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Project Focus: Condado Vanderbilt Hotel San Juan, Puerto Rico

Editor’s Note: Every year, the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry receives many fantastic project nominations for its Excellence in Construction Quality Award, but only one project can win in each category. This month we introduce you to one of those projects, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was a serious contender in the category where the AWCI member contractor’s contract was more than $1 million.

AWCI’s Excellence in Construction Quality Award honors all the AWCI members—contractors, manufacturers and suppliers/distributors—who participate on a quality project. In this project, the participating AWCI manufacturers and suppliers were Armstrong Ceiling Systems, Decorawall, Grabber Construction Products, Hilti, Isolatek International, MarinoWARE, Parex USA, Radius Track®, Structus Building Technologies, Thermafiber and USG.

Puerto Rico’s first luxury hotel, the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, was built by Frederick William Vanderbilt, part of one of America’s wealthiest families, and opened in 1919. It was designed by Warren & Wetmore, a New York architectural firm known for hotel design (Atlantic City’s Ritz-Carlton and the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., for example) as well as for designing New York’s Grand Central Station.

 In its nearly 100-year history the hotel attracted dignitaries and famous names such as Bob Hope, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles Lindberg and Errol Flynn, endured a few ownership and name changes, and finally closed in disarray as the Condado Beach Hotel in 1997. The building stood empty for nearly 20 years until 2003 when the hotel’s current owner, Hugh Andrews, decided that a $270 million renovation was in order.

Total construction took two years longer than planned, but the hotel’s bars, four restaurants, 15,000 square feet of meeting space and banquet halls opened to the public in October 2011. The Condado Vanderbilt Towers, two 11-story suite-only guestroom towers that house 100 studio units and 112 one-bedroom suites, were the first phase of construction. When the second phase of construction finishes this spring, 323 luxury hotel rooms will signal the full opening of the five-star property.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, the Vanderbilt renovation was handled by Andrews and Jorge Rossello. During a two-year period consisting of 53,441 man-hours, AWCI member WeKanDo Construction, Inc. was responsible for all the interior finishes and drywall (GFRG) including acoustical plastered ceilings, painting, faux finishes, wall coverings and special finished acoustical panels.

The Beaux Arts design of the Condado Vanderbilt as a stand-alone palatial building created a series of challenges for WeKanDo when they had to match the quality of the original workmanship that identified the building as an example of the Grand Hotel typology built in the early part of the 20th century.

The project respected the architect’s original plan for the
interior layout, interior ceilings and interior details. To restore the interiors and accommodate the fast-track schedule, WeKando had to come up with ways to fabricate work off-site.

WeKanDo also had to use new materials in place of the original lath and plaster groin vaulted and compound curved vaults and plaster moldings. WeKanDo was able to provide a timely and cost-effective solution to the owner and still comply with the design criteria by using a combination of GFRG vaults, Radius Track framing with drywall in other vaults, and foam moldings covered with gypsum finish. Another consideration was that the skills required to reproduce the lath and plaster work, as well as the plaster moldings, were not easily available, so WeKanDo had to find solutions that fit the skill levels of the work force available.

Though more durable materials were used in the reconstruction, complex coordination and scheduling among trades was key to preserving the relative simplicity of the structures. Ornamentation was contained within specifically designated areas in order to maintain the clean lines required in the Mission/Spanish Revival Style. The original structure had been designed for cross-ventilation, and it wasn’t until the later years that air-conditioning equipment and ductwork were “squeezed” into areas not designed for such equipment. During the renovation, these modern additions meant that framing modifications had to be made in order to maintain ultimate heights in the majority of areas.

The existing building conditions of the original concrete structure at the time of the remodel, new requirements and new building codes also imposed on the creativity of composition and balance of multiple finish solutions, but WeKanDo was able to help restore the regal building to its original grandeur.

“With the help of colleagues and suppliers, we were able to re-create the features of heraldic, mythological and maritime ornamentation that lends an Old World palatial ambience to our finish work,” said Richard Huntley, president of WeKanDo Construction, Inc.

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