Controversial Old Brooks Hall Still Has Surprises for Modern Renovators – University of Virginia

This summer season, employees at have been renovating and repairing components of one of the oldest non-Jeffersonian buildings on the University of Virginia’s Grounds – a storied and controversial constructing as soon as thought of for demolition.

Crews working in Brooks Hall have been shoring up its tilting staircase and restoring a high-ground workplace that also comprises a pulley wheel used to function the multi-story raise system that carried pure historical past specimens – and coal – to the constructing’s three or 4 ranges. Whereas performing the work, they discovered proof of a protracted-forgotten fireplace that broken the construction.

Brooks Hall, which at present homes the Division of Anthropology, opened in 1878 as a pure historical past museum, in response to anthropology professor Jeffrey Hantman, who's writing a guide on the constructing’s historical past from his workplace there.

“It was an impressive museum in its day,” Hantman mentioned. “It preceded the Nationwide Museum of Pure Historical past in Washington, D.C., the American Museum of Pure Historical past in New York and the Subject Museum of Pure Historical past in Chicago.”

Little is understood of the constructing’s namesake, Lewis Brooks, a Rochester, New York businessman who made his fortune as a textile producer. He by no means married and he died simply earlier than the museum opened, at age 84, leaving no heirs.

The museum’s assortment included a full-scale reproduction of a Siberian mammoth, copied from an unique bought from a museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Many of the 25,000 specimens within the assortment got here from Brooks’ buddy Henry Ward, a collector who was skilled in pure historical past at Williams School in Massachusetts and labored briefly at Harvard University’s well-known Museum of Comparative Zoology. The design of Brooks Hall owes an important deal to the Harvard museum, Hantman mentioned.

The Victorian-fashion constructing, which reaches a top of 75 toes, is greatest identified for the carved animal head keystones and the names of pure historians carved across the exterior partitions. Its inside was designed with a excessive basement; a 25-foot-excessive, double-story gallery with balconies, which was later closed off to create second ground workplace area; a 19-foot-excessive second story above that; and a excessive attic.

Brooks Hall has been accused of being out of place, situated to the northeast of UVA founder Thomas Jefferson’s unique Academical Village, however on the time it was constructed it aligned with the Rotunda Annex, which prolonged from the north facet of the Rotunda from the early 1850s till 1896, when it burned.

Critics additionally disparaged the structure of the constructing, saying it didn't slot in with Jefferson’s close by neoclassical designs. It was designed by John R. Thomas of Rochester, New York, who was effectively-regarded on the time for his work on public buildings. Its design was, on the time, very trendy and displays an inclination that persists at present for science buildings to look state-of-the-artwork.

Brooks Hall remained as a pure historical past museum till the 1940s, although its function as such was dwindling. By the late 1940s, the geology division had taken over two flooring and closed off most of the museum perform. Some of the massive wooden-and-glass show circumstances had been disassembled and rebuilt within the attic of Miller Hall, then dismantled once more and put into storage when Miller Hall was demolished to make manner for the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American Historical past, Literature, and Tradition and Albert and Shirley Small Particular Collections Library.

“In 1970, Brooks Hall was, with out nice ceremony, included within the historic district drawn up by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Fee as a protected historic space,” Hantman wrote in a brief historical past of Brooks Hall he created for the Albemarle County Historic Society in 1989. “When the Board of Guests later voted to sentence the constructing, the inclusion of Brooks Hall within the historic district helped deter the Guests from reaching the demolition they sought.”

The newest renovation work on the inside of Brooks Hall began final summer season when Services Administration crews started to handle issues with the staircase, which was tilting.

“The challenge started as a restore to the monumental stair within the east entrance to Brooks Hall,” mentioned Brian E. Hogg, senior historic preservation planner within the Workplace of the Architect for the University. “The treads weren't degree and had been sort of bouncy, so the Central Grounds Zone crew started an investigation into its framing to know what was the reason for the issue in order that it may very well be repaired correctly.”

That investigation introduced a shock. “When the ceilings had been faraway from some rooms within the basement which can be beneath the stair, they discovered proof of a considerable fireplace that we had been fully unaware of,” Hogg mentioned.

The blaze occurred on Sunday, June 6, 1915, in response to revealed accounts later discovered within the Charlottesville Each day Progress. It was reported at 2:40 a.m., having began within the east finish of the basement.

“Whereas the hearth broke by at just one place on the higher ground, virtually the whole lot within the constructing was broken by smoke or water,” the newspaper report said. “The blaze was an exceedingly cussed one, nice volumes of smoke making the work of the firemen fairly tough. Numbers of college students got here to the help of the firemen and rendered materials help. From two to a few and a half hours had been required to get the hearth beneath full management.”

The hearth chief estimated damages at round $10,000, although the newspaper account made no distinction between injury to the constructing and injury to the museum’s assortment.

Jody Lahendro, historic preservation architect in Services Planning and Development, mentioned the hearth was retarded by a thick layer of mortar within the ground joists, a fireplace-proofing approach used and promoted by Jefferson.

After the renovation crew uncovered charred timbers, the University retained structural engineer Craig Swift of Keast & Hood of Philadelphia to evaluate the constructing’s situation and design repairs to the construction of the stair.

Lahendro mentioned the engineers discovered the charred timbers to be structurally sound. “The constructing was overbuilt when it was designed,” he mentioned. “The charring on the wooden acts as an insulation to guard the internal core of the timbers from the flames.”

The repairs included undergirding the southeast nook of the constructing, repairing the bearing of the steps within the basement and selectively including metal to strengthen the construction of the stair. As well as, employees put in jacks beneath the stair and, over the previous a number of months, have been slowly lifting the stair into its historic, degree place. The challenge is awaiting a ultimate inspection; then the underside of the steps will probably be plastered and the repairs will probably be full.

The constructing’s raise, which was about three-/2 toes sq., was most likely used to maneuver museum specimens, together with heavy rocks, from the basement to the higher show flooring, Lahendro speculated. Over time, the area for the raise shaft has been changed into closets within the rooms by which it handed, and most lately has housed the division’s laptop servers.

As half of the renovation of the higher-degree workplace, its trendy dropped ceiling was eliminated, elevating the ceiling top from eight toes to the unique 19 toes and recovering the total 12-foot excessive home windows. In eradicating the trendy ceiling, employees revealed a 3-foot iron wheel on the wall that was used to boost and decrease the raise. The wheel will probably be left in place. The broken plaster ceiling and partitions within the workplace area will probably be repaired.

Between 1976 and 2008, the artwork and anthropology departments shared the area.

Since 2008, the Division of Anthropology, in collaboration with the School of Arts & Sciences and Services Administration, has remodeled the previous museum’s first ground right into a scholar commons and music efficiency area, supported by a child grand piano on one facet and a cardboard rendering of the previous mammoth on the opposite. The area at present has a number of makes use of, together with efficiency area for jazz and opera, a lecture corridor and a catered eating area.

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Controversial Old Brooks Hall Still Has Surprises for Modern Renovators - University of Virginia