Six months ago, as architect Emily Little was exploring the attic of the Byrne-Reed House, she found a shard from the original clay tile roof. Later, when the contractors excavated on the building’s west side for the elevator tower’s concrete foundation, they discovered a number of broken original tiles that had been discarded when a composition roof was installed in the early 1950s. These tiles were stamped with LUDOWICI-CELADON CO, the name of a tile manufacturer in New Lexington, Ohio.
Ms. Little sent the piece of clay to the manufacturer, now simply called Ludowici, who sent back a sample of the reddish-brown tile. The next shipment from Ludowici was much larger—enough red clay tile to cover more than 5,100 square feet. This new tile, which has been applied to the roof of the Byrne-Reed House, replicates the house's original roof.
Ludowici's history began in the seventeenth century, when the Ludovisi family’s roof tile earned fame in Rome. The family changed its name to Ludowici after emigrating to Germany. In the nineteenth century, Carl Ludowici moved to Chicago. In 1906, the Ludowici Tile Company purchased the Celadon Roofing Tile Company, which was formed in 1888. The new company, Ludowici-Celadon, had five production locations as well as the largest clay tile plant in the U.S. in New Lexington, Ohio. Because the Byrne-Reed House was constructed in 1907, it was probably among the first buildings to order tile from the newly merged company.
The University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, and Texas Christian University all feature Ludowici tile. Other notable buildings for which the company has provided tile include the Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the White House Promenade, and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Robie House in Chicago.
Humanities Texas has installed tiles that replicate the original tile roof of the Byrne-Reed House, and the result is striking.
Several noteworthy developments can be seen in the photos to the right. In addition to the red clay tile, a reconstructed chimney is visible at the northwest corner. Also, portions of the historic frieze and wood soffit have been primed in preparation for painting.
A closer view of the reconstructed chimney can also be seen (photo taken prior to tile application). While this chimney will not be attached to a functioning firebox, it contributes to the house's historic appearance.
Another image shows portions of the original frieze, which have been primed (in white) for painting.
The historic house features second- and third-floor bay windows on its east and south sides. Shown in one of the photos to the right is a reconstructed bay window in the executive director's office with custom wood windows, which are taped in preparation for priming and painting.
Another photo shows the repaired porch skirt with new iron-flecked brick. (See our March 11 update for more on iron-flecked brick.) The porch railing has been reconstructed with historic brick reclaimed from other areas of the building.
In January, segments of the original ornamental plaster column capitals and frieze on the exterior of the building were carefully removed and transported to plaster craftsmen in Lubbock. The craftsmen used these segments to make molds for recreating the decoration in areas where the original was severely damaged or missing. One photograph shows replica column capitals being installed on the south porch. Another photograph shows a piece of the original plaster column capital next to replicated segments. The segments of replica frieze will be installed beginning in early April.
Note the east first-floor porch with original encaustic floor tile and reconstructed porch railings. The tile and porch railing can be seen in a historic photograph of Ruth Reed and friends gathered circa 1930.
Black and white encaustic tile have also been found in the foyer. In encaustic tile, color variations are due to the color of the clay itself rather than glaze. This tile was found almost completely intact under layers of carpet and padding. The floor will be cleaned and repaired by selectively replacing broken tiles with new matching tile.
A segment of the original wrought iron second-floor porch railing was found on site during selective demolition in the fall. Prior to finding this valuable piece of evidence, the only documentation we had of the railing was from historic photographs. The found segment is now being used to replicate the missing sections of railing.
Other exciting developments include the discovery and reconstruction of historic windows and doorways. One photo below shows an office at the northeast corner of the second floor looking out to the east porch with original doorways and historic transoms. The walls of the second floor have been plastered and primed.
Several original wood windows were found intact behind plaster and paneling. Where possible, these windows were preserved and restored in situ. Two of the largest existing windows were restored and relocated to the first-floor living room, where they will be more accessible for public viewing. For those openings missing historic windows, custom wood windows have been fabricated based on the originals. Installation of one of the new custom double-hung windows with reclaimed sash weights can be seen in one of the photographs to the right.
The second floor fireplace is located in what was originally a sitting room. The firebox was reconstructed with original brick from the house and the surround has been newly plastered. This room will be a conference room and library once restoration is complete.
Humanities Texas is in the final stages of its capital campaign supporting the restoration of the Byrne-Reed House. We are immensely grateful to the individuals and foundations that have contributed to this project and would appreciate any and all additional support. Your contributions will help us receive the full $1 million in matching funds from our National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant. If you would like to donate to the capital campaign, please mail contributions to:
1410 Rio Grande Street
Austin, TX 78701