Well...there's some good, there's some bad, and there's some ugly, which is kinda what I expected. It looks like it'd be simple - just pour concrete in the form - but there are some very critical things that have to be just right for everything to work, and it's rare to be lucky enough to nail those things on a 1st try.
The good part was the form. It held up just fine and, with a few tweaks to how I go about actually constructing it, I can replicate that process whenever I cast the corbels for real.
The bad part was not vibrating the concrete enough after it had been placed. See all those little holes? Those were air bubbles, which is what vibrating is supposed eliminate. Obviously, I didn't do a very good job - either in method or duration - vibrating the concrete.
And then there's the ugly, which I sorta saw coming. The concrete mix I used was all wrong, too much relatively large aggregate and not enough fine aggregate. In other words, too much gravel, not enough sand. Next time around, I think I'll go with 2 parts sand, 1 part cement, a tiny amount of plasticizer, and then however much water I need to get a decent concrete flow.
So...round 2 will be next weekend, hopefully with better results.
Today I took a crack at casting a prototype window sill corbel. Why a prototype? Because I've never ever ever formed up a small mold and attempted to cast a small object, and I'm confident that it'll take me at least 3 attempts before I get a result I can live with.
Backing up a hair, I'm going to address some of the more egregious issues on the house's front wall this year. The big ticket item will be the windows and while I'm confident in my ability to build the windows, replacing the precast sills and sill corbels will be a brand new experience.
That said, I've poured concrete, I've formed concrete, I've built plenty of things, and in theory, I know how the concrete casting process is supposed to work. But knowing how to do it and having actually done it are two very different things.
I started out by trying to figure out the dimensions of the curvy front of the existing corbels. They're so caked with paint and mortar that actually measuring anything was out of the question so I traced around all 4, took a pic of the tracing, dropped the photo into SketchUp, scaled it appropriately, drew the shape on top of the tracing, and reverse engineered the dimensions from that.
Building the form, aside from the curved portion was pretty simple, but the curvy portion took some work. Making a long story short, I grabbed a scrap 2x4, cut it into 4 short, manageable pieces, jointed them, planed them, roughed out the curved shape on all 4 on the bandsaw, glued the 4 blocks togethers, let the glue dry, spindle sanded the 4-block assembly to its final shape, and then cut the assembly to the appropriate height.
The rest of the form was just melamine-skinned particle board, quick and dirty. When the entire form was assembled, it looked like this:
Then I mixed up some concrete, using whatever seemed like the most appropriate concrete variety available at the big box stores. Normally I'd go to the local concrete supply place a couple miles down the road and get something based on advice from people who know what's what, but they're only open M-F and I didn't get around to buying materials until today (Saturday), after what's becoming a weekly Saturday morning excursion, taking Freckles to Tower Grove Park.
Anyhow...I mixed up concrete. I don't think I picked a great product for this application, it seems like I need something with smaller aggregate to get a good finish. I'll find out tomorrow when I strip the forms.
The rest of the job was straightforward: put concrete in the form, vibrate everything to remove voids and (hopefully) liquify the concrete a bit such that the sides will all be nice and smooth (vs. real aggregatey), screed it, then let it sit overnight.
I wasn't real concerned with tooling the top; 1, this is just a prototype and 2, no part of the top will never be visible. Today's exercise was primarily to run through the process of building the form and figuring out if my concrete mix will work.
I made a couple mistakes in the construction, and sorta painted myself into some corners when building the curved portion - very small pieces of wood take a lot of tools, like the table saw, planer, and jointer, out of the equation - but it was a good learning experience.
Tomorrow I'll strip the forms and see how she turned out. With any luck I'll only have a couple things to correct, but there's also a chance it'll turn out halfway decent. Either way, once I get the corbel casting figured out dealing with the sills ought to be pretty easy.
Back To The Bricks
Let's take a break from the neighborhood analysis for a minute to cover a quick - but fun - little project I tackled over the weekend. Technically, I didn't tackle the project I set out to tackle initially, but I still tackled a project and got some valuable info.
30,000 foot view, earlier this year I decided to make 2023 the year I (finally) address a good chunk of the front of the house. That means repointing all the limestone, repointing the brick where it's needed, and rebuilding the windows. And I mean REE-BILL-DING the windows:
This pic obviously doesn't show EVERYTHING that's goin' on, but it's the gist of it. It's all bad.
One of the first things I need to do is make the sills and sill corbels. Since I've never done anything like that before, I'm guessing it'll take a few tries to get it right. My game plan for last weekend was to try casting a sill corbel.
Getting the exterior dimensions was easy enough but I needed to know how far into the wall those things went, and the only way to figure that out was to remove the original millwork under the window on the inside of the house. I was going to replace the millwork anyhow, given its condition.
While the panel removal yielded the dimensional info I sought, it also revealed some brick in pretty rough shape.
I figured I might as well repoint the brick while I was there, but about 2 seconds into removing mortar I realized I could pull the entire inner wythe apart with my hands. So I did.
See those 2 square, gray-colored things? Those are the backs of the sill corbels. That's what I was hoping to find. The rotten mortar holding the wall together, not so much. With the inner wythe out of the way, I could see daylight through the wall in multiple spots.
I haven't repointed any brick in about a year and a half so it took me a minute to get the feel for the tools, but before too long I was slingin' mortar and stackin' brick.
I dunno why, but it always makes me happy to go from holes in the wall to no holes in the wall.
The whole job took about 10 hours of work, start to finish. I didn't mortar up under the window sill because it's coming out later this year and there's no sense in making that job more difficult than it needs to be.
Maybe NEXT weekend I'll get around to casting those corbels...
My Neighborhood: Compton Heights, Part 2
Last time I dug into blocks 1367 and 1368. This time, let's do 1369 and 1370.
In that whole entire block, the 1883 map only shows 1 structure in existence, a tiny little brick (that's what the pink color indicates) building. Let's go ahead and skip it; it still stands today and I know the guy who owns it. 😉
Continuing down the map, blocks 1371 and 1372 contained no recognizable structures in 1883. It's hard to discern from the 1876 map if anything stood on that ground prior to 1883, but my guess is that the land was entirely undeveloped.
That said, I was curious about the owners of the land. Were any of them noteworthy? Via a halfway quick and dirty search, here's what the 3 landowners were up to in 1883:
John H. Schneeberger was a boot and shoemaker, operating a store at 310 Olive, right in the thick of things downtown. He lived at 1012 Winter Avenue, later renamed Morrison Avenue, in the Soulard area (LaSalle Park) and died in 1900. How he came to own a couple acres of undeveloped ground in Compton Heights is anybody's guess.
I did my best to come up with something on Barbara Deckson, thinking it'd be easy since she'd stick out like a sore thumb -- there weren't a lot of female landowners in 1883 unless they married into wealth or inherited land from a wealthy family member. Unfortunately, there are literally zero records of ANYBODY named "Deckson" around that time period in St. Louis, let alone a "Barbara". Maybe the name is misspelled, or maybe information on her is lost due to the way records of females were kept back then: almost always referred to as Mrs. Husband's Name.
Moving on to Charles Stewart, I figured he'd be tricky to pin down because of the commonness of his name. And he was; the records of the day show about a dozen people named "Charles Stewart" and there's no way to identify which one owned half of block 1372. So...another bust.
Moving on to blocks 1373 and 1374, there were 3 dwelling structures in 1883, all along Michigan Avenue, and 2 sheds. The building on lot 46 of block 1373 and the building on lot 77 of block 1374, they both show up on the 1876 map but everything in both blocks was cleared between 1883 and 1900 to make way for Julius Pitzman's planned residential development.
The last 2 neighborhood blocks along Shenandoah are blocks 1375 and 1376. The wood-framed house on lot 79 of block 1376, it' was gone by 1903. The house on lot 2 of block 1375...I don't know what to think.
Block 1375 shows a small brick building with a wood-framed section on the back. Could have been a wooden addition, could have been a porch, who knows. The address for that particular structure, per the 1883 map, is 3003 Shenandoah; today it's 3005 Shenandoah on account of a multi-fam building being constructed on the lot between it and the cross street. I doubt the building still stands, but I can't find any records to verify or refute this.
Here's what we know of the 1883 building:
The city assessor says that structure was built in 1922. I disagree. That said, its architecture doesn't really scream pre-1922.
From above, that structure, again outlined in yellow, looks like this:
That shape looks an awful lot like the one called out as 3003 Shenandoah in the 1903 Sanborn map, which makes me pretty confident that the assessor's records are incorrect (they usually are, and are usually based off the oldest, most easily found building permit -- which could have been issued for any number of alterations to the structure). The building shape matches, the porch matches, and the listed number of stories ("2") matches.
So far, I think we can conclude that the building dates to at least 1903, but let's keep going.
When the Sanborn map was produced, 1903, the city directory shows its occupants as Armand and Pauline Welcker. Pauline's late husband was named Frederick; Armand was their son.
Going back another 10 years - to 1893 - the city directory again shows the Welckers at 3003 Shenandoah.
Going back to the 1883 city directory, same story, with a little added information.
There were a couple handfuls of Welckers in the city in 1883, with Armand and Fred(erick) living at 3003 Shenandoah, presumably the same structure they lived in in 1893, and 1903, which per the 1903 Sanborn map is the building that still stands today.
I can't imagine that they'd have occupied a different structure in, say, 1890, had it torn down, erected a new building on the exact same lot, and continued living at the same address. People didn't do that; if they wanted a different house they just moved. Based on the information gathered, I think it's possible that the subject building dates back to at least 1883, albeit with some major alterations.
The 1883 city directory also gives us a little information about what Frederick and Armand did for a living. Armand was as an artist, while Frederick worked for F. Welcker & Co., listed elsewhere in the city directory in the lithographer category of businesses, as an engraver at the corner of 5th and Olive.
Frederick died in 1887 but if one knows how to work the Google machine, much of his work is still visible today. For example, here's one (and probably my favorite) of his lithographs:
Frederick's wife Pauline died in 1916 and about that same time, Armand falls off the map. No idea whatever became of him, but much like his dad, a lot of his artwork can be found via the Google machine.
Anyhow...I'll call the building on lot 2 of block 1375 a "maybe". Maybe it's original construction was pre-1883, maybe it wasn't. Hard to say, given the available information. But, it's still kinda cool to see the artwork - today - of the people who lived in the house around that time.
My Neighborhood: Compton Heights
It's too cold to do much of anything rehab-related on the outside of the house, I don't have any projects currently planned for the house's interior, and I just started a new job - always a little chaotic - so there isn't much to talk about as far as the house goes.
But the other night I went down a wild internet rabbit hole and got kind of fixated on old pics of local houses, which turned into wanting to really investigate what remains of the neighborhood's building stock dating back to 1883.
As such...here we are.
I live in a neighborhood called Compton Heights, which is more or less defined by Grand Avenue, Lafayette Avenue (in 1883; now I-44 is the border), Nebraska Avenue, and Shenandoah Avenue. In 1876, per the Compton & Dry Topographical Survey, this area was home to the water reservoir and a few large houses but was still relatively undeveloped.
By 1883 the area had been somewhat platted, although the platting changed to accommodate the curvilinear section of the neighborhood, which was way ahead of its time. I-44, completed in the early 1970s, eliminated several neighborhood blocks.
During the early days of St. Louis' rapid population expansion the area was highly desirable due to its proximity to the city's central business district while still being a safe distance from downtown's industrial activity, and the vast majority of the neighborhood was developed between 1890 and 1910.
But what remains from 1883? And what existed back then that no longer exists now? That's what I want to take a look at. Using the 1883 map - the 1876 map is a lot cooler to look at but because the area was still so undeveloped it takes forever for me to figure out house addresses - I'll go block by block and see what I can come up with.
Starting in the upper left corner of the 1883 map, there were 3 structures shown in blocks 1367 and 1368.
All 3 structures appear on the 1876 map, and look like a small commercial building and 2 small homes.
The 2 houses were gone by 1903, and weren't notable enough for their to be any easily accessible record of their history. The structure on the corner, however, was significantly added onto in 1895 by the Griesedieck brewing family and still stands today. Amongst local history aficionados the structure, seemingly an eating/drinking establishment since it's initial construction, is primarily known as the home of "Pelican's Grill", a restaurant operated by James Pelican (born Demetrius Spiros Pelekanos) from 1938 - 1956, and until 1975 under different ownership.
The building was listed as a city landmark in 1976, although it fell on hard times for several decades afterwards, including a fire intentionally set on the first floor in 1985 by the building's financially distressed owner, who then committed suicide in the building's basement.
Several years ago the building was rehabbed and now has new life as a Domino's Pizza on the 1st floor, with a large apartment building fronting Grand just to the north. A coffee shop is planned for the empty storefront space between Domino's and the apartments, but given the Starbucks 2 blocks to the south, it'll be interesting to see if that development pans out.
So...the building at the corner of Grand and Shenandoah definitely predates, albeit with major alterations, my house's construction in 1878. I doubt more than a handful of existing neighborhood buildings can say the same thing, but this is 1 that can.