Restoration Nears Completion on Historic Two Mellon Center ⁄ Union Trust Building

10/25/2002, Pittsburgh

Graciano Corporation, specialists in structural and historic restoration, beautification and repair, will soon be completing repairs the upper terra cotta mansard roofs of Two Mellon Center ⁄ Union Trust Building in Pittsburgh.

Due to freezing and thawing of terra cotta, many of the tiles and architectural pieces on this rooftop became brittle and fragmented over the years. As rain and snow seeped under the tiles, water damage ensued.

Working under a contract with Mellon Financial Corporation, owner and principal tenant, Graciano is making structural repairs to the roofs and dormers, waterproofing underneath the terra cotta to prevent further water damage, and replacing terra cotta tiles and architectural pieces as needed.

This Flemish-Gothic style building was designed by architect, Frederick Osterling, one of Pittsburgh’s premier architects, and built by Henry Frick. The building originally contained a four-story shopping and commercial office space on the upper seven. Today the building is entirely commercial office space.

Dramatic terra cotta dormers and ornaments decorate the steeply pitched mansard roofs, above which rise two gothic towers. The interior is organized around a central rotunda capped by a stained-glass dome.

The building occupies an entire city block and reaches to a height of 200 feet, with 11 stories plus two penthouse steeples. Artfully designed and festooned with terra cotta ornamentation, these Gothic structures house the mechanical components of the building.

The Chicago-based architectural firm of Raths, Raths and Johnson, specialists in terra cotta, are overseeing the Mellon Union Trust Building project.

Many of the old high-rises built in the 1920s incorporated terra cotta because it is lightweight, moldable and easy to hang. However, procurement of terra cotta is a long, tedious process involving measurement, casting, kiln firing, cool-down, and then a process of field verifications and adjustments to ensure precise fit.

Engineer George Mulholland, of Raths, Raths and Johnson, decided to replace the damaged terra cotta with glass fiber reinforced concrete, or GFRC, a modern material that has many modern applications and is sometimes used to clad entire buildings. The GRFC in this case has been manufactured to resemble terra cotta, but it is more durable, 15 percent less expensive, and can be procured in about half the time, since the material is sprayed into the mold and requires no firing or cooling down.

Terra cotta sculptures of eagles with four-foot wings, which guard each of the four corners of the building, and three-foot finials atop balustrades were also replaced with GFRC molded to match the originals.

So that scaffolding is minimal and does not limit access to the building, the project is being done in four phases, one for each side of the building. The outrigger beams for the scaffold project 17 feet from the roofline to the vertical drop. Each phase has taken between 4 and 6 months to complete due to the painstaking process required to make repairs and to carefully reproduce original pieces.

Structural repairs also include fabricating and installing a different type of pin to anchor the terra cotta and hold pieces together.

Graciano Corporation, the masonry contractor for this undertaking, is using only Local 9 Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union members, including caulkers, bricklayers and stonemasons. The company, founded in 1916, is one of the oldest family-owned masonry restoration companies in the country. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Graciano has offices is New York and Ohio as well.

Graciano Corporation is known and respected nationwide for its expertise in historic preservation. Some of the company’s projects have included the Queensboro Bridge, Rockefeller Center, Shea Stadium, Almas Temple and MetLife Tower. The company has won awards from the International Masonry Institute, New York Construction News, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) and others.