Peale Center’s New Roof Nears Completion

The Peale Center’s new roof is almost finished. This is the first step in restoring America’s oldest museum building, a National Historic Landmark. Plans call for the building to reopen in 2020 as a center for Baltimore history and architecture.

The work is being done by Ruff Roofers, a firm that has put new roofs on other iconic structures in the city, including the base of the Washington Monument, the Old Otterbein Church, Stanford White’s Lovely Lane Church (Spanish tile), and the copper dome that crowns the cupola of Gilman Hall, centerpiece of the Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus.

The Peale Center’s new roof is a standing seam metal roof, “basically a copper roof with a tin-zinc coating,” according to Tim Caldwell, general manager of Ruff Roofers, who is supervising the work. The old roof on the building, installed in the early 20th century, was also a standing seam metal roof made of galvanized steel coated with lead. The material was known as terne, and required painting, he said. The old roof had been repaired in 1970, when major renovations were made to the building, but leaks had developed since then, causing damage to the interior walls and decorative plasterwork.

When they tore off the old metal roof, Caldwell said, they found underneath wooden skip sheathing. This was made up of random width boards, some with a bark texture, that were mostly 18-22 inches wide, indicating that had been cut from the center of the tree. This material was left in place, covered with half-inch plywood, and the new metal roof installed over it. Caldwell said the new roof will have a 50-100-year lifespan.

An important element of the project was re-constructing the lantern and skylight that top the rear hip roof of the building. (The main portion of the building facing the street has a pitched roof.) The lantern structure was removed with a crane, taken to the shop, refaced with the same material as the roof, re-glazed, and then put back on the building, again with a crane. The skylight lights the second-floor space that was once Rembrandt Peale’s art gallery and will become a presentation and exhibit hall in the new center.

For a building, the roof is the main line of defense against the elements, according to Caldwell. “It’s amazing how quickly water can do damage; it will rot wood, freeze and expand in masonry,” he said. “The roof is one of the first things you need to do to protect a building.”

Rebuilding and capping the chimneys, re-pointing the exterior brick and restoring the masonry, including the sandstone sills, is also ongoing as part of the same contract. Academy Stone is the contractor for the masonry restoration; this work is expected to be finished in about six weeks. The total cost of the first phase of the Peale restoration is about $700,000, including roughly $500,000 for the new roof. It is being paid for by the City of Baltimore, which owns the building. SM&P Architects is the designer and the Baltimore Department of General Services is overseeing the project.

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