In the 1950s, contractors routinely sandblasted historic buildings in efforts to restore the appearance of masonry obscured by atmospheric soiling.
It caused irreparable damage.
There had to be a better way, and in a moment of unconventional ingenuity, Jerry Boyer found it.
It happened in Denver, Colorado, in 1959, a time of urban renewal. Ornamental details in the terra cotta cladding of the 14-story Mountain States Telephone Building were hidden by atmospheric pollutants. The architect writing specifications for this project wanted an alternative to sandblasting or the even riskier use of raw hydrofluoric acid. Either would have etched the protective glaze from the face of the terra cotta.
“The architect was forward-thinking and wanted to avoid potential for damage,” said David Boyer, PROSOCO's President and CEO, and one of Jerry Boyer's sons. “Jerry Boyer never said no to a request that could be converted into an opportunity. He went out to see if they could clean the building. None of the traditional cleaners that were then commercialized would touch it, but in 1959, the Process Solvent Company did have a line of automotive degreasers.”
One option was a waterless hand cleaner used to remove grease from auto mechanics’ hands. Jerry thought it was worth a try. He applied the cleaner with a brush and scrubbed the surface. The results weren’t ideal.
As legend has it, the night after that initial test, Jerry crawled underneath the bed in his hotel room and cut a square foot out of the carpet. He nailed that carpet to a piece of wood and put a handle on it to create a scouring pad.
Equipped with his carpeted pad and a modified version of the hand soap, Jerry returned to the site the next day and scoured a test area completely clean.
“The entire building was scoured in that fashion,” Boyer said. “Once completed, I’m not sure that hotel had any carpeting left.”
“The Mountain States Telephone Building was the first historic building cleaned with a commercially developed, chemical cleaner. That was the birth of proprietary, chemical restoration cleaning.”