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A neat old building

Started by Don P, April 12, 2024, 10:32:51 PM

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Don P

I was writing the fam and thought some of y'all might like to see some of the guts of an old theater from ~1950.

Well, so much for carrying a briefcase. I needed to see how the theater was put together for building an upstairs apartment and its all buried under the balcony framing... the asbestos check came back clear this week so we started digging into it. Then we got to the projection booth and what turns out to be the rewind room/ film vault. It has a 4" thick reinforced slab floor, with sprinklers under it and overhead. We drilled and jackhammered until it was obvious we need to rent a saw. We removed the wire lath and plaster ceiling which was also really well done in the projection/ film storage area. There were sprinklers above and below in the whole balcony area. We've removed the ceiling sprinkler piping, there was quite  bit. While riding the hammer drill it finally dawned on me they were building for the old highly flammable nitrocellulose film. After some searching, modern safety film came along in the mid 50's. Although the carbons for the projector arc lamps would last 20 minutes the early film was limited to 10 minutes per reel for safety reasons. The projectionists was busy cueing up reels between 2 alternating projectors, rewinding and putting reels back in their sealed cans to lower the fire hazard. The door frame had been wrapped on site in metal to help create a fire door.

The current floor there is over part of the balcony and was the dance school when we moved here. Alas it is cobbled together on the old sloping framing.
The rewind room is the far raised floor. We've now removed the ceiling in that first bay and most of the projection booth and the owner located a young man to remove the next section of ceiling in the foreground Yaay!.

The ceiling insulation is a stitched asphalt impregnated crepe paper made by Kimberly Clark, the tissue paper and paper products company that I think is still around. It crumbles to dust really easily.

Very messy but happily no itch. "Balsam Wool" is another cellulose insulation popular during the period. These predate R value so I have no idea how well it worked. At 2" thick, not much there and the block walls are uninsulated. The floor there is part of the slab we'll need to remove with a saw after we scared it with the jackhammer.


Thanks for sharing.

Jim Rogers
Whatever you do, have fun doing it!
Woodmizer 1994 LT30HDG24 with 6' Bed Extension

Don P

We've mentioned Vevor stuff recently, the owner is a fan. When we first discussed removing the sprinkler piping we all thought of cutting torch first. The thought of running a flame into a hole in the ceiling put me off, we would never get it out if that insulation caught. He bought one of their deep throat portabands. It cut the pipe like butter. I think it was a couple of hundred bucks. We aren't into the biggest yet but were sawing through 4" and down schedule 40 pipe with no trouble at all. They were serious, the main line is 6". The current water line servicing the building is 1". I had not brought the brute breaker, just the Hilti percussion drill and chisels... I had thought the slab was thin. Once we realized what we were into he went downstairs and drug out a small Vevor jackhammer. It was also pretty impressive for its size. I guess I'm viewing them as Harbor Freight without the middleman.

The sprinkler pipe was rusty enough inside I doubt it could have been made fail safe. We'll recycle the small steel and save the 3" and larger long lengths for potential support columns. We black plastic'ed ourselves in on the balcony so the auditorium would be dark. A beekeeper came by, removed some ceiling at the stage end of the building and successfully removed a large bee hive and what he thought was about 50 lbs of honey. He was one cool cat, up on 2 sets of scaffold, no suit (and we were in rainy gloomy weather, not their favorite!) and got the job done. Years ago I was up that high and opening up a gable vent on a house. Turned out there was a huge wasp nest behind and on it that I tore. They rolled out and I bailed, hammer in hand and the claw took a good chunk out of the side of my finger when I landed. A few stings would have probably been over a whole lot quicker.

This wall was put in where the railing would usually be so was the main divider between us and the auditorium. It created the old dance studio. What I wanted to show here is a thinking problem I see often... and am not immune to myself now and again. I often see this in the gable endwall of a house. Studs hinged somewhere in the wall, no wall strength to speak of. This guy probably got a deal on studs and then plated and built a cripple wall on top of the 8' wall. Well, looking at it, he used 6'8" or so studs, I have no idea what was going on in his head. Code and common sense reads something like "Studs shall run unbroken from points of lateral support" That is, a single stud from floor to floor or floor to ceiling. I could start shaking this wall and pull it down.

Opening that door has you looking towards the stage and down about 12' to the auditorium main floor below. The mirrors and bars for the dance studio that was up there after the theater closed were mounted to that wall and a fair number of the town's young ladies passed through there back in the day. Thankfully the nails held and dumb luck never knew any better. Another thing to notice there, the black areas in insulation are where air was passing through the wall and the fiberglass acted as a filter. catching dirt and showing the air leaks. The beekeeper wanted the scrap wood, win/win.


Quote from: Don P on April 12, 2024, 10:32:51 PMthey were building for the old highly flammable nitrocellulose film
For anyone that has not witnessed nitrocellulose burn, it would be nearly impossible to describe the fast/explosive burn rate of that stuff.  :shocked2: 
Knothole Sawmill, LLC     '98 Wood-Mizer LT40SuperHydraulic   WM Million BF Club Member   WM Pro Sawyer Network

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Kimberly Clark is a huge corporation started in Neenah Wisconsin, and is still going strong with plants throughout US and Canada. They make Kleenex, Cottonelle, and many other paper products.

If you've ever seen a magician do a trick and there is a poof of fire flash for a second (like while the rabbit turns into a hat) ffcheesy
that is nitrocellulose paper burning.
Under bark there's boards and beams, somewhere in between.
Cuttin' while its green, through a steady sawdust stream.
I'm chasing the sawdust dream.

Proud owner of a Wood-Mizer 2017 LT28G19


south central Wisconsin
It may be that my sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others

Don P

Figuring out the building more as we go... What I was calling the rewind room because it was off center, was the projection booth and rewind room. That end was built as a fire protected room for all the film related stuff. Above the 2nd story slab floor were vents through the roof for the carbon arc projectors. A friend dropped by that was a projectionist down in Taylorsville for awhile. He said they had one John Wayne film that was so spliced before they could finally retire it that the Duke was popping into and out of scenes like magic  ffcheesy.

We also exposed the 16" deep steel roof beams and have found their supports.

We wanted to lower that floor as much as possible and needed to find the steel and suports under it. We failed with the jackhammer, rented a saw, and from the dump tickets we were making ~250 lb blocks. Down the stairs on a hand truck, none went through a wall ffcheesy . Out to the dump trailer by the sidewalk and both of us sliding/flopping them in.

We are on Main St, so not too hidden. Several contractors said they drove by when we were sawing and the cloud was rolling out the windows, they weren't about to stop but were curious enough to stop by later to see what we had gotten into. It took 3 respirator filter changes and I need to pick up more, yuk! My wallet and keys got washed in one episode of strip on the porch before entering at home  ffcheesy .The slab had been poured over wire with waxed cardboard woven in as the "pan". The full dimension hemlock 2x10's had hatchet chamfered edges to allow the wire to "roll" over them without hard corners.

This is where we left it yesterday, the joists are removed and I'm a couple of feet lower and over the ceiling of the shop below. Its' steel beam is carrying the ceiling and will carry the new, lower, floor. Notice the first generation 16"x48" "drywall", plaster backing with key holes.

I had removed most of the sloped balcony framing and cleaned that ceiling before leaving yesterday. That looked to have more white pine mixed with hemlock. The concrete had what looked like dolomite pea gravel. We are on granite. I think it, or at least the aggregate, came from Wytheville to our north. Still lots of destruction to go. I had meant to just consult on this one but it has become pretty difficult for the young guys to get a commercial license, so they aren't getting them. Not good, there are tons of small town commercial buildings out there and us grandfathers are aging out.


Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing!
I did a stint working fire sprinklers... you wouldn't believe the age of some pipe. If it'll hold pressure, it's useable. We tested our systems with air @120PSI, had to hold for 24 hours. If the pipe passed, you were good.
I have a few pieces from Vevor... got what I paid for, no complaints here.


really enjoying seeing your work. i enjoy working in older building at times. i get to see how it was all put together and figure out how to bring it up to snuff for today. its funny you mentioned vevor. i recently bought one of their concrete saws for a job and it has worked very well. and i got it for a little more than a rental would have cost me. i looked like a ghost when i was done and i think it took 2 days to wash all the dust out of my ears. 

im looking forward to more updates on this rehab

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