Three of the finials to be restored on the Elm Street facade of Cincinnati Music Hall
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Historic Sandstone Ornamentation Restoration

By Diana Tisue and Rick Pender

The Friends of Music Hall is excited to announce funding for the restoration of the sandstone ornamentation on the exterior of Music Hall, including ten finials atop gables, and a sandstone lyre.

Finial on the left is damaged; finial on the right is complete
Damaged finial on the left; on the right: what it should look like

Over the past one hundred and forty years, the original carved sandstone has deteriorated to the point that only portions of these important decorative elements remain others have been completely lost. This restoration is part of the continuing effort by the Friends of Music Hall to renew the architectural integrity of the exterior of this great Cincinnati landmark.

Restoration to the Original Design

Two gables from Hannaford's drawing of Music Hall
Two gables from Hannaford’s drawing of Music Hall

When Samuel Hannaford designed Cincinnati Music Hall in the High Victorian Gothic style, he included a Gothic fleuron, or finial, on each of eleven gables, save the main apex reserved for an “Angel of Music.” Friends of Music Hall board member and historic preservationist Thea Tjepkema, has carefully researched and documented these missing details using numerous historic photographs.

EverGreene Architectural Arts was hired to meticulously draw the missing adornments to scale. The restoration of these essential historic ornaments on this National Historic Landmark was recently approved by the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service. The Friends of Music Hall has committed to fund this project and is planning for work to begin soon.

Music Hall’s recent 2016-17 major rehabilitation included the restoration of many historic attributes, thanks to funding from the Friends of Music Hall. The organizations continues to fulfill its mission to preserve and restore historic elements fundamental to Music Hall’s beautiful original character.

The Finials and How the Work Will Be Carried Out

Designs drawn to scale of the 8 finials and existing sandstone lyre
Designs drawn to scale of the 8 finials and existing sandstone lyre
The eight finials on the building’s front, and two on the back, include four distinctive designs, and will return the dramatic High Victorian Gothic look to the building’s roofline. At the center of the main hall on the front façade, an existing sandstone lyre will also be repaired.

Molds will be made using the EverGreene drawings and 3-D technology. Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete (GFRC), a lightweight concrete compound, will be poured into to those molds to reproduce the original crisp details. Sandstone caps on each gable will be cleaned so that the color of the new GFRC finials can be precisely matched. The cleaning, manufacture and installation will be carried out by SSRG – Structural Systems Repair Group, one of the key contractors for the recent revitalization project in 2016-2017.

Returning the Distinctive and Dramatic Gothic Look to Music Hall

Engraving of Music Hall, 1879
Engraving of Music Hall, 1879

Restoring the sandstone ornamentation on Cincinnati Music Hall will return the building’s distinct expressive features, which Hannaford purposefully incorporated into his design with thought to its location in the city.

Completed in 1879, it loomed over the row houses in Over-the-Rhine and pierced the sky, along with multiple church steeples. Music Hall’s Gothic rose window and fleurons proclaimed it as Cincinnati’s cathedral of music and a revered gathering place for the community.

The Friends of Music Hall is pleased to bring back Music Hall’s Gothic intricacy, elevating this National Historic Landmark as one of the most exceptional examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture in the world.

Become a Friend of Music Hall! You can help support us in our preservation efforts, by joining us today.

Diana Tisue and Rick Pender are members of Friends of Music Hall’s board of directors.