Project leaders shared a deep passion for building history, and one of the most important project goals was to keep the building’s history alive. Whether it’s an original purple glass lamp or timbers brought in from the historic silver mines, these are the details that come together to create a true sense of time and place. Understanding this, project leaders strived to do more than preserve: they reused, re–contextualized, and recombined building details into beautiful, functional, and energy–efficient spaces.
Preserving the Building’s History
Like any bank, teller transaction windows once served the purpose of separating private space from public space. This strict separation is no longer needed in the new design, so NicholsBooth played upon this concept and reused the original marble and Depression Glass to delineate the building’s new dual purpose of both private office and shared spaces.
© Cesar Rubio
Since this building is no longer a bank, its key spaces had to be repurposed. The safe deposit vault was remade into a media room and gallery, while the main vault has become the primary Bently Enterprises meeting room. The dramatic table in this room is made from the vault door; it’s a showcase of Bently’s goal to preserve and beautify in creative ways.
Contractors were hoping the main vault could provide support for the mezzanine, but it needed to be strengthened in order to meet contemporary building standards. Planners originally believed the solid concrete walls of the vault could play a crucial role in strengthening the building and bringing it up to current seismic code. However once the existing vault walls were tested it was found that the concrete for the vault was extremely poor. Compounding this problem was the fact that the original builders didn’t use rebar; they instead used wire belts laid horizontally into the walls. While the intended effect was to strengthen the walls, they actually did nothing more than create weak spots in the concrete. These belts were originally used in Virginia City as mine hoists, and so they are artifacts in of themselves. You can still see them in the vault’s truth window.
Branches and debris were also thrown into the concrete; construction crews found out that the original builders were not picky about what they put in there. This method is called “valley construction,” and it was used during a time when people built things and simply hoped it would last.
Although its walls appeared stout, the original concrete vault was so weak you could have broken into it with a knife and a couple of wire cutters. Teams had to build additional posts around it so there would be no structural dependency on the vault itself.
The Little Things
Tall cabinets and map drawers from the original bank reside upstairs. Original hand rails and returns grace the interior stairways. History lives on in building details: classical trim, gold leaf ceiling, full-height columns, the original chandeliers, the teller windows, old cabinets, and the commercial transaction counter. Even the new elements and materials—most of the building—are faced or treated to look old and create a perfect illusion of coming from the building’s original era.
The Farmers Bank Lamp
This lamp hung in the entrance of the Second Farmers Bank Building from 1918 until 1969, when it “disappeared.” Dan Hellwinkel, whose family owned and operated the C.O.D. Motor Company, later unearthed it in Reno, Nevada. He strongly suggested that it be returned. From 1998 until 2014 it was in the care of the Douglas County Historical Society, who returned the lamp to its original home upon the completion of the Bently Enterprises renovation of the Second Farmers Bank Building. To protect the lamp from damage, it now hangs inside and lights the staircase to the second floor.
Perhaps the largest structural challenge involved refitting the roof and roof structure because the design team wanted to preserve the original gold leaf ceiling at all costs. This meant that while working on the roof’s structure, the Bently team had to support the second floor and roof without impacting the ceiling itself.
During this process, construction teams also discovered that old joists made of composite materials had been used to support the ceiling, and about three-quarters of them had to be painstakingly channeled out by hand with claw hammers and filled with modern steel joists. This maintained their original character while greatly strengthening the building.
All of this coordination meant weekly meetings with the structural engineer as well as some creative problem solving.
My philosophy is that local jurisdiction is part of the team.Frank Maxim, Project Manager, Miles Construction
The toughest part of refitting any historic structure is finding out how it’s built, and this building proved to be particularly tricky in that regard: by far the building’s biggest challenges were structural.
The engineering team found that the building was piecemealed together even more so than other historic buildings, and bringing it up to modern standards required careful sequencing. It took coordination of all the teams involved, along with local jurisdiction, to finish this project safely and to possibly achieve the US Green Building Council’s highest LEED certification.