Friends of Music Hall complete restoration of Music Hall finials

Friends of Music Hall, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving Cincinnati’s historic 1878 performance venue, is restoring sandstone ornaments, including ten finials atop the building’s gables, as well as a lyre.

A broken finial (left) and the only remaining complete finial (right)

Architect Samuel Hannaford designed Music Hall in the High Victorian Gothic style with finials on each of the 11 gables, some as tall as 4 feet and as high as 80 feet above Elm Street, as well as a lyre, an ancient symbol of music, in the center of the main façade above the 1877 datestone. Over time these sandstone decorations have deteriorated – some fragments remain, others are completely lost. Their restoration is part of FMH’s continuing effort to renew the architectural integrity of Cincinnati’s National Historic Landmark.

FMH board member and historic preservationist Thea Tjepkema spearheaded this effort, researching missing details by studying historic photographs. “Their decorative importance,” she said, “will restore Music Hall’s distinctive silhouette across its gables, elevating this National Historic Landmark again as one of the most exceptional examples of High Victorian Gothic architecture in the world.”

Thea Tjepkema, Holly Brians Ragusa, FMH President Peter Koenig and Patricia Bittner

EverGreene Architectural Arts created concept drawings and the project was approved by Ohio’s State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service. Cincinnati architect Ken Jones was hired to oversee the project.

Jones said, “Very seldom as an architect do you get an opportunity and have the pleasure to participate with a group of like-minded artisans and preservationists dedicated to preserving a National Historic Landmark of the utmost importance. Hannaford would be pleased to know that the community still admires and respects his architectural masterpiece.”

Thea Tjepkema and Peter Koenig

SSRG-Structural Systems Repair Group, a Cincinnati company specializing in historic preservation and restoration, inspected, removed, and cleaned the surviving sandstone pieces, removing years of organic and carbon pollution. The clean sandstone was color-matched for new glass fiber reinforced concrete restoration pieces, which SSRG will install with new sound structural engineering.

ExactMetrology used a special 3-D scanner with high-definition software to capture the shapes of the ornaments, including chisel marks. Arya Design, a Cincinnati custom casting company specializing in historic restoration, developed 3-D drawings and milled models from poplar wood which were coated in wax and scored to reproduce the original texture of carved sandstone. Polyurethane molds were used to cast the new pieces using GFRC to match the original sandstone.

Restoring Cincinnati Music Hall’s sandstone finials and lyre will return these essential features Hannaford designed to be seen across the river basin.

The Friends of Music Hall is a nonprofit volunteer-driven membership organization with a mission to preserve, improve, promote, and provide education about Music Hall. In addition to preservation projects, activities include tours of Music Hall, a speaker series, outreach to schools, and concerts featuring the restored Mighty Wurlitzer Organ in the Music Hall Ballroom.

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