Officers Row roofing project progresses

Work aims to keep historic Vancouver buildings watertight

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 
photoSanford Jones, a foreman with Weatherguard Inc. of Longview, makes his way up a ladder Friday to the roof of a house on Officers Row. While all the houses are at least 100 years old, "The prize was the Marshall House," Jones said. "That was the cream of the crop of the job."

(/The Columbian)

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Officers Row has sheltered some significant historical figures in the last 150 years.

These days, it's a place where people can lease a residence or an office, eat lunch at the Grant House or soak up some heritage in the Marshall House. And for years to come, they will all have a roof over their heads.

A preservation project is putting new roofs on 11 buildings on Officers Row, a stretch of Evergreen Boulevard that provides a portal to Vancouver's 19th-century roots.

Did you know?

• The oldest of the 21 houses on Officers Row is the Grant House, built in 1849; the newest was built in 1907.

The project's partners — the city of Vancouver, the National Park Service and the nonprofit Fort Vancouver National Trust — illustrate the row's blend of roles as municipal asset and national cultural resource.

After the U.S. Army declared it surplus, the city acquired Officers Row in 1984 for $1. But it took an $11 million rehabilitation project to get the buildings presentable again.

Now the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which manages the property for the city, has put together a capital facilities plan to keep ahead of maintenance and preservation problems.

"The focus is on keeping buildings watertight," said Mike True, the National Trust's chief operations officer.

Working with historic buildings is a bit more involved than maintaining a modern office complex. Workers occasionally have to figure out how one of their counterparts put something together a century ago.

That was the case at the most distinctive building on Officers Row. Built in 1886, the Marshall House is an example of Queen Anne style, including a turret. The turret is capped by a conical copper flashing and topped by a cast-iron weather vane and lightning rod.

"The weather vane was a challenge," said Kaare Hyde, maintenance supervisor for the National Trust.

Getting a worker up there on a lift was just the start. Then he had to figure out how to get a wrench on three bolts that secured the whole assembly to the turret. It took about three hours, Hyde said.

That weather vane had some history of its own, by the way. It was damaged by the Columbus Day Storm on Oct. 12, 1962; the region observed the 50th anniversary of that event a few days ago.

The weather vane was taken down for repairs after the storm, then stored for more than 35 years in either the attic or basement of the Marshall House, Hyde said. The storm damage still hadn't been repaired when the weather vane finally went back up on the Marshall House in 1998.

When the weather vane was taken down again for this roofing project, workers had a chance to refurbish it and the corkscrew-shaped lightning rod.

The former residence of Gen. George C. Marshall also sports new fiberglass dentils: the row of white decorative blocks on each ridge line.

The roofing materials represent another historical issue for the project.

"Finding shingles that met the city's requirement for longevity and the state's requirement that they be compatible with the historic character of the building took quite a bit of negotiation," said Tim Haldeman, the city's director of General Services. "But in the end I think we've got a product we're all pleased with."

The asphalt shingle produces a slate-type look from a distance; it was approved by the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

The re-roofing project began in 2007. Nineteen of the 21 houses on Officers Row have now received new roofs, at an overall cost of $1.74 million. This 11-building phase of the project was aided by a $610,619 grant from the Washington State Historical Society. The two remaining buildings will get new roofs in the next three years.

More than $1 million for the renovations came from income generated by the property. More than 99 percent of the space on Officers Row is occupied, True said. All the residential properties have been leased; the only available office space is a 400-square-foot unit.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history;tom.vogt@columbian.com.