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Archive for the ‘D.W Griffith’ Category

MUSEUM RE-OPENING ON SCHEDULE

 

We are pleased to announce that the Douglas Fairbanks Museum will re-open to the public in May of 2011 as scheduled.

Our doors will open Monday, May 23rd, on what would have been Mr. Fairbanks’ 128th birthday.

The museum’s hours of operation are from 2-6 p.m, Monday through Friday. All tours are by appointment only.

Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children, students with ID, and seniors.

Just a short drive from Austin, we are conveniently close to many Central Texas tourist attractions and are always happy to help you plan a special and event-filled vacation while you’re in the area.

We invite you to visit, learn more about Douglas Fairbanks and the silent film era, and take a tour of our beautiful new gallery space. We’re very proud indeed and eager to have you as our guest!

As the museum is located inside a historic private residence, advance registration and a prior confirmed appointment is required for all visitors.

If you would like to tour the museum, you may schedule an appointment via email or by phone at (830) 444-0523.

Also, please take the time to review our “VISIT” page to familiarize yourself with the museum’s policies and guest etiquette before you arrive.

Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who assisted with our relocation and volunteered their time/effort/sweat to help rebuild the gallery, library, and exhibit spaces. We simply could not have done it all without you!

 

 

 

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 10, 2011

CONTACT:

THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM

(830) 444-0523

Email

Original 1926 photo from "The Black Pirate," stolen in Dec. 2010 burglary.

BURGLARS NAB RARE FAIRBANKS FILMS, PHOTOS,

ARTIFACTS IN HOLIDAY HEIST

Items dating back to the early 1900s and valued at more than $10,000 (USD) were stolen from the museum’s collections during a late night burglary over the New Year’s holiday.

Original one-of-a-kind photographic prints, negatives and slides, autographs, promotional materials for Fairbanks’ films, the star’s handwritten correspondence, vintage newspapers and magazines, and other rare silent film memorabilia were stolen from the archives.

Fortunately intruders did not gain access to the museum’s most valuable artifacts, which are housed separately in a secure storage facility off-site. However, the crooks did manage to make off with a goodly portion of the museum’s photo, video, and periodicals collections. These are the items most frequently requested by the public, media, filmmakers, other libraries, museums and galleries for reproductions, research and exhibition loans.

Items stolen include five archival binder boxes containing photographic prints, negatives and slides; two large archival albums containing film posters, playbills, programs, vintage theater tickets and other rare film memorabilia; two archival boxes containing newspapers, magazines and film periodicals nearly a century old, as well as copies of films by Fairbanks and other silent cinema stars on VHS tape and DVD from the museum’s circulation library.

The most valuable artifact the burglars got away with was (ironically) an original brass urn dating to approximately 1923, a set piece for the film The Thief of Bagdad. This urn has been a centerpiece of exhibits since the museum acquired it from a Los Angeles movie prop house in 2005. The object stands appx. 2 feet tall and features ornate lifting handles in the shape of two cobra snakes on each side. The rare prop urn was in the process of having a broken handle repaired at the time of the burglary; normally it would have been stored offsite.

1924 prop urn used in "The Thief of Bagdad"

UNHAPPY HOLIDAYS

The burglary took place at the domicile of museum curator Keri Leigh, who was out of town over the holidays. Leigh co-founded the small private museum in 1998 and for many years housed the collections inside her family residence. A lifelong silent film enthusiast, Leigh always enjoyed sharing her rare film memorabilia collection with other Fairbanks fans, filmmakers, researchers, students, and historians, welcoming visitors from all around the globe.

“We never really worried too terribly much about break-ins or petty theft because as a private museum, we’re not readily accessible to the general public. Our tours are by appointment only. We don’t have a location that people can just walk into off the street. ” Leigh explains. “So we avoided a lot of would-be thieves casing the place for valuables with that added layer of security.”

While the museum’s policy limits admittance and access to the collections only to those with a bona fide research or scholarly need, curator Leigh says “actually, we’ve never denied admittance to anyone over the years,” a decision she does not regret even in light of the burglary. “The whole point is to share the collections with people.”

“Silent film fans respect the historical value of these artifacts,” she stresses. “They would never want to deprive future generations of the chance to see and learn about Douglas Fairbanks. They’ve always treated the museum and the home with great care when they come to visit us. They are as upset as we are about this theft, because these collections rightfully belong to the people – to Doug’s fans; to history.”

The most distressing aspect of the theft, according to Leigh, is that “the people who stole these artifacts were probably unaware of their cultural value and importance. They probably just thought they were robbing a well-stocked private residence, maybe looking to make a quick buck by selling the contents. They likely had no idea they had stolen property belonging to a museum.” Leigh shook her head in sad disbelief. “It would not surprise me at all if they didn’t even know who Douglas Fairbanks was.”

Such a burglary is not at all uncommon: according to the Art Loss Register, 54 percent of art thefts occur in domestic dwellings. However, the next three highest areas of theft occur in museums and galleries (12 percent each) and in churches (10 percent.) For this reason, institutions housing valuables have set up organizations to combat and prevent art thefts. These include the Univeristy of Cambridge’s Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, which monitors and reports on the international trade of stolen antiquities, and MuseumSecurity.Org, which has a mailing list that provides regular reports on stolen museum items.

Other major law enforcement agencies have their own databases of stolen artwork, including the Interpol database of stolen art. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is also devoted to International Cultural Property Protection.

The problem has become so prevalent that in 1991 the art and insurance communities jointly began the Art Loss Register in an attempt to fight art thefts around the globe. The register allows major auctioneers, collectors and art buyers to check their catalogues to determine whether a valuable piece is stolen property. The ALR lists about 1,200 new items each month and has a total of more than 120,000 stolen paintings, sculptures, furnishings and other valuable artifacts on file.

A rare image of Fairbanks with his custom Cadillac, circa 1928. This photograph, along with hundreds of others, was stolen in the Dec. 2010 burglary.

A RUDE AWAKENING

In the early morning hours of December 30th, museum curator Leigh was awakened in her hotel room miles away by a phone call from her neighbors. They had witnessed the bandits driving away in the middle of the night and alerted police.

When a panicked Leigh returned home, she discovered that the front door lock had been cracked. Her home surveillance cameras were of no use, either — electrical lines to the house were cut before the looters entered. Inside, she found a ransacked mess of her personal possessions strewn about the floor; all drawers, closets, and cabinets were picked through by the criminals. Everything of value in the home had been taken.

Leigh (who is also a renowned musician, recording artist, writer, and radio personality) lost an invaluable collection of rare tapes, photographs, concert posters and music memorabilia documenting her 25 year music career in the heist. Leigh has previously authored biographies of Douglas Fairbanks and blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, her late friend and musical mentor.

Items taken from the home include Leigh’s original onstage costumes; many were handmade custom designs given to her by fans and friends through the years. She also lost master tapes for her band’s studio albums, a treasured 1940s Stella acoustic guitar, as well as her collection of her band’s live recordings, radio interviews and broadcasts, demo tapes, notes, song lyrics, notes, research and chapters for a book she was writing at the time of the break-in. While the actual cash or replacement value for these items exceeds $20,000, Leigh says their practical and sentimental value is incalculable: “You just can’t put a price tag on things like that.”

“”They took the deepest part of me – my music.” She says. “Songs I wrote, recorded, mixed and produced. They took my demo tapes and a 20-year archive of recorded performances of the band in concert, in the studio and on the radio. That’s a lifetime of work – my whole heart and soul – was in there. And they took it all. I could write an album’s worth of blues songs about how I feel right now, but don’t even have a guitar left to write them on.”

Hundreds of CDs, DVDs, 45 and 78 rpm records were stolen from Leigh’s sizable music collection. Designer clothing items were also pilfered; medicines and nutritional supplements nicked from her kitchen pantry. (“Seriously — what kind of burglars steal your vitamins?” Leigh mused.) The peckish prowlers also helped themselves to food items in her pantry. To make matters worse for Leigh personally, the burglars found her spare sets of keys and copped two cars. Until the stolen property is recovered and returned, Leigh is without even the basic necessities of daily life. “They totally cleaned me out,” she says.

“About the only thing they didn’t take were my books,” Leigh sighed. “I guess they weren’t very literary burglars.”

So far, no arrests have been made in the case.

TO CATCH A THIEF

Leigh’s friends, family, fans, and Fairbanks museum supporters have organized an online community watch effort to catch the crooks. They scour web auction and classified sites such as Craigslist looking out for her stage clothing, guitars, master tapes, personal effects, and museum artifacts to emerge. (Many of Leigh’s stolen stage costumes can be seen in the photo galleries of her band’s Official MySpace and in her music videos on YouTube.)

Music and film memorabilia dealers, auctioneers, other museums, and the general public are being urged to keep their eyes peeled for these items and to report any suspected stolen property to their local police or the FBI. Leigh has also retained a private investigator to help track down her stolen property and locate the thieves.

“These things nearly always wind up on eBay sooner or later.” Leigh says. “Art thieves routinely approach museums, galleries and memorabilia dealers trying to sell stolen goods. With the eyes of the public watching them, they are far less likely to succeed. Most art thieves are caught by one person who recognizes a piece of cultural property offered for sale as stolen and reports back to the rightful owner.”

Perhaps the only consolation for Leigh is that most of the items stolen from her home are unique and one-of-a-kind, and thus easily identifiable. “For the most part, these are not the typical sorts of items that can be sold off to pawn shops, such as TVs, computers, stereo equipment and electronics.” She explained. “It would take a very sophisticated fence operation that deals in stolen art and cultural property to handle them on the black market. I rather doubt these thieves are that clever or that connected.”

The museum is offering a 90-day “no questions asked” amnesty period for the safe return of the property. Should the burglars — or anyone currently in possession of the stolen items — return them to the museum, the band’s management, or to Leigh personally before March 30, 2011, they will not face criminal prosecution.

“The most important thing is getting the items returned promptly,” Leigh says. “The museum is scheduled to re-open in May 2011, and I can only pray we will have this substantial part of our collections back in time for that. Otherwise, our ability to present exhibits and fulfill research requests will be greatly diminished. To say the least.”

An alert and vigilant public will play a crucial role in recovering both Leigh’s own musical treasures and the Fairbanks Museum artifacts taken from her home.”Working together, I hope and pray that we can catch the thieves and get these rare items returned to the museum, so that the public may continue to have access to them for hundreds of years to come.” Leigh says. “This collection was intended to survive well past my earthly lifetime. I built it for the education, enjoyment and cultural enrichment of future generations. To think that all that time, effort and expense was in vain absolutely breaks my heart.”

Signed Fairbanks photographic print, circa 1920. Stolen.

BE OUR EYES AND EARS

Anyone with information about the burglary or reports of artifacts from the museum’s collections being offered for sale is encouraged to contact the museum immediately via email or phone at (830) 444-0523. Tips leading to an arrest and/or return of museum property may also qualify for a cash reward.

As the inventory of stolen property contains hundreds of items and is too extensive to include here, 100 images and descriptions of artifacts taken in the Dec. 30th burglary are sampled below. Please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with them.

Many more of the stolen photographs, posters, and museum artifacts can be seen in the 2005 documentary film Douglas Fairbanks: The Great Swashbuckler. You can watch this film on the museum’s official YouTube Channel.

If you spot the same or similar item(s) being offered for sale and suspect these may be museum property, please contact the museum to confirm provenance via catalog/accession numbers and identifying tags/marks on the object(s) right away. Time is of the essence in reclaiming these historic museum artifacts before they are lost forever.

Samples of property/objects stolen from the museum’s collections:

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The Douglas Fairbanks Museum recently provided research materials to the History Channel for an upcoming  documentary about the use of language in film.

Vintage news articles from the museum’s newspaper and magazine archives were requested by the network specifically pertaining to the 1916 Douglas Fairbanks comedy, The Habit of Happiness – reportedly the first Hollywood film to contain a curse word. And this was in the silent days before spoken dialogue!

Although there are no swear words in the printed title cards, Fairbanks reportedly swore up a blue streak in one particular scene, sparking a nationwide lip-reading movie controversy.

 

 

From the 1917 book "Laugh and Live" by Douglas Fairbanks. Original in the museum's library.

 

 

Fairbanks fans may already be familiar with the story of Sunny Wiggins, the film’s central character. He’s convinced that laughter can cure any ailment and to prove his point, he conducts an experiment: find the saddest, sickest characters on earth and heal them with happiness. He decides to test his theory on a group of street-hardened “bums” at the local homeless shelter.

Douglas Fairbanks (always a stickler for authenticity) decided to make the scene as realistic as possible, hiring actual direlects from skid row instead of professional actors.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned, however; despite Doug’s many attempts to crack them up with his best gags, the men weren’t at all amused. At wits’ end, Fairbanks thus began to tell some extremely ribald and off-color stories – only this got the sad sacks to elicit a genuine chuckle before finally erupting into all-out belly laughs.

When the film was initially released by Triangle Pictures in 1916, complaints from deaf lip-readers who could grasp the flurry of Fairbanks’ profanities caused the offending scenes to be re-shot and distributed anew to theatres.

“It’s a hilarious story,” museum curator Keri Leigh says, “and I always enjoy telling it to our visitors. Although I still maintain that no one could tell the story better than Doug himself.”

Fairbanks did write his own version of the now-infamous event in an article called “Combining Play With Work,” which originally appeared in the American Magazine for July 1917.

A complete reprint of the 1917 article appears in the book Douglas Fairbanks: In His Own Words, a literary collection of Fairbanks’ writings published by the museum in 2006.

 

Leigh says that consulting with the producers on this documentary film was “a wonderful opportunity for the museum to further our mission of educating a younger generation about who Douglas Fairbanks was. We want kids especially to learn of his importance to the history and development of the cinematic arts.”

The educational documentary, which is geared towards school-age children, will be broadcast in early 2011. Stay tuned to the museum’s blog for further announcements as the air date nears.

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Doug Fairbanks' Santa Monica beach house

 

The 1922 house has ocean views and is nestled in Santa Monica’s ritzy Gold Coast area.

 

The former Santa Monica beach house of silent film star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. has sold for $6,862,000.

In an area that became known as the Gold Coast after Hollywood stars and industry giants built homes there in the 1920s, the neighborhood included such titans as MGM head Irving Thalberg and his actress-wife, Norma Shearer, oilman J. Paul Getty and comic actor Harold Lloyd. The street where Fairbanks’ home sits was nicknamed Rolls-Royce Row.

The ocean-view Mediterranean, built in 1922, has formal living and dining rooms, three bedrooms, 3 1/2 bathrooms and 3,817 square feet of living space. A wide brick terrace extends the living area off the back of the house and steps down to the swimming pool and spa, which are flanked by lawns lined with mature trees. There is a paddle tennis or sports court and a fire pit.

The property previously sold in 1994 for $1,815,000, according to public records. It came on the market less than a year ago at $7.9 million.

The hit “The Mark of Zorro” (1920) established Fairbanks as a swashbuckling leading man. His natural athleticism was put to use in films such as “Robin Hood” (1922) and “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924).

Jeffrey Hyland of Hilton & Hyland, Beverly Hills, had the listing. Chad Rogers of the same office represented the buyer.
 

 

Story by Lauren Beale, The Los Angeles Times.
lauren.beale@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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On May 23, 1883, a ray of Colorado sunshine was born in Denver. He grew up to become our swashbuckling hero of the silent silver screen and everyone’s favorite all-American boy!

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Fairbanks…and *thank you* for all the smiles you’ve given the world.:)

Douglas Fairbanks as D'Artagnan from "The Three Musketeers" as featured on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine, September 1921. From the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.
Douglas Fairbanks as D’Artagnan from “The Three Musketeers” as featured on the cover of Motion Picture Magazine, September 1921. From the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

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Mold found growing on a water damaged support beam beneath the museum's floor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MAR. 7, 2010

CONTACT: THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM

PHONE: (830) 444-0523

MUSEUM MOVES OUT OF MOLDY BUILDING

Since the discovery of mold inside the Douglas Fairbanks Museum’s new building over a month ago, museum staffers have been busy packing and moving the collections to safe climate-controlled storage offsite. The move was completed in mid-February.

“I’m happy to report that the collections do not appear to have suffered any damage as a result of the mold infestation,” museum curator Keri Leigh announced at the March board meeting in Austin. “Luckily the problem was discovered early on — about 10 days after we moved in — so we hadn’t uncrated any significant artifacts or hung anything on the gallery walls yet. We were so fortunate in that sense.”

The unfortunate news is that the museum’s planned re-opening, originally scheduled for March 1, has been postponed indefinitely pending repairs to the sick building. Extensive mold remediation, moisture intrusion repairs and replacement of key structural members will be required before the building can be safely opened to the public.

It’s obviously a major health issue,” Leigh said. “In addition to the dangers mold poses to the museum’s collection itself, my biggest concern is the health risks to staff and visitors.

“Most of the museum’s visitors have always traditionally been kids and the elderly, and those are the age groups most suceptible to harm from mold,” she explained. “Until the mold is remediated and the underlying moisture problems are fixed, there’s just no way we can continue to occupy this building or even consider opening it as a museum.”

Evidence of severe water damage, rust, dry rot and mold found under museum sub floor

Numerous case studies have shown mold to pose serious health risks to normal, healthy persons. The effects are even more severe and dangerous to the elderly, small children and infants, persons with compromised immune systems, asthma, breathing problems or mold allergies.

To make matters worse, Leigh herself is highly allergic to mold. Shortly after moving into the home in January, Leigh soon found herself suffering spells of dizziness, difficulty breathing, loss of short term memory and motor coordination, unexplained fatigue, joint pain, swelling of her face and extremities, skin rashes, and flu-like symptoms that just wouldn’t go away.

“For a couple of weeks there, I thought I just had the flu.” Leigh says. “But my symptoms weren’t getting any better and I couldn’t figure out why I was having all these other symptoms but no fever. It didn’t make sense.”

Then the mold was discovered about a week later. “While that was the worst news possible for the museum, it was kind of a relief to at least know what was making me so sick. As someone who has dealt with severe mold allergies from birth, finding out the home was ridden with mold explained all those symptoms. So at least I knew what the cause was, but of course it didn’t help me feel any better.”

“The only thing to do was for me to get myself and the museum collections out of the house as fast as possible.”

Leigh and museum staff quickly packed up the museum’s artifacts and put them in safe storage offsite. The next step was to get Leigh moved to temporary shelter for her own health.

“Once I got out of the house and into a mold-free environment, I started feeling better immediately,” she said.

But Leigh still has to travel to the museum frequently to deal with business matters once or twice a week. “It’s amazing – almost as soon as I step in the door, I’ll start sneezing. My eyes get all puffy and watery and it’s hard to breathe,” she says. “Within an hour or two I’m itching and scratching and have red bumps coming up on my skin. My brain will start to feel foggy and I can’t concentrate. The effect is instantaneous. So I’m trying to spend as little time here as possible.”

Severely water, dry rot and termite damaged wooden sheathing in attic

Although she is terribly disappointed, Leigh has come to accept the fact that the museum will not be opening in the building anytime soon. The repairs needed to remediate the mold, fix the moisture intrusion problems, and stabalize the structure are too extensive to be performed while the building is occupied.

“It’s really sad,” Leigh says. “I had such high hopes for this place just a few short months ago. It’s a lovely old Victorian home and I saw a lot of potential for the museum here. To find that this grand old house has sick building syndrome just breaks my heart because I love historic homes and hate to see something like this happen to them. It’s entirely preventable with proper care, conservation and maintenance. If homes are not cared for, these types of problems – termites, mold, wood-destroying organisms – set in and eventually just overtake the whole house.”

“It’s sort of like a cancerous growth in your home,” Leigh explains. “Early detection is key. If you can find the cancer early and remove it, it’s much less likely to come back. If it is not caught until the late stages, the cancer will spread like wildfire and be much more difficult and costly to get rid of. It may recur again and again, or it may prove fatal.”

For now, Leigh is just relieved that her health is improving and the museum’s collections are safe. “Luckily we discovered the mold and moisture problems quickly before the collections were uncrated or on the walls,” she says.

“While this is certainly a nightmare, it would have been so much worse had we actually been open to the public at the time. I have often shuddered to think of one artifact getting damaged or even one visitor or staffer getting sick from the mold. One is one too many,” says Leigh. “So I guess we were fortunate, if we try to look on the bright side of this.”

While Leigh looks for the bright side, the museum’s future hangs under a dark cloud. With grants and donating funding for nonprofit arts and cultural groups at an all-time low nationwide, many small museums like the Douglas Fairbanks are having to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently.

“The last two years have been particularly tough for us,” she says. “With the downturn in the economy, many of the funding sources we could always count on for support were either cutting grants altogether or giving much less. And the trend across the country is for even more cuts to arts, culture and educational organizations.

“When I see the Governors of big states like California and New York closing major parks and recreation facilities, and shuttering museums and libraries due to massive budget cuts, I really have to wonder how a small private museum like ours is going to stay afloat in this economy.” 

“Right now, our greatest obstacle is to have a permanent location that we can call our own,” Leigh explains. “We thought we had one here, and then we discover the building needs repairs to extensive for us to stay in it. So we’re basically right back to square one — using temporary office and exhibit space until we can settle into a new home.”

Leigh says just having a bricks-and-mortar location would most likely save the museum. Even in these tough and uncertain economic times, Leigh feels that the museum can stand on its’ own two feet without taxpayer funds.

“We’re always been self-supporting,” Leigh says. “The museum has been open since 1998 and has never accepted any public funds. All of our funding comes from donations and grants from private individuals and businesses, admission fees, gift shop sales, fundraisers and special events. We’re very proud of the fact that we’re not a burden to the taxpayer.

“We believe that if the silent film and local community think we provide a valuable service to the public, they will support us, and they always have before,” she says. “These are just tough times for everyone. We’re trying to weather the economic storm, like everybody else.”

The museum also raises additional funding from licensing and duplication fees charged to film producers and book publishers seeking to reproduce items from its’ collections, as well as fees charged to other museums when artifacts are loaned out for long-distance and traveling exhibits. The museum also has an online gift shop where Fairbanks fans can purchase books, DVD’s, apparel and memorabilia, with a percentage of sales going to the museum. “Every little bit helps right now,” Leigh says. “Especially when we don’t have a building that is open to the public where we can raise funds through admission fees, events, and the gift shop.”

“Our first priority now has to be finding either temporary or permanent space for the museum to operate,” she says.

Will the museum eventually return to the old house on St. George Street? Leigh says it’s possible.

“Sure, once the home is repaired and stabalized structurally, we could move right back in.” She says. “But there is a lot of serious work to be done here before the house will be fully repaired, and who knows how long that’s going to take? By that time, we may well be in a new permanent location with a long term lease commitment. And that’s what I hope will happen, the sooner the better. Finding us a new building is my only focus now. We desperately need to get our doors open to the public again.”

Anyone who has a suitable historic home or building they would consider donating or leasing to the Douglas Fairbanks Museum is encouraged to email or call (830) 444-0523 to discuss a resident curatorship, possible tax incentives or other options for your property. The museum is willing to relocate anywhere within the United States.

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1890s vintage residence housing the museum in Gonzales, TX

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MAR. 1, 2010

CONTACT: THE DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS MUSEUM

PHONE: (830) 444-0523

MUSEUM’S NEW BUILDING INFESTED WITH MOLD

 

On January 1, the Douglas Fairbanks Museum relocated to Gonzales, Texas, after nearly four years of occupying temporary office and exhibit spaces during their search for a new permanent location.

The museum moved into an 1890s vintage home on Saint George Street in Gonzales, with 800 square feet of space donated to the museum for library and gallery space, along with separate housing quarters for onsite staff.

Plans were underway to re-open the museum on March 1, just in time for Texas Independence Week festivities.

Museum staff and volunteers were working fast and furious to uncrate exhibits when on one rainy day in January, somebody noticed a strong and unmistakeable smell in the museum’s entry hall — mold.

“At that moment, it was like the sound of tires screeching to a halt,” said museum curator Keri Leigh. “Everything stopped until we could investigate further and see how severe the mold problem was, and most importantly, until we could find out what level of action and resources was going to be required to fix it.”

Museum entrance hall (wall where mold was initially discovered is to the R of desk/chair).

Unpacking museum artifacts, January 2010

 

Photo of mold and water damaged sub floor directly beneath entry hall area

“So I put on my coveralls, got out the flashlight, camera, clipboard, toolkit and got to work,” says Greg Jackson, the museum’s onsite facilities manager.

Jackson, who was also a licensed structural pest control inspector in California for many years before moving to Texas, began inspecting the home top to bottom; taking samples of the mold with scotch tape and petri dishes for further lab testing to find out the exact types and levels of mold present within the structure.

“At first, we thought the mold was contained to just one wall of the home since we were only smelling it in that one area,” says Jackson. “However, once I inspected the attic and crawled the home’s sub area, it became clear that this infestation was far more widespread than we originally thought. Mold is present and live throughout the home.”

The inspection revealed extensive evidence of roof leaks in the attic – water had severely damaged the sheathing and in many spots had completely rotted out the wood.  Mold and fungus were found to be growing on wood and metal flashing throughout the attic area.

Jackson also found another surprise while inspecting the attic:  a severe termite infestation. “Apparently termites have found this home a delicious treat,” says Jackson. “They’ve obviously been eating here for several years, and have simply chewed a lot of the wood away. Between the water damage, dry rot and termite damage, it’s a real mess.”

Water, dry rot and termite damaged wooden sheathing in attic

 

Closeup of same area

Jackson was in for an even bigger surprise when he inspected under the house: “Turns out a little mold growing inside a wall was the least of our problems,” he said. “It’s not only inside that one wall, but is growing underneath the entire house.”

When Jackson inspected the subarea beneath the home, he found evidence of prior flooding which had severely damaged the flooring and sub flooring. “And because these are wood floors, they became a magnet for termites and fungi,” Jackson says. “I discovered extensive evidence of termite infestations, dry rot, mold and fungus all throughout the sub area.”

Jackson says that because these water problems appear to have been present for some time and were not treated or remedied before, the infestation has had lots of time to fester and spread, which is going to make treatment and remediation both costly and time-consuming.

But what concerned Jackson even more than the evidence of water intrusion, termites and mold itself was the damage these problems have caused to the home’s structural system and foundation. “Key support beams and piers beneath the home have been severely weakened in spots due to prior water damage, dry rot, and termite infestations,” Jackson reported. “Some of these key support systems are so weakened that they could fail at any time.”

Rotted wooden support beam rests precariously atop brick pier which is slipping to the R

Evidence of severe water damage, rust, dry rot and mold found under museum sub floor

Water damage, dry rot and mold on support beam

Moldy sub floor

Mold and termite damage to load bearing wall

Cedar support pier base exhibiting severe water, fungus and termite damage

 One area of particular concern to Jackson was the bathroom. Upon entering the subarea directly beneath, he made a startling discovery:  the floors were so badly water damaged that portions of the sub flooring had disintigrated away. 

“The wood in that area is so far gone that it literally crumbles into dust when you touch it,” Jackson says. ” The floor is in danger of collapse.”

“Ever since I made that discovery, I’m very nervous every time I sit down on the commode,” he said with a light chuckle. “Let’s put it that way.”

Jackson, who also lives onsite, had noticed previously that the bathtub was leaning slightly off-level and leaked water on to the floor every time the tub was used. “That’s not a really difficult repair to make, so I wasn’t too worried about that so long as it as attended to quickly,” he said. “But when I looked under the house and saw how extensively water damaged the support beams directly beneath the bathroom area were, I knew the problem was much more serious.”

“There’s nothing quite like the possibility that the tub or commode could just fall through the floor to get your attention,” Jackson said. “Someone could get seriously hurt or even killed just using the bathroom, and that’s a risk the museum obviously won’t take with the safety of its’ visitors.”

Severely damaged flooring and support beam under commode

 

Rotted flooring and cut support beam under museum bathroom

When Jackson turned in his inspection report and photos to the museum’s curator, Leigh was shocked by what she saw: “Needless to say, this was not good news,” she said.

Mold is a museum’s worst enemy,” Leigh explained. “For a museum like ours where the majority of our collections are very old and porous paper products such as newspapers, books, posters, photographs and documents, mold just attaches itself to them. It feeds on cellulose. Air where the relative humidity (RH) is above 80% will support mold on cellulosics — cotton or linen — and most of our collections are made from those materials.”

Leigh has expressed great concern about high humidity levels in the home. Several months ago, even before the mold was discovered, Leigh was setting up an exhibit case in the main gallery when she noticed the gauge used to monitor humidity levels was giving off very high readings. “My thermo hygrometer was reading at 80-95%, based on the weather that day. On dry sunny days, the levels were at about 60-65%, but on humid or rainy days, the recorded humidity levels were just off the charts. I couldn’t figure out why.”

Leigh had also noticed excessive condensation appearing on glass doors and windows inside the museum, even on and inside the exhibit cases. “Now that’s a problem.” Leigh said. “You can’t have water droplets collecting inside an exhibit case filled with rare artifacts. Without airflow inside a case, those artifacts would start growing mold in no time.”

Extreme water condensation on windows in museum office

“So from all previous indicators, I could tell the museum building had some kind of moisture instrusion problem,” Leigh says, “but didn’t know just how widespread or severe the problem really was until I saw Greg’s photos and report of what was going on in the attic, underneath the building and within the walls. The whole building is a petri dish. Live mold and fungus are growing everywhere.”

 

 

 

 

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