Stanford's Red Barn

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The Red Barn Bides Again

by Peter C. Allen

view of main entrance and cupolaUnlike the equine blue bloods that first occupied its stalls, the Red Barn has no pedigree. No architectural drawings are known to exist and there is evidence that the handsome structure was the work of one or more of the itinerant crews of artisan barn-builders who used to move from job to job in rural America.

The signs of native craftsmanship are obvious. Stand back a little way from the main entrance and observe the satisfying symmetry that carries upward from the big sliding doors to the transom, the hayloft doors, the white trusses supporting the apparatus for raising hay to the loft, and the graceful, jaunty cupola.

Look more closely and you will see the restrained ornamentation of the window moldings, the finials perched on the roof peaks, the blending of the two-story sliding-door pockets into the overall design, the use of dowels to join beams to posts, the ingenious way the chutes for dropping hay from the loft to the aisle areas double as ventilator shafts, carrying warm air upward to louvers in the clerestory.

What is not so obvious is that these rural craftsmen--if, indeed, they were the builders of the Red Barn--knew little of engineering. The immense structure was placed on a foundation of brick, a mere 18 to 24 inches deep. It gradually settled and dirt drifted in until the bottom edges of the perimeter walls were well below ground level, inviting dry rot and termites into the framework. Furthermore, the load of the roof was not properly transmitted through the walls to the foundation, so that the settling was uneven. The roof line undulated and some of the walls were tilted.

These basic structural faults plus a hundred years of wear and tear, including relentless attacks by squadrons of woodpeckers looking for termites, brought the barn to a state of total disrepair and near collapse.

The architectural firm of Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis, which planned the reconstruction of History Comer on the University's Outer Quadrangle, was brought in to do a feasibility study in the summer of 1982 and then was appointed to plan the restoration. Architect Dan Chekene, working with Max Mazenko, project manager for the University, studied old photographs and other materials from the University Archives and checked out the barn itself for traces of changes that had been made during its lifetime in order to realize the greatest degree possible of historical authenticity.

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