(Originally posted 1/4/2007)

Seth Amoroso tightened the final strap that would carry the gilded copper weather vane back to its perch atop City Hall in Portland.

The construction superintendent then nodded at Jeremy Kilbreth and Jim Cormier, who were standing in a steel basket, about to ride 170 feet into the sky.

”I think we’re set. You guys good to go?” Amoroso asked.

All set, the men said.

At the base of the 6-foot-tall weather vane, which is shaped like a sailing ship, Jason Marchetti applied a coat of grease. He wanted to make sure the ship would spin freely in the wind, as it has since City Hall was completed in 1912.

Kilbreth looked down at him and grinned, appreciating their place in history.

”It won’t get any grease for another 100 years, Jason, ” he said.

A crane then slowly hoisted the men and the weather vane skyward. On Congress Street, cars slowed to a crawl and dozens of onlookers stared up and took photographs. When Kilbreth and Cormier slid the weather vane into place around 2 p.m. Wednesday, it was one of the most anticipated moments in the historic renovation of the City Hall clock tower.

The $1.8 million project began in May. It included the reconstruction of two granite parapets – the arched walls that rise from both ends of City Hall.

Workers also replaced the copper dome, and repaired much of the clock tower. The four faces of the clock will be reinstalled this spring.

”It all went well, except for the time got pushed back, ” said Amoroso, 29, the superintendent for the general contractor, Consigli Construction Co. of Portland and Milford, Mass.

Amoroso had hoped to have the weather vane in place before noon Wednesday. But preparations took longer than expected, largely because of a persistent wind that buffeted the steel basket, which was suspended above City Hall by a crane that can extend to 290 feet. Several other pieces had to be put into place before the weather vane.

”Safety comes before anything else, ” Amoroso said.

Jonathan Taggart, a sculpture conservator from Georgetown, repaired the weather vane, which was built in the early 1900s of wood, copper and a gold leaf coating. The ancient sailing ship signifies the city’s maritime heritage. Taggart said officials do not know who made it.

City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built on the site of the old State House and original City Hall, which barely survived the Great Fire of 1866, only to burn down in 1908.

Skip Hoyt of Westbrook showed up on Wednesday carrying photographs of his father, Elmer Hoyt, removing the weather vane in the early 1950s.

”He took this thing down and put it back up, ” Hoyt said, as several workers looked at the photographs. ”It stayed up there in our garage on Washington Avenue for most of one summer, while he found somebody to put the gold leaf on it.”

Consigli was chosen as the contractor in part because of its experience in historic restoration. The company has worked on the chapel tower at Bowdoin College, the Victoria Mansion in Portland and the Walker Art Museum Building in Brunswick, among other projects.

”It really gets the crews excited to know that they are working on history, ” said Matthew Tonello, project executive for Consigli. ”That drives the passion behind what we do.”

Consigli is one of two contractors bidding on the next phase of City Hall restoration. Officials have budgeted about $600,000 to rebuild the granite and concrete plaza, and front steps leading to City Hall from Congress Street. Robert Leeman, the city’s director of public buildings, expects work to begin this spring.

In future years, work will need to be done on the exterior of the building below the roof line, and the side stairways will need to be rebuilt, Leeman said.

”It’s a grand building.”

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

[email protected]

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