The tiles on the Reynolda House Museum of American Art roof weigh about the same as 13 full-grown elephants or 42 mid-sized cars — and replacing them comes with an equally hefty bill.
About $1.7 million is needed to replace the 77.3 tons of mint-green tiles that have been on the roof of the iconic Winston-Salem building since World War I.
“The roof is 102 years old now. It’s time to rehabilitate,” said Phil Archer, deputy director at Reynolda House Museum of American Art. “We’ll keep the exact same colors and character by using the original (tile) company.”
During a meeting earlier this month, Perkins asked Forsyth County Commissioners for $100,000 in funding to contribute to the cost of the roof.
After deliberating over a number of budget requests last week, commissioners approved $50,000 for the Reynolda House project in their fiscal 2019-20 budget.
“It’s worthwhile. It’s for all the right reasons,” said Dave Plyler, chairman for the county commissioners. “They have a collection of art you can’t find anywhere else and they do a lot of freebies for school kids.”
Plyler said the county funds other parks, including Triad Park and Tanglewood Park in Clemmons.
The county bought Tanglewood in Clemmons in the 1970s for $6.5 million and spends $800,000 a year to keep it open, he said.
The Reynolda House estate, too, functions as a park where community members can enjoy the outdoors and walk their dogs.
“There will be some who will say ‘$50,000 for that?’” Plyler said. “But the bottom line is a lot of things don’t get enough funding that should.”
More than $1 million of the funds needed for the new roof have already been raised and the museum is looking for sponsors to assist with the rest.
Wake Forest University donated $630,000 to the project, which is set to begin next summer.
The museum was also awarded a $420,000 Infrastructure Grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in March 2018.
The grant requires a three-to-one match, so for every dollar donated by the NEH, Reynolda House has to raise $3, said Allison Perkins, executive director for Reynolda House.
“We have accumulated enough funding to launch the project and are continuing fundraising until we meet our goal,” Perkins said. “We’re looking at a number of both private foundations and corporate donors. We are also approaching the city of Winston-Salem and the state of North Carolina.”
After Reynolda House surpassed 100 years old, they began looking into the integrity of the roof and how well it had stood the test of time, Archer said.
Testing in 2017 revealed that the strength of the tiles is compromised, the copper-clay intersections are vulnerable at some points and the clay is absorbing moisture to a degree, he said.
“A roof of this age has to be disassembled and reassembled or replaced,” said Archer, also the project director for the roof rehabilitation effort. “If you do the former, there would be a number of tiles that would break coming down and there wouldn’t be a warranty for the next 75 years.”
Archer said they decided the best path forward is to replace the 30,000 shingles using the original tiling company, Ludowici, to preserve the authenticity of the house.
Ohio-based Ludowici, which was founded in 1888, will manufacture the roughly 150,000 pounds of tiles needed and ship them to Winston-Salem where a North Carolina-based roofing company will do the installation.
While the bulk of the shingles are square, specialty tiles will also have to be replicated to fit corners.
The terra cotta tiles are meticulously crafted and their signature green color, patina, forms naturally after being exposed to the elements.
“They’ve done it the same way since ancient Rome,” Archer said of the tile-making process. “Fire it at 2,300 degrees and it’s ready to last a century.”
After the installation, the warranty of the roof would extend until the year 2096.
The restoration project is anticipated to begin in July 2020, and would take about nine months to complete.
A small crew would move strategically across the building, allowing the museum to remain open and programs to continue, Perkins said.
“Reynolda House, both the museum and the gardens, is a place of exploration for learning and for respite,” she said. “People do take pride of ownership of this community resource.”
The Reynolda House, which was completed in 1917, remains the largest bungalow in the world, Archer said. It is roughly four times the size of the Gamble House, an iconic American Craftsman home in Pasadena, Calif.
It became a museum of public art in 1967 and has had art exhibitions from around the world, Perkins said.
The museum alone sees about 40,000 visitors each year, about 30 percent of which — full-time enrolled college students, active military, veterans and children under 18 — are admitted free of charge, she said.
During their centennial event in 2017, they had visitors from all 50 states and several different countries.
“Our service to the community at large is inextricably wound within the history of Winston-Salem,” Perkins said. “Reynolda House is an important treasure within our community.”