Lord and Burnham Conservatory

Lord and Burnham Conservatory

Conservatory Craftsmen has Lord and Burnham Conservatoryrecently acquired the Phipps Conservatory, a Lord and Burnham glass structure, originally used as a combination display/production growing facility.  In 1893, Phipps was the largest conservatory in the United States.

If you are interested in obtaining this structure, or would like more information, please contact us.

The Glasshouse History

In 1878, a group of prominent Pittsburgh citizens purchased a 178 acre parcel of land from the estate of Judge William Wilkins to found the Homewood Cemetery. During this era, Pittsburgh was establishing itself as the nation’s industrial capital and leaders in the city were active in developing schools, hospitals and great public institutions, among them, the well known Phipps Conservatory in 1893.

Henry Phipps, an industrialist / phi1anthropist and close friend and partner to Andrew Carnegie retained the NY firm Lord & Burnham to design and build the conservatory. Opening in 1893, Phipps was the largest conservatory in the US and gained distinction as having the finest collection of tropical plants acquired from the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The Homewood Property is located Lord and Burnham Conservatory
about  2 miles from the Phipps Conservatory. Historical records from the cemetery indicate original plans to construct the Homewood Conservatory were abandoned in 1896 but later revived, enlarged and constructed in 1909. Some of the board members at the time were from wealthy Pittsburgh families, including Bigelow, Heinz and Mellon. Further, influence from other prominent figures is evident. For example, the estate of Henry Clay Frick, industrialist and partner of Andrew Carnegie, adjoin the Homewood property. Frick in fact constructed a conservatory on his property in 1897 and is interred at the Homewood Cemetery.

Archives and glass negatives from the cemetery document the Glasshouse history. Board minutes, contracts and early photographs of the Homewood Glasshouses are available.

Construction of the Glasshouses

Lord and Burnham Conservatory PlansThe palm house is a 100 foot long, 22 foot high grand structure serving as a head house for five (5) other houses annexed to its eastern side. Each of the production growing houses is also 100 feet long and range between 10 and 25 feet wide, representing in total over 10,300 square feet under glass.
This relatively simple configuration can be easily reconfigured and reconstructed to meet special display and/or growing requirements.

All of the houses have a Cast Iron / U-Bar I Cypress system constructed on perimeter brick knee wall. The relatively U-Bar construction was considered ahead of it s time for the period. In fact, the U-Bar system, a series of malleable steel and galvanized vertical components, are in remarkably good condition and key to the structures restoration and longevity. Cypress glazing bars were inserted and fastened within the U-Bars and lapped glass was glazed to the cypress. While restoration with cypress inserts is possible, it is significantly more costly (perhaps even prohibitive) and subject to higher on-going maintenance expense. Aluminum extrusions, on the other hand, inserted into the U-Bars create a strong, relatively rigid and low maintenance system. The lapped glass glazing design combined with an aluminum bar cap then results in a non painted, low maintenance system that is entirely consistent with the original design and period.

An ornate cast iron gutter (and internally directed drain) system surrounds the perimeter of the houses, and are interconnected to the U-Bars with special cast iron hangers. The ¼” thick cast iron gutters (almost 13 lbs. per ft. for the palm house) were significant for the period and are virtually unattainable for modem glasshouse constructions.

Air circulation principally through passive convective forces was accomplished with a traditional top end hinged sash assembly and lower vents. Within the smaller houses, the lower vents were mechanically operated systems within the knee wall. This design is beneficial in that it eliminates higher-maintenance window vents. Moreover, it utilizes the greatest temperature differential within the house to create the maximum draft force. Venting in the palm house however was accomplished through hinged windows. This system is not nearly as efficient but given the structures height (about 22 feet) and significantly greater ratio of door and window total area, the palm house is adequately ventilated with even passive forces.

The structure was carefully Lord and Burnham Conservatory
dismantled in September, 2003 by R. Pegnato & Associates, Inc. While some glass panels in the Palm House were salvaged and retained, most was either broken or badly etched and therefore discarded. Structural components, however, were in remarkably good condition and all were identified and tagged. More specifically, the cast iron components, principally and namely the sills and gutters systems, were in excellent condition and are being abrasively cleaned to base metal (removing paint and/or surface oxidation) before being repainted using an industrial quality, high gloss and long lasting epoxy-based coating system.

Other smaller castings used principally to fasten structural components were also in good physical condition with little evidence of corrosion but some (approximately 7%) were broken. Depending on the size of the restoration, some may need to be replaced with castings manufactured to the original specification. All will need to be cleaned and coated with the industrial paint system previously described.

The U-Bars are in good condition attributed mainly to the industrial (exceptionally heavy) hot-dip galvanize process employed at the turn of the century. In fact because the galvanize system is still intact, these components will be blasted with a non-abrasive aggregate to remove only grime and old paint before being recoated (inside and out) with a compatible long lasting paint system.

For most of the structure, the cypress U-Bar inserts, appear to be original “old cut” cypress. The condition of this wood, however, ranges from good to poor and if a cypress glazing system is considered as part of the restoration, a more detailed analysis is required. The windows in the palm house as well as all of the doors, frames and trim, also constructed of cypress, will need to be replaced. Often, replacement aluminum windows made to the original specification are a distinctly lower maintenance option.

The characteristically ornate front entry to the Palm House is in reasonably good condition and can be readily restored. All fasteners will need to be replaced as will the sash assemblies for all houses which were in generally poor condition. In the case of the sash assemblies, new aluminum framed components will be fabricated to the original specification and coated with an industrial paint system.

All mechanical systems and controls related to heating, ventilation, electrical, water distribution / drainage systems will need to be installed new in the restored structure.

If you would like more information or are in any way interested in this structure, please contact us.