A “Storybook house” on South Yale Street in Spring Garden Township, once a Hollywood dream, devolved into a nightmare as its whimsical wood shining roof that had endured for almost a century was playing out its final chapter.
Susan Machado and Ed O’Brien have begun a sequel for the house by rebuilding the roof that could last for another three quarters of a century with the help of one of only two roofing contractors in the United States who rebuild the complex wooden roofs as a full time business.
According to Brian Calamita of Roofing Artisans, who replaced the roof, the wavy wooden roofing creations, a hallmark of Storybook architecture, first began in Hollywood, California and spread throughout the United States from 1924 to 1932. Machado added that the Tudor-style house is reminiscent of the Cotswald cottages found in rural England.
Construction of the South Yale Street house started just before the Great Depression, which slowed down its building process as the economy failed. The house was completed in the early 1930s. The three-story home, a mixture of patterned brickwork, stucco and stone, was covered by its original wooden roof until it was replaced this past summer.
Storybook architecture originated in Hollywood
“The roof was toast…but it was 94 years old,” Calamita said. There were signs of water leaking into a second floor bathroom. A dormer on the roof had to be rebuilt. “The shingles were what was holding it together. When they took the shingles off the dormer it was just gone,” Machado said adding, “There was probably more damage than we thought.”
The secret of the red cedar roof’s longevity is in its layered redundancy. A long overlap of shingles (known as headlap) are layered to sculpt the roof creating multiple layers of shingles all over the roof. There is 150 percent more square foot of material used when compared to an asphalt shinele roof installation, Calamita said.
The new roof could last another 75 years if it’s kept treated, Calamita said.
The Canadian red cedar, which isn’t kiln dried, is considered an eco-friendly alternative to an asphalt roof that would need three replacements to match its durability with all the associated labor and fuel to move material, Calamita added. The old wooden roof was taken to the York County Resource Recovery Center where it was burned and turned into electricity. Multiple asphalt roofs would need to be taken to a landfill over the lifespan of one cedar roof.
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It took almost four months for the Roofing Artisans crew to replace the roof. There are about 10,000 steam-bent pieces all formed by hand. About 25 percent of the roof is steam-bent shingles. A boiling cauldron was set up in the garage where sets of shingles were custom bent and stacked for a planned section of the roof. Calamita said that he takes off a section of roof at a time and creates a template. The custom-made copper flashings and caps have their joints soldered.
From a distance, the roof looks like a thatched roof with soft curves around the hip rafters and bulges in the slope. The grand flourish of the design flows out of the eves of the roof where the shingles curve under the bottom horizontal edge.
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Calamita said that he is focused on the tradition of what these roofs are, a combination of design and function. He prides himself on the new shape of the separate entryway roof as “more of high design than what was there before.” The detached garage roof was also given a similar design to match the house.
Cedar shingles are bent by hand
“It’s truly custom, and that’s lost in our society today,” Calamita said adding. “I feel like I’m just old enough to have those values that my father and grandfather instilled in me … (my predecessors) weren’t just pictures hanging on a wall.” Calamita’s grandparents were immigrants from Italy.
Machado and O’Brien bought the house recently after living, restoring and remodeling other houses within blocks of the South Yale Street house. “None of the projects were meant to be a flip,” Machado said, adding, “It’s a love, not a business.” The couple plans on continuing to live in the Storybook house when restoration is completed.
“They are very expensive to maintain and very expensive to do back original. That’s a big challenge (for homeowners)”, Calamita said. A similar roof a few blocks away was replaced with asphalt a few years ago.
Expanding on the reason for replacing a roof that exceeded the value of a home that was “let go too long,” Machado explained that “it isn’t just remodeling a house, this house is different …it’s architecturally so significant that it needed to be saved…it’s trying to save something for the next generation. It was just too pretty to let go.”
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I have captured life through the lens since 1983, and am currently a visual journalist with the USA Today Network. You can reach me at [email protected].