A slice of lime: El Zaguán

Pasatiempo - - ART OF SPACE -

The ex­te­rior walls at the 19th-cen­tury James L. John­son House — usu­ally called El Zaguán — needed work for years. Not only was the fin­ish look­ing sad, but in places wa­ter could get in and dam­age the adobe bricks un­der­neath.

El Zaguán, 545 Canyon Road, is owned by the 54-year-old His­toric Santa Fe Foundation. The HSFF board of di­rec­tors wanted to use nat­u­ral, tra­di­tional fin­ishes in restor­ing the build­ing (which houses the non­profit’s of­fices and sev­eral rental apart­ments), but they can be prob­lem­atic, as wa­ter soaks up from the base and de­grades the fin­ish. It was ul­ti­mately de­cided to use lime plas­ter. An ex­plana­tory panel in the zaguán (the cov­ered pas­sage­way ad­ja­cent to the court­yard en­try) ex­plains the project. “It was de­ter­mined that dur­ing the pe­riod of in­ter­pre­ta­tion (the era to which we are restor­ing) from the early 1900s to the early 1930s, the build­ing was plas­tered in lime. Kate Chap­man, who is cred­ited with per­form­ing restoration work on El Zaguán in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, was a great pro­po­nent of lime.” Chap­man and Dorothy N. Stew­art de­voted a chap­ter to the virtues of lime plas­ter in their de­light­ful lit­tle 1930 book Adobe Notes or How to Keep the Weather Out With Just Plain Mud.

In Jan­uary 2014, Charles Coff­man and Bobby Wil­son, the foundation’s restoration spe­cial­ists, be­gan work­ing on the wall, ap­prox­i­mately 190 feet long, fac­ing on Canyon Road. They la­bo­ri­ously re­moved what turned out to be four lay­ers of old fin­ish. “The one on the out­side [was] a pink epoxy that was ugly and re­ally hard to take off,” Coff­man said. They also dug a trench, al­most 3 feet deep, along the bot­tom of the wall and added weather­proof­ing ma­te­rial to halt the in­fil­tra­tion of wa­ter.

Un­der­neath all that old paint, they found a plas­ter color that is be­lieved to date to the 1920s or ear­lier. That hue be­came the goal in a se­ries of test batches they mixed to ar­rive at the per­fect for­mula of pig­ment, lime, and sand for the new wall fin­ish. The re­sult­ing plas­ter mix was made by Rob Dean, Inc. The fin­ish job was quickly and ex­pertly done in July by South­west Plas­ter­ing Com­pany, with José Olivas as fore­man. The com­pany’s owner, Michael Roy­bal, do­nated the la­bor. The hand­some fin­ish is one coat of lime plas­ter about / inch thick.

The wood shut­ters that used to flank the nine prom­i­nent win­dows along Canyon Road will not be re­placed. “We have pho­tos from var­i­ous pe­ri­ods, the ear­li­est with no shut­ters. Then they’re on, then they’re off, and on,” the foundation’s di­rec­tor, Pete Warzel, said. “I think hav­ing them gone now gives a feel of the old place around 1905 and prior.” — P.W.

El Zaguán, be­fore and af­ter lime plas­ter­ing

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