City Hall Savannah, Georgia

Gold Rush on City Hall

By John Carrington
Posted Apr 16, 2008

Small flakes of glimmering gold fluttered as a strong breeze swirled around the dome of City Hall Wednesday.

Using small squirrel-hair brushes, a crew of gilders burnished the finish coat of gold leaf while they examined and touched up the previous day’s work.

“The cold doesn’t bother us. It’s the wind that has been our biggest problem,” said Michael Kramer of The Gilders’ Studio Inc., whose crew began gilding the 1,800-square-foot dome early last week.

The delicate gold leaf is easily lost to the wind and, at today’s prices, gold is a precious metal. The entire job will require about $50,000 worth, nearly 1.5 pounds, of beaten gold.

“Where else can you get paid for laying down on the job,” gilder William Hayden joked as co-worker Jill London lay on the scaffold to reach an out-of-the-way corner high above Bay Street.

Several preparatory steps were completed prior to the application of the gold leaf. Those included blasting the copper dome with walnut shells to remove the remnants of the old gold leaf and numerous coats of primer and sizing.

The dome was first gilded in 1987 when then Mayor John Rousakis described it as “a jewel on top of a lovely place called Savannah.”

The gilding, which was a gift from Mills B. Lane’s Bee Hive Foundation, did not hold up well against time and a constant barrage from the elements.

This gilding job should last longer. City spokesman Bret Bell said the gilders are using a higher grade of gold leaf and better techniques are available.

The gilding is part of a $2.1 million exterior renovation of the 102-year-old building that includes replacement of the cupola, a new roof and repairs to the limestone masonry.

“Savannah is Georgia’s first city,” Bell said. “It deserves a gold dome as much or more than (the Capitol dome in) Atlanta.”

“We need to take care of this place,” he said, “or it won’t be around for another 100 years.”


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