Update: Restoration of Charnley-Persky House Flood Damage

Dec 12, 2014 by Pauline Saliga
Imagine sitting at your desk answering emails, and suddenly hearing the sound of water gushing from a second-floor bathroom. On August 19, 2014, seven SAH staff members heard that panic-inspiring sound and jumped to the rescue to find two uncontrollable geysers of storm water shooting up from a second-floor sink and toilet in SAH’s National Historic Landmark Charnley-Persky House. The water cascaded down the walls and through heating vents to the first-floor library and basement below. It soaked the library ceiling, walls and floors and ran downstairs like a waterfall, filling a basement storage room. This happened three more times before specialists could unearth and replace the clogged 19th-century sewer pipe that was the cause of the flooding.

19th-century U-trapFollowing the August floods at Charnley-Persky House, offers of help poured in. They ranged from Chicago Chapter SAH members offering to help cart out water-soaked plaster to a phone call from Cynthia and Ben Weese offering a challenge grant of $10,000 for restoration. Their generosity was followed by two $5,000 grants from the Alphawood Foundation and The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, as well as individual gifts from nearly 90 people. To recognize their generosity at the house’s time of need, everyone who contributed to the restoration effort between August 19 and December 31, 2014, will be named a Founding Member of the Friends of Charnley-Persky House.

Additional funding from sponsorships of SAH’s 2014 Awards Gala came from Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Mencoff, HBRA Architects, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, Petersen Aluminum Corporation, CBRE/U.S. Equities Realty, and Sylvester Construction Services. This additional funding will enable us both to restore the damage from the August floods and to initiate restoration of some long-deferred projects at Charnley-Persky House, detailed below.

By the end of November, the house was beginning to get back to normal. Crews that were hired to vacuum out water from the wall cavities, ceiling and floors finished their task. The broken 19th-century U-Trap, which originally kept sewer gas from entering the house but caused the August floods, was removed and replaced. The ash tree on the parkway that had to be removed to make way for the sewer repairs also was replaced with a disease-resistant American elm. Plasterers rebuilt the library ceiling which soaked up so much water it had to be replaced. Painters carefully matched the color and sand-float-finish texture on the ceiling and walls. Public tours of the house resumed on November 29. restored-library-ceiling_300px

Next in late December and January, plasterers and painters will return to work in the water-damaged basement, repairing and repainting plaster walls in the historic kitchen, butler’s pantry and hallway. Consulting architect John Eifler of Eifler & Associates Architects is offering advice on replacing the damaged basement flooring, which was installed in the late 1980s when the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill owned the house and restored it to create the Chicago Institute for Architecture and Urbanism.

If funding will extend far enough, we also would like to install some informational panels on the history of the house and the Charnley family, along with a small installation that analyzes the ornament of Sullivan and Wright and interprets some of the 19th-century household artifacts that have been unearthed at Charnley-Persky House in two archaeological digs conducted by Dr. Rebecca Graff of Lake Forest College. By the time of the SAH Annual Conference in April 2015, the house should be completely restored and functioning normally, with the installation of interpretive material underway.

In order to minimize the chances of future disasters in the house, SAH also is going to commission a Historic Structures Report which will include a Conditions Assessment Report and Routine Maintenance Schedule. It is our hope that by anticipating the physical needs of the structure, we can avoid unwelcome systems breakdowns.

Finally, during Charnley-Persky House’s 125th anniversary years (2016 for design and 2017 for completion of construction), the SAH Board and Development Committee will launch an endowment campaign with the goal of raising a $2,000,000 maintenance and programming endowment for the house.

We invite you to visit Charnley-Persky House, particularly during the 2015 SAH Annual Conference in April, when there will be numerous opportunities to tour the house. We also invite you to become a Founding Member of the Friends of Charnley-Persky House and to consider organizing a talk or program during the year for the House’s new friends and supporters.

Pauline Saliga
Executive Director