Art Deco Elevators
Circa 1929, Chicago, IL
Maple and Sycamore Veneer

These elevators posed a unique challenge. Not only had they withstood over eighty years of operation within Chicago’s landmark Powhatan Apartments, they’d remain in service post-treatment. Further, renovation of the gated, formerly operator-run elevators required updating to sliding doors, self-opening controls, and current safety code…while simultaneously retaining as much historical integrity as possible. Materials, applied finishes, fabrication, and installation were all subject to strict specifications for maintaining accuracy.

Condition upon arrival

Logistics of the project were equaled by the sheer beauty of the elevators, themselves. Distinctive patterns of maple veneer covered interior walls, topped by matching rectangles in Sycamore. Polished steel ornamentation and mirror panels, flanked by sharp lines of ebonized wood, epitomized the striking geometry of Art Deco. But age – and visible prior patch-ups –impacted the elevators’ original glamour. Veneer was damaged from wear and staining, and sections throughout had lifted and released from substrate. Surface grime, wax, adhesive and pigment residue, and other detritus built-up over once-attractive finish with certain portions faded or uneven in color and tone. Inspection of ebonized finish revealed areas over-painted in inappropriate, contemporary material, as did the elevators’ trademark polished steel.

Treatment

Bernacki & Associates embarked upon a tiered process to restore grandeur – and modernize – the elevators. Veneer was tackled first, with loose and lifting sections consolidated and missing sections replaced to blend with their surrounding figure. Multiple finishes meant a multi-faceted approach. Panel surface was meticulously cleaned of dust, debris, and residue and existing finish washed of unsightly stains, fogging, and wear. After preliminary sanding, surfaces received several coats of nitrocellulose lacquer, buffing, and polishing to satin finish. Lost ebonized areas were replaced and several coats of black base lacquer returned original eye-catching contrast to mirror panels. Next, the steel kick plate was restored with cleaning and fresh application of color and sealer, complementing original sheen. Once the elevators regained their 1920’s appearance, they were ready for the 21st century. Responsible for accommodating preparation for up-to-date mechanical modifications, Bernacki & Associates fabricated panels containing sliding doors and operating controls. New veneers matching in color and grain were connected to the original. The historic elevators soon returned to service, boasting a beautiful new “face-lift.”

 Art Deco elevator cab at Chicago's Powhatan Apartments building

Art Deco elevator cab at Chicago's Powhatan Apartments building

 Detail of elevator interior after restoration

Detail of elevator interior after restoration

 Detail before and after restoration

Detail before and after restoration

 Excessive sycamore veneer damage above the elevator entrance

Excessive sycamore veneer damage above the elevator entrance

 Elevator cab interior after restoration; detail of repaired veneer above the door

Elevator cab interior after restoration; detail of repaired veneer above the door

 Bernacki & Associates, Inc. were responsible for the construction of two new panels that contain the doors and operating controls. Also, necessary were the alterations of the ends of two additional panels to cover the spaces created by the new doors.This involved finding new veneers to match the remaining original Maple and Sycamore veneer in color and grain patterns. The new pieces were connected to the original sections with minimum alterations while utilizing all possible old connections. (Photos below)

Bernacki & Associates, Inc. were responsible for the construction of two new panels that contain the doors and operating controls. Also, necessary were the alterations of the ends of two additional panels to cover the spaces created by the new doors.This involved finding new veneers to match the remaining original Maple and Sycamore veneer in color and grain patterns. The new pieces were connected to the original sections with minimum alterations while utilizing all possible old connections. (Photos below)

art-deco-elevator-cab-after-restoration.jpg
 Art Deco elevator detail after restoration
 The process of conservation/preservation of an object or structure that contains historic significance can be very challenging if that object or structure must continue to be used on a regular basis. If that historic object or structure must also be brought into compliance with new and current regulations and social norms, those challenges multiply.   An unusual example of this involved a set of two very beautiful and unusual elevators that are located in the historic landmark Art Deco Powhatan Apartments built on the south side of Chicago in 1929.   The two elevator cabs were of the old gated operator run type. The elevators needed to be updated with new sliding doors and self operating controls as well as matching current safety codes. The elevator cabs have distinctive patterns of maple veneers that cover most of the interior walls with a top band of matching rectangles of sycamore veneer. These were very distressed but had developed a beautiful patina and tone to the woods. There was also a variety of cast aluminum sculptural elements incorporated on the walls and around the ceiling. The metal parts had a great deal of wear and accumulated grime but were structurally stable.    Read full story...

The process of conservation/preservation of an object or structure that contains historic significance can be very challenging if that object or structure must continue to be used on a regular basis. If that historic object or structure must also be brought into compliance with new and current regulations and social norms, those challenges multiply. 

An unusual example of this involved a set of two very beautiful and unusual elevators that are located in the historic landmark Art Deco Powhatan Apartments built on the south side of Chicago in 1929. 

The two elevator cabs were of the old gated operator run type. The elevators needed to be updated with new sliding doors and self operating controls as well as matching current safety codes. The elevator cabs have distinctive patterns of maple veneers that cover most of the interior walls with a top band of matching rectangles of sycamore veneer. These were very distressed but had developed a beautiful patina and tone to the woods. There was also a variety of cast aluminum sculptural elements incorporated on the walls and around the ceiling. The metal parts had a great deal of wear and accumulated grime but were structurally stable. 

Read full story...