Eastman House holds community forum on restoration efforts


Eastman House representatives held a community forum Monday night to explore the history of restoration at the museum and gardens and to discuss plans for future repairs. The forum was attended by members of the public, Eastman House staff and members of the board of trustees, volunteers and docents, representatives from the City of Rochester as well as the offices of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.

The forum was held to provide a status update about the mansion restoration project and inform community members about the next phase of restoration efforts.

"We are currently in a critical period right now, leading up to the July 31 deadline for submitting proposals for support through New York State to the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council," said Laura Sadowski, Eastman House Vice President of Community Engagement.

George Eastman's historic home is one of only two National Historic Landmarks in Rochester (the other being the Susan B. Anthony House). Built between 1902 and 1905, the Eastman's mansion reopened to the public in 1990, following a major first-floor restoration effort to return the house to the way it looked during Eastman's lifetime.

Three major areas have been prioritized for the next stage of repairs. These include ongoing window restoration to repair broken panes and rotted wood, repair of rotted wood and cracked columns in the pergola, and repair of rotted wood and peeling paint of the grape arbor. Eastman House is applying for three different grants toward these ends.

The Eastman House serves as a "three-dimensional biography of the man who lived here," said Kathy Conner, Eastman House Legacy Curator, who presented a slideshow exploration of how funding has been used in the past to realize crucial restoration, repairs, and renovations leading up to the reopening of the historic mansion as a museum. Renovations have included additional features that were not contemporary to Eastman, such as air conditioning and storm windows, but which are critical aids in preservation efforts.

Since then, weather and the natural degradation of materials have affected the structural integrity of the site. In 2013, George Eastman House awarded a contract to Bero Architecture, PLLC to conduct a historic site condition survey on George Eastman's historic mansion and garden structures. A total of $3 million in urgent and necessary restoration and repairs were identified.

Last year, George Eastman House received a major grant of $500,000 from the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, in conjunction with the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, to address an immediate concern with the East Porch and Colonnade at the museum. To date, George Eastman House has raised more than $1 million in private funding to support the total restoration efforts.

Sadowski also briefly mentioned that Eastman House will provide leadership in the creation of a new collaborative initiative among a variety of culture organization in the Finger Lakes region to offer free or significantly reduced admission "to the substantial population living in poverty in the Finger Lakes Region. "Arts and culture make life worth living," she said. "The ability to pay for access must be addressed."

Eastman House has reached out to 135 organizations, and plans to partner with the Rochester-Monroe County Anti-Poverty Initiative, Monroe County Office of Social Services, United Way of Greater Rochester, and their counterparts in surrounding counties to develop strategies of promotion and implementation.

Eastman House Grants Officer Ruth Wagner emphasized the crucial role of the community, and asked that supporters help with the grant proposal by contacting legislators and writing letters of support for the institution.

For more information about the ongoing restoration efforts and how to help, email Ruth Wagner at rwagner@geh.org, or visit eastmanhouse.org.