Union Hall Historic Restoration

Built in 1856, Union Hall, overlooking Rockport Harbor, is a classic mid-19th century, architecturally significant downtown commercial building with a mansard roof. It served as a business center and a place for civic and fraternal gatherings in the late 19th and 20th centuries when Rockport was a thriving Maine seaport. It was once the home of the Rockport Post Office, hosted Town Meetings, served as a barrel factory and as a residence. It was the anchor of what was then the thriving center of the Rockport community. In 1973 Union Hall became the school headquarters for the Maine Photographic Workshops, and for nearly 40 years hosted some of the world's foremost photographers.

Over the years the Town Hall moved to a new location, and the historic downtown lost some of its other significant buildings as well as important businesses and residences. As a result, this magnificent building deteriorated. By the time The Penobscot Company took on this restoration project, the building was one giant code violation with significant structural and architectural deterioration to the point that it was no longer safe.

The renovation and restoration of Union Hall displayed the creativity of The Penobscot Company and the design team in the use of both innovative means and construction methods. While the front of this building is three stories, the back slopes down a hill leading to Rockport Harbor, and is actually four and a half stories in height. Engineers recommended a total rebuild of the back wall because of its extensive deterioration and the fact that it was bulging out in a number of places, and the floor structure was no longer connected to the exterior walls. To accomplish this, with engineering services by L&L Structural Engineering Services, The Penobscot Company built a new footing in the basement, and then built a four-story solid plywood wall to temporarily support the roof and intermediate floors. The back masonry wall was then removed and replaced with new block and face bricks tied to the new plywood support wall. The rebuilding of the back wall required almost 5 stories of scaffolding covered in sheeting for protection from the cold and wind of winter.

This complicated project also required getting four 80-foot long steel columns into the building to provide the structural support needed to prevent its collapse. Cote Crane Corporation of Auburn provided the technical expertise to lower the four columns through a one-foot square hole in the roof, down to the foundation. Because this was an existing building, holes had to be made through each of the floors as well as the roof. Four 36-foot steel beams were then inserted through the uppermost windows to provide the support needed for the roof and third floor. A total of 27 tons of steel was needed. The result is a structurally sound building with total unencumbered open spaces on the second and third floors that are completely free of obtrusive columns.

The third floor had completely bellied down about 14 inches in the middle, requiring its complete removal and rebuilding.

When completed the project included total structural renovation from the roof to the foundation; the demolition and complete fit-out of the new first floor restaurant; the historically accurate renovation of the second floor hall; the complete reconstruction of the third floor for a new living space; all new mechanical, electrical, heating and plumbing systems; ADA access through the building; two new egress stairways and a new elevator; restoration of doors and interior finishes throughout; removal and re-glazing of all windows and refitting them with new, but historically accurate hardware.