Restoration of a historic building requires a uniquely different mindset and process – one that is markedly different from new construction. When the project teams at Shawmut Design and Construction realized that they needed a preservation expert on board to manage the specialized requirements, craftsmanship and methods for cultural landmarks, they turned to Carl Jay. Through restorative architectural techniques, Jay has since led the transformation of some of the regions’ most notable spaces, including the African Meeting House, Longyear Museum, Trinity Church, MIT Dome, Mary Baker Eddy House, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and King’s Chapel. As director of historic preservation at Shawmut, Jay has made a lifelong study of historic buildings, the architects who designed them, and even the tools used to build them. Jay spoke to Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about his passion for historic preservation.
“On any given day, I could be researching a color palette for a grand interior or climbing up on an iconic bell tower. Recently, I was up on the roof of the Massachusetts Historical Society on Boylston Street, looking at the parapet railing and balusters that need replacing. We found that the beam below took on a little moisture, so we are removing a small section of the turned limestone balusters, which are original to the 1898 building. I am working with the mason to order new limestone from a building’s original quarry in Indiana. The building has been renovated top to bottom by Shawmut in five different phases. This is just one example of the type of project we tackle. Whether it’s a Tiffany mansion or a neo-Georgian church; I try to first take a look at the original plans or documents whenever possible. A lot of these plans were hand-drawn with a lot of notes and have a wealth of information on traditional techniques. In a 1912 hall which needed an interior hall and upgrade, it was interesting to me that the hall was almost all quartered white oak, which is identifiable from that period, but the flooring was a different species. I had a carpenter go out and remove a piece of the flooring; it was not just straight boards but stick veneer teak and then a subfloor. The floor is reminiscent of a teak deck on a ship like the Titanic; it’s fascinating to think back to what was happening at the time and how the architects were designing. My degree is in wood science and I like collecting antique construction tools. I’m very interested in the actual tools that initially did the work that I am charged with replicating and restoring.”