As Conservator Talks Restoration, The Merchant’s House is Shaken by an Earthquake

The Merchant House MuseumStephen Rex Brown The Merchant’s House Museum, seen from The Local’s window.

At 1:39 p.m. today, I got on the phone with Mikel Travisano of New York City’s Historic House Trust. Next Tuesday he’ll speak at the Hudson Park Library at 66 Leroy Street about his role overseeing the $598,000 restoration of the Merchant’s House Museum. Mr. Travisano told me that small cracks in the house’s exterior bricks and stucco are being sealed in order to prevent rainfall infiltration that has damaged the interior plaster over time. The rear windows, which are over 100 years old (the house itself was built in 1832), will be meticulously restored off-site. In addition, radiators will be given new thermostatic valves (better for heat control) and the house’s electrical system will be upgraded. As Mr. Travisano spoke of all this in detail that I won’t go into here, the floor underneath me began shaking, and then my desk shook as well.

I saw the door move back and forth on its own, and wondered if it was due to drilling at the construction site outside of my seventh floor office window, or perhaps at the Merchant’s House Museum itself, which happens to be next to the construction site. Professionals that we are, Mr. Travisano and I continued talking about the restoration, but I could hear office chatter sparking up around him.

“Sorry, people are talking,” he apologized.

It wasn’t until I got off the phone that my colleague Stephen Rex Brown, who had glanced at the U.S. Geological Survey website, told me that a 5.8 magnitude earthquake had rumbled buildings up and down the East coast at around 1:55 p.m.

Later, I called Mr. Travisano back and asked if he had felt the earthquake. It turns out, his office is located in the Arsenal in Central Park.

“It’s a very old building and it was shaking,” said Mr. Travisano. “I saw our desks shaking and my computer monitor wobbling quite a bit, and I wasn’t sure what it was. My colleague said my water bottle was shaking.” Mr. Travisano doubted that such a small earthquake could affect the Historic House Trust’s properties, and a call to the Merchant’s House Museum confirmed it.

“I could feel the house shaking,” said Emily Wright, an intern. “I thought it was probably construction from next door. I got up and went over to the window and by the time I sat down the shaking had stopped.” Ms. Wright said that nothing in the house had been harmed, which means that the meticulous restoration can go on.

The project, which started in the spring, should be finished this fall – likely in November. After that, the next phase of restoration will begin: Ventilators will be added back to a brick wall in the garden.

“There was some damage to the wall and the wall was rebuilt without them there,” Mr. Travisano had explained before the earthquake hit. And so the ventilators will return. Apparently they help air circulation, which is very important to the museum’s 10,400 visitors per year.

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