It’s impressive for me to take these things apart and see the level of intricacy, the level of thought. It’s a testament of the degree of craftsmanship that was implemented on this project. – Steve Brown, project manager with Historical Arts & Casting
WEST JORDAN — A Utah company is playing a special role in the nationwide project to restore the U.S. Capitol’s dome.
Historical Arts & Casting Inc., located in West Jordan, is the only firm in the country that is manufacturing cast iron parts for the Capitol’s dome, said Robert Baird, the firm's vice president of operations.
“To be able to work on one of the most prominent buildings known not only in America, but also known throughout the world as a symbol of peace and freedom, it brings a tremendous amount of satisfaction,” Baird said Tuesday. “And to be able to use the skills that we’ve learned and labored over for so many years on such an incredible project is a real honor for everybody that works here.”
The Capitol’s cast iron dome was first constructed more than 150 years ago, and it has not undergone a complete restoration since 1960, said Joe Abriatis, construction manager with Architect of the U.S. Capitol. Now, the wear and tear of time and weather has marred the structure with more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies.
The project’s contract was awarded in November 2013 through a competitive bidding process, and a handful of specialized firms from across the country have collaborated since preparation work began in January last year to complete the multi-year project. Abriatis said exterior work on the dome is now halfway complete.
Several American firms, from paint to scaffolding experts, are working on the project, but Historical Arts & Casting’s foundry is the only one charged with the task of recasting more than 100 of the dome’s decorative pieces, along with dozens of larger, functional pieces, including gutters.
All the dome’s original castings were made in the 1850s and 1860s, and many are missing or damaged beyond repair, Abriatis said. So pieces in the best condition are removed from the dome and shipped to Utah so Historical Arts & Casting can create patterns and sand molds from the original pieces before they are shipped back and reinstalled in their exact positions.
Molten iron, heated above 2,500 degrees, is poured into the sand molds to make the new castings.
Steve Brown, project manager with Historical Arts & Casting, said 12 layers of paint must be removed from the pieces before they can be molded, so his workers are seeing details in the ornate, decorative pieces that haven’t been seen since the dome’s last restoration.
“It’s impressive for me to take these things apart and see the level of intricacy, the level of thought,” Brown said. “It’s a testament of the degree of craftsmanship that was implemented on this project.”
Baird said Historical Arts & Casting pioneered the cast iron restoration industry more than 40 years ago when it began preserving and restoring metal structures like the iron façade of ZCMI. He said the company is expected to finish its role in the project by the end of this year.
“When the Capitol’s dome was built, the finest craftsmen available created it, and today the finest team of artisans have been assembled to do the restoration,” Baird said. “I somewhat feel like I’ve trained my whole life to do this job.”