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Without the rust, steel house at Conn College is a beauty

By Kathleen Edgecomb

Publication: The Day

Published October 06. 2013 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Left, Doug Royalty, left, preservation specialist with Connecticut College and part of the group that oversaw the preservation of the steel house, visits with Rick and Heather Grigsby, members of New London Landmarks, in the living room of the steel house on the Connecticut College campus Saturday. Right, the same room as it looked in 2008, before it was restored.
Restoration unveiled as NL Landmarks official says goodbye

New London - When a hundred or so people gathered Saturday at a restored, prefabricated steel house on the Connecticut College campus that dates back to the 1930s, two things were going on.

The afternoon event was a farewell to Sandra Kersten Chalk, executive director of New London Landmarks, who is stepping down after 10 years with the preservation group and moving across the country to Seattle, Wash. But it also was a celebration of the house itself, which has been restored with the support from the college, the state, Landmarks, and a host of public and private donations.

"Landmarks asked to have this event here and it really is what the house is all about," said Josh Stoffel, sustainability officer for the college. "It was built with sustainability before we called it that."

"Rusty," as the house is referred to on campus, is an 800-square-foot steel-panel structure manufactured by the Chicago-based General Houses Inc. and sold through mail-order catalogs. It was built in 1933 as a home for Winslow Ames, the founding director of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. The college acquired the house in 1949, and it was used as faculty housing until 2004.

The three-room house at 130 Mohegan Ave., with its bright yellow walls, large windows and oversized screen door that opens onto a patio, is the perfect spot for entertaining, Stoffel said. The patio is his favorite part of the house.

"The transition to outdoors. The openness. It all flows," he said.

The house is now Stoffel's office, and it's where students interested in the environment and sustainability hang out.

"I tell my students we are living history," he said.

In 2006, Doug Royalty, a conservation specialist, was doing work on the house next door when he noticed what was then called the Winslow Ames House. It was empty and deteriorating. And rusting. But Royalty recognized its value. There are maybe six houses like it left in the country, he said at the time.

In July 2007, the house was listed on the State Register of Historic Places.

"This was a starter house," Royalty said Saturday, as he walked through the structure, like a proud father, pointing out details and answering questions. "It was custom-designed based on what you wanted - one, two or three stories, with a garage or not."

It took about $500,000 to complete the renovations, he said.

As part of the restoration, crews from the conservation company Milner + Carr dismantled the structure and transported it to Philadelphia, where each piece was cleaned and restored. Steel panels were treated to make them rust-resistant. The house was reassembled on campus.

Meanwhile, as the wine flowed Saturday during the reception, guests turned away from the house and focused on Chalk.

"The main reason we're here is to say goodbye to Sandra Chalk," said Laurie Deredita, president of the Landmarks board of directors, as she gathered the guests onto the patio. "Sandy's been wonderful. A very hard worker and a great person."

But Chalk, who is retiring and moving to be closer to her family, directed attention right back to "Rusty."

"Doug came to me years ago and I looked at this rusty old building and it all seemed impossible," Chalk said. "This was not just restoring an old building. It was finding a new use."

She presented Royalty and Connecticut College with a special restoration award - a plaque to hang on the wall of the house. The college supported Royalty's efforts to restore the building and allowed Stoffel to use it as his office and as a small student center.

Chalk said the success of the restoration is much like Landmark's successes over the years. They were collaborations of those who didn't always agree, she said, but "found paths to work together."

Chalk is leaving Landmarks later this week. The new executive director is Constance Kristofik.


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