Rich in history ourselves, Hascall & Hall is always proud to be entrusted with renovations on historic properties. One of our favorite renovation projects took place in an idyllic setting in a town called Winter Harbor, located on the Schoodic Peninsula in Maine’s Acadia National Park. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such an historic property deserves its story to be shared.
In the early 1930’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. got into his mind that he wanted to build a shore road in Acadia National Park for visitors to enjoy the incredible Maine coastline. The creation of this road meant that the Navy had to move a radio listening post that was located on Mount Desert Island. This decision ultimately resulted in an architectural beauty known as Rockefeller Hall.
For the next seven decades, the Navy used Rockefeller Hall as the central building in the Naval compound to monitor encrypted communications. The Navy expanded the base during World War II (1939-1945) and again during The Cold War (1947-1991). In 2002, the Navy decided to shut the base down in the face of a dramatically changing technological climate and turned the 100 acre property back over to the National Park Service. During its prime, the base consisted of 35 plus buildings and housed over 350 naval employees and their families. Years later, Rockefeller Hall began its eventual transformation into the communications center for the Schoodic Institute, an organization dedicated to preserving the natural environment.
This weary building, originally built for the U.S. Navy in 1935, was given the opportunity for a new place in Maine’s history by the widow of a Winter Harbor native; her name is Edith Robb Dixon. In 2009, Mrs. Dixon honored her late husband’s memory, Fitz Euguene Dixon, Jr., by awarding the National Park Service a $1 million gift to renovate and repurpose the distinctive Rockefeller Hall into a welcome center for the Schoodic Education and Research Center Institute.
The Dixons shared a passion for education and the Schoodic Institute’s mission “to guide present and future generations to greater understanding and respect for nature providing research and learning opportunities through its outstanding Acadia National Park setting, unique coastal Maine facilities, and innovative partnership programs.”
According to the Bangor Daily News, when Rockefeller spoke of his grandfather regarding the renovation, he is quoted as saying, “He would have been so proud to see what has been done in Winter Harbor . . . . . . What we love the best, we protect the most vigorously. Education is the key.” Edith also added, “Fitzy would have been so proud about it too.”
Even after six decades of restoring buildings, it is not often that we are able to work on such a remarkably distinctive property. Rockefeller Hall was designed by New York Architect Grosvenor Atterbury and presents an amazing exterior of half- timber, field stone and masonry. As you can imagine, this unique façade required a creative approach that was carefully executed.
After a thorough building inspection, Hascall & Hall was asked to repair the source of water infiltration causing significant damage to the interior which was identified to be two chimneys. There are numerous reasons why historic masonry structures begin to deteriorate.
Common sense will tell you that water infiltration starts with a crack in the exterior. Once the crack lets in the slightest bit of moisture, the decay and deterioration begins. Rain and snow cause the mortar, stone and bricks to freeze and thaw, repetitively expanding and contracting until one or all begin to crumble. We rebuilt and re-pointed areas of the chimneys as needed and finished by patching the concrete caps allowing the interior renovation to be completed without the threat of further damage.
Our portion of the renovation was simple and complex at the same time. Our efforts were focused on the dismantling, NOT the demolition of seven stairways. Six of the sets of stairs were at entrances to the building and the seventh was a long stairway leading to an elevated outdoor patio.
The dismantling of the steps was documented photographically and by painstakingly removing each brick and stone, while methodically numbering each one to be put back in exactly the same spot upon rebuilding; essentially creating a blueprint to preserve the historic uniqueness of the hall’s exterior. As seen in the pictures, the steps were made of fieldstone, brick and concrete caps and treads. In historic masonry structures, mortar failure will often be the enemy of the bricks and stone.
Hascall & Hall’s crew used historic mix mortar in their building process for all of the stairs. The blueprint process during the dismantling allowed the crew to complete the re-building preserving the look of the stairs as closely as possible to the original.
Many masons take pride in their work calling it really more of an art. In our eyes, Rockefeller Hall is truly a piece of Maine art and we take pride in the knowledge that we were a small part of the renovation of such a beautiful example of architectural artistry.
After a lengthy and involved renovation, Rockefeller Hall was formally dedicated on July 3, 2013.
SIDE NOTE: In their book “The Architecture of Grosvenor Atterbury”, Authors Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker state that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. “essentially kept him (Atterbury) afloat” in the 1930s. If you would like to learn more about the hall and matching gate houses in Acadia, there are some great pictures and information on the links below as well as many others: