Overcoming a Host of Challenges
Ron Stang, AIA, LEED AP
Stevens & Wilkinson
Charlotte Glass Contractors
Window Design Consultation
Graham Architectural Products
HI2200H Series Single Hung, HI6800 Series Fixed
Fill 361 window openings with new, thermally broken, aluminum historic replication windows that had to meet National Park Service requirements.
Because this was a historic window replication project requiring National Park Service approvals, it was a good fit for Graham Architectural Products (GAP). But because the Cigar Factory windows also had to meet hurricane impact requirements, it was doubly challenging, making it the perfect fit for GAP.
“Graham was the one window company that we got comfortable with, that was proven, and that we knew could deliver.”
- Ron Stang, AIA, LEED AP, Principal and Chairman of Stevens & Wilkinson
New Life for Historic Site
As the site of what is thought to be the first singing of “We Shall Overcome” in a moment of civil rights and labor activism, the Cigar Factory in Charleston, SC, is more than just a striking old building.
But it is that, too. It is, in fact, on the National Register of Historic Places. Not for its role in America’s struggles for equality, but instead because of its standing as one of the few remaining Victorian-era industrial buildings in Charleston and its key role in the region’s textile and tobacco industries.
Built in 1881 as a cotton mill, the five-story, 244,000-square-foot structure was converted into a factory for the American Tobacco Company in the early 1900s. By the 1930s, the factory was the largest private employer in Charleston with 1,400 workers generating more than 400,000 cigars daily. In 1945, the aforementioned labor issues led to a strike of 1,200 mostly black workers– a strike considered by many to have kicked off the civil rights movement in America.
Now fast forward six decades. It’s 2007. The iconic property, which had enjoyed relative success under various occupants until abandoned by Johnson & Wales University in 2004, suddenly finds renewed hope. A significant rehabilitation effort geared toward converting it into high-end residential condominiums is launched. Then, bang! An economic downturn – and an ensuing bank failure – brings the job to a halt.
In 2014, a new group purchases it with an eye toward offering a mix of commercial uses, including offices, restaurants, event space and retail stores. Stevens & Wilkinson, architects on the previous effort, are brought back in. But with the owners seeking tax credits, National Park Service (NPS) approvals become a key challenge – a challenge made more difficult by the enormous window openings and a regional code calling for hurricane resistant windows.
This is the story of how the team not only overcame this hurdle, but did so in such extraordinary fashion, the Cigar Factory restoration was recognized as one of Preservation’s Best of 2015 during National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week in March of 2016.
None of the original radius-top windows existed, but old photographs and a small piece of an original window frame found during demolition gave Ron Stang, AIA, LEED AP, principal and chairman of Stevens & Wilkinson, a clear idea of what he wanted: a single-hung or a double-hung window with offset upper and lower sashes.
He initially looked for a wood window, without any luck. Then, he said, “We had a few people saying they could do it in aluminum, but not of the national quality of Graham Architectural Products. Graham was the one window company that we got comfortable with, that was proven, and that we knew could deliver.”
Graham did deliver, designing and manufacturing 361 historic replication windows – a mix of the company’s HI 2200H Series Single Hung and HI 6800 Series Fixed – that met National Park Service (NPS) requirements and the regional code.
But it wasn’t easy.
According to Tim Cooper, Graham Architectural Products’ southeast regional sales manager, the windows were over 10 feet tall, which he said is “a very large window for hurricane impact.” In addition to satisfying NPS scrutiny and overcoming the significant hurricane impact engineering challenge, Graham had to meet what Cooper called “a very short time frame.”
He added, “We do National Park Service work all the time, but the size of these windows, in conjunction with the hurricane impact requirements – that’s what really made this a difficult project.”
Stang said the project required a lot of collaborative work between the National Park Service, Stevens & Wilkinson, Graham and Richard Sidebottom, a consultant from MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC. Stang said additional hurdles included matching the jamb sightlines, rail dimensions and mullion details of the original windows.
Once the windows received NPS approval, Graham 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.
“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, adding, “Graham was responsive and good to work with. 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 project was completed during the summer of 2015, leading Stang to observe, “The Cigar Factory has been reborn to serve Charleston for a full second century.”