Clayton, the home of the Frick family in Pittsburgh from 1883–1905, embodies the extravagant, eclectic fashion of the Gilded Age in America and the materials and craftsmanship that exemplify that era.
In collaboration with the architectural firm MacLachlan Cornelius & Filoni and specialist contractors, the Frick is undertaking a large-scale conservation project addressing two prominent features of the facade of Clayton, which date to the 1892 renovation of the home by Pittsburgh architect Frederick J. Osterling: the Penn Avenue entrance area and the Enclosed Front Porch.
The northern approach to the house features cascading sandstone staircases on the east and west sides and a brightly colored, ornamental terrazzo flooring panel at its landing. The stone railing is adorned with a quatrefoil motif that reoccurs throughout the facade of the building, as seen from Penn Avenue. The arcaded front porch, enclosed in 1899, contains an intricate coffered oak ceiling, Corinthian columns, and a marble mosaic floor designed with a fleur-de-lis pattern, attributed to the well-reputed, Pittsburgh-based mosaic artist Achille Giamartini.
The overarching philosophy of this conservation effort is to minimize intervention into the historic surfaces and to employ a combination of historic masonry techniques, science, and innovation to preserve Clayton. The house itself is treated as an artifact, and our goal is to devise methods of treatment that counteract the effects of time and the environment on the structure and the inherent vice of the materials, systems, and techniques used in its construction. Inherent vice is a term conservators and preservationists use to describe the inevitable self-destruct mechanism in materials or combinations of materials in a system that causes them to deteriorate. To a degree, inherent vice is present in virtually all systems and materials and is a determining factor in approaches taken to maintain a building.
Preliminary work includes removal of the stone steps and masonry at the entrance to the house, the addition of steel supports underneath the porch and attendant repairs to adjacent masonry elements. After these structural repairs are complete, the reassembly of the entry steps will be followed by conservation of the flooring surfaces.
MBM Contracting will act as General Contractor for the project and Brace Engineering will provide structural engineering supervision. Materials Conservation, a firm based in Philadelphia, will perform conservation of the historic marble mosaic and terrazzo flooring surfaces. The firm specializes in conservation of historic architecture and has worked on historic homes and world heritage sites such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and The New York Public Library. Mariani & Richards will perform masonry restoration of the historic stonework. They received a restoration and preservation award from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworks (BAC) for their work on St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh.
Do you have a question about the conservation project that is not answered below. E-mail us for more information.
Yes, tours of Clayton are still available during the conservation work. Entrance to the house will be modified as necessary and the enclosed front porch will not be included in the tour at this time. For more information on tours, click here.
Some of the repair work requires warmer weather so that materials can dry and cure properly. We hope to be able to scale back the construction fencing this spring, and have the final conservation of the floor surfaces completed by June 1. Once the flooring surfaces are complete the enclosed porch can reopen.
Terrazzo is made from setting small chips of colored stone in a bed of concrete. Once the stone has set the surface is polished.
Clayton, our largest artifact, shares one characteristic with all historic homes—the need for constant attention. We prioritize structural repairs to the house based on careful monitoring of existing conditions and regular reviews of the structural and engineering systems in the home. Over the past several years, we have noticed that some areas of documented damage have begun to worsen, and in order for proper repairs to take place, portions of the masonry need to be removed, repaired, and reset. The removal of the masonry also allows us to address deteriorated areas beneath the flooring and address the conservation and preservation of the flooring materials themselves.
We happily accept donations to help us fund the care of Clayton. Clayton is one of the best-preserved Gilded Age houses in America, and we work hard to preserve it in as authentic a state as possible. This means employing appropriate techniques for everyday cleaning and dusting, and diligently working to keep the ravages of time and the environment at bay—through assessments of drainage systems, roofing materials, painted wood surfaces, and windows. Caring for a historic home is never a completed project, but always a process of monitoring conditions, prioritizing projects, and making responsible decisions about the materials and methods we use. We hope you will help us as we continue to care for Clayton.