Monday, September 29, 2008

The Numbers

The Farnsworth House Steering Committee had a very productive meeting last week. The Committee consists of members from Landmarks Illinois Board of Directors and staff, as well as staff from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We toured the house and property allowing some to see the aftermath of the devastating flood on September 14. Needless to say, everyone is very eager to move forward with the two highest priorities:
Saving the House from the damage it sustained in the flood
Opening the House for tours as soon as possible

Last week also brought a visit from our insurance adjuster and a wood conservator who will provided much-needed guidance on the work needed for the primavera wood core and teak wardrobe.

We are very close to quantifying the damage to the House. We estimate Landmarks Illinois will lose over $90,000 in revenue with the House being closed for the rest of the 2008 visitor season. A very rough estimate of approximately $400,000 will be the cost to fix all damage caused by the flood.

Due to the significant loss of critical revenue, we are evaluating the possibility of an abbreviated tour program yet this year, but it’s still just a bit too early to tell if this is a real possibility. Stay tuned to our website for updates.

Your donations are very much appreciated and needed as we continue to work. Thank you to everyone who is mentioning us in your blogs and sending people our way for financial support. The emotional, technical, and monetary assistance have all been touching and sincerely appreciated and we hope it continues.

Whitney French
Site Manager for the Farnsworth House operator - Landmarks Illinois
Help Save the Farnsworth House by Donating Today -

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Real Work Begins

We have all of the collections out of the house so we can protect them while we get to work cleaning up the mess and fixing the damage. My movers were a great group of friends and volunteers and I am extremely grateful!

The assessments are in full swing and a wide array of recommendations are being made by a slew of noted experts whose opinions are varied and approaches diverse. We are hosting a bunch of meetings tomorrow that include another round of experts followed by the decision makers locked in a room at the end of the day to discuss the various options.

Our insurance adjuster is coming on Thursday. It will be interesting to see his reaction to our unique situation. This isn't the typical "throw out the drywall and insulation and start again" scenario.

One shining light, the weather has been gorgeous. Today has been high 70s sunny and breezy, perfect weather for drying out a flooded landscape. The path is still absolutely beyond navigation. I went about 15 feet and emerged with 20 pounds of mud caked to the bottom of my shoes.

We have received a wide array of comments and well wishes from fans of the Farnsworth House and I would like to extend a global thank you to all. I try to answer everyone personally, but its not always possible, so please understand that your emails are appreciated.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Closed Due to Flood"

Today was spent speaking to conservators and debating various approaches to solving a variety of issues at the house. I continually receive many emails from the legion of fans who admire the house and your well wishes are greatly appreciated.

I’ve included a few photos today of the anomalies of destruction, the oddities of the effects of water on various pieces and some of the innards of the wall construction (if you’ve purchased a GA Details book from our gift shop, you can identify this piece of steel inside the wing wall).

It seems that with every disaster there are poignant signs that remind us of the immediacy of the situation. Our closed sign was scrawled on the back of a poster we carry in our giftshop, the Farnsworth House in its beautiful fall splendor can be seen on the opposite side. A new sign is soon to go up and this one will retire to the archives of the Farnsworth House and catalogued as the 2008 "Closed due to Flood" sign. Maybe one day it will be featured in a museum exhibition?

We will soon be able to quantify the damage. But regardless, we need your help. Many have already provided generous donation and we hope others will do the same. Simply go to and click the donate button.

Thanks again to everyone for all of your support and your kind thoughts.

Whitney French
Site Manager for the Farnsworth House operator - Landmarks Illinois
Help Save the Farnsworth House by Donating Today -

HVAC is Up and Running

The HVAC specialist, Dennis Smith from Artlip Heating and Cooling came back out on Thursday and got the second dehumidifier and floor heat up and running. The Farnsworth House has exaggerated dehumidification capacity upgraded by the previous homeowner, Lord Palumbo, to protect his artwork from
humidity and prepare for the eventuality of additional floods.

I took some photos of the varying levels of silt build up to better illustrate the river’s varying effects on the floor surfaces. They represent the lower deck, the upper exterior deck and the interior. They were merely wiped with a cloth and so aren’t as clean as they will be after appropriate treatment, but I think they illustrate the impact.

We are working with several professional conservators and flood restoration specialists to collect a range of advice on the most appropriate actions. Pre-planning can be discussed and is highly advised for any emergency situations, but there is nothing like an actual drill to give you a reality check. We are learning a lot and will document our findings for our own benefit as well as the benefit of others.
Whitney French
Site Manager for the Farnsworth House operator - Landmarks Illinois
Help Save the Farnsworth House by Donating Today -

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Drying Things Out

We were able to get an HVAC technician out today. After spending much of the day in the mechanical room of the house, he was able to get the west dehumidifier running again. The Farnsworth House has two dehumidifiers—one for the west side of the house and one for the east. The east-side humidifier will be fixed tomorrow. As of the end of the day the humidity level was down to 54%.

We did have a bit of luck. The tree shown in my blog post yesterday, narrowly missed the injection pit for the dehumidifier. Water drains from the roof of the house and the dehumidifier down a pipe which drains over 100 feet from the house into a injection pit near the river. If the tree had hit the injection pit pipe, we would not have been able to start dehumidifying the house so quickly.

I wish this blog had a scratch and sniff widget so you could experience the smells in and around the house. It has taken a while to get used to and the best description would be—dead fish.

Tomorrow, a noted wood conservator will visit to begin assessment of the primavera panels on the core of the house, as well as the teak wardrobe.

Whitney FrenchSite Manager for the Farnsworth House operator - Landmarks IllinoisHelp Save the Farnsworth House by Donating Today -

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beginning the Clean-Up

Water has finally receded into the banks of the Fox River. We experienced a challenging time reaching the house today as water was in-between being able to reach the house by boat and by foot. The south yard is now above the water level but the house is still surrounded by a foot or more on all sides. As you can see, it was high enough for a few kayakers to have a unique look.
This other picture is of Farnsworth House staffer Scott Lucas as he takes a first look at the loss of one of the largest trees on the property.

We were able to get an electrician into the house to thoroughly examine the electrical system. Electricity is now back on. Tomorrow, the HVAC system will be examined and brought back on line. This will allow us to fire up the dehumidifiers and further the drying process. Windows were also finally opened so much of the moisture captured in the house has diminished.

A good part of the day was also dedicated to talking with media. The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, NPR and Beacon News were just some of the many who interviewed Landmarks Illinois staff and myself. We even got a call from a news helicopter who was trying to find the house from the air.

We appreciate the donations many people have already started to give. They are very much needed and will go a long way in helping restore the house.

Whitney French
Site Director for the Farnsworth House operator - Landmarks Illinois
Help save this masterpiece by donating today at

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Day After the Flood

Staff of Landmarks Illinois went out early this morning to assess the damage from the flood for the first time. By 8 a.m. the water had gone just below the floor level of the house. Traveling by boat, we rowed out to the house, opened the door and were able to get our first glimpse at the damage.

Water rose within the house by 18 inches. All the furniture was spared since we had put it all on milk crates the day before. Unfortunately, the wardrobe and panels along either end of the core were damaged by the water.

We will spend the next few days contacting experts and having them come give their opinions on how we should proceed with restoration of the interior of the house. We will also continue conversations with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the owners of the house. Water will continue to go down at which point we'll also be able to assess damage to our property.

Whitney French
Site Manager for the Farnsworth House operator - Landmarks Illinois
Help Save the Farnsworth House by Donating Today -