The San Francisco Plantation Historic Preservation Project
SAVING HISTORY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
THE SAN FRANCISCO PLANTATION
2646, Louisiana 44
Garyville, LA 70051
Owner: Marathon Oil Company, Oil Refinery
General Contractor: Collums Construction
Project Manager: Hal Collums, Collums Construction
Construction: The original house was built in the late 1820’s according to historical records. Around 1850, the San Francisco Plantation came under new ownership and the home was expanded to the elegant plantation house we see today.
Architectural Style: Steamboat Gothic with an Anglo-American theme. The house is antebellum in a chronological sense however, it is certainly not typical of the period. It’s style and coloration are totally distinctive.
Historical Restoration: The San Francisco – as it is commonly called – is a well known Louisiana tourist attraction. However, changing ownership and lack of funds over its lifetime led to the house falling into a severe state of disrepair. When Marathon Oil bought the land surrounding the plantation house in the 1970′s, they established The San Francisco Plantation Foundation to ensure the preservation of the historical home and they began a massive restoration.
During that restoration there was a scientific analysis of the materials and structure conducted, along with an archival research of the original design and colors. The Foundation made the decision to restore the home to the years just before the War Between the States when the house was at the height of its splendor. At the completion of the restoration in 1974, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and added to the National Registry as a Historical Landmark. It was celebrated for its overall architectural style and details as well as the interior artwork that graced each room.
SCOPE OF WORK
Although the 1970′s renovation brought the plantation house back to its original splendor, little was done in the following years to maintain the structural elements of the house, and it was falling again into disrepair. In 2014, the Foundation determined that another renovation project was needed to keep the plantation from losing more historic fabric.
Collums Construction and Central City Millworks has built a solid reputation for historical preservation and are known for their high level of skill and expertise in mill work restorations. As one of the few on the list of Louisiana’s Historical State Certified Mill Shops they were chosen to complete the restoration of the plantation’s degrading exterior and return it to its original elegance and structural stability.
At least one third of the structural members making up the raised porch floor were rotten. The heart pine flooring had finally given way to neglect and was full of holes and areas were barricaded for visitors’ safety. The front entry stairs leading up to the porch had sagging rails, detached spindles and would need to be removed and reset. The 14 columns that supported the porch roof had deteriorating bases that would need to be fabricated and replaced. The front entry design elements were worn and faded and the double shutters on each window surrounding the porch were falling apart and would need repair.
The deterioration of the rotting historic material on the front and side decks, as well as the Captain’s walk overlooking the river, had become dangerous. The railing on the upper Captain’s walk surrounding the house with a distinct star pattern had to be completely removed, new elements had to be fabricated, repainted and replaced. Over 50% of the original historical brackets that braced the upper roof and the Captain’s walk inner wall were either completely gone or had been decoratively repaired in the 1970 renovation. The brackets had a structural flaw in the original design. A solution to correct the flaw while maintaining the original appearance had to be found to ensure the structural integrity of the walls and overhang.
Replacing the structural damage on the porch level was the first challenge tackled. Once the structural damage was replaced, Collums Construction had to find the best material to replace the old growth heart pine wood which is much more durable than new pine. Old heart pine was used because of its durability, but it still rots if not properly maintained. The decision was made to go with Spanish Cedar – a resilient wood well suited for the southern Louisiana climate conditions.
The railing on the captain’s walk was so severely deteriorated that it had to be completely removed. CCM fabricated the railing with the original distinct star pattern prevalent throughout the design of the house. Collums Contruction then repainted and reinstalled the railing.
The brackets supporting the upper roof overhang and the upper fascia and dentil frieze were in very bad repair and were threatening the overall integrity of the Captain’s walk, including the deck and railings. The original design of the bracket had a distinct swirl that upon closer inspection was noted to be a major cause of the original brackets failure. CCM recommended, and the architects agreed, that the structural integrity of the original brackets needed to be enhanced. Collums Construction came up with a solution to improve the structural stability of the brackets by adding a steel element hidden within the wood. This allowed us to maintain the original design while securing the structure of the parapet above the Captain’s walk.
The major benefit of the overall project brought the old plantation home back to its original design and beauty, while improving its structural integrity – ensuring that the San Francisco Plantation will be around another 100 years or more.
The improvement to the brackets on the Captain’s walk was an extremely important benefit that had been overlooked in the original design. The brackets had a weakness that over time failed and caused the brackets to split. A metal insert was incorporated into the newly fabricated bracket. This improvement gave the bracket the structural integrity needed and did not take away from the original design. This improvement was made on 75% of the brackets.
Central City Millworks and Collums Construction collaborated with the architects and the plantation’s Foundation to identify and create solutions to overcome years of neglect. CCM’s talented renovation and preservation team successfully brought each historical element back to life while making structural improvements where needed.
Collums Construction painted each historical element in the rich colors of the original design and then carefully installed them. This attention to detail assured that The San Francisco Plantation will be around for many more generations to enjoy and learn about the roots of Louisiana history.
Today the San Francisco Plantation remains a major attraction in Louisiana being visited annually by over 100,000 people.