Polishing the Past: Grey Towers Castle

By schwartzsa | April 1, 2011

By Sarah R. Schwartz ’10

Two weeks into a grueling and labor intensive process, Michael McCarron of Mike’s Furniture Refinishing, is all smiles. It is not everyday that he gets to work in a castle.

Under the direction of Tom Macchi, Associate Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning, McCarron has been charged with the hefty task of restoring the majority of the mahogany woodwork of the Great Hall of Grey Towers Castle. It’s likely a job that has never before been attempted.

“I’m clearing off decades of fireplace deposits and most likely cigarette residue,” he says. It’s a job that far exceeds the limitations of a sponge and a bucket of soap and water. It will take several weeks of careful stripping, buffering and hand polishing.

As McCarron works methodically, left to right from the main entryway, the restorative value is strikingly apparent, transforming the previous dark, flat hue to a glowing and multidimensional tone.

“The process is really bringing the paneling to life. I’ve never seen a structure as ornate and original as this one. Historical estates just don’t exist anymore because they’ve been torn down.”

McCarron is a specialist in all furniture and floor stripping, refinishing and repairs, but his true passion is restoring antiques. He’s also done a little research of his own, investigating the history of the Grey Towers Castle and its architect, a 23-year-old Horace Trumbauer, who later designed other icons of metropolitan Philadelphia including the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Grey Towers Castle was declared a National Historic Landmark, in October 1985, providing proper recognition of its architectural and historical significance.

Read more about Grey Towers Castle and other restoration projects.