A Monumental Job

An Interview With Architect Paul Westlake

Paul E. Westlake Jr., FAIA, is managing principal at Westlake Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland architecture firm that dates to 1905. He has worked in new construction and restoration—the latter including the Federal Reserve Bank and the Metzenbaum U.S. Courthouse, both in Cleveland, and the Orpheum  and Balboa theaters in Phoenix and San Diego, respectively. Preservation Executive Editor Arnold Berke spoke with Westlake recently about the firm's role in restoration of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument.

You have a lot of restoration experience in Cleveland. How does this project compare with the others?

This one was more granular – very fine-grained, in terms of detail, microscopic detail—and involved a hell of a lot more research than I've ever done. To zero in on two parts of that, one related to the marble coloration, including the tablets. The second, from a forensic standpoint, is what to do with stabilizing the monument from a temperature and humidity standpoint. A lot of people think of preservation as painting and finishes, but it's also the stuff of moisture penetration and understanding the science of materials and the environment that assures preservation.

The original architect, Scofield, understood, but we didn't initially, the marble coloration. It's a 2,000-year-old technique. On the other hand, Scofield didn't understand the engineering, because he's a 19th-century architect and we're using 21st-century understanding of systems. So one goes back to the Greek temples and the other is in the current science of keeping a monument stable.

What required so much time—I wish we had all the information at the start—was understanding that the monument was polychromed and understanding the technique to clean it, then restore the finishes. There was a lot of debate. Everybody had to come to grips with a kind of moral question of, if we don't have an actual record of how it was polychromed but our research tells us it was, how do we know it's exactly this or that? There's artistic interpretation, but it's based on science and research. 

So you had a verbal record, but no visual one.

Correct. Some people wanted to stand away and say, since we didn't know exactly, we should just put on a protective layer and maybe science in the future will tell us what the pigmentation was. Others said, look, we certainly know whether it was in the yellow range or the red range, etc. Maybe we can interpret it. What made us comfortable to develop the polychromy was that Neil Evans did enough investigation into the symbolism of the engravings and the pattern work to get a sense of how to interpret color. These clues emerged through very deep study.

Coloring of marble wasn't a new thing, even in Scofield's day.

Yes. I researched the technique by which Greek architecture was polychromed. Scofield was aware of the ancient techniques of polychroming. He's not just saying, gee I'm an exuberant Victorian, so I'm going to tint white marble because it's the palette of the day. He was a classically trained architect. Architects in his day were more scholarly then present architects, just as John Adams probably had a better library than your modern politician. 

You see the scholarly training of architects in that era, and you're amazed. Now, the only limitation becomes the environmental aspects of the vessel, which don't relate at all to architecture, art, allegory, or history. They relate to the science available at the time. In that sense, it was a terrible monument. The situation in fact led to its degradation. So that's where we also made a very good contribution. There was a lot of discussion of how do we pull humidity out, how do we get to stable temperatures? You have an un-insulated shell that has no moisture barrier. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to insert new systems that are effective but invisible.

It's amazing that Scofield donated his time, and did the sculptures and the architectural work.

What I like about working in pre-Depression buildings is that you find this union of craft and sculpture and painting and architecture. You don't have this kosher separation you have in post-Depression architecture, where the architect rules, and craft is kind of absent. And certainly the other disciplines are absent. With the Metzenbaum [U.S. Courthouse] building, Arnold Bruner, the architect, brings a stable of artists who came out of the Columbian Exposition [the 1893 Chicago World's Fair]. And we have Scofield developing this. It's so intertwined—the stained glass, the engraving of the marble, the bas-relief bronzes, the bronze busts, and the architecture. They were in balance and they were one. 

I don't get the sense that, until now, many Clevelanders really knew the building. It would have been interesting to interview 25 passersby and ask, what do you think about this thing and do you know what's in it? Have you ever been inside?  Sort of like when Jay Leno goes out on the sidewalk and asks, "Do you know who the current vice president is?" And they say, "Clinton?" I almost wish you could turn the monument inside out, because the outside is brooding, dark, grey, kind of unfriendly. Then you go inside and it's absolutely joyous and rich and polychromed – and celebratory. It's just exquisite. One outcome of this project is we ask people to get away from that superficial reading, as a strange object in Public Square, and dig down and understand the history, the symbolism, and the care back in that era that people put into documenting the war.

With the restoration done, shouldn't somebody interpret that meaning?

They originally had hard artifacts like books in display cases. From this point on, you could build a growing archive and data base—for example, every name on the wall has a story.  You could have an electronic archive that would be part of a website and interpret each element of the monument, to access and grow the information. I hope we'll take that on as the next step.

One thing I liked about the exterior was finding all the military symbolism, as I looked more closely at the structure. A booklet or guide to all that, as well as to the inside, would be wonderful.

That raises another reason why this project was so different from our other restorations. Many of the other buildings are beautiful landmarks, but they're not allegorical. I've never worked on such a building where every piece is specifically related to content, symbolism, meaning, and interpretation. That is the story of that building. The lay person, even on close inspection, isn't necessarily going to understand that. There's not a proper electronic or hard archive that simply explains the allegory. We know it, the others and I, but maybe we're the only few who do. It should be codified so that anybody can easily learn about the monument.  

Maybe there also should be another guide, which documents everything learned in the restoration process. I've learned things I never knew before, but how does the preservationist as an architect down the street learn them? How do you communicate that—the forensics, the science, and the art—to other preservationists? Somebody else is going to find tinted marble and research the separator coat. Somebody else will try to figure out how you bend marble back, how you stabilize it, and so forth. With the stained glass, you realize there are thousands of pieces and people researched them.  Every element in the building required research and understanding symbolism and the nature of materials. How do you document this so the next person doesn't have to spend a million dollars figuring out the same thing? An archive of the science of the restoration is what you need.  

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