedral churchyard, the most-important stones at the site are undergoing their own restoration. Graduate students from the Architectural Conservation Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania recently spent a third stint restoring and treating the gravestones in the cemetery adjacent to the cathedral. As each marker was lifted Teresa Duff, the site supervisor for the project, explains that the from its spot (above), careful people from the university first worked on the stones 18 years ago. notes were taken so it “The next conservation campaign was in 2001, and the treat- could be relocated correctly. ments from 1990 were reexamined and reevaluated,” she explains. Graduate students assessed, “This third – and final – campaign allows us to look at all the mark- cleaned and repaired each ers and treat them all.” piece (right), then stored The cemetery, which predates the cathedral, hasn’t been in them in individual crates while active use for more than 130 years, Duff says. the site was graded and other “The earliest marker dates back to approximately 1787, and the landscape work completed. (Photos courtesy Eric Pomaybo). cemetery began to be used in the late 1700s,” she says. “Most of the markers are from the 1800s, and the last burials were about 1870. “If a stone is in pieces, we’ll use epoxy to re-adhere the pieces Some of the markers have been replaced by families since then.” together, or we’ll use drilling and pinning,” Duff says. “There we’ll drill Duff adds that there are approximately 150 markers at the site. holes and use a polymer and a fiberglass or stainless steel pin. We She and her crew have been responsible for noting the location of also do injection epoxy for areas that are starting to delaminate and each one, then excavating it and evaluating its condition. we grout larger cracks. “Once we do a condition assessment, we determine what treat- “It’s done on a case-by-case basis, which makes it interesting ment the stone needs,” she says. “Sometimes, if it’s in good condi- and challenging, and it also helps keep history alive.” tion, it just needs a cleaning. We get the surface soil off it, and if All the work was done on-site and after each stone was treated there’s some soiling from atmospheric conditions, we’ll use an acidic it was stored in a custom-made crate awaiting the completion of the cleaner on the stone.” landscaping portion of the project later this year, at which point they’ll For stones that are not in such good condition, more serious be reinstalled in their original locations. measures are taken. – K. Schipper AS&LD MARCH/APRIL 2008 12
  5. 5. BUILDOUT “There’s no parking, no place to stage anything, and we had to get permits for everything.” When it came time to grade the site, French says excess material was carried out on a skid steer, and all the work was done at night. Another part of the project that was a little out of the ordinary: dealing with the burial vaults the excavation turned up. “We replaced all the vault lids on all the vaults we encountered,” he says. “These vaults have been sealed for more than 100 years, and we had to make sure their struc- tural integrity and the integrity of the lids was sufficient to last another hundred years.” French calls the masonry part of the job a key com- ponent. The bulk of the work involved random rectangles of 2quot; non-gauged material, with an eye toward matching the church building. Some of it is mortar-set, with the rest being sand-set. “The high-traffic areas, such as the church steps and the circle in front of the church, will be mortared,” says French. “Any high-traffic areas will be mortared down.” Eisler is also working with a local lighting contractor to run conduit for what will be a new lighting system highlighting the newly-cleaned cathedral and the new walkways. The project turned up many surprises, including revealing that the cathedral’s Work on cleaning the structure finished last fall, with façade, which most people believed to be naturally black, was really a light-colored the hardscape completed before winter weather arrived. Pennsylvania sandstone. (Photo courtesy Eric Pomaybo). Circle Reader Service No. 8 AS&LD MARCH/APRIL 2008 14
  6. 6. BUILDOUT That will leave the final part of the job – replanting the site – this spring. Andropogon’s Roos says she looked to western Pennsylvania for her plant palette, although the small size of the site offered some constraints. “We’re putting some oaks along the front; they will function as elevated street trees,” she says. “We have a number of flowering under-story trees. The cathedral faces mainly north, and there’s quite a bit of shade, but that gives us the opportunity to use bulbs and ferns and ground cover.” Although this is the first time Eisler and Andropogon have worked together on a project, both French and Roos speak highly of each other, and of the job. “Andropogon has put together a design concept that everybody’s working well with,” says French. “It’s a great project and it’s going to be a real asset to the city. The The presence of the burial stones wasn’t the only challenge this small, strangely church should be commended for making a big monetary shaped space offered. Hardscape solutions included widening the stairs leading up commitment to this.” to the cathedral and constructing a commemoration circle (lower left). (Rendering Both say the unique nature of the site has required courtesy Andropogon Associates Ltd.). plenty of field investment, and Roos praises Eisler for what she calls, “their capacity of imagination.” who provided the funding – for having the vision to “They suggested the platform for the marker-preser- improve this small piece of ground. vation work be built so it overlooks the street, and that’s “This is just an exceptional project,” she concludes. “It’s a fantastic idea,” says Roos. “They’ve continued to make rare to have anyone leave such a nice endowment to restore suggestions on this project to move it forward, and I’m a piece of ground, and it’s especially wonderful because this very pleased with our interactions with them.” is in an urban place that’s been short-changed on this type of Roos, too, praises the church – and the benefactor thing. We really have a little urban park here.” Circle Reader Service No. 10 AS&LD MARCH/APRIL 2008 16