Pasatiempo - - Art of Space - Paul Wei­de­man

The Felipe B. Del­gado House, 124 W. Palace Ave., has a shiny new roof. Back in the day, glint­ing sil­ver atop houses and com­mer­cial build­ings was a mark of pres­tige.

Who­dathunkit? In the cen­ter of Santa Fe’s his­toric district, where large, sheeny sur­faces of metal and glass are en­er­get­i­cally den­i­grated, a sil­ver roof is ac­tu­ally to­tally his­toric.

This lovely house, with its dis­tinc­tive sec­ond­floor bal­cony and gin­ger­bready cen­tral porch, was built in 1890 or 1891 by Del­gado, who was a prom­i­nent mer­chant and freighter on the Santa Fe Trail. The house re­mained in his fam­ily un­til 1970, when it was pur­chased and ren­o­vated by ar­chi­tect and preser­va­tion­ist John Gaw Meem. In 1980, John and Faith Meem do­nated the house to the His­toric Santa Fe Foun­da­tion to en­sure its preser­va­tion. “The house was built to have re­tail on the ground floor and liv­ing quar­ters up­stairs,” said the foun­da­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Elaine Bergman. “It’s one of the few build­ings down­town that has its orig­i­nal char­ac­ter. If Felipe Del­gado was walk­ing up the street, he would rec­og­nize it as his house.”

The old roof, which lasted 120 years, was terne or terne­plate, a tech­nol­ogy that pre­dated cor­ru­gated metal. Ac­cord­ing to Santa Fe’s His­toric Build­ing In­ven­tory Man­ual, stand­ing-seam terne­plate roofs were pop­u­lar in this area in the decades be­fore the com­ing of the rail­road in 1880. “Pre­ced­ing the man­u­fac­ture of cor­ru­gated met­als, flat sheets of metal roof­ing called terne plate were small enough to be car­ried on wagon trains over the Santa Fe Trail,” his­toric preser­va­tion con­sul­tant Cather­ine Colby wrote in a re­port for the His­toric Santa Fe Foun­da­tion.

Terne means “dull” in French. This re­lates to the ap­pear­ance of the ma­te­rial, a lead/tin al­loy over iron or steel. By con­trast, what was called “bright tin,” such as Thomas Jef­fer­son used for Mon­ti­cello in 1800, was steel coated with pure tin. Terne was a bit cheaper, while af­ford­ing sim­i­lar longevity and pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments.

Sev­eral types of metal roofs have stand­ing seams run­ning down the roof faces. But the ad­di­tional hor­i­zon­tal seams be­tween the small sheets gave terne roofs their dis­tinc­tive look. The new Del­gado roof, in­stalled by J.M. Evans Con­struc­tion, looks like the orig­i­nal. “They could have used long runs and not had any hor­i­zon­tal seams,” Bergman said, “but we made them cut it to the same lengths as the orig­i­nal pan­els, so you have that same sort of rhythm of the hor­i­zon­tal seams.”

This is an un­usual roof de­sign, be­cause the sides of the hip roof pitch down to in­te­gral drainage troughs or gut­ters above the eaves. Wa­ter is sup­posed to drain to the build­ing’s four corners, but af­ter a cen­tury or so there was some sag­ging, pool­ing wa­ter, and leaks.

First Na­tional Bank of Santa Fe, which has rented the Del­gado House as ad­di­tional of­fice space for three decades, did a re­pair job 10 years ago. “When I re­ceived a call just two or three years af­ter that and heard there was an in­di­ca­tion of a leak prob­lem, our prop­erty com­mit­tee got very in­volved,” Bergman said. “We found that the roofer had ap­plied a ma­te­rial in the gut­ters in a way that was doomed to fail.”

Plan­ning a to­tal redo, the foun­da­tion found one com­pany, Fol­lans­bee Steel in West Vir­ginia, that traces its his­tory back to the early 1800s and still man­u­fac­tures terne. Frank Lloyd Wright is quoted on the firm’s web­site as say­ing that terne metal “lends it­self to many dra­matic new ap­pli­ca­tions in the con­tem­po­rary id­iom. Be­cause of its in­her­ent adapt­abil­ity in both form and color, Fol­lans­bee Terne per­mits the vis­i­ble roof area to be­come a sig­nif­i­cant part of the struc­tural de­sign.”

The Del­gado pro­ject took eight months and cost a lit­tle less than $140,000. It started with the re­moval of the old metal. And where did it all go? “You know, this stuff ’s been EPA’d out of ex­is­tence. It’s very hard to find,” Bergman said. “Two guys who do restora­tion work on tin fix­tures came and hauled it off. It was re­cy­cled. A hall­mark of our build­ing legacy here in Santa Fe is the re­cy­cling of ma­te­ri­als, just as vi­gas were reused when a house came down. We val­ued our re­sources.”

Part two in­volved car­pen­try: re­pairs to rot­ted rafters and to roof brack­ets, some of which were just held in place by “struc­tural paint.” Fol­lans­bee de­liv­ered a quan­tity of its patented ZT (zinc/tin al­loy) prod­uct to Evans sub­con­trac­tor DKG & As­so­ciates of Albuquerque. That com­pany ap­plied primer and did the ini­tial crimp­ing.

The roof pan­els were in­stalled over a rub­bery mem­brane that serves as an ice and storm shield over the Del­gado house roof. The hor­i­zon­tal seams be­tween the terne sheets were sol­dered, just as on the orig­i­nal roof, then the lock­ing crimps — which re­sult in the stand­ing seams — were com­pleted us­ing a lit­tle robot­like ma­chine that crawls up the roof on rollers.

Del­gado’s roof was prob­a­bly in­stalled by Alexan­der Irvine, a tin­ner who moved to Santa Fe from Peoria, Illi­nois, in 1871. He built his own house at 310 McKen­zie St., and his metal roofs “were soon ev­ery­where, be­com­ing a defin­ing el­e­ment of late Ter­ri­to­rial con­struc­tion,” ac­cord­ing to a story Corinne P. Sze did for the Au­tumn 2002 Bul­letin of the His­toric Santa Fe Foun­da­tion. A re­porter for The New Mex­i­can wit­nessed the in­tense heat en­dured by Irvine in the midst of a roof­ing job at the west end of the Palace of the Gov­er­nors and noted, “Such men are truly mar­tyrs to progress.”

Metal roofs were wel­comed as “a so­lu­tion to the age-old prob­lem of the tra­di­tional flat earthen roof that leaked wa­ter and dust,” Sze writes, but then adds that, by the early decades of the 20th cen­tury, they were “ban­ished as ‘a hideous mon­stros­ity of tin’ by ad­vo­cates of the his­tor­i­cal ‘Santa Fe style.’ ”

Terne was not only used in the city. Santa Fe ar­chi­tect Bev­er­ley Spears writes in her 1986 book

May Day school pa­rade in front of the Felipe B. Del­gado House, circa 1916-1917, photo by Theodore As­plund; cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors (NMHM/DCA), Neg­a­tive No. 010522

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