Most of the brick buildings found in Portland Maine have a story. Hascall & Hall recently had the opportunity to work on a major renovation in town on a building with a definite past, a very visible present and a certain future. The present story of the Eastland Park Hotel is unraveling right before our eyes in the news, on-line and in every coffee shop in town with the battle over Congress Square. If you have been curious about the hotel’s history, some of these facts may be of interest to you.
In business since 1948, Hascall & Hall has touched most every historic structure in Portland in one way or another over the last six decades. Our archives date back to the day of hand written proposals on onion skin paper. These archives show that we have had much history with the Eastland building and with Congress Square. The Eastland’s story began when the doors opened on June 15th, 1927 and was an instant landmark announced as the largest hotel in New England.
The Rhine Family was the original owner and their family left a great legacy in Portland. They built both the Eastland Hotel and the abutting Congress Square building using the same architect to design both; a local architect named Herbert Rhodes. Hascall & Hall recently finished our part of the current $40 million dollar renovation on the Eastland Hotel and actually finished a project at Congress Square, literally on the night before Christmas, 2006.
Many a famous name will pop up in association with the Eastland, from past Presidents to the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Tom Brokaw. The most famous visitor, however, is a Scottish terrier named Fala. Fala was the pride and joy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.
The Roosevelts spent a great deal of time in their summer home off the coast of Maine on Campobello Island, which is actually part of Canada. On one of Eleanor’s treks to the island, she stopped at the Eastland in 1946 with her beloved Fala to rest for the night. Much to her dismay, she was allowed to stay but Fala was not which made the national news as “a great snubbing”. Perhaps this age old story is one of the reasons that the new Westin Portland Harborview Hotel is now advertising as a “dog friendly” destination. The picture of Eleanor and Fala is from the Franklin D. Roosevelt library where you can find many more pictures with both Eleanor and FDR.
The Eastland renovation has held a prominent role in the news here in Portland for much of 2012 and 2013. Many an eye was on the grand opening and reveal of this $40 million dollar project. The rebirth of our beautiful city’s historic landmark took place in December of 2013. Hascall & Hall’s portion of the renovation began back in August of 2011 where the paper trail began. As with many historic renovations, we started with a carefully laid plan based on the project specifications and the new owner’s direction, but knew to expect some twists and turns. The wear and tear on the building revealed itself as each layer of history was taken down to the bare bones and at times it simply required a small side step and regrouping. At other times, a great pause was required to ensure the integrity of the project and the inherent part of the building’s history that everyone involved had pledged to protect and preserve.
Our approach to the Eastland project began the exact same way we begin every project we undertake. Always safety first! Such a public job site meant that attention had to be paid to protect the public walkways for pedestrians as well as the endless parade of the necessary craftsmen for such an aggressive undertaking. A major portion of our project was to repoint portions of the building’s exterior prior to cleaning the building with restoration detergents and pressure washers.
In addition to the repointing, Hascall & Hall also removed deteriorated concrete from cornices and balusters. Some of the existing steel lintels that were damaged were replaced with new galvanized steel angles, while the remaining lintels were prepped and coated.
It was during the replacement of the lintels that we had to increase the scope of the project as the historic structure revealed something known as steel or rust jacking. This happens when deteriorating exteriors allow in moisture which causes the steel to rust. It seems as though the steel is expanding, but in fact, it is the rust that continues to grow, bubble and expand that can lead to significant cracks and damage to adjacent masonry and stone. Continuing the renovation without addressing the repair of the steel would have compromised the building’s structural integrity. This was noticed at corners of the building where we needed to expose the structural steel in the corners, and evaluate the steel prior to rebuilding the brick.
There were many other facets to the renovation and the work that our crew completed including the unexpected task of building an elevator shaft and other projects that came up as they always do in an historic structure. You never know an historic building’s story until it is discovered during the process, day by day. When the story changes – the game plan changes right along with it and that goes for every craftsman on site. Just when you think you know what you are dealing with . . . . . . Job well done by all the contractors we had the pleasure of working with through the renovation. As you can imagine, it took a lot of communication and cooperation for all the individual craftsmen to complete their portion of this mammoth project.
The original Eastland Hotel cost a mere $2 million to build, a far cry from the now $40 million plus renovation. Many don’t know that at one point the Eastland and connecting Congress Square building were combined into The Congress Square Hotel to make it the largest hotel north of New York at the time. It seems that it is only fitting that the two continue their history together. It is told . . . . then Governor Ralph O. Brewster tossed the original key to the Eastland’s front door into the waters of Casco Bay under the premise that it would prevent the doors from ever closing. With the current re-birth, it makes one wonder . . . . . . . .