Officials at the Paramount Arts Center know the entry point for water getting into the building and damaging the historic murals on its walls.
That is actually good news, because the seepage has been weakening the murals for some time, but the artist retained to fix the damage didn’t want to start work before the leakage stopped, said PAC Executive Director Kathy Setterman.
The not-so-good news is repairs to the outside walls will cost thousands of dollars the theater doesn’t have and will have to raise, Setterman said.
The water is entering the building through deteriorated brickwork on the side facing 13th Street, about 17 feet above the tops of the street-level billboards, Setterman said. The damage is barely perceptible from the sidewalk, but stretches the entire length of the wall.
Exactly what caused the damage is unclear because architectural drawings are long gone, but Setterman believes there is a structural steel I-beam along which the brick curtain wall may have settled.
Inside, the damage is more evident. Several of the murals show patches of white where the colors have flaked and fallen from the wall. The patches all are at about the same height from the floor and appear to be at the same level as the compromised bricks outside.
The murals were painted directly on the plaster, which was applied to the wall in different textures. When moisture seeps in the plaster begins to separate from its backing and can crack and crumble easily. The process is called efflorescence.
To fix the problem, mortar across the entire wall will need to be removed and replaced. Setterman hasn’t gotten bids yet and wasn’t able to estimate how much it would cost, but said it would be “many thousands” of dollars.
Louisville artist and preservationist David Musselman has done restoration work on the murals, but now wants to wait until the leakage is repaired before returning to complete the task, Setterman said.
That leaves the Paramount with the challenge of scraping up enough money to fix the bricks before water does irreparable harm to the murals. There may be some grant money available through the Kentucky Heritage Council and other bodies, but the Paramount will have to find most of the money locally.
That means asking for donations, Setterman said. “It’s our mission to preserve the building, and we’ll do whatever we have to,” she said.
Prospective donors may call the Paramount at (606) 324-3175.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.