Labors of Love
By James H. Schwartz | From Preservation | November/December 2009
At the end of the summer, an air conditioning unit on top of our c. 1880 rowhouse conked out, and I awakened to a sunny but stifling bedroom. You should know that our house is (a) tall, (b) quirky, and (c) downtown, so servicing the rooftop compressor is challenging. You have to climb four flights of stairs and pry open a decidedly un-plumb door to the back bathroom. Then you pop a telescoping ladder through a narrow hatch in the plaster ceiling, wrestle with the locks and bolts on a wooden cap, check to make sure the alarm is switched off, and propel yourself skyward like one of the dolphins at Sea World. Finally, you try to remember why you're standing on the roof.
As you've probably guessed, I'm a sucker for old places, but I do acknowledge that they require special care and patience. I remember the day we installed a sink in our bathroom and accidentally punched through our neighbor's library wall, revealing the back of his prized stereo system. (Sorry, Michael.) If nothing else, I learned to expect surprises from a building with a few years under its belt.
Our minor travails are nothing compared to the challenges you'll read about in this issue. At Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park, a team of masons is racing against the clock to save the elaborate Civil War-era walls surrounding "The Gibraltar of the Atlantic." The scope of work yet to be completed is almost as impressive as what they've already done.
Twelve hundred miles to the north, architect Alfredo De Vido and his wife, Catherine, have remarkable tales about restoring their 1830 New York City townhouse. The mechanics of preservation can seem intimidating to any homeowner, but imagine tackling a project on a busy street smack in the heart of the Big Apple!
Then there's Brian LoPinto, who is determined to save Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J. He's struggling against devious vandals and a constantly changing roster of local officials, but remains convinced that he can preserve one of the last four surviving ballparks to host Negro League games. More power to him.
Yes, historic places require extra care and understanding. But I guess they're a little like members of the family. You can't imagine living without them. They return your love in full measure. And every day they remind you that they're worth it.
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