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A Glass Ceiling Worth Preserving at the Palace Hotel

70,000 pieces of glass suspended 41 feet in the air.

Workers clean the glass ceiling above the Garden Court at the Palace Hotel.

 

If you looked up from your pan-roasted salmon during lunch at the Palace Hotel’s Garden Court, you’d see its stunning ceiling—70,000 individual pieces of glass suspended 41 feet overhead. And for six weeks this summer and fall, the view included something extra: Above the translucent glass of that storied ceiling, erected in 1909, human bodies were in motion.

Too much Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc? Unlikely.

This fall, what the Palace calls “one of the most expansive colored-glass ceilings in the world” underwent a major restoration. The work required a piece-by-piece examination and cleaning of each pane of glass to bring back its original opulence. All done by hand.

AO Studios handled the dirty work; the same company, under an earlier name, also renovated the ceiling in 1989. That time, they used block and tackle to remove every panel of leaded glass. (Fortuitously, it turns out: The ceiling wasn’t in place during the Loma Prieta earthquake.) This time around, the entire job was done in situ. Two crews worked simultaneously, one reaching up from the Garden Court on a scissor lift, the other working in the space above the ceiling.

The work was relentless. A team of eight women and men worked seven days a week for six weeks on the glass. They washed it with specialized foaming cleanser, rinsed it with clear water, then carefully buffed it with soft terry cloth towels.

“There’s no chance that somebody would build something of this scale from scratch today,” says Allen Dragge, president of AO Studios. “It’s not the Sistine Chapel, but in a way, it’s in that category—art and craftsmanship exercised on a grand scale.”

 

Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco 

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