By EMMALEE C. TORISK
By the time Sara B. Chase left the Arms Family Museum of Local History on Wednesday afternoon, she had a pretty good idea of the steps necessary to restore the water-damaged period dining room to its former grandeur.
Using her analysis of the room’s fabric, paint and plaster, as well as research into paint colors and techniques on the walls and ceiling, Chase, a preservation consultant based in Lexington, Mass., will distill this information over the next few weeks into a comprehensive report and treatment plan.
It will then serve as the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s guiding document in the months-long restoration process of the first-floor room.
“I’ll be as sure as I can,” said Chase, who has a master’s degree in preservation studies from Boston University, and has been doing similar consulting work for more than 30 years. “The information needs to be reliable. It needs to be accurate for what’s here. It needs to be such that anybody else with my qualifications and experience would come to the same conclusions.”
Before a split copper water pipe in a second-floor wall saturated 80 percent of the dining room’s ceiling Jan. 8, causing water to cascade down its varnished, blue-green walls, the room remained exactly how Olive F.A. Arms left it to the MVHS in 1961.
It’s not the first treatment for the room, however, and maybe not even the second, Chase said. In her report, she’ll include details about these additional treatments in order to provide “full information to the decision-makers about what to do as they restore the ceiling and the walls, and deal with the water damage.”
As a result, most everything in the room — from the adhesive used to stick the canvas-like covering to the plaster walls, to the nails used to support the lath, to the unexplained wallpaper applied to the ceiling’s skim coat — is fair game during Chase’s investigation, much of which involves the use of a microscope.
Chase’s first day at the museum was Monday.
“Especially in this house, it [all] hangs together. Nothing is arbitrary,” said Chase of Greystone, the 1905 Arts & Crafts-style residence at 648 Wick Ave. “It’s a matter of finding it out.”
Though work in the dining room is ongoing, the Arms Family Museum will reopen for regular hours Friday. It had been closed since Jan. 5, when the “Memories of Christmas Past” exhibit ended, but was scheduled to reopen the following month after exhibits were switched.
Then, the pipe burst.
Bill Lawson, executive director of the MVHS, said about $26,000 has already been spent to clean up and repair damaged areas of the museum. Those areas include the basement boiler room — where water ruined control panels for the boilers and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system — and the second-floor Benjamin Franklin Wirt Collection gallery, where the faulty pipe was located. Damage to the upstairs was minimal, with just a few small sections of damaged wall having to be cut out.
Lawson added that he has “no idea of cost” for the dining room restoration, but said he’s hopeful that it will be complete by Labor Day. The MVHS is now accepting donations for the project via its website, www.mahoninghistory.org. Some have already come in.
“We’re very thankful for the generosity of the community,” Lawson said.
In the meantime, visitors to the Arms Family Museum will have the chance to see the dining room in its unrestored condition. Lawson said he and others at the MVHS mulled switching up the museum’s first-floor walking pattern to avoid the dining room, but that sharing it with visitors could allow them “to better understand the process we’re going through in restoration.”
Leann Rich, manager of education and external relations for the MVHS, noted, too, that the room’s restoration, and the seriousness with which it’s being undertaken, could “set a good example for historic preservation in the area.”
“We want to be an advocate,” Rich said. “We want to encourage more people to do that kind of work.”
And Chase, who said she’s simply fascinated by the unique Arts & Crafts detailing at Greystone, said she’s grateful to be back. She was here several years ago to provide research and analysis prior to the restoration of the library room’s ceiling.
“I thank Bill [Lawson] and the Mahoning Valley Historical Society for inviting me to come back and do this work,” Chase said. “It’s a very special house, and a privilege to be here.”