Virginia Historical Society begins delicate work to restore century old skylights

The museum’s historic glass panels have been carefully transported to New Jersey to be expertly restored to their original glory.

The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) is in the process of restoring historic skylights in the 1912 portion of their headquarters on the Boulevard, the organization announced late last week. The clear and yellow glazed glass panels, more than one hundred years old, have been carefully removed and transported to New Jersey for restoration by Femenella & Associates.

The building, originally known as Battle Abbey and now home to the museum, was designed in 1912 by Ecole des Beaux Arts graduate John P. B. Sinkler, of the Philadelphia firm Bissell and Sinkler and constructed for the Confederate Memorial Association. One enters the neoclassical-style limestone-clad building through bronze doors that are centered beneath a pedimented, tetrastyle Ionic portico, which is flanked by symmetrical wings with shallow, rectangular, Doric pilasters.

Though there have been several additions to the building, the Battle Abbey interior has retained the original entry sequence and circulation spaces since its completion in 1912. All of these original spaces were lit by the leaded glass skylights.

The skylights consist of 27 large panels approximately 9’ x 4’. Signs of deterioration that required extensive restoration led to the removal of the 104-year-old delicate glasswork. Careful inspection revealed broken glass, deflection, staining, and UV solarization. Extreme displacement from gravity, high heat, moisture, and previous improper repairs have added stress and cracks in the skylight panels, museum staff said. A structural analysis of the existing steel trusses that supported the skylights was evaluated. A report of recommendations based on the preservation of historic material, safety, and cost helped evaluate and select the appropriate preservation treatment.

The restoration project of all 27 panels is a careful endeavor requiring the expertise of leading specialists. The skylight panels will be restored by salvaging 90 percent of the original glass.

Historic tax credits may help cover a portion of the project. The VHS is seeking additional funding to pursue the upkeep of the exterior of the Battle Abbey, including the repointing and cleaning of its limestone façade.

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Trevor Dickerson

Trevor Dickerson loves all things Richmond and manages RVANews’ West of the Boulevard and West End community sites.

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