The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 25, 2007

Trades work to reopen gate to the past

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

DETROIT - The Hurlbut Memorial Gate at the city's Waterworks Park was completed in 1894 - in an era when communities were willing to devote the resources to build public art on a grand scale.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades it's been difficult to find the resources for even basic maintenance for such structures. But this year, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department loosened the purse strings for the renovation of the Hurlbut Gate - and now masonry contractor Chezcore and a crew of tradesmen are rebuilding the structure and taking it back to how it looked in its glory days.

"When we're finished in July or August, we will have disassembled half the monument, completely rehabilitated everything, and then put it all back together," said Chezcore Executive Vice President Pete Hanewich. "The intent is not to do a quick hit. We're restoring it to its original luster, making it safe and sound and watertight."

The monument is named for Chauncey Hurlbut, a Detroit Water Board commissioner who died in 1885. He left nearly his entire estate, about $250,000, for maintaining a library and improving the grounds belonging to the commission.

The Water Board opted to use $27,266 to build the memorial - which acted as a gate to Water Works Park. According to the Detroit Water and Sewage Department, the 110-acre park along West Jefferson on the east side of Detroit park was a popular attraction open to the public. It contained a pumping station for the city - and much more.

In 1894 it contained a man-made waterway encompassing two islands, three bridges, a small wading lagoon and a winding canal where rowboats could enter the park. Visitors strolled along pathways lined with chestnut trees, intricately-landscaped shrubbery and floral displays.

Water in the channel attracted schools of fish so numerous that anglers could catch all they could carry without baited hooks. There were tennis courts, a baseball diamond, a picnic area, teeter-totters and swings.

A 185-foot brick tower, dismantled in 1962 after it became a hazard from falling bricks - acted as a standpipe and a famous landmark for the water works. A floral clock was another attraction to the park that is now put away in storage. The gates were kept locked for security reasons during World War II and then the Korean War - and the park has remained closed since. The lagoon has been filled in and except for water distribution buildings that have been modernized in recent years. Today the Hurlbut Gate is the entrance to an empty field.

The gateway is 132 feet wide by 50 feet high and is adorned with scrolls and figures. Dual stairways lead to a terrace 12 feet above ground. A stone eagle, with wings outspread, occupies the crest at its dome. A granite bust of Chauncy Hurlbut, the monument's namesake, was located in the center of the monument but was stolen in 1974.

The years have not been kind to the nearly all-limestone structure, which is listed on state and national historic registers. Copper lining the dome has long been scavenged, and water incursion into the structure, plus the freeze and thaw cycle, caused the east and west walls to heave outward. Rusted anchors loosened numerous stones, and new tuckpointing and flashing is necessary throughout.

Mike Kroll, the foreman on the site from Chezcore and Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, said 123 limestone pieces of various sizes will be removed, replaced and secured with epoxy and new stainless steel anchors.

"It's really an ornate piece of work," Kroll said, running his hand along across some fancy stone edge work. "They did this in 1893, and this wasn't machined, a lot of it had to be hand-chiseled. It's really nice work. Can you imagine the hours they spent doing this? We just never see the detail that you see here any more."

Plumbing and electrical within the structure will also be restored. There are two public restrooms in the memorial, and a pair of lion's heads guarding the entrance will once again spout water when the project is complete. And, wrought-iron gates at the monument that lead to the park are being re-fabricated.

The monument was listed last year as one of the 50 greatest architectural structures in the book "American City: Detroit Architecture 1845-2005."

"It is one of the most important structures from that period currently standing in the city," said author Robert Sharoff said in an interview, as quoted in the Detroit News. "It is a beautiful Beaux Arts monument. There's not a lot of that left in Detroit, and that's one of the really coolest examples of the whole era."

CHEZCORE workers (l-r) Rudy Leon of Laborers Local 334 and Ed Raymond of BAC Local 1 place a refurbished limestone section on the upper level of the Hurlbut Gate.
THE GROUP OF WORKERS restoring the Hurlbut Gate include (l-r) foreman Mike Kroll of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, Ed Raymond of Local 1, Rudy Leon, Jeff Gray and James Mahone of Laborers Local 334, and Jim Strong of Operating Engineers Local 324.
The Hurlbut Gate, in a photo taken a few years ago without all the scaffolding that currently adorns the structure.