The Fort Conde Inn at Mobile’s 1836 Hall-Ford House during restoration.
It is hard to believe that just a few years ago the Inn was desolate and neglected. The picture shown above was taken by Dave Snyder, a gifted amateur photographer from Mobile, who observed the building in 2009 during restoration, took some pictures, and then returned in May of 2011 to take more pictures of the completed building.
The imposing beauty of the Inn today represents the culmination of two years of extensive renovation by developer, Lawrence Posner, a resident of Woodstock, New York and his company Fort Conde Restoration Venture, LLC. Restoration of the Inn was an arduous process. The building was without water service, electricity, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. Many of the walls and floors were severely damaged from years of water leakage and vandalism, and portions of the building were structurally unsound. Installation of the necessary equipment, utilities, and operating systems required careful planning and execution to avoid impairment of existing architectural features. Ultimately we were able to retain the original ceiling heights on all floors, add fourteen modern bathrooms, shore up the structural integrity of the carriage house, restore twelve fireplaces to operability, and set up a commercial kitchen fully in compliance with municipal building codes.
There are many stories to tell but we will just mention three; installation of the AC ductwork underground, reconstruction of the exterior columns, and fortification of the carriage house. These stories are illustrated by the photos on this page.
AC Ductwork: Ductwork was installed underneath the first floor of the structure to avoid lowering the first floor ceilings and changing the contours of the grandest rooms in the house. In order to excavate, we had to remove an original brick subfloor; then we proceeded to trench four feet below ground in the main hallway and the parlors. Trenching created numerous intersecting passageways resembling an irrigation system and resulted in huge piles of dirt in the interior. Water and sewer lines were laid first and were buried, and then AC ductwork went in on top, much like a subterranean version of an elevated highway system. Once installed, the surface was graded and leveled and the subfloor was reinstalled with old Mobile brick. We put down plywood on “floaters”, horizontal 2 x 4s unattached to the building walls to permit shifting from expansion and contraction, and then random-width heart pine boards from Mississippi to replicate the original flooring.
Exterior Columns: Restoration of the Greek revival columns at the front elevation presented a similarly daunting restoration task. The existing columns were badly deteriorated. Originally built with a 4 x 4 wooden post in the center surrounded by brick laid in a circular pattern and then coated with stucco, virtually none of the six columns still reached to the porch roof that they were designed to support. The center post in each column had entirely disintegrated, the mortar had reverted to sand, and the bricks and stucco were severely eroded. To the great concern of city officials and under their watchful eyes, we rebuilt the columns from scratch, taking advantage of the considerable skill of our plasterer, Leslie Cochran and our mason James Freeman. First, we installed steel posts to support the porch roof. Using old brick cut into pie-shaped sections, our mason meticulously troweled the sliced brick into perfectly graduated 12-foot high columns. Our plasterer then coated the columns with lime-based stucco from France and scalloped out indentations to form the fluting.
The Carriage House: Of all the sections of the house, “the dependency” probably suffered the most from neglect. The mortar joints in the building’s brick walls had deteriorated thereby weakening the walls and some walls had bowed due to shifting or settling over the years. Floor and ceiling joists had also deteriorated from water infiltration and other causes. We were not permitted to tear down and rebuild exterior walls so we proceeded to repoint the entire facility, to insert an epoxy glue in between brick courses in the exterior walls, and to cable together all four walls of the structure, all the while maintaining an exterior support system that caused the building to resemble a ship in dry dock. Even so during these procedures, the center chimney collapsed and had to be rebuilt. Finally, for additional support, we framed the interior perimeter of the building with floor-to-ceiling 2x6 wall sections. The result was a building with extraordinary structural integrity.
Thanks go to our architect Nicholas Holmes III of Holmes and Holmes, Architects, and our project manager Fred Krotine, and many other subcontractors and suppliers who made this project possible, including Amish Millworks, Englund Contractors, Davies Air Design, Kirkpatrick Electric, Professional Painting Services, Joe Cortopassi Carpentry, Richard’s Painting, Big M Plumbing, Cochran and Cochran Plastering, Ponder Landscaping, Custom Millworks, Coulson Roofing, Coastal Chimney Sweeps, James Freeman Masonry, Ford Lumber, Gulf Coast Elevator, J&D Cabinets, J&J Furniture, Jack Myers Heart Pine, Mobile Appliance Company, Mobile Fixture Co., Maxwell Fabricators, Southern Pipe and Supply Co., Pfeffer Floor Covering, Rayford and Associates, Ray Smith Wallcovering, S&S Sprinkler Co., Universal Glass Co., Victorian Lighting Works, Springhill Lighting, A-1 Appliance, Accents for Windows, Bailey’s TV Inc., Coastal Door & Window, Coastal Insulation, Expressway Carpet, Bama Foundry, Plantation Antiques, Woven Treasures, and Foxhill Companies.
We also thank our friends at the City of Mobile, Alabama State Historic Preservation Office, and U.S. Office of Parks and Recreation whose guidance and vigilance made this project better than it would otherwise have been.