Project Profile: Miami City Hall Renovation Miami, Fla.
Jeff Greene is a busy guy. He treats each painting project as though the name of the company he founded, EverGreene Painting Studios, will eventually be as prominent as that of Michelangelo. The artisans at EverGreene don’t do anything halfway — Greene has injected his passion for art, quality and attention to detail into the company, and it shows.
by Chris Mayo
His company, R.J. Heisenbottle Architects, PA, has a well-earned reputation for finding workable solutions to difficult challenges.
Both men and their companies came together to restore the interior of the Miami City Hall, formerly known as the Pan American Seaplane Terminal at Dinner Key.
The Dinner Key terminal, built during the relatively short-lived heyday of commercial seaplane transport, is rich in history for both the city of Miami and the aviation industry. When construction began in 1933, the terminal was destined to be the largest and most modern marine air facility in the world, though by today’s standards the exterior of the structure appears almost pedestrian.
The interior of the building is where the Dinner Key terminal earned its reputation as being truly state-of-the-art. The main lobby, indeed all the public areas, featured ornately painted ceiling panels depicting the signs of the zodiac, wall murals displaying images ranging from Da Vinci’s aeronautical designs to the Clipper planes utilized by Pan American, and ceiling beams exhibiting wings and bands in the Pan American colors. The upper deck of the terminal consisted of an elegant restaurant with windows overlooking the waiting area as well as an outside observation area from which the arrival and departure of the seaplanes could be viewed. Miami residents and tourists alike visited the terminal to enjoy a fine meal and watch the touchdowns and takeoffs of the seaplanes. Additionally, a large motorized globe about 9 feet in diameter was the focal point of the main lobby. (The globe is now located at the Miami Science Museum.)
When the city government took occupancy of the building, their main concern may have been more utilitarian than preservative. The building was less than 25 years old and Pan American, a giant in commercial aviation at the time had, amidst great fanfare, just completed construction of the first terminal at what is now Miami International Airport. It can be reasonably assumed that Miami’s city leaders simply did not consider the building “historic.” While the exterior of the building was left untouched, the interior was converted into administrative offices, concealing the original art deco style. Over time, the original ceilings were covered with sound-absorbing acoustical tiles, the upper-deck restaurant windows were covered with drywall, and walls were painted with institutional-colored paint.
The original style of the building was virtually forgotten until a small renovation project to address acoustical problems and replace aging lighting systems revealed a few elements of the original scheme. The building was closed immediately, and restoring the interior to its original form became a priority.
In the case of Miami City Hall, the first challenge for Heisenbottle and his team was getting down to the correct layers of paint without damaging them. In February of 2002, they began cautiously, with in-depth historical analysis of the original building plans and historical photos. Then they went in search of the right experts to do the job. Enter EverGreene Studios. EverGreene began carefully too, creating “exposure windows” as small as 12 inches square and working their way through several layers of paint until they reached the original. Chips were analyzed under a microscope to determine what the original paint was made of and to match the colors using Munsell color standards.
According to Greene, they would normally recreate the art on-site, essentially repainting what had originally been in place. If they did that in this case, Heisenbottle pointed out, the acoustical problems in the building would have remained. Instead, replicas were created by tracing what remained of the original symbols and drawings. The tracings were sent to EverGreene’s New York studio, where digital illustration tools were used to recreate missing details based on historical photos. Artists then recreated the murals on canvas. The acoustical problems were ultimately resolved by spraying sound-absorptive cellulose on the original ceiling. Not only did this resolve the issue, but it also created a surface on which the canvases could be stretched and attached to the ceilings and walls.
While EverGreene performs a variety of painting services, Greene says he particularly enjoys the challenge and satisfaction of historical restoration projects. Working on the Miami City Hall was yet another satisfying job to add to the resume of the company. “It’s a unique building,” he says, “a window into the past.”
The job was completed in February 2003, and since then visitors to Miami City Hall have been able to once again experience an interesting piece of aviation history.