by Samuel D. Gruber
I was ecstatic to get a call yesterday informing me that some of the ideas I'd been promoting, and rumors I'd been hearing about the future of the Gustav Stickley House on Columbus Avenue, were converging on the same course, and that Everson Museum director Steve Kern and L. & J.G. Stickley Company CEO Aminy Audi would be making a big announcement soon about the historic house, with its iconic Craftsman style interior. I've known for months about Steve Kern's enthusiasm for the house, and that talks were in the works. The Preservation Association of Central New York identified the Stickley House as community priority at its annual meeting. But I was never certain that a bold step would be taken, and a threshold crossed.
Here is the story from the syracuse.com and this morning's Post-Standard.
In May I wrote of different options for the house but favored this one
...And then there is the best case scenario...this would take option three, but ratchet it up a notch so that the Stickley House would not just survive as working house, but would be turned into a full-service research and exhibition center for Central New York's famous (and continuing) Arts & Crafts Movement. Under the auspices of OHA and/or the Everson, the house would be restored supported by nationally-gathered tax-deductible donations and tax-credits where appropriate. The house would have galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, office space and still (perhaps) house a top floor caretaker's apartment. The house would function as a satellite museum with regular hours. There would be difficulties beyond the money (minimally many millions of dollars for restoration, installation, security, curatorship, etc.). A zoning change would be needed. Parking would be required - perhaps including the demolition of at least of the later structures on Columbus. But still... I can cite the success of many similar projects in this country and abroad. Tthe idea is a idealistic, but also realistic, and should be seriously considered - and championed.Late yesterday afternoon Syracuse.com broke the story the the Everson and the Audi family would move ahead - or at least try to - with plans to make the house an Arts & Crafts center and a satellite museum of the Everson. Given Stickley's pivotal role in the movement, the Everson's existing strengths in this area, and the importance and achievement of so many regional Arts & Crafts artists, this makes good sense. I had always imagined a study center, with scholars in staying in Stickley's own house. But Steve Kern and Crawford & Stearns architects are thinking bigger, and envision an actual exhibition center.
Much needs to be done, but close examination of the building - both its condition and its spaces - has confirmed that such a new life is indeed possible. This is what a large local community of neighbors and a national community of Arts & Crafts enthusiasts have hoped for a long long time.
It will not be easy. While internationally the $2 million price tag is a pittance for a major cultural attraction, and in NYC or LA, or even in Skaneateles there are kitchen rehabs that cost a good fraction of this, for cash-strapped Syracuse this is a big step. Still, as I have written before, I believe this is a project that will generate funds outside of the region to make it happen. Much is also riding on initial funding from the Regional Economic Development Council. For this, Central New York residents need to voice their vocally their support to their political representatives and cultural leaders. I have great faith in Steve Kern's ability to make this happen.
In early September I will be reprising my walking tour of last March of the Columbus Avenue neighborhood. As before, we'll stop at Stickley House for another long discussion. This time we will be cautiously optimistic.