Expert says painted ceiling in OC worth saving

The Venango County Economic Development Authority heard from a preservation expert Tuesday about restoration options for the painted ceiling on the first floor of the former Mellon Bank building in Oil City now known as 100 Seneca at Cornplanter Square.

David Riccio, a historic preservation specialist with John Canning and Co., examined the fresco on the ceiling of the building in early March.

“That is a very unique and wonderful ceiling you have there. A ceiling like the one in that bank would be quite appropriate in a place like New York City,” Riccio said. “Any restoration you would like to achieve can be done…the issue is budgetary constraints,” Riccio added.

Riccio said that a tremendous amount of water has come into the building over the years and been absorbed by the plaster, leading to a lot of water damage. The moister in the masonry of the building could take a year or two to dissipate, he said.

In the meantime, Riccio recommended the county get numerous humidifiers and fans put around the first floor and the mezzanine to dry out the plaster and stop further damage.

Much of the molded plaster around the edge of the room has been destroyed by water and would need replaced, Riccio said.

It would cost between $1 million and $1.5 million to restore the ceiling and all the plaster moldings, Riccio said. He explained the materials aren’t very expensive and most of the cost of the project would be labor.

He said an option is to rip out the plaster and cornices and replace them with plain wood molding and focus on restoring just the paint on the flat ceiling, which would be about “half the price.”

He said restoring both the paint and plaster could be done in phases.

Riccio estimated it would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to restore the painted ceiling itself. Even if the paint alone was done first, some of the bad plaster would have to be cut out so it didn’t fall on anyone, he said.

“You could do a little plaster work each year over five or 10 years. Repairing the plaster would probably cost about half a million,” Riccio said.

“Is it worth saving? If you can afford it, absolutely. It is part of your heritage, an example of the power Oil City once wielded,” Riccio said.

“This is a big piece of our history. We must consider what to do going forward very carefully,” Bonnie Summers, the secretary-treasurer of the economic development authority, said.