Conventional wisdom says that when windows are big – say, over 10 feet tall – they can either meet hurricane impact requirements or satisfy National Park Service standards for historic replication...but not both.
The Cigar Factory, built in 1881 and one of Charleston's last remaining Victorian-era industrial buildings, turned conventional wisdom on its head.
After sitting vacant for nearly a decade, a development group purchased it in 2014 with an eye toward offering a mix of commercial uses, including offices, restaurants, event space, and retail stores.
But with the new owners seeking tax credits, National Park Service (NPS) approvals became a key challenge given the 361 enormous openings and a regional code calling for hurricane resistant windows.
None of the original radius-top windows existed, but Ron Stang, AIA, principal at Stevens & Wilkinson (S + W), was able to unearth photographs that provided a clear idea of what was necessary: a single-hung or a double-hung window with offset upper and lower sashes.
He initially looked for a wood window to match the originals, but without any luck. He says, “We had a few people saying they could do it in aluminum, but not of the national quality of Graham Architectural Products (GAP). Graham was the one window company that we got comfortable with, that was proven, and that we knew could deliver.”
According to Stang, a lot of collaborative work took place between the National Park Service, S + W, GAP, and Richard Sidebottom, a consultant from MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC. Stang said specific hurdles included matching the jamb sightlines, rail dimensions, and mullion details of the original windows.
Despite a very short time frame, GAP was able to overcome the significant hurricane impact engineering challenge and earn NPS approval.
Once the window was approved, GAP designed a custom panning and mullion cover to meet the field conditions and ensure a smooth installation for the contractor. In addition, GAP created a custom interior trim to help finish off the window installation and maintain a minimalistic interior design.
“Graham was responsive and good to work with,” Stang says. “We ended up with single lift windows that were very much detailed to be as close as possible to the double-hung we saw in the photographs that we had researched.”
The restoration went so well that the project was one of eight to be recognized nationwide as Preservation’s Best of 2015 during National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week in March of 2016.
“Getting the windows right was no doubt the most important component in rehabilitating the Cigar Factory into an award-winning, successful ‘Certified Rehabilitation’ project,” Stang said.
The building, now 90 percent leased, is expected to be at least 90 percent occupied by summer’s end, with Clemson University’s architecture programs among the latest to commit to occupancy.