Terra Cotta Replacement for Million Dollar Building

Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, 
California, USA

The Million Dollar Building, in the Broadway area of Los Angeles, is in the U.S National Register of Historic Places, due to its distinctive architectural decoration, and significance in L.A. history. The upper floors were originally the offices of the Metropolitan Water District and William Mulholland. The ground floor holds the Million Dollar Theater, the first theater built in L.A. by Sid Graumann, known later for building Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The building had accumulated damage due to moisture, and was in need of terra cotta replacement, removal and repair work.

Unfortunately, time and design flaws had also conspired to make much of the upper portions of the building hazardous to pedestrians below. Many large and potentially lethal pieces of terra cotta were removed by hand, indicating how close the facade was to falling apart at the next earthquake. Infiltration of moisture through cracks and joints caused much of the internal steel reinforcement to rust and expand, forcing apart many of the terra cotta units. Close inspection revealed that these units had been undergoing this decay process for a substantial period prior to our intervention. Evidence of stop gap maintenance was everywhere, in the form of old caulk and mortar placed in the cracks in an attempt to retard the intrusion of moistue. Seismic activity also accounted for the shifting of various large terra cotta units, further allowing moisture to intrue to the interor steel structure.

Since the budget did not allow for the expense of completely taking the damaged terra cotta units apart, we opted to ‘stitch’ the damaged terra cotta pieces together using over 2,000 steel pins. Crack repair involved preparing the cracks by routing out the void to a depth necessary to provide adequate purchase for the repair mortar. The repaired cracks and anchor pin holes were filled with mortar and then coated with epoxy paint formulated to match the original cleaned glaze in color and appearance. 

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