Year End Letter From The President, November 2009
November 16, 2009
Dear Members and Friends of Bowne House:
I am pleased to report that once again the past year has been one of progress at the museum. We are moving ahead with our plans for the restoration of Bowne House and for construction of a new Education Center on the grounds, working with our new partner, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, under the aegis of Historic House Trust. In accordance with our agreement with Parks, ownership of the house and grounds was transferred to the city this summer, after a lengthy and complex legal process. The Bowne House Historical Society will continue to own the museum’s collections and will be responsible for the operation and educational programming at the museum. This change will permit us to utilize public funding earmarked for the restoration of the property. Bowne House is the twenty-third house under the Historic House Trust umbrella.
The event was celebrated with a gathering on the Bowne grounds September 30th. Elected officials, staff and trustees of HHT, Parks officials, press, and students from local schools joined members and trustees of Bowne House for this event. Students invoked the Flushing Remonstrance with artwork and one sang “America the Beautiful” in a tribute to the occasion. Pictures of the event and stories of the Bowne House and Bowne family may be found on our website – www.bownehouse.org.
Bowne House is considered to be one of the most significant, if not the most significant, houses in the HHT collection. The museum, which has been closed to the public while awaiting restoration, was opened for this event. The parlor had an exhibit of paintings of the interior showing our collections as well as a scale model of the museum and grounds, made by a student intern. It was wonderful to once again welcome visitors to Bowne House, and we hope to be able to do this on a limited basis while the house is under construction.
As mentioned in our Annual Meeting letter, we had planned to limit our usual public programming due to budgetary issues but I am pleased to say that our outreach programs have continued and have been very successful. Our resident manager, Anne Perl de Pal, has mentored student interns from local schools and this has been a mutually beneficial arrangement for the students and for the museum. Interns learn horticulture, office skills, and in some cases art and architecture. All of these encourage a knowledge and appreciation of American history. Our annual tree giveaway, in participation with Million Trees NYC and the New York Restoration Project, has been a great success. Donated trees have been installed at houses of worship, schools, and private homes in Flushing. This improves quality of life in the area while promoting horticulture, in keeping with the spirit of the Parsons and Bowne families of the famed Parsons nursery.
We have a program in formation; thanks to a grant from NYS Assemblywoman Grace Meng, we are planning a program on cooking techniques from colonial times to the 19th century. We are also collaborating with nearby historic sites to develop additional projects. Teaming our resources will allow us to have a broader reach.
Most of our efforts in the coming year, however, will be devoted to our restoration. In preparation for this, we have relocated our collections to secure, climate controlled offsite storage and have restructured our offices. Needless to say, organizing more than 60 years of collections and office materials has been a project, and we would like to thank the Samuel H. Kress Foundation for its help in funding interns for this task. We have made amazing finds during this process; Bowne House always yields more treasures, a consequence of almost 300 years of occupancy by one family. Some of these will be the inspiration for future exhibits.
The restoration of the house will first involve addressing our aging cedar shake roof, which has exceeded its life span. Next, the frame of the house will be secured and strengthened. Aging parts of the building will be restored or replaced, in accordance with our recent Historic Structures Report. Working from the outside in will allow us to address the most pressing issues first. Once that has been done, new mechanical and plumbing systems will be installed. Finally, the interior will be restored and refurbished.
All of this will take a few years, even though the New York economy remains constrained and other projects are slowing down. We plan to secure talented restoration professionals for work on the museum. Public funding remains intact, although some has been moved forward to a future year. Of course, despite extensive planning and research, an old structure may yield surprises.
In closing, we would like to thank you for your continued support of the museum and its mission. We are particularly grateful to our elected officials, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Councilmember John Liu, and NYS Senator Frank Padavan. We would also like to acknowledge the support of Bowne & Co., Inc. and American Express; the following foundations: Baumbusch, Bray’s Island, Gerson Family, Samuel H. Kress, Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg, Nautilus, and Octagon. We are indebted also to our pro-bono legal team at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP for guiding us through the legal process of the transfer; this could not have been accomplished without them. And of course we are grateful to our loyal members and descendants.
If you have made an installment pledge for the restoration project, a form is enclosed for your use. If you have not already made a donation, please consider doing so now. You may designate the purpose if you with on the enclosed form. All donations are fully tax deductible. Life members may receive, if they wish, a personalized, hand done Membership Certificate.
Thank you again, and best wishes for 2010.
Rosemary S. Vietor