The Eastern Columbia Building is one of the iconic facades of the L.A. landscape. Completed in 1929 in a distinctive Deco style of a glazed blue-green terra cotta, it began life as a department store. Over the years, this Historic-Cultural Monument went through an all-too-common cycle of multiple alternative uses, prior to redevelopment as housing in 2005. This project would involve glazed terra cotta restoration, patching, and repair work.
The upper portions of the building facade displayed widespread glaze failure, especially at the clock tower. As with many masonry failures, this decay mechanism was directly related to the intrusion of moisture and rain. Alkaline salts deposited on the bisque surface are irrefutable signs of moisture migrating from the interior masonry backup wall. As the moisture forces its way out of the substrate, it 'pops' or spalls the impervious glazed surface during its escape.
Repairs of this type of damage began with preparation by 'feathering' or smoothing the sharp edges of failed surface glaze. This helped identify sound material and eliminated sharp edges for the application of surface coatings. While it would have been been much more cost-effective to engage in wholesale removal of the original glazed surface, the tenets of Historic Preservation dictated that the maximum amount of original surface should be retained. We generally try to use repair mortars pre-colored to the palette of the undamaged facade. Thus, when the repair coating ultimately fails, the exposed repair material will at least mimic the color of the original.
The Eastern Columbia Building has evolved to its next life as a center for stylish residential living in downtown Los Angeles and as a symbol for the future of architectural preservation in our community.