Flood Waters Have Receded at World-Famous Farnsworth House

Posted on: September 16th, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 2 Comments

 

After two days, staff and volunteers at Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois can finally reach it without a boat, albeit waders!

View into the Farnsworth House through the front door after the waters receded.

View into the Farnsworth House through the front door after the waters receded.

The flood waters started to recede yesterday morning, and unlike the flood of 1996 when the waters rose over 4’ into the house, it appears it was about 18” above the floor level this time. Our very ingenious low-tech way of raising the furniture on plastic milk crates worked and not one of them was displaced.

With that said, we are trying to evaluate the impact to the building and it will be some time before the full impact to the historic site and landscape can be fully understood. The existing primavera wood wardrobe does have water damage along the bottom which will be evaluated by a conservator, as do the other fixed-in-place wood panels. The famous primavera wood panels in the living room were demounted and safely stored on top of the “core”.

No glass was broken and the travertine floors on the interior seem only mildly dirty. We still don’t know the full impact to the mechanical and electrical systems but are hopeful since most of the equipment is located more than 18” above the floor. Several very large trees were literally uprooted and getting an arborist in to determine the safety of some of the other trees is a priority.

Because there is massive disaster recovery occurring all over the country right now, getting the insurance

The Farnsworth House as the waters recede.

The Farnsworth House as the waters recede.

adjusters to the house may take a week or more. In the mean time, our dedicated Director, Whitney French, and her staff and volunteers will be working with engineers, restoration recovery companies and conservators to make the most informed restoration decisions. As a result, the site is closed for tours for the remainder of 2008. While we understand that people who have planned trips in advance and purchased tickets are very disappointed that their tours have been cancelled, please understand that this is necessary, not only to facilitate the physical recovery of the building and landscape, but to ensure the life safety of our staff and visitors. Any questions, please feel free to email me at Barbara_campagna@nthp.org .

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

 

Twenty Most Sustainable Cities: Ethisphere looks at 20 "Global Sustainability Centers," weighing factors such as economies, populations, cultural activities, universities, international recognition, and most importantly "they also needed to have a plan in place that will shift their bulky, mega-hub selves onto an environmentally sustainable path so that by 2020 (the future, if you will), they will be sustainability role models." [Ethisphere]

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Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites: With the inclusion of "history from below" into many historic sites and museums, topics such as slavery need to be interpreted alongside more traditional areas. Max Van Balgooy details the strategies for interpreting these unique histories laid out at a recent meeting of the America Association for State and Local History, held in Rochester, NY. [National Trust Historic Sites]

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

 

Rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ike floods the Farnsworth House

Rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ike floods the Farnsworth House, September 2008.

Unfortunately, Texas is not the only state impacted by Ike and the other tropical storms. Our National Trust Historic Site and National Historic Landmark, Farnsworth House , designed by Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1951 is under water. Tropical Storm Lowell and now Ike are behind the rains that are still pummeling the Midwest.  The flood waters continue to rise. It has been raining with flood waters rising since Friday night. Unlike the story many of you have heard about the flood last August at the house, the rains/floods have not stopped 6” below the entrance and the house now has at least 1 foot of water in it.

Water from the Fox River entering the Farnsworth House

Water from the Fox River entering the Farnsworth House, September 2008.

Our director, Whitney French, and a host of volunteers from Landmarks Illinois , our partner and manager of the site, worked tirelessly last night to secure the house before it got dark. There is really little that can be done beyond lifting all the furniture on plastic milk crates (a system we devised last August when confronted with similar flooding) and turning the electricity off. The house was built in a hundred year flood plain, but if you read my previous posting on disaster planning – climate change has significantly impacted so many of our regions, including Plano Illinois. In the 60 years since the house was built, there have been 60 floods and now 7 hundred-year floods.

Securing the furniture in the Farnsworth House - a photo from last August.

Securing the furniture in the Farnsworth House - a photo from last August.

There is about 1 foot of water INSIDE the house. All the furniture was raised but there is nothing further that can be done, and in fact the house is pretty close to being unreachable, as the entire community is underwater and it is a very dire situation. Three bridges between the town and the house are now out. Whitney is now fearful for her house and is working to protect her house and family. The rain is still coming down and is not showing any signs of letting up. We will get the insurance ball rolling tomorrow morning, but in the mean time we can just hope and pray that the rains stop and that the community and its citizens are safe. And send good wishes and karma to Whitney and her family.

The house and tours are closed for the foreseeable future. Access to the house currently is only by boat, and this is not safe. The ironic thing of course, is that with the house sitting on 5 foot stilts, it is incredibly evocative as this photo at the top of this posting shows - taken last year when the floods did stop before entering the house. We will keep everyone apprised and ask you to give Whitney and the staff of Landmarks Illinois the space and time they will need to recover.

Below is a video on YouTube that one of our intrepid volunteers, Denny Frantzen, took last night, before the floodwaters entered the house.

Updated to include newly-received photos from today's flooding.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

 

Thirty colleagues representing many of our sites met with me in Monterey,CA earlier this week to discuss

Buildings & Grounds Staff visited Cooper-Molera Adobe in downtown Monterey.

Buildings & Grounds Staff visited Cooper-Molera Adobe in downtown Monterey.

Disaster Planning and Sustainable Practices. Every few years we get together during our Buildings & Grounds Conference to share experiences, policies and the ups and downs of managing buildings and grounds at our National Historic Landmark sites. This year our partner, California State Parks , helped arrange our retreat at Asilomar, their Julia Morgan-designed National Historic Landmark conference center by the ocean. With no televisions or phones and WiFi only in the Phoebe Hearst Social Hall, it’s the perfect place to evaluate our place on the planet and the impact we’re having on the climate crisis.

More and More Natural Disasters

The National Trust currently has 29 historic sites across the country which represent the diverse story of

Ice storms descended on Brucemore in Cedar Rapids last December.

Ice storms descended on Brucemore in Cedar Rapids last December.

America. And unfortunately nearly all of them seem to be located in natural disaster-prone regions. Although when I start to look at our sites, it becomes clear that there probably isn’t any area of our country that is totally safe at all times. In just the past year, we have had a hundred year flood at the Farnsworth House that just missed flooding the house; two microbursts at Cliveden and Lyndhurst which caused major tree damage and electrical damage; a tropical storm at Villa Finale in San Antonio (a site which hasn’t even officially opened); monsoon-like storms that destroyed barns and trees at Belle Grove , Oatlands and Montpelier all in Virginia; two ice storms ransacked Brucemore in Cedar Rapids last December and then this summer, Brucemore, which sits on a hill, served as ground zero for first responders to all the other cultural institutions in Cedar Rapids that were significantly damaged from their catastrophic floods , and just last week there was enough Gustav-induced damage at Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, LA to keep the Director from attending our conference. And so, in the 60 years since Mies van der Rohe designed the Farnsworth House in Plano, IL, there have been 60 floods – 6 of which were 100 year floods and 5 of our sites have braced for hurricanes in the past two weeks.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

Structural Engineers, Architects Needed to Volunteer Post-Ike

Posted on: September 12th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 6 Comments

 

Once again, the Gulf Coast braces for another hurricane.

Early reports from preservationists in Texas indicate that historic structures in Galveston will sustain significant damage from Hurricane Ike. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is in contact with our Partners at the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) and they have asked us to begin collecting names of structural engineers and architects who are willing to travel to the region as soon as the area is open to non-residents to conduct structural assessments of buildings. If you are an engineer or architect and would be willing to serve on a volunteer team, fill out our short survey.

We are also seeking donations to support our continuing hurricane recovery efforts.

Our thoughts are with our colleagues -- and all the residents of the Gulf Coast as they prepare for Ike.

-- Dolores McDonagh

Dolores McDonagh is vice president of membership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.