Monday, June 1, 2015

Removing one wall of plaster and lath....are we done yet? And Garrett & Bibb's Fish Market...

I took a day off for my birthday but then it was back to work on the house. Actually, I needed a day (or two) off because we (I) were exhausted!!  That long weekend wore us out, kinda sucks that we have to do this for about 52 more weekends.... 

We had gotten so much accomplished on our first weekend that I was alternating between 
"what were we thinking?? we will never get this done!!"  to " wow, this is going well, I'm sure we will be done ahead of schedule...."  


As with any project there are things that visibly show progress and there are things that you can work on for hours with nothing to show for it.   
The cellar was a great example.  Tearing out the drywall and framing for the walls was nasty work but relatively fast and you could see the progress being made.  Plus you got to wear a respirator, cool goggles, and other protective gear so you felt like a "real" worker.  

Other things, like ripping up the asbestos tiles, was not as rewarding.   At first it seemed easy, wedge a pry bar or shovel under the edge and pop the whole tile off.  Piece of cake!  
But that only happened a couple of times.  For the rest of the time it was more like hammering a pry bar under one corner and popping off a piece as big as a finger nail.  It is hard to describe how long that takes.  
Occasionally we would stare at each other through our foggy eye protection and say things like "this sucks!  are we sure this is really worth saving thousands of dollars??"   
At least, that is what I was saying.  I actually have no idea what Peter was saying because talking through a respirator sounds more like "mmmph, arrggg mmph".  
I'll just assume he was agreeing with me.  
At one point I did wail "no one will ever understand how tedious this is....if I say 'it was really hard to get the tile up' they won't understand what I mean!  Maybe we should install a web cam and then people could watch in real time how long this takes and then they would think twice about trying to do this!"   At that point Peter realized that either the fumes were getting through the respirator or not enough oxygen was getting to my brain.  He decided it was time to take a break before he would need to install bars on the windows and lock me in the cellar.  Permanently.  

Since we had damaged the plaster when opening the door into the vestibule, we decided to take that whole wall down.  We figured it would be easier to close the wall in with drywall for the appraisal rather than attempt a plaster repair.  

Since I've never removed plaster before, I did extensive research, also known as, watching a youtube video and reading a couple remodeling blogs. Who knew there were so many "right" ways to remove plaster?
We opted for the highly skilled method of "smash with hammer" and let fall to the floor.  We knew we wanted to keep the lath.  It would make perfect kindling for this winter and possibly Christmas presents for our wood burning friends!   Hopefully, we won't have to use it to heat the house and cook our food with....but, it is nice to have that option as well.  
So, back to the plaster.  I covered the floor with cardboard but that may have been an unnecessary step as we are not keeping that floor.  It felt like the right thing to do at that time though.  Then, using the hammer and pry bar, started smashing and chipping away at the plaster.  Some of it comes off in easy chunks, some you have to work at. Some just crumbles into a nice fine powder, that coats you from head to toe. 

first attempt to remove plaster

it's so easy even kids can do it!
 This first attempt was made a little more difficult because we were only taking this one wall out.  So we had to cut it along the ceiling and corners to chisel out those areas without breaking the other walls. 
making a mess and progress with the plaster, but mainly a mess

light switch

Meanwhile, the kids were completely over the plaster removal.  I had brought an air mattress with the idea that when they get exhausted they can go lie down for a bit.  Since it is blazing hot upstairs I brought a fan over, this makes it almost bearable for them to rest a bit and watch a movie.  Each time we go over to the house they take a few toys with them.  I expect they will be completely moved in by mid-summer. 

Once the plaster is off the walls the hard work begins.  Scooping it into 5 gallon buckets and hauling it down the steps to back yard.  Currently, we are putting it into a pile.  We have some ideas for the plaster but we don't know yet if those ideas are feasible.   At some point when we are in full scale demo mode we hope to have a dumpster for it. But for now, a little plaster pile.  

plaster is off, lath is next

The lath is fairly easy to remove.  Using a pry bar we could usually pop off a whole piece, nails included. Some pieces splinter, some nails are left behind but once it is all down it isn't too hard to go back and pull out all of the nails. 
Once you get the lath off you can see the original wiring.  Isn't it adorable?  I love to say things to my husband like "this wiring looks like it is in great condition!  I'm just going to leave it but if you can help me for a minute....I'm having trouble replacing this switch with a dimmer switch...."  He never quite knows how to react.  He *thinks* I'm joking but past situations have proved I don't know as much as him about construction.  So, instead he stares at me, his eyes narrow a bit and he gets a real wary expression on his face as he approaches.  I, of course,  think it is hilarious.  

our vintage wiring - see, wouldn't a dimmer switch be great??

We are excited about tearing out the plaster, eager to see what is behind the walls.  I'm hoping that upstairs we will be able to eke out a bit more storage space once we can see what is behind there.  I'm also hoping for some gold bars or rare coins.  That would really help to finance this project!  That is why my heart skipped a little beat when I saw a bag tucked behind the lath.  "this could be it!"  I thought, as I rushed to get my camera.  One must document a find like this!

the mysterious brown paper bag
The bag was tucked behind the lath over the doorway.  Seemed like a great place to stash some money!  But when I opened the bag it was full of shredded newspaper. Not a single gold coin to be seen.  Furthermore the newspaper wasn't even original to the house.  From what I can piece together the paper is a Boston newspaper from 1952.  The pages seem to be mainly advertisements, classified, etc.  It is so thoroughly shredded that I probably won't have the time to piece it together. 

shredded Boston newspaper from 1952

The bag was actually more interesting.  It was from Garrett & Bibb Fish & Poultry Market on West Main Street here in Charlottesville.  I'm not sure how old the bag is but notice the phone number, 2-9157, definitely not recent!
Garrett & Bibb Fish & Poultry Market
I was curious about this market and tried to find some information about it.  According to  this article I found in the Daily Progress, Mr. Bibb began working for Mr. Garrett's Fish Market in 1928.  By 1940 they were partners and by 1955 he bought the market.  The market stayed open until 1988. 
I found a picture of the market for sale on Etsy, can you see it here.  I also found a short film that was shot in front of the market, to see it click  here.

Our children have been remarkably patient so far.  There isn't a lot that they can help at this point, so they have been fairly resourceful at finding things to do.  Most days by the time we leave the house we are all in desperate need of showers,  everyone tends to be sweaty and grimy.  But at least the kids still look cute while sweaty and grimy!

'til next time...


  1. My wife and I have remodeled a bungalow, it is a lot of work but so rewarding! May I ask why you are tearing out the plaster? There are a lot of benefits to it! -Dave

    1. Hello Dave, we did discuss keeping plaster rather than drywall but there decided against it. The drywall is not in great shape so most of it would have had to have been re-plastered. The entire house needs HVAC, new electrical, new plumbing, opening the walls makes this so much easier. Unfortunately there isn't much original to the house, it has been modified so many times over the years that tearing it back to the studs seems the most prudent way to go. If this house had some of the beautiful details from this era we probably would have considered restoring it rather than the work we are doing.


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