Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Woodwork Abides

Shawn

Old , new and restored woodwork
can all be seen in this picture.
As we have worked on Lafayette Flats these past many months, it has been a great pleasure to have visitors drop by to share with us stories from the building's past. We were first fascinated by the stories of the Italian stone masons and their impact on Fayetteville, but soon our appreciation for the past owners of the building grew as well. From Dr. Malcolm, who had the building built to house the bank of which he was president, to the Chapmans, from whom we bought the building, each owner had their turn as caretakers of this historic building; we are honored to have our turn.

At our recent Sneak Peek event, we had a visitor who lived in the building when she was a child and she shared with us her memories of living there. She showed us which room was hers (which is now Nuttall's bedroom) and told us some interesting things about the way families lived in the building. You see, it was never reconfigured into apartments but mostly left in its original office building condition, so the people who lived there simply adapted to the space. She also told us that all of the woodwork was covered with paint when she lived there in the 50s; this was a surprise to us since the beautiful woodwork was one of the things that attracted us to the building.

Now we knew that the building had been gutted by a fire in the early 1920s, and so that meant that the woodwork wasn't the original 1904 woodwork, but we had assumed that what we saw was indeed from the Roaring Twenties. It turns out, though, that the credit for its beautiful condition is due to Mrs. Chapman, who moved there in the 1970s and took it on herself to lovingly restore the woodwork to its original condition.

A few of the rooms still had painted woodwork when we got here and we have stripped, sanded and refinished most of it. Except for a few pieces of baseboard and some wood to rebuild the damaged newel post at the bottom of the third floor stair rail, we have been able to save and reuse the old wood.

Earlier this week as I was casing out the door to Corten - using new wood that I had bought at Lowes because we had run out of suitable reclaimed wood - I was struck by the thought of how Amy and I are privileged to have become part of this building's history. I also was able to step back and consider our place in the chain of names that have been stewards of this corner of Fayetteville. It humbled me to think that this "new" piece of wood was probably much older than me, and that I was simply the worker who added it to a building that had been around for more than a century before I found it, and would most likely be around for a century after me, hopefully longer.

Yes it's true that we are the first owners to change the floor plan significantly, creating walls and doorways that divide the spaces into flats. We are the first owners to install plumbing to the front part of the building and we are the ones responsible for removing the antiquated and dangerous electrical system. We are the owners who removed the 90 year old boiler and installed new HVAC systems, and then turned the old radiators into furniture. But the reality is that the improvements that we have made are just as temporary as those that were made in the 20s; the things that we consider modern will someday be just as passe and obsolete as the things they replaced. Such is the way with the passage of time.

But the woodwork remains. What shows on the surface might not be what people saw in the 40s, 50s or 60s, but it has always been there waiting to be seen. It is my hope that some future visitor to Lafayette Flats will see the old alongside the new, perceive that there is a difference and wonder why it looks slightly different. Perhaps they will look into the history of the building and find our names, there among the others who loved this building.

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