Friday, January 05, 2007

Vitrolite needed for deco theater refurb

Part of the front elevation in 2003

The front elevation in the 1930's or 40's


Detail of Art Deco Egyptian style

Augusta, Kansas USA - THE Augusta Historical Theatre was built in 1935 to designs by Carl and Robert Boller (aka Boller Bros) in the Art Deco Egyptian style. It pioneered the use of neon both inside and out, installed by Lite Craft Neon Co.

The web site of the Augusta Historic Theatre (spelt the English way) says:
The Theatre is a two-story art deco, brick and glass building in the center of downtown Augusta. It was one of the first theatres in the world to use neon illumination entirely throughout the interior. The neon lighting and fixtures were designed and built by the Lite Craft-Neon Company of Joplin, Missouri, the first company to introduce neon theatre illumination and neon decorations for theatre facades. The exterior of the building is covered with individual tiles of opaque Vitrolite glass. Above the decorative neon marquee, the tiles are pale green with an ornamental design in black and silver. The ornamental design was sandblasted and painted on the exterior of the glass. The glass on the upper section of the building was removed in the 1950s or 1960s and covered with a corrugated metal facade. The interior walls are covered throughout with hand-made ornamental plaster designs in black, silver, salmon and green. The entire ceiling of the 633-seat auditorium is covered with individual hand-painted fiberboard panels. Elaborately painted murals cover the north and south walls of the theatre. Doors, grills, switch plates and other details give the theatre an Egyptian appearance. The theatre's opulent interior treatments are hallmarks of the movie palaces that were built across America in the 1920s and 1930s.

The theater is undergoing a $300k renovation, part of which will be spent finding original green vitrolite tiles for restoration of the external facade. Director of Augusta Arts Council, DeAnn Triboulet, said, "We are replacing cracked and broken black and green Vitrolite panels on the facade which we are sourcing from architectural salvage companies."

Vitrolite is a structural pigmented glass, invented in the USA in 1900 and famously used in the 1913 Woolworth Building, New York, by architect Cass Gilbert. Although the glass was originally produced only in white, the range of colors from which architects could choose soon included black, beige, and ivory. By the 1930s, more exotic colors such as tropic green, forest green, robin blue, suntan, and jade were offered by the principal manufacturers in addition to the stock colors of gray, yellow, and tan. Tim Dunn, a Vitrolite specialist, says, "Even though the architectural glass industry has continued to expand its production of different types of glazing, the imaginative innovations of Carrara Glass, Sani Oxyx, and Vitrolite in the early part of this century have not been surpassed. New technology, combined with human artistry, produced exteriors and interiors alive with color and dimension. Glittering movie palaces, sparkling restaurants, and streamlined storefronts as well as the more mundane kitchens, restrooms, and laboratories exemplified the extensive variety and potential of pigmented structural glass."

Vitrolite is commonly rescued in the UK from bathrooms, usually in green, black and yellow. Tim says, "Removal of Vitrolite is an exacting operation. The mastic used may have become hard and difficult to separate from the ribbed backing of the glass. Solvents which are capable of softening the hardened mastic are methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, and acetone. They can be worked into the cavity behind the glass with a crook-necked polyethylene laboratory squeeze bottle or a large syringe without a needle. After the mastic has softened, two people using a taut piano wire sawing down from the top can safely and efficiently separate the glass from the wall.

Augusta Arts: Tel (USA) 316.775.2900 Email Augusta Historic Theatre

Tim Dunn: Tel (USA) (314) 645-4317. Email Vitrolite Specialist

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