Look up: Renovated cupola and roof crown Princeton’s Nassau Hall

Jan. 17, 2019 9:30 a.m.

Step onto campus through FitzRandolph Gate, walk down the stone path and gaze up at Nassau Hall. The iconic cupola atop Princeton University’s oldest building has been made over.

Weather vane on Nassau Hall cupola
Play Video: The weather vane at the peak of Nassau Hall, previously rusted in place, can now whirl in the wind. Watch how T. Johnson Design in Hopewell, New Jersey, repaired or replaced each part of the weather vane.
Dome on top of Nassau Hall cupola

The University used 10,000 pounds of new copper to cover the cupola’s dome while recycling the old copper. The penny-colored metal will oxidize over time to form a natural patina.

Clocks on Nassau Hall cupola
Play Video: The cupola’s clocks were severely damaged by dry rot. See how the clocks were carefully removed from Nassau Hall and repaired at Philadelphia Custom Millworks.
Bell in Nassau Hall cupola
Play Video: The historic bell was one cupola feature that did not require repairs. Stealing the bell's clapper used to be a popular student prank until it was removed in the 1990s. Listen to the bell ring as it does during major University events every year.

After 60 years without a new roof or significant repairs to the decorative cupola, the crown of Nassau Hall had lost some luster. So last June, University Facilities began a meticulous restoration. The goal was to refresh and improve, while also preserving historic character.

“The cupola and roof should look the same, only better,” said Alexis Mutschler, assistant director of special projects in Facilities and project manager for the restoration. “To someone looking at Nassau Hall from the ground, the biggest difference probably is the new copper on top of the cupola. It will take about 20 years to turn the turquoise-colored patina that we grew accustomed to seeing.”

During the renovation, Office of Communications staff regularly climbed to the top of Nassau Hall to capture the architectural details that one can only see up close.

The chipping cupola was repainted in a monarch gold color, using 10 gallons of primer and 15 gallons of finish coat.

The four massive clocks, each five feet in diameter and weighing 150 pounds, were carefully craned down from the cupola so they could be repaired. The wooden clock faces were rebuilt at Philadelphia Custom Millworks, while the numerals and minute markers were rehabilitated with new gold leaf at T. Johnson Design in Hopewell, New Jersey. T. Johnson Design also restored the weather vane.

Bregenzer Brothers of Hopewell stripped the roof and covered it in 21,000 new slate tiles. Along the roof, copper gutters were replaced, snow guards were added and safety features were enhanced.

The entire restoration, led by construction managers Massimino Building Corp. of Newtown, Pennsylvania, was completed in December. During the project, the bronze tigers in front of Nassau Hall were boxed for protection (watch a video of the unboxing).

Nassau Hall first opened in 1756. The administrative building, which once housed all college functions, is a University and national landmark.

For more information on the recent renovation of Nassau Hall’s roof and cupola, view previous homepage stories, social media coverage and the Facilities project page.

  • Scaffolding surrounding Nassau Hall cupola
  • Looking down into scaffolding on Nassau Hall cupola
  • Workers removing old clock from Nassau Hall cupola
  • Worker working on stone on Nassau Hall cupola
  • Rusted decorative top of column from Nassau Hall cupola
  • Working painting columns on Nassau Hall cupola
  • Newly restored and painted decorative top of column in Nassau Hall cupola
  • Worker painting interior of Nassau Hall cupola
  • Refurbished ceiling on Nassau Hall cupola
  • Workings measuring on Nassau Hall cupola
  • New copper wheat-sheaf column and ball from Nassau Hall cupola top
  • Workers assembling copper wheat-sheaf column and ball on top of Nassau Hall cupola
  • Workers working on bell in Nassau Hall cupola
  • Working handling copper sheets on Nassau Hall cupola
  • Worker soldering part of Nassau Hall cupola
  • New copper on dome of Nassau Hall cupola
  • New copper on columns on Nassau Hall cupola
  • Detail of copper arch in Nassau Hall cupola
  • New copper covering top of Nassau Hall cupola
Back of Nassau Hall

Vertical photo of the cupola by Danielle Alio. Photo of the back of Nassau Hall by Nick Barberio. Additional images and videos by Danielle Alio and Nick Barberio. Text by Emily Aronson. Interactive design and development by John Jameson. Design and layout by Maggie Westergaard.