‘A lot of work’ will transform front façade
By Joshua Maloni
With the summer tourism season about to start in Lewiston, new questions have arisen as to the status of the village’s most famous building, the 199-year-old Frontier House.
On Thursday, Ellicott Development Company Director of Development Thomas M. Fox provided an update. An edited Q&A follows.
Q: With regard to the interior work that's going on right now, I've been told that “it's down to the studs” in there. What's the update?
Fox: Yeah, that's the truth. A lot of the work we're doing, and with kind of the change in program and use and everything else, it was determined that – with the conditions of a lot of the walls in there, to get the former plaster, and drywall in some cases, non-historic stuff that was added, so on and so forth, layered on over the years – in order for us to run new electrical and plumbing and everything else, it just made a lot of sense for us to get a clean look at everything.
Outside of removing the wall finish, nothing else has happened; and we're not moving walls or doing anything else worse. In line with our historic review and approval, in terms of SHPO (New York's State Historic Preservation Office) and National Park Service, there's no interior layout-type changes. Minor stuff here and there, where we’ve got to move door openings and stuff like that, but we're respecting the interior layout as it was historically.
Q: There was a notice on the window with regard to asbestos removal, and there were some people seen coming in and out of the building dressed appropriately for that kind of thing. What can you tell me about that?
Fox: Just standard protocol. There was some asbestos-containing materials for certain interior cleanout and demolition. It’s just the process we have to go through. That work was completed, and then they were able to continue with just the regular interior cleanup.
The Frontier House
Q: The exterior windows on the front of the building, in particular, it seems like they have gotten worse over the past couple of months. People have said everything from winter wear to side effects of the mortar work to even vandalism. There seems to be some question with regard to whether or not the plan is to repair them or to replace them. What can you tell me about that?
Fox: They're all getting replaced. The windows that are in there now, except for a couple of those oval windows up on the attic level on the side elevations, pretty much everything is non-original. There was a replacement done – I think the best we can tell it was in the ’80s. It was a pretty decent attempt to match the original windows, but there are some inaccuracies with the windows that are in there.
Regardless, the windows are shot. We made a determination to replace them. We've gone through a process with the window manufacturer and SHPO and National Parks to review and approve the proposed replacements that will be in kind with the original windows. Wood windows, clad on the outside, aluminum. And they will be historic match profiles, divided lights, all that sort of stuff.
Those windows are ordered. Lead time is pretty lengthy. But as those come in, you'll start to see the windows getting replaced in full.
I don't have the exact date right now. We just had another job – and not to say that this is what it's going to be on this one, but we had a job, we just got delivery on the windows in downtown Buffalo – and from a different manufacturer – the lead time was about six to seven months, which was crazy.
We don't anticipate this. I think two to three months was the projected lead time on these ones.
Q: As of when?
Fox: Just recently. We just signed off on shops last week.
Q: Obviously, the work inside of the building is very complex and requires a lot of manpower and effort. Is the plan to work on that more before any other exterior work is done? In particular, I don't know if anything will be done to the front porch at all this summer?
Fox: Yes, it will be. The interior and exterior, obviously, we don't want to get too far along in the interior before we start pulling windows out. When the windows do come out, it'll be a pretty quick pull out and replace. We’re not going to have the windows wide open, or the building wide open, for a lengthy period of time, and bad weather for example, or getting interior finishes messed up.
There's a lot to do on the inside. There is some minor structural-type work, and then as I mentioned, moving some door openings to accommodate the new layout. We’ve got a lot of roughing work. We've got quite a long list of work in scope to do on the inside before we get to any level of finishes.
But as we continue on that, you’ll be able to see activity on the outside. There's a reconstruction of a historic porch that'll be in the back portion of the property, back left. That'll be constructed. That work, including the front porch, the front porch will get a new surface on it, new facia, new railings. All the deteriorated woodwork that happens around the roofline of that patio will be repaired and/or replaced as needed. New lighting.
The front entry door is a custom front entry door. The doors that are there now, the double doors, are not historic, so we’re replacing them. We’re having a custom door made that'll match the original historic door that we've got off the photos from the 1800s.
So, you'll see a lot of work on the front area. The masonry work is pretty well buttoned up to this point, the re-pointing work, the reconstruction of the upper floors on the front façade that we had to do, as well, has been completed. Basically, what you’ll see now is windows, it’s trim-type work. You'll see, if you're familiar with some of the historic images, there's roof railings that happen on the porch roof on the front, and on the high roof above the third floor that will be going on. The trimout, it's basically like a low baluster, very decorative, kind of like an hourglass shape. White railings that stand about 2 foot tall that will run along, basically, the gutter line on the high roof, and then on the low roof over the porch.
A lot of work that will be transforming that front façade.
Q: It seems, at this point, that the opening is going to be 2024 – which I know is certainly later than you originally hoped for or projected. But is there some advantage in that next year is the 200th anniversary of the creation of this building?
Fox: Yeah, this really tees it up for a great opportunity, a great marketing splash, everything else. It definitely aligns well.
Obviously, we've been dealing with a lot of challenges that have delayed the process: changes in the markets, and the cost of everything. We've been trotting along slower than we had anticipated, initially. But it does kind of marry up nicely with that celebration next year, and being able to take advantage of that.