Graham Banks, plaster artisan who helped restore Hippodrome and other sites, dies

Graham Paul Banks, an officer in a decorative plastering company that restored the Hippodrome Theatre and numerous other landmarks, died of cardiogenic shock Nov. 15 at Howard County General Hospital. The Ellicott City resident was 66.

Born in Portsmouth, England, he was the son of Ronald A. Banks, who served in the British Navy, and his wife, Joyce Stanhope.

He served an apprenticeship in tool and die making and blacksmithing, then ran his own small company in England. He later worked for Hayles and Howe Ltd., a British plastering firm based in Bristol. He restored the 18th century Assembly Rooms in Bath, England, and worked on Middle East projects.

“He was a very practical guy,” said David Harrison of Duckhole, England, president of Hayles and Howe. “Because of his tool-making ability, he was a great benefit to us.”

In 1989, Mr. Banks came to the United States with a team of English workers. He met his future wife, Susan E. Scrupski, shortly after he settled permanently in the U.S.

He initially restored parts of the New Jersey State Capitol at Trenton, and set up the American arm of Hayles and Howe. A 1993 article in The Baltimore Sun said he realized there was a wide market for architectural plaster restoration.

He was encouraged when he won two Washington contracts: restoration of the ceiling of the Postal Square building at Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street and the old Stanley Warner Theater, also in downtown Washington. Other jobs included work at the Cannon House Office Building and at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.

After the 2011 Virginia earthquake, he was called in to repair the vaulted ceiling at Washington’s Union Station.

“In conjunction with contractors and architects, Graham found a way to re-hang Union Station’s enormous plaster ceiling,” said Mr. Harrison. “He was one who could find solutions to the most weird problems.”

Mr. Banks also received a contract to repair damage at Baltimore's Custom House, at Gay and Lombard streets, where a 1940s remodel had ripped out the work of 1905 artisans.

"Our biggest jobs are in Washington, but we find Baltimore to be a nicer city, the place where we've established the business and our homes,” he said in the 1993 article. Of his office, which was then located on Exeter Street in the Bagby Building, he said, "If I had left England in 1850, this is the place I'd have gotten off the boat.”

He settled outside Ellicott City and drove to work sites in a 1954 Chevrolet pickup. He also favored Harley-Davidson motorcycles and and a tri-motorcycle he rigged from various parts.

Nearly 15 years ago he and his team began the interior restoration of the 1914 Hippodrome Theatre on Eutaw Street. Its interior was water-damaged and much of its interior ornament had been removed.

“It was his project from the beginning,” said Mark Mordhost, project director at Hayles and Howe. “Graham’s specialty was taking a difficult and challenging project and wrangling it to completion.”

“Graham was a strong leader and a defender of those who worked for him,” said Joselin Martin, a fellow worker. “He always wanted to do the best work he could. He was a perfectionist.”

Mr. Banks went on to do ornamental plastering work at Clifton Mansion — he recently completed work in its landmark tower staircase. He also worked at Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore, the War Memorial, the Standard apartment house and interior spaces at Baltimore’s Washington Monument.

He also supervised work on numerous residences from Harbor East to Roland Park.

“He liked to say, ‘We do cottages and castles,’ ” said Ms. Martin. “He loved running a job and solving the problems that came up along the way.”

He had recently completed work at the Hotel Revival in Mount Vernon and was engaged in the restoration of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street.

“A lot of architects and interior designers don’t know what ornamental plasterwork is. I'm amazed by the architects who want to put up plastic cornices,” he said in 1993. “Plasterers have almost died out in the U.S. You don’t have to be a genius to be a plasterer. But you do have to have the aptitude.”

Mr. Banks said he and his co-workers could fashion almost anything in plaster, including moldings and cornices for private homes and mantels for fireplaces.

“In England and Ireland, the fireplace is the central feature of the room,” he said. “Over here the television is.”

In 1990, he was named his firm’s vice president for operations. He led the moving of the company from Harbor East to Woodberry and later to a Remington warehouse on Sisson Street.

Another fellow worker, Ian Jenkins, said: “Graham was serious about a job. He could win over a client and he spoke his mind very forcefully. As a leader, he was concerned about everyone else and making sure we kept working and had business that allowed the support of our families.”

Mr. Banks was a member of the Legion Motorcycle Club and rode in charitable drives for the Travis Manion Foundation, which works with veterans and the families of fallen soldiers, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Slack Funeral Home, 3871 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City.

Survivors include his wife of 25 years, Susan E. Scrupski, a homemaker; his mother, who lives in Ellicott City; two daughters, Julia S. Betts of Arbutus and Lillian J.K. Banks of Ellicott City; and three grandsons.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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