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By Gail Riese
A pair of iconic eagles that have stood watch for more than 50 years at the main gate to Auburn University, at Toomer's Corner, were placed back on their pedestals on Friday, April 13, after having been restored to their original stateliness with the assistance of the Auburn University Facilities Management staff and a local company which manages restoration projects.
Missing a beak on one and a damaged wing on the other, the seriously-weathered statues were removed from their brick pedestals in November 2011. They have been meticulously repaired by The Lathan Company Inc., a Mobile-based firm specializing in the historic preservation of landmark structures and buildings.
“I am extremely happy with the way the eagles turned out. We were very fortunate to work with a local company with this kind of experience and with such a talented staff. They did such a nice job with the reconstruction that I couldn’t even tell at first which repairs were made to each of them,” said Lloyd Albert, Facilities Management Maintenance Director and overseer of the project.
The eagles which are estimated to weigh from 350 to 400 pounds each were transferred to Lathan’s Washington D.C. office where stone carving experts spent more than 200 hours of hands-on restoration and cleaning work, including the removal of a surprising layer of red aerosol spray paint. The paint had been applied to each bird’s breast and then later covered by masonry latex paint.
Made of marble, the stone for the eagles may have come from Sylacaugo, Alabama, says Anthony Miller, project manager for Lathan who has been in the stone restoration profession for thirty years and is also the project manager for the exterior restoration of all stone and brick work for the Smithsonian Arts and Industry Building. “We believe it may be Sylacaugo because it is a white marble and it (quarry specializing in white marble) is located only 45 miles away,” said Miller.
Originally thought to be 100 years old, Miller estimates the eagles were sculpted in the early 1960s. This time period concurs with a statement made by writer Hal Smith in the January 10, 2012, Auburn Magazine that said “shortly after Auburn Polytechnic Institute was renamed Auburn University (in 1960), two marble eagles replaced the original stone spheres” and on “September 22, 1961, the Plainsman reported alumnus W.C. ‘Red’ Sugg had arranged for the gift.”
“I love the rich tradition of Toomer’s Corner and am so glad to have had this opportunity to work with Auburn University and its facilities management staff in the preservation of these eagles and of this historic area of campus,” said Jerry Lathan, Founder and Chief Executive Officer.
The total cost of the eagle restoration project was $20,000 and was funded from a deferred maintenance account by Auburn University Facilities Management.