Dry Ice Blasting & Cleaning Blog

Historic South Bend Armory Restoration Gets the Polar Clean Touch

On the east bank of South Bend, overlooking the St. Joseph River and across the street from the city’s Farmers Market, there stands a tidy, chimney-stacked, red brick building.

The building is (most recently) called The Armory and, if its walls could talk, they would tell you a history of evolution, transformation and salvation.

Today, The Armory houses a resplendent event space and wine bar and is a gem of the South Bend community. But the work of restoring the building was a true labor of love, with challenges as layered as the coats of paint that used to blanket its brick walls.

A Storied Past Uncovered by Meticulous Restoration

Built in 1928 as a National Guard armory, the building was once home to munitions and a shooting range. Later, the building was repurposed into the Newman Recreation Center, where Boy Scouts gathered and school dances and basketball games were held.

The building fell into disuse after the Parks Department stopped programming there in 2011. Many shied away from rehabilitation opportunities; the amount of care and diligence that would be required to revive the building was more than most wanted to take on.

Eventually, the building was targeted for demolition by the city.

However, developers intent on preserving the priceless architectural landmark purchased the building in 2016. They knew their vision would only be fulfilled if the original walls and floors were restored to their original glory. Aware the project would require sensitivity, skill and deep expertise, the developers turned to Polar Clean to uncover the building’s interior brick walls.

Armory Before & After Restoration

The Challenge: Preserving Brick Plastered with Layers of Paint

Over the years, The Armory’s exposed brick walls were smothered in thick coats of paint – as many as a dozen in some areas.

The project called for a skilled and careful approach.

Going in, the primary goal was to thoroughly remove the paint without burning off the face of the brick or damaging the mortar. Depending on the type of brick, damage can appear as chips, cracks or stripped surfaces.

As with all restoration projects, Polar Clean conducted validation tests to determine the most effective method for removing the paint without degrading the brick. Because the buildup of paint was so thick in some areas, abrasive blasting was determined to be the right method.

The Solution: Careful Abrasive Blasting with a Skilled Hand

Abrasive blasting – which can be performed in wet or dry applications with a variety of materials, from corn cobs to garnet – is the preferred method for many paint removal jobs.

It worked like a charm at The Armory. With years of experience using abrasive (and other) blasting techniques to complete delicate restoration projects, the Polar Clean was able to restore the brick to its full beauty.

The Result: A Twenty-First Century Gathering Space with Historical Integrity

Since reopening in 2018, the newly restored walls of the Armory have seen wedding celebrations, non-profit fundraisers and intimate gatherings over local wine and food.

As intended, each of the building’s features – from the walls to the floors (and even the old bleachers which were repurposed into a bar) – preserve and celebrate the building’s eclectic past.

Now, instead of fluorescent lights shining on paint-spackled walls, the glow from chandeliers bounces off the meticulously restored brick. The developers were thrilled with the result.

“They originally hired Polar Clean just to do the large banquet area but after seeing the results, they had us do the entire area, including the wine bar,” said Polar Clean COO Joseph P. Sergio. “They were extremely happy.”

Polar Clean Handles Historic Restorations with Care & Customization

Polar Clean’s deep expertise, patented cleaning techniques and reputation for precision and delicacy have made us a go-to resource for historic restoration projects. Our team has leveraged their cleaning knowledge and skill to restore structures including South Bend’s Studebaker Fountain and Cincinnati’s Union Terminal.

If you are in search of a restorative cleaning partner and want to learn more about our experience and techniques, reach out to schedule an assessment or get a quote. The Polar Clean team can help make your structure, statue or fountain look as new as the day it was made.

Contact us to learn more about hybrid blasting for historic restoration