Conservation and Restoration of Fine Furniture and Objects
Adapting the Old into the Modern World–
Art Deco Elevators Restoration,
by Bart Bjorneberg
Art Deco elevator after restoration

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Conserving or preserving a structure of historic significance can be challenging…particularly if that structure will be used on a regular basis. If that structure must also be brought to compliance with new regulations and social norms, challenges multiply.

Two beautiful elevators are located in the Art Deco Powhatan Apartments - an architectural landmark on Chicago’s South side, built in 1929. Their cabs were the old operator- run variety, needing sliding doors and self-operating controls for current safety code. Interior walls were adorned in distinctive patterns of maple veneer and a top band of matching sycamore rectangles that, over time, developed attractive patina. The elevator door walls would need to be either completely removed or radically altered for a 21st century update. Luckily, enlightened business management, apartment residents, and varied team of specialists made for a fortuitous combination. Supervisors Harboe Architects, PC ensured historic character remained respected. Urban Elevator Service Inc. and Kafka Manufacturing Co. were responsible for removal and installation, preserving maximum amount of original structure. Conservation of Sculpture and Object Studio, Inc. led treatment of metal, sculptural ornamentation. Finally, Bernacki & Associates constructed and installed two new panels containing doors and operating controls.

Panels were washed to remove finish – as well as dents, gouges, and scratches - while maintaining historic patina. New metal sliding doors were covered with veneers and finish to match original color, tone, and grain. Thanks to extensive collaboration between dedicated, diverse professionals, ample original artistry remained. Today, the elevators ongoing operation proves that, with efforts from dedicated professionals, the old can certainly be “lifted” into the modern world.

Read the full version of “Adapting the Old into the Modern World” on the Conservation and Design International Website

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