September 4, 2013

The Art Deco Treatment: Stanford Restores Hospital in Palo Alto

  • By: Lauren Walser
The Stanford Medical Center gleams after the renovation. Credit: Bruce Damonte.
The Hoover Pavilion gleams after the renovation.

No major medical breakthroughs happened at the original Palo Alto Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., and no scientific discoveries were made there. But the hospital, which treated thousands of patients in the decades after it opened in 1931, holds one important distinction: it’s a stunning example of pre-World War II hospital architecture. And the Art Deco building recently returned to its original glory after an extensive restoration.

What is now called the Hoover Pavilion, part of Stanford University Medical Center, was originally built by the City of Palo Alto in 1931 to house the Palo Alto Hospital. Situated on a 10-acre parcel of land leased from Stanford University, the original wing was designed by Oakland, California-based architects Walter Reed and William Corlett. In 1939, Corlett completed an 80-bed addition to the hospital with a new central tower.

But after a new, larger medical center was completed in 1959, the Palo Alto Hospital closed its doors. It reopened six years later, serving throughout the decades as a smaller medical center with office spaces.

Then, as part of a major expansion and renewal project launched in 2009, Stanford University Medical Center targeted the 83-year-old hospital for restoration.

The Stanford Medical Center before the renovation. Credit: Page & Trumbull.
The Pavilion before the renovation.

Using historic photographs, documents, and drawings, the architects, historians, and conservators at architecture firm Page & Turnbull, which acted as the historic preservation consultants, researched the building’s history and architectural significance in order to educate university officials and project architects from Tom Eliot Fisch on its various historic elements.

“We were able to use existing research and do a more thorough investigation of the interior and exterior conditions of the building to find out what happened to the building, and when, and over what time,” says Ruth Todd, a principal with the San Francisco-based Page & Turnbull.

The team identified a number of significant, original architectural elements of the board-formed, reinforced concrete building. The six-story structure was typical of the "high-rise approach" prevalent in hospital design during the early 20th century. And its Art Deco features -- ziggurat-style roofline, terra cotta friezes, copper-clad entry canopy, and ornate metal grills covering ventilation systems -- embodied the popular architectural style of its time.

Construction workers renovating a roof structure. Credit: Page & Trumbull.
At work to renovate a roof structure.

Further, the structure had its original stairwell, lobby, and many of its original six-over-six windows firmly intact. Much of its hardware, several doors, and exterior lighting fixtures, as well as one in the lobby, had also survived.

The team also completed an extensive paint analysis to determine the building’s original colors, and researched effective ways to replace the damaged terra cotta roof tiles and wall panels, keeping a historically-accurate appearance while also ensuring they were structurally stable and waterproof.

While all of the electrical and mechanical systems were updated during the restoration, and the interior was modified to suit the needs of a modern medical facility, many of the building’s original details were painstakingly restored, or in some cases, re-created.

For instance, a long-lost finial at the top of the building, believed to have been removed during World War II, was re-created by the architects, who used archival photographs and drawings to replicate the original.

“Everyone was really enthusiastic about that element,” Todd says. “It became a source of community pride.”

And the original lobby, which, to meet ADA regulations, is no longer at the main entrance to the hospital, was identified as being a historically significant element of the building and was kept intact. Today, it houses a health library.

The Stanford Medical Center today. Credit: Bruce Damonte.
The Hoover Pavilion today.

One major challenge the team faced was the discovery of contaminated concrete aggregate, used in the 1939 addition to the building. The aggregate contained a high metal content, which, over time, reacted to rain and moisture. As a result, the metal pieces rusted and expanded, causing staining and spalling. The team conducted materials testing to develop an effective method for repairing the damage, and created a maintenance plan for any future spalling that may occur.

All work on the landmark building conformed to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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