This was essentially a repair project from the roof down that involved most of the exterior building envelope except the doors, windows and siding—so it included work on the roof, custom railings, leaking decks, and flashing that was in disrepair. But because it also involved satisfying historic designation requirements, it required replicating original designs for elements of that exterior envelope. Most of it had been built with 100-year-old native wood, with different tools than we use today, and assembled in different ways than are standard today. Of all elements, the railing, which was in bad shape, posed the biggest challenge.
To receive its historic designation, everything had to be a replica of the original. To achieve that with the railing, we drew and computerized it, then made a list of all the different types of wood it included (for example, we used African Mahogany for longevity and treated it with anti-termite spray for an added layer of protection), then had three different companies create railing samples. (Ultimately, we hired two of the companies.) Those computerizations were important because we needed a tolerance of 1/64th of an inch—we had extremely specific requirements to make an exact historical replica of that railing. The manufacturers, who don’t visit work sites, needed precise diagrams of the changing curvatures of everything sent to them. They worked closely with carpenters to ensure everything was manufactured, fitted together, and installed to look as it did over 100 years ago.
Creating the railings was a complex, non-linear process that involved coordinating among the carpenters installing it, manufacturers making it, and painters treating it before it went back to carpenters for installation. The painters and carpenters did an amazing job. Without that impressively detailed work to recreate the railings, the Kirk House might still have gotten its historic designation but with the caveat of having to change them back to the way they were originally—which would have been unbelievably expensive.
As an old house, there was also the interesting challenge of preserving the historical aspects while navigating contemporary local building codes. The City of Coronado has to enforce those codes but a house from 1911 wasn’t built to meet them. The City said we couldn’t rebuild it the way it was originally because it wouldn’t meet code requirements—unless we got the historical designation. So we had to get that designation during the job to complete the remodel. The City was amazing in working with us to get that designation. Ralph West, a member of Graham Memorial Presbyterian (and the contact who vetted us and managed the remodel), volunteered to head the endeavor on our end. He did a truly incredible job—an unbelievable job given that he secured the designation so fast. He was remarkably prepared and thorough. It was a slam dunk thanks largely to Ralph’s exhaustive efforts, including finding a lot of great information about the Kirk House.
A project like this takes time and effort. There’s no shortcut, no cheap way to achieve that kind of exceptional craftsmanship that truly lasts for decades. To that end, the PSA was essential for clarifying the scope of work and timeline, and providing more accurate pricing up front among other critical benefits.
Every project has its challenges but great outcomes, like this, are the result of doing a good job, working with good people, and having a good team. Working on a historical building, especially on such a successful project like this, is incredibly rewarding. Too often, people let historical relevance die because it’s easy and convenient. Graham Memorial Presbyterian could have knocked the house down and put up a cement building or installed a standard railing. Instead, and much to their credit, they wanted to keep it historically accurate for the community so they chose to jump through the necessary hoops at considerable expense. It was really good choice for them and for the Coronado community.
This project was personally meaningful, too. The Senior Pastor, Reverend Dr. David McElrath, promised early on that he would make some of his famous smoked, pulled pork once the remodel was finished. Recently, he had our family over for dinner and everyone got to meet—and enjoy the best pulled pork I’ve ever had. It’s really a family affair at Graham Memorial Presbyterian. To sit and share a meal, and talk about life and things other than work, was a perfect way to end the job.