Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112
Resuscitating ReciBy Jim Dexter
It happened on March 16 when the Recitation Hall clock was shut down, and boarded up, in preparation for a long-awaited restoration of one of Wittenberg's most important historic treasures.
The restoration, finished in September, helped stop the clock on the deterioration of the fine old building — campus' second oldest. The work in fact turned back the clock on campus by restoring the beautiful slate roof, architectural details and copper spires, much as Recitation originally looked when it was completed in 1886.
Reci has just completed a more than 5600,000 face lift that has gone a long way toward restoring the building to its original elegance and beauty.
Labor of love
Recitation Hall has always been a labor of love for Wittenbergers.
It was largely built in a six-month period at the end of 1883 to provide a classroom building for the struggling college. But work stopped abruptly when the college ran out of funds. Only a gift of the people of Springfield ensured Reci's completion, as well as Wittenberg's continued existence in the city.
About a century later, Commencement Day 1992 found Holly (Everhardt) McCombs, a freshly minted graduate in mathematics, pondering her future in the shadow of the venerable landmark.
As her fate stretched before her that day, it never occurred to her that it also loomed above her. That is because she went on to play a key role in preserving Reci for future generations of students, its most important renovation since it was completed in 1886.
Reci is one of the region's great buildings, according to architect Jack D. Walters, whose Dublin, Ohio firm led the restoration project on campus. "It's the second oldest building on campus and people love the history and the look of it," he said. "I've done a lot of work in the area and there is only one other building that can half way compare to it (The Ohio Masonic Home at Ohio 68 and U.S. 4). It's just a very nice old building."
The 1880s were a critical time for young Wittenberg, founded just decades earlier with shakey finances and uncertain support from its city and its church. During the 1870s a lot of thought was given to the possibility of moving the college to a more "advantageous" community. Yet Wittenberg had already outgrown the college's only building, Myers Hall, which had become overcrowded and no longer able to meet all of the college's needs.
The decision to build a "New Wittenberg" building would put an end to efforts to relocate the college to some other Ohio city. Its original design, by Toledo architect E.O. Fallis, called for a finely detailed Victorian structure combining both Romanesque and High Gothic elements.
Throughout 1883, most in the campus community were enthusiastic as the new classroom building quickly lept skyward on the west side of campus. There were dissenters, however, among the male students, who were not so enthusiastic about the sacrifice of a favorite ball field for the construction site. The momentum, and the construction, came to rapid halt after the shell of the building was completed in December. The college had run out of money.
The people of Springfield, up to that ti me seemingly little interested in the fate of the little college in their midst, ensured the future of Wittenberg with a gift for the completion of Reci. It took several more years to complete the interior in time for its formal dedication on June 16, 1886. The spacious new structure provided a college chapel, classrooms and meeting rooms for various literary societies, which a re still in evidence on Reci's top floor.
In that day Recitation Hall represented the eclectic modernism to which many fine colleges aspired. For generations since it has been a source of pride, and tradition. But the building was still not quite complete.
A lack of funds also prevented Reci's 120-foot clock tower from receiving its clock until 1978. Another Springfielder, Mrs. Herbert B. Littleton at last filled that need with the donation, in memory of her husband, of a 1888 vintage clock salvaged from a burned church in Canton.
By that time, however much of Reci's original glory had been erased by time. Some of its architectural details had crumbled and its beautiful slate roof had been patched with asphalt and covered by shingles.
Everything old is old again
That's where Holly McCombs left "old" Reci on Commencement Day. After graduate study in architecture at Miami University, she found herself back on campus just three years later — involved in weeks of detective work to bring her favorite old campus building back up-todate - to the date of its birth.
Working as an architectural intern with architect Joseph Borghese, McCombs began exploring what it would take to return Reci to its original look. That job eventually required her skills as an architect and mathematician, but also brought out skills as an artist and historian. That's because no plans for the building could be found. They pored through the university archives for clues — pictures or descriptions of its exterior details.
In order to recreate work drawings and specifications the renovation they looked at black and white photos of the building in its early years. Under a magnifying. glass they could take measurements and count ther ows of light-colored hexagonal slate roofing tile, surrounded above and below by darker rectangular slate tiles. No color photos exist, but slate still was in evidence on the clock tower, making it clear to McCombs that the building's original roof was in fact shadesof grey and light buff.
McCombs could find no record of the source of the original slate, important information for architects specializing in historic restoration, since slate from various quarries weathers differently over the years, creating variations of color and patterns on a finished roof. The architects looked at various possibilities before choosing quarry in Vermont. It's not an exact science, Walter said, since slate sometimes weathers unpredictably.
Visitors to campus in the next couple of years will see a roof of "semi-weathering Vermont black" slate, with a central 10-foot band of "semi-weathering green." If all goes well, exposure to the elements will transform the 118 tons of slate into light and dark bands of grey, with just enough individual variation of individual pieces to give Reci's roof an elegant texture.
"It really took quite a bit of research to restore the building starting from a couple of old photos," said Everhardt- McCombs. But before the roofers could start their work, construction drawings had to be recreated from scratch. McCombs began by crawling around in the attic, taking notes about the internal structure and damaged beams that would need to be replaced. Next the architects took highresolution photographs of the exterior of the building, and by taking precise measurements, reproduced Reci's lost blueprints.
What was left of the corroded and shattered copper spire was plucked by a crane from the top of Reci's tower. Part of it had been toppled (perhaps by a lighting strike) years earlier, but it had been salvaged and preserved by physical plant employees. With those pieces, measurements and drawings could be made that allowed a new six-and-a-half-foot spire to be fabricated by the roofing company, Totin Builders, in their Delaware, Ohio shop.
From old photographs, McCombs and her colleagues also were surprised to discover that Reci's chapel also once had its own, seven-foot, six-inch copper spire. That spire disappeared years ago and no one had any idea what had happened to it. Using only what they could learn from the photos, a replica was prepared and returned to the west face of the building.
The jewels in Reci's crown were also restored. The more than 30 ornamental finials which originally studded the roof had long ago started crumbing. The original stone finials long ago gave way to concrete ones, which in turn began to deteriorate. Their replacements were modeled after a single intact ornament over the northern entrance.
The Edon Corporation, a Pennsylvania company specializing in historic restoration of architectural details, used the original plucked from the wall to make a mold. The finials were molded from fiberglass with a textured stone finish.
Te project replaced damaged wood sheathing and beams, as well as stairs and landings in the tower. Less noticeable but still accomplished with historical accuracy was the replacement of stone coping, copper flashing, gutters and downspouts, waterproofing, and restoring ice guards. The work also involved removing the remnants of two brick chimneys that had been partially taken down during previous projects and were no longer in use.
A policy for the future
McCombs found the Reci project, which she has worked on since 1995, very satisfying work. "I found I really like historic restoration and renovation," she said. "This is the kind of thing that I hope to eventually do all the time."
"Reci does mean a lot to me; I think a lot of people take it for granted," she added. "A lot of things still need to be done to restore it and renovate it. I hope they keep doing it."
The decision to restore Recitation Hall's original grandeur, and protect it with an expensive slate roof was more than a maintenance decision — it was a commitment. The new finials are cast in highly durable fiberglass, and slate is the most durable roofing material known — typically lasting 80-100 years. More than a simple repair project, this spring and summer of scaffolds and noise on campus was an insurance policy, guaranteeing Red would remain a keystone in Wittenberg's heritage to the end of the 21st century.
Keeping Ahead of Wear and Tear
Although Recitation Hall has been preserved for the 21st century. There is still a lot of maintence to be done there.
Work still needed at Reci includes restoration of cornice details, carved stone faces on the clock tower, reworking of the stained glass windows in the chapel and rosette windows in the attic.
It is a constant race to keep ahead of repairs and upkeep on campus buildings and grounds, and nearly every building on campus. Although Wittenberg spends more than $1 million every year to keep campus buildings in working order, a February report by the physical plant department showed that almost $15 million in maintance needs were still waiting their turn.
Wittenberg Magazine P.O. Box 720 Springfield, Ohio 45501-0720
Phone: (937) 327-6141 Fax: (937) 327-6112