The Salvage Detectives, Part I

The most interesting part of working on the Abyssinian has been the process of discovery.  When we first started working on the restoration, we encountered dank apartments and the absence of much of the original truss framing.  There was little architectural documentation of the building at the height of its use, except for a turn-of-the century sketch from an old member’s memory.  But as we’ve carefully removed the latest additions, we’ve discovered telling clues.  When we removed the 1920s plaster and lath, we found the original rough window openings, cut into the adjacent posts and studs.  Likewise, when we removed the vinyl and aluminum siding, and shingles from the front gable, we found evidence of the original trim elements.  The following is first part of a series about how we determined the trim details for the restored front facade.


Crown Town

Crown Town

After we removed most of the aluminum siding that covered the trim, and found nothing, we lost hope that we would find evidence of the original crown.  We began researching similar buildings in Portland, like Mariner’s Church (1828) and the Fire Museum, in order to make an educated guess. We debated between profiles like a Cyma Recta, or an elongated Cavetto which would have made sense given the building’s Greek Revival silhouette.  But when we began the roofing phase, and finished removing the aluminum, we found the ten-foot long section of the crown pictured here.  It had typical Federal profile which is appropriate for 1828, at the transition between Federal and Greek Revival styles.

The only remaining section of original crown was found along the rake, the sloped edge of the roof, and this generated a new mystery.  Traditionally, in order for eave crown and raking crown to have the same projection from the building, the molding profile of the raking crown will need be stretched, so that the raking and eave crowns will meet evenly at the corner of the building.  Two separate molding planes (or knives) were required to create these two separate profiles.  Using a slice of the original raking crown molding, and pitch of the roof, we calculated what the eave molding would have had to look like.  The resulting molding profile was squished, the convex portion looking like a crown roll of fat.

Another solution to the eave/rake crown problem is to allow the raking crown to have a shallower projection, or stand up a little bit more, while the eave crown juts farther out.  Then, the crowns will match at the corners, but the carpenter only needs to cut different backing angles on the rake and eave crowns.   This allows a carpenter to use the same molding cutters, and many do this today.  Given the chubby eave profile calculated from the crown we found on the rake, we surmise that the original carpenters employed this second option.


Bed-crown Clues

Bed-crown Clues

Is this just another boring photo of nail holes?  Oh no, it isn’t!  This photo was taken at the underside of the soffit, along the rake.  The ruler measures the distance of a line of nail holes that runs parallel to the rake.  The nail hole at 2 1/2 inches indicates how far beneath the soffit the bed molding was nailed.

Revealing Paint Lines

Revealing Paint Lines

The second photo shows how we used paint lines to determine how far the bed molding projected from the face of the building, 3 1/8 inches.  Combined with the nail holes running beneath the soffit, we were able to guess the projections and angle of the bed molding.  The crown molding profile found on the rake fit these measurements and we guess that the original carpenters not only used the same molding profile for rake and eave crown, they also used it for the bed molding between the flush siding and soffit.  Absent evidence of some other molding profile, re-using the crown profile was our best guess.

Coming up:  In The City of P, we discover flashing holes that outline a tripartite arch in the Tympanum.

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