This article appeared in Architectural West September/October 2010.

Historic Restorations
Renovation Projects Use Custom Clay Roof Tile to Replicate Original Material
by Marc Dodson

Restoration of a historic building is never easy. Usually the hardest part of an architect’s task isn’t overseeing the construction, but rather finding the right construction materials to match the original used decades ago. The roof, in particular, needs extra attention to detail. Matching the original look, color, and texture of roof tile in order to return a building to its stately elegance is not easy. In many instances, the original material manufacturer has long ago closed its doors. That was the challenge several architects faced recently when specifying roofing material for recent projects around the West, as they struggled to restore historic buildings with modern materials.

William W. Ellinger III, of Ellinger Architects & Associates in Pasadena, Calif., faced the challenge of finding a matching historic tile when restoring a portion of the Castle Green Project in Pasadena. Originally built in 1898, the Castle Green was built as an annex to the famous Hotel Green across the street, built a decade earlier. A bridge spanning the street and connecting the two complexes was built in 1903, and several restoration projects ensued throughout the next century. Most recently, the hotel was converted to condos and the bridge updated and retrofitted to meet current building and safety standards.

The roof tile, however, presented its own set of problems. While some of the original clay tile could be salvaged, a good portion needed replacing. Could the original clay roof tile be used, finding a new clay tile for the remainder… having the roof material make a seamless transition across the field?

During the search process, Ellinger figured out early on that there were only a few companies that could accomplish this task. He approached MCA Clay Tile, Corona, Calif., and they were more than willing to tackle the job. Ellinger worked with Bob Hale of MCA throughout the process. Several test samples were produced by MCA. Finally, one was selected that best matched the shape, color, and texture of the original roofing material. Once the selection was made, MCA got to work manufacturing a clay roof tile that hadn’t been produced for over a hundred years, and in the exact quantity required for the job.

While not a standard shade, matching the color of the roof tile was the easy part. The shape was different matter. The clay roof tile required was rather unique; it was relatively thin, half-round with a semi-circular end, yet tapered from one end to the other. It was similar to Mission tile, but not quite. Clearly, there were no molds for this product and one had to be custom made. MCA went to work doing forensic research and was able to match the size and shape of the original. “Nobody else could do it,” stated Ellinger.

Yoshi Suzuki, president & CEO of MCA, states, “When we started making turret tiles over a decade ago, we learned many new skills that have contributed greatly to our ability to replicate older tiles. Both the turret and replicated tiles are made with an extrusion and dye process. Both have to be made individually, yet quickly, in order to keep the cost down. Since no two jobs are alike, this has become a very challenging and interesting part of our business.” Once the tile was produced, Campagna Roofing of Altadena, Calif., was selected to install the product on Castle Green.

Another project involving MCA and undergoing extensive restoration was the San Bernardino Public Defenders Office and County Health Offices in Southern California. Stuart Sawaski, of Heritage Architecture and Planning in San Diego, Calif., was the architect on this project. The tile selected was the Corona Tapered Mission Tile; the color was 70% Canyon Red and 30% Old Santa Barbara. The buildings involved in this project were built in the late 1930’s into the 1940’s, close to the San Bernardino courthouse. They have always been government buildings and have been placed on a list of potential historical sites.

Hilgard Hall in Berkeley, Calif., was built in 1917 and is on the Register of Historic Places. It was designed by John Galen Howard and named after Eugene Hilgard, an agricultural professor who founded the University of California Agriculture Experimental Station. Neil Atterbury of Blues Roofing, Milpitas, Calif., supervised the installation of the roof. The MCA Clay Roof Tile was delivered through Pacific Supply in San Jose, Calif., with Jason Togneri coordinating the details. Again, the old clay tile had to be removed and salvaged. What couldn’t be salvaged was replicated by MCA.

MCA Clay Tile was also used as part of the renovation of the Fox Riverside Theater. The theater was opened in 1929 as a cinema/ vaudeville house. It was built with a Spanish Colonial Revival style and attracted well-known performers including Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. Additionally, it became popular as a location for motion picture previews. The theater was the site of the first public screening of “Gone with the Wind.” In 2007, the City began a major historical restoration of Fox with the goal of making it the centerpiece of a downtown arts and culture scene. The renovation of this project was under the able guidance of R.F. McCann & Company, Sierra Madre, Calif., and Peyton Hall, FAIA, Historic Resources Group, Hollywood, Calif.

On May 3, 2007, after more than 1,300 visitors took one final tour through the auditorium of the Fox Theater, one of the City’s most revered landmarks, the doors closed for the restoration. This historic structure was reinvented as a state-of-the-art performing arts theater for Riverside and the Inland Empire. The design called for adaptations and additions on all three levels of the facility to include an expanded stage, new stage floor, seats, lighting, a restored decorative ceiling and a refurbished lobby. Once completed, the Fox boasts a 1,600-seat state-of-the-art performing arts theater that captures the original grandeur of the 1929 building, with updated amenities for patron enjoyment and comfort. The Fox Performing Arts Center re-opened in January 2010.

Trying to preserve a portion of our past has become difficult for craftsmen in search of authentic replicas of older building materials. Luckily, a few manufacturers, such as MCA, are willing to go that extra mile to offer the customer a custom-made product to match the needs of each specific job.