Without critical restoration, the Lee-Fendall House may accomplish by itself what was thwarted by historic preservationists in the 1970s — destruction. The 219-year-old structure's summer beam and sill are crumbling. Without them the house too will crumble.
To avoid that, the Lee-Fendall House Museum, Alexandria's only privately owned house museum, hosted a restoration kickoff ceremony Monday night to raise $500,000. That is five times the museum's normal annual budget.
By the end of the evening's ceremonies in the museum's gardens, museum executive director Kristin Miller was able to announce, "We've raised $100,000 so far. And $81,000 of that will go to restoring the primary support beam."
The total cost for that project alone is estimated at $100,000.
The additional $20,000 came from the National Architectural Trust in the form of a grant presented by James Kearns, co-founder of the Trust along with Steve McClain. "A house of this age has had a lot of good luck to get this far," he said in presenting the check to museum and City representatives.
"Last year we discovered extensive damage to the foundation which will take a minimum of $100,000 to repair," Edward T. Horn, vice president, LFH Board of Directors, said to the assembled audience.
"In addition, other repairs call for an estimated expenditure of $400,000. We are operating on a $100,000 budget with no endowment," he said. Horn then acknowledged how the museum had reached the level of $81,000 in gifts thus far:
* National Architectural Trust (prior) — $10,000
* Historic Alexandria Foundation — $7,000
* City of Alexandria — $50,000
* Funds raised by events — $11,000
* Individual gifts — $3,000
"The sources of this funding have come from all aspects of this community. We have $19,000 to go to get to that first $100,000," he said. That was accomplished with the additional National Architectural Trust gift.
Following Horn, Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said, "Alexandria has a rich and compelling history. Our preservation is visible throughout Old Town and the entire City. But, none of this would be possible if we (the citizens) failed to provide the financial base."
Euille said, "When you think of what you spend shopping and dining in Old Town, giving to this cause is very worthwhile. I'm committed to do what I can to preserve this home. It is not only a lovely house but also a fantastic garden."
Carter Refo, a multi-generation descendent of Virginia Lees, and vice president of The Society of the Lees of Virginia, said, preserving this house "Comes down to a commitment to our country. This museum brings our heritage to life. Lee-Fendall House lays out the road map for our country."
Speaking for the Historic Alexandria Foundation, Patrick Butler said, "We look forward to continuing to serve this community through this house and many other projects."
Acknowledging all the support from organizations, City and individuals, Mary Francis Barter, chairman, Lee-Fendall House Board of Directors thanked those present for their efforts and urged their continued contributions.
THE FIRST STAGE of the restoration will involve replacement of the house's summer beam and sill, two key structural components that bear the weight of the original structure as well as several additions over the years. Additional funds will be used for an array of preservation projects such as new roofing, overall repairs and painting, according to Horn.
Located at 614 Oronoco Street, Lee-Fendall House is the City's only "telescoping" building, the museum represents an architectural style in which the main block of the house is the tallest and widest. Each of its three segments extending east gradually become shorter and more narrow. This gives its 10,000 plus visitors annually the impression of an extended telescope.
To familiarize guests with needed restoration, a portion of the wall in the main entry has been opened to reveal a main structural timber, known as a "summer beam." It spans the basement from north to south and rests on a series of brick columns. This timber is approximately 12 inches by 12 inches. It was one of the first elements of the house to be installed after the foundation was laid in 1785.
The summer beam abuts the timber "sill" that rests on the foundation and forms the base of the rear wall of the house. Recent investigations of cracking plaster and buckled woodwork led to the discovery of the deterioration, according to museum officials. Over time, according to the museum inspections, wood-eating insect infestation and dry rot have caused the timber of both the summer beam and sill to deteriorate.
Work completed to date was intended to stabilize the wall, prevent further damage, and ensure a safe environment for visitors and museum personnel. The anticipated work will ensure the "long-term viability of the Lee-Fendall House," official said.