Two University of Florida restoration experts are probing the condition of Chapman Auditorium and its role in the community.

Morris “Marty” Hylton, assistant professor, in UF’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, and graduate student Kara Litvinas presented the results of a three-month investigation conducted January through March of this year, to about 20 people May 10 in the auditorium..

Hylton, who directs the university’s Historic Preservation Program, called the auditorium “one of the best art deco buildings in the state,” and said Litvinas has decided to make it the subject of her master’s thesis. He and his student are now creating a Historic Structure Report (HRS) on the building summarizing its historic and architectural importance. He said creation of the HRS could aid in obtaining restoration funding.

Litvinas and Hylton had good news for fans of the Chapman Auditorium. It is holding up very well.

In fact, Hylton said the structure would be “difficult to demolish.” He said there are no signs of major settling or stress, and that a few cracks along seams near the foundation of the building need to be monitored. There is also a problem with “biological growth,” (algae, mildew and moss) on the exterior of the building, partly attributed to rising damp in the walls, said the investigators. At the root of the problem is a system of built-in internal and external downspouts that drain the roof, but deposit water too close to the foundation causing erosion and creating standing puddles. Hylton said this has caused only minor damage.

Of more concern are small leaks in the roof causing interior water damage. Hylton said these need to be fixed within the next three years and recommended replacing the roof.

The talk included a brief history of the Chapman Auditorium, designed by architect Robert E. James of Bartow. Construction was begun in 1929 by a contractor from Port St. Joe. When the task proved more complicated and time consuming than first imagined, the Franklin County Civil Works Administration took over the project, but also failed to complete the work. The auditorium was completed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in 1934.

The auditorium is constructed with local materials, including cypress and cast stone panels made with Marianna limestone and Chattahoochee sand.

Massive siding panels that cover both the exterior and interior walls and the ceiling were created on the building site. Three-dimensional images decorate them, including local plants and animals and a scene with Spanish soldiers over the stage. Architect Mark Tarmey, who attended the lecture, said the figures were created by carving a large wooden mold and filling it with the cast stone.

Within the auditorium are decorative cast stone wall panels with cut-outs. Hylton said these ornamental panels were originally backlit. Audience members who attended Chapman School could not recall the panels being lit and expressed surprise.

Chapman School alumni Susan Clementson and Frank Cook were able to answer questions for the investigators about the original entries to the school and the use of some areas of the Chapman complex.

Hylton and Litvinas made recommendations for improving and preserving the building.

Hylton said most of the original surfaces including doors, floors, ceilings and the exterior façade have been painted and he recommends the paint be removed.

Some of the windows in the front of the building have been replaced. Hylton recommended upgrading these to energy efficient windows resembling the previous double-hung wooden windows with multiple panes.

Hylton called the mullioned windows in the auditorium magnificent and praised the craftsmanship. He said original windows can also be made more energy efficient without altering their appearance.

He suggested generating geothermal or solar energy to make the building more sustainable.

Litvinas said plumbing, wiring and the heating and air conditioning system all need to be replaced and upgraded. She said better lighting is needed in the building, and original lighting, like the panels in the auditorium, should be restored.

Hylton said a bathroom added recently in the area between the doctor’s office and the auditorium blocks a door and should be removed.

Both researchers said accessibility especially to the second floor of the building, is problematic. Because the second story is only 4,000 square feet, Hylton said an elevator would probably not be cost effective, and that it will be difficult to construct a ramp system.

The investigators said more work is needed to fully assess the structure and complete Phase I of the project. They said they have not been able to fully inspect the front part of the building because the doctor’s office was not open when they visited the city during a three-month period of investigation.

They said a closer examination of damage to the roof is needed and samples must be taken of building materials throughout the structure to determine whether they are degrading.

Hylton said the weight bearing capacity of the second floor of the building needs to be determined especially if it is to be used for storage of books or other archival materials. He said he also plans to do a laser scan of the building that will create a virtual model of the interior and exterior.

Phase II of the UF project to study Chapman Auditorium focuses on further exploring the history of the building, including collecting anecdotal personal experiences and addresses the needs of the community and how the building can be rehabilitated to serve those needs.

Hylton plans to complete Phase II by October. Litvinas began this research at the Friday lecture when she distributed copies of an “Apalachicola Heritage Values Survey” to the audience members. Anyone wishing to take the survey can obtain a copy at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce or contact Litvinas at klitvinas

Leon Bloodworth, who attended the lecture, said he plans to involve Chapman alumni in raising funds to restore the building. He hit the ground running Friday night when he spoke to the annual reunion of the Chapman High School Class of 1966. After dinner, he outlined the project, and was given overwhelming support for a proposal to have the class take a lead role in initiating the project.

Bloodworth asked Hylton about the possibility of using the auditorium as a center for visual and performing arts staffed by UF students.

Apalachicola Area Chamber of Commerce Director Anita Grove suggested BP funds might be used to create a preservation center at the auditorium. “We’ve just scratched the surface of possibilities for heritage tourism,” she said.

Clementson said the center could become the focus of a Preservation Week including the annual Historic Apalachicola Home and Garden Tour.

Hylton said UF is reluctant to take management of new buildings, noting that the Florida Legislature had transferred management of several aging structures in St. Augustine a few years back. “I think it’s going to grow organically,” he said. “Let’s start small. It’s not impossible to have students working here during the semester. We need to match student interest with things that are happening.”

Tarmey suggested the arts center could be coupled with a program of summer stock theatre. “A lot of community involvement will be necessary. There must be a commitment to financial support and preservation,” he said. “It can’t just be one thing.”

UF is partnering with the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, the Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin County Planning and Building Department to carry out the Chapman Auditorium study. Hylton said he and Litvinas are seeking more partners within the community. The Rotary Club and Apalachicola Area Historical Society have expressed an interest in supporting the research.

The researchers would like to see any interior or exterior photographs of the Chapman School complex, or artifacts relating to the building. They are also seeking historical information regarding the Chapman School.

If you would like to know more or can provide information related the to Chapman School complex, contact Litvinas at (352) 392-0433.