Cincinnati Music Hall Reborn

Cincinnati Music Hall Reborn

Sponsored by: Marvin Windows and Doors

Last fall, Cincinnati’s Music Hall’s highly anticipated, 16-month and $143 million historic renovation was unveiled to the community. It didn’t disappoint. Original plaster was restored, along with specialty stained bricks and other fine detail work that had been lost during its century and a half in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

The interior work was a tremendous undertaking, but the real show stopper turns out to be something that is often taken for granted: the windows. Prior to this complete renovation, over 90 windows had been bricked over throughout the years, often as a cost-saving move. Yet, over time, this had a massive impact on the natural light available in the hall, altering the building in a fundamental way.

The building was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s   in 2014 (previously listed there in 2006, as well) and now the recent renovation will make for a restoration success story for the ages.

If the Eyes are the Windows to the Soul…

That’s why when Pat McNickle’s company, Marsh Building Products, was asked to contribute its extensive expertise with exterior products for the restoration of the Music Hall, they were more than happy to oblige.

“It was such a high profile project that we understood the importance it was going to play in the community,” McNickle explained. “It was a project that anybody would be proud to have a hand in. That was certainly our interest — being able to do something that was so important to the revitalization of that part of downtown Cincinnati.”

The work order for the exterior of the building was immense. It included new sidewalks, granite steps, granite pavers and massive wooden windows. According to McNickle, finding custom windows for the Music Hall was challenging, since they had to be both historically accurate due to the Hall’s status as a historic building and large enough to span some impressively large openings. Ultimately, the architect chose custom for the job.

As it turns out, the custom window option was vital to the success of a project of this nature. In a building of this age, the openings are rarely standardized, so having the ability to order a window that’s two inches longer than its next-door neighbor made it crucial to select the right supplier for the job.

Cincinnati Music Hall

No Renovation Too Tough

McNickle was the supplier for the windows and doors for the Music Hall, but he had the easier job compared to his counterpart, Curtis Hoffman, Project Manager at Messer Construction in Cincinnati.

Hoffman was charged with removing the brick from 90 window openings that had been bricked over during the building’s 140 year lifespan. Some of these, like the three massive tracery windows, were so large and so high off the ground that even removing the brick was extremely dangerous. Add in the bitter Ohio winter and it would be an overwhelming job for most.

Because McNickle couldn’t place the order for the new windows until he had accurate numbers, Hoffman’s team had to really hustle to get each of the openings cleaned up enough to deliver accurate measurements.

“When we got there, I was told that there were 90 some windows we had to install, they all had brick in them and we’ve gotta tear out the brick in the middle of winter,” Hoffman said. “With a 12 to 15-week lead time, that was the only way we’d be able to start installing them by the beginning of May.”

The Experts Explain How to Measure When Upgrading Historic Windows

Due to the dimensional differences between similar windows, both Hoffman and McNickle had to be meticulous with the measurements. A combination of this, the immense budget involved and past experiences dealing with historic structures gave both men the tools they needed — literally and figuratively — to get all the dimensions right.

“A lot of what the architect and owner look for is putting back dimensionally the same thing that was there,” McNickle said. “So they ask themselves, ‘Is my glass area going to roughly be the same? Are the dimensions of my exterior casings going to be similar? If I had divided light in the glass, are the dimensional widths of those bars close to replicating what was here?’ That really goes into not just measuring every opening but making sure every window you are building is made to the exact size as well as specifications for that specific opening.”

Hoffman kept a meticulous record of each and every opening as it was created. There’s no such thing as a standard window in a very old building, but to his surprise, it wasn’t that difficult to order custom windows that fit right into each of the openings from Marvin.

“One hundred fifty years ago things weren’t as precise as they are nowadays. That’s why the biggest thing [for getting historic windows right] is to measure each opening individually and not try to order a standard window unit to put in multiple openings,” Hoffman explained. “When I was going through, I would have some windows that were on the window schedule and they’d say that they’re the same type of window. For example, a C1 window is 4 feet by 8 feet tall, but we find out that this opening was 4 feet 1 inch by 7 feet 11 inches and then the window next to it was 4 feet ½ inch by 7 feet 11 ½ inches and stuff like that. What Marvin had to do for us was create 90 custom sized windows.”

Quick Tips for Better Historic Window Installs

According to both Hoffman and McNickle, the trick to historic window replacement isn’t much of a trick at all. It’s all about making the right measurements with the right tools. They suggest that before you attempt your next (or first) historical renovation, you form a solid relationship with a window supplier that can create the windows you need, rather than trying to get “close enough.”

Not only will close enough create a headache for you when you’re trying to reframe the window opening, it could become a problem for the historic status of the building. Instead, try these tips:

• When measuring field openings in older buildings, measure the width at both the top and the bottom of the window and the height at both the left and right side. Take the smallest of both measurements and record it, along with a way to identify which window you’ve measured.

• Round-top windows offer a special sort of headache, but modern surveying tools can get you a really accurate picture. If that’s not in the budget or if you only have a few small round top windows, measure the total height of the window to the peak of the arch, at the midpoint of the opening’s width. Then measure the height at which the arch begins on each side (as well as the top and bottom of the rectangle for width). Tracing the round top onto paper can also help your window supplier get the size just right.

• Don’t forget to measure the window design. That means you should measure the glass size in each light, the width of the dividers, the size of sashes and so on. Unless your client is looking for a major visual overhaul or to restore their home or building to its original state from a more recent remodel, making meticulous measurements ensures that the window you get back from the supplier will be exactly what you took out, only with stronger performance and energy efficiency.

There’s no reason you can’t take a few lessons from the pros of the Cincinnati Music Hall. After all, your projects can be just as amazing, even if they’re not listed by the National Trust as one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.

Sponsored by: Marvin Windows and Doors
Marvin® Windows and Doors is a leading premium manufacturer of quality fenestration solutions rooted in innovation and design.