Last week we examined two historic renovations Haselden has worked on, and the challenges that accompanied those projects. This week we’re looking at three more—all with historic renovation components, but entirely different sets of complexities.

Case Study #3: Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is one of only 81 designated basilicas in the United States, and the only basilica in Colorado. It is also one of the oldest churches in Denver, and represents Denver’s first Catholic congregation. The century-old church was in dire need of a new structural system to support the bells that date back to 1913. As it stood, the bell support beams were constructed of wood. In 2013, Haselden replaced the original wood with a steel structure, ensuring the safe suspension of the 15 bells approximately 125 feet above the ground.

The sheer logistics of this project provided Haselden with an interesting challenge. The bells were encased in a 14-foot-square tower, accessible by a 100-step spiral staircase and a hatch leading to the level that housed the bells. Because of the confines of the tower, the only way to move materials in and out of the structure was through the arched stone openings. Additionally, the bells were too large to be moved out of the tower while the work to the structure occurred. How did Haselden handle this conundrum? We lowered the smaller bells down the roof hatch to the landing below the level housing the bells, but the larger bells had to remain in the same small area where the work occurred. Because of the considerable weight of the larger bells, it wasn’t possible to simply rest them on the landing below, so the team designed and constructed a structural steel beam to hold the bells during the demolition and reconstruction of the new bell support structure. The beam spanned through the arched stone openings and rested on the lower sills. Special rubber pads were put in place to ensure the masonry wasn’t damaged.

The basilica required very specific expertise to protect the historic value while ensuring the safety of the structure. Haselden brought in The Verdin Company, a firm that has specialized in the restoration of bells and their supporting structures for nearly two centuries. Verdin designed and built the new steel structure, which had to be configured for the weight distribution of each bell. They also designed the new ringer system, as well as the bell automation.

The goal with this project was to bring innovative technology to the bell tower without compromising the historic façade. The first step was to replace the original wooden structure with steel. This not only improved the safety of the structure, it also ensured that the bells would be in the correct position for ringing, and not askew because of a sagging support beam. Additionally, all the bell ringers were replaced and an electric control panel was installed. The original cathedral bells still ring, but now they can be controlled via the push of a button, or programmed in advance.

Due to safety issues associated with the deteriorating structure, the big bell had not sounded in a decade, and the smaller bells had been silent for two years. The bells rang for the first time on Thanksgiving Day of 2013 (check out the video!). The Winchester Bell now chimes every quarter hour between 8am and 9pm. The bells also peal on Sundays before mass begins and again at the end of mass, as well as on special occasions like weddings.

Case Study #4: Bank Lofts

The Bank Lofts in downtown Denver is another interesting project. While the building is a designated historic landmark, the portion we are working on does not require adherence to historic restrictions as it is in mechanical rooms in the basement. The building is switching to more modern boilers, and Haselden’s On-Call Team was hired to renovate the area, creating two paths of egress. Not necessarily a project you’d think of in relation to historic preservation, but one that’s mandatory to ensure the new boiler system is up to code.

Our team has come across some pretty cool relics during the project—like the old bank vault!

Case Study #5: Hotel Jerome

Our current work at the Hotel Jerome represents the only project in this blog that required working within historic registry parameters. The overall renovation and addition encompasses several elements: 13,500 SF of new construction includes back-of-house areas in the basement, meeting space on the first floor, and new hotel rooms on floors two and three, as well as a pool and 7,000 SF courtyard. The historic portion comprises the original Aspen Times building which was salvaged and moved. The first floor of this building is being converted to a meeting room, with a basement underneath it which will be a speakeasy lounge.

Working with the Aspen Times building (built in 1881) had several challenging facets. The first was to save as much of the building as possible—including the parts you don’t see, such as the framing and roof trusses. This meant that any time we needed to cut a roof truss – even if it was to install bracing to ensure the physical integrity of the building – we had to obtain permission from the Historic Preservation Commission. Moving the building was also challenging. Originally built atop a rubble foundation, we moved the building so we could excavate for and build the basement. We then poured the slab of the basement roof that became the new foundation of the Aspen Times building and moved the building atop that slab. To ensure we could pick the building up and move it the required 45 feet (90 feet round trip) without it being damaged, we had an engineer design bracing details. We also added a stairwell (approved by the Historic Preservation Commission) leading from the original building down to the new speakeasy lounge.

Another interesting and challenging aspect of this project is that the historic portion also ties into the new addition!

As you can see from the five case studies presented over the last two weeks, each historic renovation comes with its own set of demands and rewarding results. Haselden loves being a part of keeping Colorado’s history alive and looks forward to more projects like these!