Project Profile: Peace Cross, Bladensburg
Scope of work:
Restoration of World War I memorial
BC&E Member companies involved:
Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc.
Wrapping up two years of work on a one-of-a-kind, 40-foot tall, hollow, concrete, Latin cross, Amy Hollis was more convinced than ever about her construction rule of thumb: “Nothing is ever what you expect it to be. Any time you open up a wall, it will have surprises for you.”
A Conservator/Project Manager with Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc., Hollis had been tasked with restoring the Peace Cross in Bladensburg. The 1925 memorial to local service members lost in World War I, the cross had been struck by lightning years earlier, developed leaks and suffered significant decay.
Completing the restoration, however, would involve considerable detective work. All documentation about the design and construction of the monument had been lost in a fire at the studio of its creator, architect and artist JJ Earley. Hollis’s team widened a few openings in its surface just enough to insert a probe, lights and a MacGyvered box containing a smartphone that took photos of the interior.
The concrete inside showed a lot of honeycombing and Akali-silica Reaction (ASR) damage – a process where high Ph cement dissolves some aggregates. One arm of the cross was particularly weakened, having lost considerable cement from his roof and west wall.
The project team then had to devise a method to strengthen and preserve the interior without making further openings. They identified a chemical treatment that would halt the ASR damage and MacGyvered an apparatus to lower the sprayer down through the interior.
They also created a passive ventilation system. They cast a chimney cap/ridge vent to place in the hole where lightning had struck to allow hot air and moisture to vent out through the top of the cross. They also improved vents near the bottom of the cross and in its base to allow wind to blow through the structure.
The restoration included installing new steel rods in the weakened arm, bridging damaged mesh, replacing weakened cement with new material, adding precast panels in select areas and coating the structure with crystalline waterproofing.
Even the exterior restoration, however, presented challenges. One of JJ Earley’s signature techniques had been creating decorative cement by combining different matrix colors and varied types and sizes of stone. To replicate the monument’s original appearance, workers had to hand sort field stone for the tan surfaces and conduct extensive searches for other materials. In order to find stone to match the pink marble stripe in the cross, Hollis tested multiple options (including fish gravel) from suppliers across the country until she found a pink marble from the Rockies. To match the semi-precious stones in the monument’s American Legion seal, she ordered numerous half-pound packages of decorative stone from Amazon, “including stones that will align your chakras.”
“But I like these weird projects that no one has done before,” she said. “You don’t run across a hollow concrete cross every year so you have to invent your own solutions, like finding ways to photograph the interior or inventing an apparatus to lower a sprayer inside.”