The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 02, 2003

A tuck-point here, a new panel there provide facelift for Maccabees Building

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Properly anchored and protected, the 76-year-old limestone panels on the Maccabees building in Detroit would probably adorn the exterior of the building for several lifetimes.

But over the years, wind-blown rain and freeze-and-thaw cycles have brought about failure in mortar, caulk seams and flashings. With those maintenance projects neglected, moisture seeped behind the limestone panels and ate away at the steel underpinnings of the limestone panels. The situation finally came to a head last year, when Chezcore Inc. and the building trades were called in to perform emergency work to shore up the Maccabees Building panels that were in danger of breaking loose.

"I think in the contract they were talking about taking care of 'imminent dangers,'" said Chezcore President Dave Cieszkowski. "No panels ever fell off the building. We caught it in time, but there's no question, some of the steel behind the panels was really bad and there were some pretty scary stones on that building."

Work began on the project on Aug. 1. Late last month, seven Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1 masons and three laborers were on the project installing the final 40 panels of 500 that were scheduled to be replaced. Replacement was necessary because the failure of the underpinnings caused many of the veneer stones to spall, crack and heave.

The emergency portion of the project is coming to a close, but it's likely that a long-term renovation project will follow that should shore up the entire exterior for years to come.

Constructed in 1927, the 14-story Art-Deco-style Maccabees Building on Woodward and Warren was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn. It was built to be the world headquarters of the Order of the Maccabees, a fraternal and benevolent society. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Maccabees group moved to Southfield in 1960. The Detroit Public Schools (DPS) then purchased the building and made it their headquarters, renaming it the Schools Center Building. Now the DPS is selling the landmark structure to Wayne State University, where it will revert to its original name - but the fascia had to be fixed before the sale could be completed.

The original design called for most of the four-inch thick limestone panels to be held in place by two metal straps. It's a system that works fine if the joints between the panels are maintained properly, but as Cieszowski said, exterior maintenance on a limestone building is usually low on the priority scale for the owner.

Some of supporting steel for the panels failed and is being replaced. Other support steel that is still sound is being removed, sandblasted clean, getting two coats of epoxy rust inhibitor paint, and put back into place. New stainless steel anchors are being used to reinstall the stones.

Replacement panels - the biggest of which weigh 3,000 lbs. - have been cut from the same quarry in Indiana where the building's original panels were taken. However, decades of grime on the building's existing panels make matchmaking difficult.

Rich Montmorency, Chezcore's project manager for the Maccabees Building, said he is getting an on-the-job education in Albert Kahn's building techniques. He said there is a "logical, mathematical repeat in the placement of the limestone panels from floor to floor. You can tell that with the placement of the larger and smaller stones, he did it in the most economical way possible, and the result is a good-looking building."

He said Kahn used no more than 25 different sizes of limestone, and from floor to floor and column to column, the stones are basically the same, which no doubt simplified the construction process and now the reconstruction process.

"Isn't this a great building?" said Local 1 mason Bobby Johnson. "I'm glad they're bringing these old buildings back, and I enjoy being part of it."

A SMALLER LIMESTONE panel gets moved into place on a parapet wall atop the Maccabees Building in Detroit. Doing the work are (l-r) Bobby "Beaner" Johnson and Rick Krueger of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, and Jeffrey "Scooby" Gray of Laborers Local 334. All were working for Chezcore, Inc.
THE FRONT of the Maccabees Building.