Life

Brucemore's preservation challenge is restoring without sacrificing history

The estate is offering special tours to show guests work firsthand

Work continues on the south exposure at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The historic site is undergoing phase two of the Mansion Envelope Restoration Project, focusing on the roof and south side of the exterior. Mansion tours are continuing during the work, and Executive Director David Janssen will lead upcoming tours of the preservation work. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Work continues on the south exposure at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. The historic site is undergoing phase two of the Mansion Envelope Restoration Project, focusing on the roof and south side of the exterior. Mansion tours are continuing during the work, and Executive Director David Janssen will lead upcoming tours of the preservation work. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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Brucemore has looked almost the same since its original construction, but whirling drills, cranes and scaffolding alongside the home show work being done on the 19th century mansion.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, I bet you wish that scaffolding was out of the way,’” said David Janssen, Brucemore executive director. “As stewards of this estate, there should be scaffolding somewhere if we’re doing our part in preservation.”

Brucemore is holding special-themed preservation tours to give a behind-the-scenes look at the work. Janssen guides guests through Brucemore mansion, the Visitor Center, Servants’ Duplex and the Lord and Burnham Greenhouse. The first tour took place in July, but dates extend into the fall.

Preservation is part of the Mansion Envelope Restoration Project, which began in 2018. The project is currently in phase two, which involves the flat roof and south side of the mansion. Work for this phase began in May and should be completed before the holiday season, Janssen said.

The project’s first phase concluded last spring and focused on restoring the service porch, which Janssen said was a poorly constructed 1980s addition on the house that has allowed in water.

“About seven years ago, we identified the reality that we were not keeping up the preservation of the estate. We would do some, but we need to accelerate the process,” Janssen said.

$3.1 million raised of $5 million goal

Funds for the project come from the Pride and Preservation Campaign, which has raised $3.1 million of the $5 million goal. In order to complete future project phases on the other sides of mansion, the funds to complete said phase must first be fully raised, Janssen said.

All of the campaign money comes from individual and corporate donors, he said, as well as eligible government grants.

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The first priority of the preservation project is to ensure outside elements stay out of Brucemore. One of the biggest harms to the mansion has been water damage, Janssen said, as well as exposed wood beginning to rot. The idealistic goal of repainting every five years to limit rotting isn’t realistic in terms of staffing and funds, he said.

The windows and woodwork on the south side of the mansion need replacing or rot repair. Some window frames are now covered by plastic instead of glass as they wait for restored windows to be put in place.

Many of the windows are original to the house, Janssen said. It’s a window-by-window decision on how best to handle preservation: keep and repair the original window and frame, replace the window with original materials, or put in modern materials as a replacement in a worst-case scenario.

“Once we make the decision to discard, that’s permanent,” Janssen said.

Restoring vs. Replacing

The infrastructure around some of the windows will be replaced with a similar wood both water resistant and insect repellent, he said. The glass in replaced windows will be made in the same manner the originals were made to look as similar as possible, he said.

The roof of the service porch, which is also being replaced, was originally made with mountain red terra-cotta that staff tried to fix twice before, Janssen said. He said they’re now going to put in floating tiles that will look like the original material, but the modern technology will make for a more durable roof.

The rusting metal cresting that edged the roof has been removed in big chunks so as not to damage it by cutting it into pieces, leaving points of the roof bare while staff figures out how best to preserve the cresting. While it would be simplest to remove the rust, repaint and replace the crest, Janssen said, the larger problem is figuring out how to prevent future rusting.

Work also is being done to the flat roof at the top of the mansion. The last big project done to the mansion was in the 1990s, included the roof, Janssen said. The skylight — an addition that took the place of a gas vent and shines down onto the third floor — also has been leaking and rusting over, he said.

Object-heavy rooms like the study are a little harder to figure out how to work in, Janssen said, since moving the centuries-old furniture is a long process that could affect regular tours. Since preservation work began, he noted, regular tours have not been disrupted or stopped.

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Other buildings that need preservation work but are not currently receiving any include the greenhouse, which Janssen said has fallen into disarray since its 2012 restoration, and the servants’ duplex, which has had the least amount of preservation work overall.

Some have suggested tearing down other buildings on the estate to have enough time and funds to focus on the mansion, Janssen said. However, he said, that wouldn’t solve any preservation problems and goes against Brucemore’s mission to remember the history of the place and serve and engage the community.

“The buildings illustrate not only the wealth of the families that lived here but all it took to create their world,” he said. “(Taking down buildings) would be like a hospital killing patients for more bed space. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

• Comments: kayli.reese@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: Brucemore Preservation tours

• When: 5:30 p.m. Aug. 20; 3:30 p.m. Sept. 22; 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10; 3:30 p.m. Nov. 10

• Where: Brucemore, 2160 Linden Drive SE, Cedar Rapids

• Cost: $15 adult, $10 student

• Details: call (319) 362-7375 or visit brucemore.org

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