The fire started on the lower roof. Everything on the third floor, including the roof and the chimneys had to come down. As the chimneys were dismantled, there was concern the weight of the clay flue pipes might collapse the fireboxes below, so they were removed. Confused? Click here for the anatomy of a fireplace.
The old clay flue pipe from 1899 had disintegrated in many flue walls so previous owners lined them with stainless steel flue pipe. Our intentions were to restore the fireboxes, but at some point those stainless steel flue pipe liners had collapsed, restricting air flow and causing the fireplaces to draw poorly.
Besides being a fire hazard, a fireplace with restricted air flow is difficult to start and means smelly smoke will back up into your house. This wasn’t such a big deal for houses built in 1899, with their drafty windows and lack of insulation supplying plenty of airflow, but these days our homes are air tight. We have codes dictating proper sizes for proper drafting and the Orland P Bassett House was not up to code (and probably did not draft well). Previous homeowners had given up on wood fires and installed gas logs, but these are technically wood burning fireplaces and once we started rebuilding them we had to meet code.
So the fireboxes, flue pipe and chimneys on all three levels of the Orland P. Bassett House came tumbling down.
Actually, they were removed carefully by hand, brick by brick.
We saved the old common brick, used on many Chicago buildings built at the turn of the century, to be reused on the chimneys visible above the roof line to add authenticity to them.
We also saved the cast iron firebox liners to reuse where possible or to replicate.
The marble and tile surrounds were a mix of cool old stuff and proof that even way back when, people sometimes fell victim to trends…
We kept the cool old stuff and discarded the rest.
Dave noticed an uncelabrated pile of dusty tiles next to the firebox in the study. The tiles had been covered by a marble slab and a wood surround ( see first image). They seemed informal for this grand home and at first the homeowners rejected them, but they reminded us of the tile surrounding two fireplaces in our home built in 1896 by famous Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.
The back was stamped,” American Encaustic Tile Company” Dave googled it and sure enough, they once were one of the largest manufacturers of tile in the USA, founded in Ohio in 1875. These tiles were intended to replace expensive imported English tiles that were in high demand in America. Interesting. We’re hoping we can find a way to re purpose them in the restoration; maybe even back in the study?