Transformation of the Gresham Hotel facade on O’Connell Street
P Mac was delighted to be involved in a prestigious project to return a Dublin landmark to its former splendour. The much-cherished Gresham Hotel in central Dublin has finally had the facelift it needed and once more merits its reputation as one of the most elegant and beautiful buildings in our capital.
The Gresham Hotel – an architectural blend of Art Deco and neo-classical styling – stands in a place of prominence on Upper O’Connell Street. Unfortunately, the hotel’s stunning Portland stone facade was suffering from a lifetime of grime and pollution build up as a result of its prime position on one of Ireland’s busiest thoroughfares. P Mac to the rescue!
The history of the Gresham
The Gresham’s eventful past marks it out as one of Dublin’s most historically resonant buildings. Thomas Gresham first established a hotel on the site in 1817, when he purchased numbers 21 and 22 Sackville Street. Over the next 48 years, he operated the hotel as a lodging house catering mostly to the wealthy aristocracy and MPs who passed through Dublin on their way to London. It was then known simply as Gresham’s. In 1865, the hotel was sold on to a consortium of buyers and the name was changed to the Gresham.
The hotel escaped relatively unscathed during the 1916 Rising as most of the destruction was concentrated around the GPO and southwards towards the quays. The buildings, however, were not so lucky in the troublesome era that followed and were destroyed by fire during the civil war in 1922. Anti-treaty forces under the command of Cathal Brugha and Countess Markievicz occupied the hotel. It was subjected to repeated battering before finally being destroyed on 6th July 1922.
The hotel was awarded £93,550 in compensation by the new Irish State and reconstruction commenced in 1925. Befitting its status as one of Ireland’s largest and most prestigious hotels, the new Gresham was designed by Robert Atkinson. Famed for his Art Deco styling, Atkinson’s architecture fused contemporary 1920s design with neo-classical inflexions, endowing the re-born Gresham with a facade of striking elegance and grandeur. From the decorative elements, scrolls and beautiful carvings to the elegantly arched double-height windows at street level, the Gresham Hotel is today cherished as one of Dublin’s most culturally and historically significant landmarks, poised at the heart of a designated Architectural Conservation area.
The hotel remained an important element in Dublin’s social and cultural life from the 1930s on. The old Gresham Ballroom was renowned in society for its Dress Dances and Hunt Balls. It was home to many world-famous stars during their stays in Dublin, such as Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, John Wayne, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, The Beatles, Laurel & Hardy, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald… just some of those who called the Gresham home while staying in Dublin.
A bright future for the Gresham
RIU Hotels & Resorts – the Spanish hotel chain – purchased the hotel in early 2017. Their vision is to modernise the building throughout, but to do so sensitively and in a way which honours and celebrates its iconic local heritage. As a renowned stone cleaning and restoration specialist – with the experience and skills that come from being a Heritage Contractor – we were approached to clean and restore the facade.
We knew from the outset that this was not going to be an easy task, especially as the Gresham is located on the busiest street in Dublin. O’Connell Street is a designated Architectural Conservation area and is therefore subject to special planning controls. We had the newly established Luas tracks running in front of the hotel and, most importantly, the Gresham could not afford to lose any business or suffer disruption to guests during the cleaning works.
Partnership with Thomann-Hanry®
That is why P Mac chose to partner with Thomann-Hanry® for this important project. Having previously worked with the team on another project, we knew that Thomann-Hanry® has an impressive track record when it comes to cleaning and restoring some of the most prestigious and architecturally significant buildings in the UK. Thomann-Hanry® employs a patented stone cleaning method called façade gommage®. This technique gently erases years of dirt and grime, revealing the true nature of the stone and exposing magnificent cornices, sculptures and delicate reliefs, details revealing the true artistry of stone masonry of a bygone era.
The correct cleaning of the facade of the Gresham will not only help bring back its splendour, but it will help to conserve this building for generations to come. The façade gommage® system was developed in France by Thomann-Hanry® in the 1940s and has since been used to clean some of the most iconic buildings around the globe – from the Louvre in Paris to the Chicago Tribune Tower. Façade gommage® projects powder across the masonry, gently rubbing and erasing the overlaid layers of dirt to reveal the pristine stonework beneath, before being carried away and recycled. The system uses no water or chemicals. A vacuum cabin recovers all dust generated during the process so that it can be taken away for recycling.
Façade gommage® is ideal for a busy, public-facing establishment such as the Gresham, as it is the only technique which does not require the building to be shrouded in unsightly scaffolding for weeks or months. Working from a cabin on a lorry-mounted hydraulic boom, the highly skilled Thomann-Hanry® team cleaned the entire facade in less than two weeks. This meant:
- Less disruption to guests, staff and passers-by;
- None of the security concerns of using scaffolding;
- And stunning results achieved in an unbelievable timeframe.
An example of great teamwork
The partnership between P Mac and Thomann-Hanry® was an extremely streamlined and successful process. The P Mac team ensured the facade was prepped before the machinery arrived. All electrical and loose wires and cables were removed in the previous week. Full planning permission had to be sought from Dublin City Council, as we were carrying out works on a listed structure. Our long experience working in the public realm ensured we had the knowledge, expertise and safety credentials to manage a construction site on an extremely busy and heavily pedestrianized street.
The machinery had to be installed at night, as even at 5 am in the morning O’Connell Street is busy with commuters. The P Mac team managed the site and traffic management from the ground while the Thomann-Hanry® team carried out the cleaning works expertly with their sophisticated machinery and highly skilled staff. We are delighted to say that business at the Gresham continued as normal and the hotel did not receive any complaints during the works, which is quite unusual for a major project.
The O’Connell Street facade was cleaned in five days, after which the machine was moved around the corner to Cathal Brugha Street. The challenge here was traffic management. This street had fewer pedestrians, but we had to park the machinery on the road and disrupt a taxi rank for four days.
We believe the results speak for themselves! The compliments received and attention this project received in the media were phenomenal. There is a real feeling of gratitude towards the Riu Gresham Hotel from Dubliners happy to see this iconic building regain its former glory and there is a hope this is the start of a major and much-needed rejuvenation of O’Connell Street.
“As a proud Dubliner I am delighted to have been involved in the cleaning and conservation of this landmark and much-loved building. The cleaning and restoration of the front facade using the façade gommage® technique really showcases the hotel’s magnificent presence on O’Connell Street and will have the added benefit of enhancing this designated Architectural Conservation area.”
Peter MacNamara – Managing Director, P Mac