Professio by Matt Henson (which specializes in ornamental, flat plaster and decorative finish restoration on historic buildings) worked with Woodpartners of Houston to repair water damage to the Texas and Pacific Train Station in Fort Worth, Texas. The companies put their expertise into erasing the damage done by a leaky water pipe and recreating the “damage” of eighty years of exposure to the Texas wind and weather.

The train station was built in 1930 by a Dallas construction firm and is a good example of the Art Deco style of architecture. The main lobby was built on a grand scale (it’s got a 36-foot tall ceiling) to be a welcome and inspiring sight for travelers heading across the country.

Travel by rail has waned over the years but the building is still in use-and still in use as a working train station. It was during a period when some rooms above the train station proper were being renovated that a leak developed in some water pipes. Eventually there was damage to the grand space below.

That was when the building’s owners called upon Matt Henson. He and his company, Professio by Matt Henson, had worked in the train station a decade earlier when the building was renovated in the late-1990s. Henson and his people knew the building’s owners and, more specifically, knew the building well enough to undertake the restoration of the old jewel.

The company knew the place well enough to be awarded a CSI Award for excellence in Craftsmanship in 2002 for the renovation of the plaster in the T&P lobby back then. Professio also received awards from Historic Fort Worth Inc. in 1999 and Texas Architects magazine in 2001 for the same project.

Pipe Down

Now that a bad pipe called them back into the Fort Worth train station, Henson’s company had their work cut out for them. There were three different venues comprising 6,380 square feet total in two rooms for the plaster repairs needed to correct the water damage; on the walls, ceilings and tiles. Portions of the ceilings, with their “zigzag-moderne” relief, were cracked and effloresced. All of the loose paint and plaster was removed to reveal sound original substrate that could be worked with. The chalking plaster was removed, cleaned and reconsolidated with a mixture of alkaloid resins. The project was completed using USG molding plaster and USG finishing plaster.

Care was taken to preserve as much of the original finish as possible but parts of it had to be removed to reveal usable substrate in the areas near the damage to the ceiling. The areas that were cut away were consolidated, but in some places the crews had to recreate elements that were lost entirely.

“The challenge was to do minimal damage and not remove materials where we could help it. Our quest was to fix things in place where possible and pull out and replace where we couldn’t,” Henson says. “If something was damaged we would add consolidated glue to the broken or dissolved surfaces.”

He says they also had to keep a scrupulous record of what they had done and where. For historical purposes, he says special markings were put on the building’s plans to show where they had done work and what was done. Eventually, someone is going to do some kind of work at the train station again and when they do, they’ll have a record.

Cast Molds

Part of the building’s sugar cane tiles had been lost and construction crews used remaining good tiles to cast molds to make new ones as replacements. Some of the work they did on the site was done to prevent future work at the site.

“We had to order a lot of masonite to protect the marble floor,” he says.

Paint was its own problem in the restoration. Once all of the substrates were consolidated and the right moisture and pH levels were reached, the project moved on to the paint process. Sherwin Williams provided custom-mixed, hand-matched paints for the train station. One might think that colors haven’t changed much in 80 years, red is still red, but paint is a much different product today than it was then and time and weather took their own toll on the existing color scheme. Portions of the ceilings and walls had aged at different rates and there were subtle differences in the colors that had to be dealt with on the spot.
The walls had a delicate color shift in the paint and that was most evident in the sheen. Eggshell, flat and satin sheens used today are more tightly controlled than they used to be and the paint crews were forced to experiment with different sheens to get the uniformity they needed.

Henson says the most challenging matches were the glazed portions of the ceiling. Aluminum areas for the ceiling were bright and shiny, leading Henson and company to use an oil-based aluminum powder paint to match existing colors and textures. A dark blue latex glaze was then brushed on and wiped from all of the high-relief areas. The paint crews matched the gold colors by mixing acrylic and mica paints with a latex glaze that was lightly wiped from the higher elements.

Even the newly-cast sugar cane tiles were painted with a soft brown glaze and wiped to match. The last step in the process was applying accent colors on the ceiling.

People may not flock to the T&P Train Station to travel by rail today but residents and those passing through will certainly appreciate a solid and restored historic building.