Building ResearchHistoric PreservationMiscellaneouspaint

Project Update Part One: White Bear Township Town Hall Building

I have had the pleasure recently of working on a local building designed by the prominent architect Cass Gilbert. Gilbert is known for designing landmark buildings such as the Woolworth Building in New York City, the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC and several state capitol buildings, including the Minnesota Capitol Building in St. Paul, MN.  I was asked to to recreate the original exterior paint scheme for the 1885 White Bear Township town hall building which Gilbert designed  early in his career.  The town hall had been moved to a city park and is now being renovated for special events, meetings and other township functions.

Analysis of historic paint layers on an eave bracket
Close-up of the old paint layers on a eave bracket.

By the time I started with the project virtually all of the building’s original siding and mill work had been lost.  We were left with a few brackets and trim pieces to identify the original trim colors.  I was able to examine one of the brackets and use magnification to identify three paint layers: A chocolate brown, a white and a bottle or Paris green.  I abraded and then cleaned a few bits of the original green paint with naptha and was able to get a good indication of the original green paint color.

Original photo of the White Bear Lake Township town hall.
A photo of the town hall taken around 1914.

Sara Marko Hanson from the White Bear Lake Area Historic Society provided an early 20th century black-and-white photograph showing the front entrance of the town hall.  It shows two colors paint scheme with the trim painted in a darker color and the body painted in a lighter color.  Since it was common practice to paint using two shades of the same or similar color, we decided to use two shades of a Paris or bottle green that were mixed using a common, 19th century pigment.  I was able to find a very close match for the original trim paint color in Historic Design’s library of period color samples.  I used this color chip as a base color to find a sample of a lighter shade of green for the building’s body.

Ca. 1890 collection of sample paint chips.
Part of a ca. 1890 collection of sample paint chips from The Rider and Sherwood Company. The actual chip appears a little darker than the scan.
 This has been an interesting project so far.  If you would like to stop and see the town hall yourself, it is located in Polar Lakes Park directly east of the White Bear Township city offices at 1281 Hammond Road.


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