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Lifting the Lions

September 10, 2009

Dollar Bank’s Lion Restoration Process to begin September 12th marks the start of a year-long process.

Pittsburgh's oldest bank announced today the Phase I launch of a major restoration project and overhaul of its historic 1871 building on Fourth Avenue, downtown Pittsburgh, beginning with the removal of its symbolic lions.

The two signature lions adorning the original building will be removed on Saturday, September 12, for a complete restoration and replacement that is estimated to take a year to complete. The restored lions will be returned to Pittsburgh to a to-be-determined location in midyear 2010, while the newly sculpted replacement lions will return to Fourth Avenue in about a year. Fourth Avenue, between Smithfield Street and Wood Street, will be closed during the removal of the lions. The first lion is expected to be moved between 8 a.m. and noon.

The lions, sculpted by Max Kohler, each from a single block of quarry-bedded brownstone, represent "guardianship of people's money."

"The lions are a symbol for Dollar Bank's commitment to the communities we serve. They depict strength and a longstanding heritage of service and reliability," said Robert P. Oeler, President and CEO of Dollar Bank.

A 20-ton crane will lift each 13,000-pound lion from its Pittsburgh perch where it has rested since its original installation just after the Civil War. Over the years, the lions have withstood a number of assaults to their integrity, including the historic 1936 Pittsburgh flood. The removal of the lions signifies the start of a compete restoration of the exterior of Dollar Bank's Fourth Avenue building. The two brownstone lions will be removed and transported by McKay Lodge Conservation Laboratory, Inc. to its large sculpture conservation facilities in Oberlin, Ohio.

"We believe that our Fourth Avenue building and the lions are a significant architectural treasure and we will do all that we can to preserve them so they are around for another 150 years," Oeler said.

The fragile lions cannot just be lifted. At the end of their historical life cycle, they are extremely fragile and risk the danger of crumbling during the removal period. Therefore, a preparation process to ready the lions for transportation is already underway for stabilization. Each lion must be undercut to insert a lifting cradle to help transport the lions safely to the carrying containers.

The complex project will require several interrelated steps the extent of which depends on the amount of internal deterioration:

  • Friable (crumbly) stone under the surface will require vacuum-assisted alkoxysilane and possibly resin treatments.
  • Removal of surface coatings and applications of new fills and any needed coating will be applied in a custom-made color to match the original stone.
  • The restored lions will be scanned to obtain three-dimensional digital data. This data will control a router in the cutting of high-density foam, making patterns of the restored lions.
  • Lost carving detail will be restored in the foam patterns by hand work based on historic photographs so the patterns will become an accurate basis for the carving of the stone replicas.

Dollar Bank selected McKay Lodge, Inc., a large and diverse art conservation company operating the Ohio Conservation Center, a campus of specialized buildings near Oberlin, Ohio. In addition to being widely engaged by museums, for the past decade their sculpture department has taken care of sculpture at all federal properties and federal courthouses throughout the United States under sole contract with the U.S. General Services Administration. In Pittsburgh, McKay Lodge is working on the removal and conservation of Romare Bearden's mosaic mural at the Gateway Center T-station. The company is also currently engaged in conservation projects with Pittsburgh Parks, Pittsburgh Public Art and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through its association with the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia.

McKay Lodge's president and senior conservator, Robert G. Lodge and its senior sculpture conservator Thomas Podnar will oversee the project. The company's associate stone and architectural conservator and the project's principal treatment conservator is Marcin Pikus, a European-trained expert in stone, specifically sandstone consolidation. European training in stone conservation is still more advanced than it is in the United States. Pikus received his master's degree in stone conservation from Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun, Poland where he also did his graduate research in the kind of artificial stone mortars needed to restore the bodies of the lions. He is trained in and knowledgeable about deterioration processes of natural stone and traditional sandstone carving. Cleaning and restoration of stone, the methods and materials of mold-making and casting solidify his expertise for this one-of-a-kind project.

Among his notable projects, Pikus was responsible for sandstone and brick conservation for European architectural structures such as the Polish National Bank in Gdansk, the south and east facades of the Gothic Town Hall and the Nicholas Copernicus statue in Torun, Poland. He completed structural repairs on Philadelphia's City Hall and dozens of museums and other structures in the Midwest.

In addition to restoration of the original lions, the project under McKay Lodge's direction will produce two new lions each of matching uniform color. The stone itself will be quarried in China from a quarry found to have the only stone that matches the original lions after a worldwide search by stone experts. Blocks of the needed size in this color are not available from U.S. quarries today. When complete, the two new lions will be installed at the Fourth Avenue building.

Fairplay Stonecarvers LLC, also in Oberlin, Ohio, a custom design and restoration company that provides stone consulting, design and sculpting services, will play a key role in the project by hand carving the two new replica lions.

Nicholas Fairplay is an architectural sculptor who specializes in hand-carved stone and marble ornament and sculpture. He is a European-trained artisan and master carver with skill, knowledge of materials and tools, and carving finesse. A professional member of the Stone Carver’s Guild and the Master Carvers Association in England, Fairplay has 36 years of carving experience in sandstone, limestone and marble carving shops with tooling and techniques specific for each material. He is a very rare resource in the United States.

Fairplay recently carved two 20-ton white Carrara marble lions for the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. He also has carved work on or in the gardens of Carnegie Mellon University, College of Fine Arts; Westminster Abbey, England; Utah Governor’s Mansion; and The Houses of Parliament, England.

Local companies, Golon Masonry Restoration, Inc. of West Mifflin and Century Steel Erectors of Pittsburgh have been hand selected to facilitate lifting the lions. Golon Masonry Restoration, Inc. will handle the masonry while Century Steel Erectors will manage the lifting and handling of the lions. Together the lions will be lifted, transported and restored. The restored lions will find a new home at a to-be-determined Pittsburgh location.

About Dollar Bank

With assets of $5.8 billion, Dollar Bank is the largest independent mutual bank in the United States, employing more than 1,140 people with over 50 offices throughout southwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio. For more information, visit www.dollarbank.com.

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