Massachusetts State House Senate Chamber

Photos of finished project courtesy Anton Grassl.

Project Summary

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

M&A’s Scope: Restoration of the Chamber woodwork, furniture and paneling, balconies, and the interior of the dome itself.

Historic Designation: National Historic Landmark, Part of the Boston Landmark Commission’s Historic Beacon Hill District

Noteworthy: Restoration of the 1544 wood rustication panels comprising the paneled wall system of the Chamber

Owner: Massachusetts State House, Division of Capital Asset Management, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Architect: CBT Architects

General Contractor: Colantonio, Inc.

Boston Preservation Alliance 2019 award winner

In 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Massachusetts State House, “the hub of the solar system”. Built on Beacon Hill in 1798, the State House has looked majestically over Boston for over two centuries. In the past 25 years, M&A Architectural Preservation has been proud to be part of numerous preservation projects at the State House, so we were very pleased to be invited back for the Senate Chamber restoration.

After six long years of careful design work by one of Massachusetts’ premier architectural firms, the Senate restoration project was offered by the Massachusetts Division of Capital Planning for public construction bids. M&A was proud to be selected for all of the carpentry scope of the restoration work.

One of the most challenging parts of the restoration was the removal of 1,544 wooden rustication panels which form the distinctive paneled wall system of the chamber. Numbering and labelling each panel, photographing each panel before removal, after removal, and after stripping and after restoration; this documentation will become part of the state archives. Once removed, the panels were wrapped, palleted and sent off site for stripping of up to 20 layers of paint.

Once the stripping was complete, we began the restoration of the panels. Many panels had cracks or breaks often hidden by the layers of paint; some had been plastered over or caulked to cover the gaps between them. Despite the damage M&A was able to save and restore 98% of them, surpassing the hopes of the conservators.

In addition to the removal and reinstallation of the rustication panels M&A was also responsible for:

  • Repair and restoration of the paneling, balustrades, and decorative pilasters, columns and crown moldings in the galleries above the chamber.
  • Restoration (or in some cases replication) of the ornate wood panels with carved wood decorations that represent the 360 degrees of the circle within the base of the State House dome
  • Replication of the 36 round interior windows high up in the dome. These were beyond restoration; their decorative wood grilles had failed, and the window frames required replacement. The grilles were replicated in metal, and M&A fabricated and installed new round frames for the grilles.
  • Removing the State Seal and the Grand Eagle’s gilded 16-foot wide banner from high on the walls of the chamber and crating them for shipping to a conservator. Once they were returned by the conservator, we rehung them in the chamber.
  • Restoration and refinishing of all the historic furniture, including the rostrum and the two huge semi-circles of the senators’ desks. Removal and return of the huge curved desks was a major logistical feat, as each of the six sections had to be wrapped and carefully hand-carried down the grand staircase by a crew of eight movers.
  • To round out our scope of work, M&A supplied and installed all the millwork and casework for the adjacent support spaces for the Senate, restored some of the historic doors and replaced others with new doors to match existing, finished in leather, and installed all the doors and hardware.
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