Preserving the Porch
A Facelift for a Famous Feature
By Kristi Kates | May 20, 2017
The Grand Hotel’s porch, said to be the world’s largest, stretches 660 feet. Five U.S. presidents have taken a stroll on it. Hundreds of thousands of feet walk on it every summer. Its decorative flower boxes hold over 2,500 geraniums in seven tons of potting soil.
And it’s included in countless photos of summer vacations, weddings, cocktail parties, special events, and anniversary celebrations.
So as you can probably guess, the famous porch at The Grand Hotel, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac and the Grand’s own gardens, gets a lot of wear and tear. It does receive regular sweepings, cleanings, and touch-ups, but after 50 years of near nonstop use, it became clear in recent years that a full revamp was necessary. In November 2016, the hotel’s team began restoration efforts; this summer, the porch is ready for its big reveal.
The two-year job was no small undertaking.
“Too many coats of paint and leaks made it time to take the porch back down to its foundation,” explained Ken Hayward, the hotel’s executive vice president and managing director. “We have to do this when we are closed, and the process takes all winter, from November to April, with a gap in-between the construction and the coating.”
Dan Hosford, maintenance supervisor for the Grand, oversaw the entire reconstruction process.
“We did the reconstruction in two sections — the west half in 2016, and then the east half this past winter,” Hosford said. “The original waterproof covering on the porch was put down in the 1940s. It was a canvas-type covering that had been affixed to the porch with some kind of glue, so we had to remove that first.”
After taking off the waterproofing, Hosford and his team started investigating the original porch floor, which was constructed of 2x6 wood planks that had been painted green.
“We had our engineers check the original porch underneath, which is the structural part of the porch, before we started rebuilding on top again,” Hosford said. “The original porch is holding up surprisingly well, probably because it’s not exposed to the elements any more. There were a couple of boards we had to replace, but that was pretty much it.”
The real challenge was in getting the porch set up so the Grand Hotel crew could work on it over the winter months.
“The toughest thing is the weather,” said Hosford. “Obviously, it’s going to be cold and wet and snowy, but winter’s the time we’ve got to do this.”
The solution? Enclose the porch — a substantial job all on its own, considering its size.
“We built a structure of 2x4s and plastic over the top of the entire porch,” Hosford explained. “That way we could keep the weather out, gain some solar heat, and keep the porch both out of the elements and warmer. The temperature had to be around 60 degrees for the waterproofing products we were going to be using on the porch to work properly and adhere to the surface.”
A couple of times over this past winter, the winds howled well over 60 mph, but Hosford said that their temporary wood and plastic structure held firm.
“It worked really well, considering,” he said.
With the protective layer in place, Hosford and his team started work on the porch itself, layering plywood then cement board.
Once the base was completed, the next step was to return the porch to its original distinctive look. A commercial waterproofing sealant, Tremco, was used to both prevent leaks and give the porch a durable surface.
“We start with a caulk and fill coat. Then roll on the waterproofing sealant, which is kind of like polyurethane,” Hosford said. “The third step is to add sand for grip, to make the porch non-slip. And then we roll on a colored coat of the Tremco to finish.”
That colored Tremco is what visitors to the porch are familiar with; the coating is tinted in a custom “Grand Hotel Green” that was specially ordered from Tremco by Mrs. Mimi Cunningham, a member of the Musser family, owners of the Grand Hotel.
Each step of the four-step process that Hosford outlined takes 12 hours to dry. The team helped the drying along by using electric heaters and large fans to help circulate the air.
Hosford, who’s been in the construction business for years, said he was still very impressed by the historical aspect of the project.
“I’ve been doing this kind of work for years, so a lot of it is pretty mundane to me,” he said. “But it was fun to pull up the wood and be able to see and inspect the old, original porch. It’s also a great thing to be able to provide the Mussers with a good finished product. I feel good that I was able to help. The Tremco covering is supposed to last for 50 years or more, or so they tell me, so we won’t be doing this again for a very long time.”
Now that the porch has been completed and is ready for summer guests once again, Hayward said the best way to appreciate it is the most simple of all.
“Just rock in one of our chairs, and take in the view,” he said.