Norden Hall

Western Specialty Contractors Des Moines, Iowa Branch played an instrumental role in preserving a 134-year-old row house in Des Moines, Iowa originally destined for demolition to make way for expansion of the Iowa State Capitol grounds. Instead, the historic building was moved to a new location in the city's popular East Village neighborhood and repurposed as a restaurant.


Originally designed and built in 1880 by prominent business leader Samuel Green for his family, the building, formerly named Norden Hall, has served as a private residence and home to three Scandinavian community groups. Built on the western edge of the Iowa State Capitol grounds, private developer Jake Christensen was determined to save one of the city's oldest historic landmarks. He accomplished this by moving the 440,000-pound building four blocks from 707 E. Locust to a new foundation at 435 E. Grand.


The building was in need of miscellaneous masonry repairs and was not watertight. Western crews started the project by waterproofing the foundation and replacing all of the building's joint sealants. Western then began the process of resealing the structure by cleaning its entire surface to remove any residue that had accumulated over time. Miscellaneous tuckpointing was performed throughout. Spray- applied concrete, or shotcrete, was then sprayed on the building's entire west elevation to add structural integrity to the deteriorated masonry wall. Once the new concrete had cured, a textured acrylic coating was applied to the west elevation to waterproof the wall and maintain its historic appearance.


The building now houses a wine bar and has been registered as a historic landmark.


“Historians from Des Moines are proud of the work that was done to preserve this important part of the city's history. This piece of history could have been lost forever, but through the efforts of Western Specialty Contractors, general contractor Beal Derkenne Construction and Slingshot Architecture, this building will stand for many more years to come and continue to be enjoyed by the city's residents,” said Des Moines Branch Manager Tom Longer.



Abraham Lincoln Receiving Vault

Western Specialty Contractors – Springfield, IL Branch was recently honored with restoring the historic receiving vault that once held the bodies of assassinated President Abraham Lincoln and his son, Willie, following Lincoln's funeral service on May 4, 1865 in Springfield, Illinois. The bodies of Lincoln and his son, who died at age eleven in the White House, rested in the receiving vault until Dec. 21, 1865 when they were moved to another temporary vault.


The vault, which had served as a temporary tomb while burial plans were made or if a grave could not be dug due to frozen ground, is located at the base of a hill, north of President Lincoln's tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Due to its location at a low spot in the cemetery, the vault was subject to water penetration which resulted in major deterioration. The vault's restoration needed to be completed in time for a two-day ceremony on May 2-3, 2015 to re-enact and commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's funeral.


Western Specialty Contractors, partnered with project engineer Coombe-Bloxdorf, a Division of Fehr-Graham & Associates, began the five-month restoration project on Dec. 1, 2014.


The initial phase of the project involved channeling water away from the vault with the installation of drains. Once that task was completed, the general contractor began excavating the area around the vault in preparation for Western's scope of work which included waterproofing, repairs to the stone facade, and restoration of the vault's marble interior.


Constructed in the 1860's using outdated materials and technology, Western crews encountered more extensive deterioration to the vault than they had originally anticipated. During the excavation around the outside of the historic site, it was discovered that the walls making up the vault's exterior were in such poor condition (bricks were deteriorating, voids were present in the masonry wall, and stone infill had been used) that waterproofing could not be applied directly to the surface, and an alternate means of repair was necessary to prepare the vault for the waterproofing application.


Western crews used their extensive experience in historic restoration to find a solution to the challenge.


“Because this was a historic site, the customer did not want us using a lot of new means and methods to restore it,” said Springfield Project Manager Josh Woolard. “We had to come up with a scope of work that would repair the walls without compromising the integrity of the historic structure. We formulated a system using a low cement ratio mortar and brick infill in areas where the brick had deteriorated away from the wall. After infilling the voids in the walls, we applied a layer of the low cement ratio mortar to the entire wall surface to create a smooth surface with no protrusions that could penetrate through the bentonite sheet waterproofing.”


Another challenge to the project was finding a quality match for the stone replacements on the serpentine retaining walls that extended outward away from the vault entrance. Due to the age of the vault, the original stone material used was no longer available, and Western crews had to find a suitable, alternate material that would closely match the existing stones and meet the customer's needs. Many mock-ups of stone fabrication were required to find the perfect match.


“These walls contain two curves, one inward and one outward. Due to this fact, it was not only a matter of finding the correct length and depth of the stone, but also finding the radius of the curves in order to fabricate stone that would fit into the voids created by the removal of the stones,” said Woolard. “In order to find the radius in the stone, we had to remove the existing stone. By first creating a template on Styrofoam of the gaps created by the removal of the stones, we were able to use computer software to find the radius of the curves within the wall.”


Western also used other special methods to re-create the unique beaded joint evident in the original masonry construction.


“Unlike most joints in masonry construction, these joints were not concave or flat joints. Instead, they were beaded joints within the masonry. In order to achieve this effect, we used special tools and procedures which allowed the mortar to hold its shape while it was formed. This process provided a less workable material and was more time consuming for even small amounts of tuck pointing, but the end result is a structurally-sound, historical replication of how the vault was originally constructed,” said Woolard.


Western crews completed their restoration work by carefully cleaning the tile floor and marble walls and ceiling inside the vault chamber using Prosoco 942 cleaner with a low pressure rinse. Additionally, crews re-attached two marble doors on the loculi, or shelves set into the wall of the vault where a coffin or body is stored.


The restoration project was completed on May 1, 2015 in time for the commemoration and funeral reenactment ceremonies. Western took great care in respectfully preserving not only the look of the receiving vault, but also the method by which it was originally constructed. With the restoration process in place, the historic vault is now preserved for future generations to treasure and appreciate.



Corbin Building

Ornate and slender 19th century terra cotta building.

Built by its namesake Austin Corbin (1827-1896), this slender, 19th century building was designed by architect Francis Hatch Kimball (1845-1919) and construction was completed in 1889. Kimball specialized in utilizing ornate architectural details for various revival styles, and terra cotta provided him with the ideal material to decorate his buildings. Western was tasked with the complete restoration of the ornate terra cotta, as well as the rest of Corbin’s historic exterior, which is adorned with brick, cast-iron window bays, and brownstone.

The scope of work included documentation and assessment of each individual terra cotta unit (over 2,000) and cast-iron part (over 1,000) on the building. Terra cotta units and iron parts deemed beyond repair were slated for replacement with original models from the building, which were removed for precise replication. Other highlights from the project scope include comprehensive facade cleaning, 100% re-pointing of all brick and terra cotta units, complete rebuilding of the highly ornate brick and terra cotta parapet wall, building new brownstone storefront entrances to match original construction, as well as restoration of the building’s main staircase with bronze-plated cast-iron panels, mahogany handrails, and marble wainscoting.

This project was awarded the “Lucy Moses Award for Historic Preservation.”


  • Restore the terra cotta and the rest of the brick exterior adorned with cast-iron window bays and brownstone
  • Assess each individual terra cotta unit (over 2,000 total) and cast-iron part (over 1,000) – those that were too damaged to repair, were removed, models were made to replace them
  • Clean the facade
  • Re-pointing of all the brick and terra cotta units
  • Rebuild the ornate parapet wall and build new brownstone storefront entrances to match the original construction
  • Restore the building’s main staircase with bronze-plated iron panels, mahogany handrails and marble wainscoting


  • Building located in a busy, urban environment
  • The historic exterior needed to be matched exactly and replicas of 19th century materials were created to do so

Completed December 2012

Aon Center

When it was completed in 1974, the Aon Center, then known as the Standard Oil Building, was the tallest structure in Chicago. It’s 83 floors rise to 1,183 feet. In 1985, the building was renamed the Amoco Tower and in 1999 it became the Aon Center.

The building was originally clad in thin carrara marble. The marble suffered from a problem called thermal hysteresis or permanent warping. It had to be replaced in 1991. Mount Airy White granite was used for the exterior cladding and the building was caulked at that time with a urethane sealant. After 20 years, the sealant had reached its life expectancy and had to be replaced.

Western was the successful bidder for the sealant replacement. The scope of work involved the 100% replacement of the exterior caulk joints at all granite and window joint perimeters. Silicone sealants were chosen because of their longer life.

The Western crew utilized the building’s house rig to access the tower’s exterior and manlifts for the third floor and lower portions of the building. A pipe scaffold system was used on the lower plaza level.

The project began in the summer of 2011 and was completed in 2013.

Washington State Legislature Building

As dedicated experts in craftsmanship for 90+ years, Western has grown into an industry leader—thanks to our belief in a strong work ethic and doing the job right the first time.

We are proud of our recent project: the Washington State Legislature Building in Olympia. Due to ongoing budget constraints, this 84-year-old building has gone untouched since 2004. Prior to that, the building was cleaned every four years. Upon initial inspection, there were layers of grime, mold and moss due to the heavy rains that fall in Olympia.

At 287′ tall, the dome is the tallest of its kind in the U.S. and cleaning it was a delicate process. Everything was scrubbed by hand and Western did not use any soap or harsh chemicals. In addition, Western cleaned the building to the fourth floor, installed lead weather caps and stainless steel flashing, replaced sealant and completed Kemper waterproofing for protection. This extensive, $1.1 million project began in July and was completed by November—on time and on budget.

Photos featured courtesy of Washington State Department of Enterprise Services and the Legislative Support Services.

Edward Jones South Campus

In 2011, seismic upgrades and structural improvements were taking place all over the St. Louis area. Passersby seemingly couldn’t travel more than a mile without driving passed a bridge being repaired and upgraded with seismic strengthening. The Edward Jones South Campus in St. Louis joined the movement and approved a project to strengthen and upgrade the building’s column to beam at each floor of the 9-story office building. The Concrete Restoration Branch of Western Specialty Contractors was selected to complete the project.

The project included seismic strengthening to approximately 360 concrete column to concrete beam connections at the West Tower’s exterior columns. Access to the strengthening locations proved no easy task, as it required removal of a grid ceiling, removal and relocation of electrical conduits and equipment wiring, and removal of metal stud framing with drywall sheathing in the plenum space above the ceiling grid.

Western’s craftsmen were then able to drill holes into the concrete column, install a saturated carbon fiber reinforcing fabric manufactured by Sika at the underside of the beam, and install a steel angle secured to the column faces with high-strength stainless steel dowels set in an epoxy adhesive. Each column had a different seismic design, thus the number of holes to drill and the number of layers of carbon fiber varied with each column. Overall, our craftsmen drilled over 1,400 holes, in some occasions completely through a 24” thick column, and installed over 7,500 square feet of carbon fiber. The work was completed during off-business hours to minimize the impact on office personnel. Therefore, daily cleanup and demobilization were a must with a high expectation for cleanliness. All interior finishes, utilities, and wiring had to be reinstalled upon completion of the work.