Innovative Conservation at 97 Orchard
January 10, 2013

For some of our visitors, the restored apartments at 97 Orchard Street are the most memorable part of the Tenement Museum. Others are particularly fascinated with the tenement apartments that we call “stabilized ruins”—where the process of historical decay is visible in peeling wallpaper, bare wood, and faded linoleum, but the deterioration has been stopped to make the tour safe.

A hallway at 97 Orchard Street

Simultaneously achieving historic preservation and safety in a 150-year-old building is an ongoing job, so the conservators who care for these “ruin apartments” are often hard at work behind the scenes at the Museum.

Last month, support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation‘s Partners in Preservation program allowed conservators from Jablonksi Building Conservation and Historic Plaster Conservation Services to stabilize the ceiling and plaster in the kitchen and parlor of a ruin apartment on the second floor. The conservators tested an innovative technique for strengthening fragile plaster by injecting an acrylic resin that binds the plaster to the wood structure that supports it.

First, the ceiling that needed to be conserved was secured from below using scaffolding and micro jacks left in place until the resin fully cured.

Scaffolding in place under the ceiling that’s about to be restored. Photo by Amanda Murray.

Next, the ceiling stabilization took place from above. Conservators removed the floorboards above the ceiling and cleared out and saved debris for curatorial staff to sort through (sometimes there are important artifacts buried in apartment walls, floors, and fireplaces). Once the area was completely clear, the acrylic resin was applied using a specially-designed spray bottle.

Conservator Avigail applies resin with a special spray gun to help stabilize a “ruin apartment” ceiling from above. Photo by Amanda Murray.

Conservator Masuni shows where the acrylic resin has been applied between wood slats. Photo by Amanda Murray.

This technique represents a more permanent solution to stabilizing the plaster and plasterboard ceilings throughout 97 Orchard Street. We want to ensure that the building remains a resource for many future generations of visitors. And now we have another tool in our conservation toolkit!

—Posted by Dave Favaloro and Amanda Murray