Dry Ice Blasting & Cleaning Blog

Hybrid Blasting Solution Used to Restore Historic South Bend Armory

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 Dry Ice Blasting

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, adaptable and sensitive hand – not one that would recklessly blast away at the walls with abrasive media. Luckily, the developer’s desire to uncover the interior brick as gently as possible aligned with Polar Clean’s guiding “do no harm” philosophy.

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.

However, it was soon discovered that dry ice blasting alone – normally the go-to solution for cleaning brick and mortar – would not suffice. Because the buildup of paint was so thick in some areas, even the strongest blast of dry ice wasn’t abrasive enough to uncover the brick below.

The Polar Clean team knew that the usual methods would need to be adjusted to strip the paint without degrading the brick.

The Solution: Hybrid Media Blasting

After some trial and error, Polar Clean found the answer: hybrid media blasting. The technique, which was patented by Polar Clean several years ago, blends dry ice blasting and abrasive blasting. The proprietary method injects abrasive media into the dry ice stream (composed of frozen CO2 pellets) and blasts the mixture through a dual nozzle machine.

The process combines the benefits of dry ice blasting with the aggressiveness of more traditional media. These benefits include:

  • Minimized clean up time
  • Thorough cleaning of both large areas and nooks and crannies
  • Customizable force
  • Increased efficiency

Hybrid blasting worked like a charm at The Armory. Polar Clean cleaned all the building’s interior brickwork with a fusion of dry ice blasting and (predominately) sandblasting. Because each area of the building presented unique challenges, Polar Clean was able to adjust the ratio of media and force of blasts as blasting progressed.

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

Since reopening in 2018, the freshly uncovered 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 dry ice blasting.

“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