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December 15, 2017
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Historic preservationists at standstill about blackened wall outside Hill's Pool Hall

By Tia Lyons
This article was published October 16, 2017 at 5:00 a.m.

Local and state historic preservation officials are lending their help on an unexpected problem that arose with a recent project to spruce up a downtown building.

In preparation of its grand opening in late September and early October, the Murphy Arts District entered into an agreement to renovate the exterior of Hill’s Recreation Parlor/Pool Hall, 205 E. Cedar.

MAD drafted a renovation plan with Diversified Design and Construction that included repointing mortar joints, cleaning the masonry, and replicating and replacing old woodwork, which had extensive water damage.

Hill’s is the only building that remains in the block surrounded by Cedar, Jefferson, Locust and Hill — the area that now makes up the city’s arts and entertainment district.

Austin Barrow, president and chief operating officer of MAD, previously said that MAD spearheaded the renovation and entered into an agreement for Hill’s to maintain the repairs.

On Oct. 12, members of the El Dorado Historic District Commission heard an update on the project, which did not require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the commission because it involved repairs and maintenance that would not alter the architectural and historical character of the building.

Matt Reynolds of Diversified Design and Construction said crews have been unable to remove unsightly soot from the west wall that adjoins Hill’s.

“We’ve tried everything non-abrasive to remove it. It’s an eyesore. When you’re sitting in the Griffin Restaurant, and you’re looking out, you can see soot and tar,” Reynolds told commissioners.

The soot was caused by a fire that destroyed The Mast restaurant in 2003. The wall had been the east wall inside The Mast.

Reynolds, commissioners and Catherine Barrier — certified local government coordinator for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program — acknowledged that since the wall was meant to be an interior part of the building, the bricks are deteriorating due to years of exposure to the elements.

“We’re trying to see what’s acceptable and what’s not. That side of the wall is in bad shape from the fire,” Reynolds said.

Options that have been discussed are painting over the stained bricks individually to maintain a uniform look or planting creeping ivy to cover the wall, Reynolds said, noting that creping ivy has been planted at the Griffin.

Commissioners and Barrier advised against painting, a process that is discouraged within historic districts.

Commissioner Parks Hammond also expressed concern about the ivy.

“Any kind of vine will tear that wall down, unless you put up some kind of latte structure to allow it to grow away from the wall. That ivy will find a way to penetrate somehow and tear that wall down,” Hammond said.

Even with a latte, Hammond said periodic checks would have to be conducted to check conditions behind the wall.

Barrier said it may be difficult to remove the soot without further degrading the brick, particularly since the brick is softer because it was not intended to be on the exterior of the structure.

She said that in some cities, murals have been painted on buildings in such instances, but the practice is not recommended in design guidelines for historic districts.

“I also would not recommend a water-proof sealant on the brick. That could lead to spalling (cracks),” Barrier said.

“The soot has penetrated the brick. It’s not just on the brick, it’s inside the brick, and when it gets hot, that soot and tar just runs down the side of the building,” Reynolds said.

Hammond suggested that a giant billboard be placed in front of the wall to announce coming attractions for MAD.

“That way you cover up the bricks and not damage the bricks,” Hammond said.

Reynolds said he is “under the gun” by MAD to find a creative solution to the problem, and he is working with a “very sensitive” budget.

Commissioner John Benson Jr. questioned the sense of urgency, noting that the fire occurred nearly 15 years ago, and the wall has been exposed since then.

Barrier said the AHPP could offer technical assistance on the issue, and she would put Reynolds in touch with the appropriate officials.

“Just make sure you come before this commission before you do anything,” Commissioner Linda Rathbun told Reynolds.

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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