For two decades, original Maybeck doors have been replaced and stored in a barn near Eliestoun. Recently, an auction to sell some of these doors has been discussed. What’s the main reason for this auction?
Over the course of many years, 167 Maybeck doors have been replaced primarily due to fire code safety laws and maintenances issues. Dean of Administration Karen Grimmer said, “The front door to Howard needed to be replaced. Despite ongoing preservation efforts, it had deteriorated to the point where it was non-operable.” The International Building Code, National Fire Protection Association, and Illinois State Legislation have enforced new Principia fire codes and safety laws in student dormitories. This law has enforced the replacement of Maybeck doors over the past several years. These codes have been constantly updated by government jurisdictions and adopted by other local communities, counties, and states. College President and Chief Executive Dr. Jonathan Palmer said, “Different fire code safety laws apply to buildings where people live 24/7 versus buildings where people visit. We must be aware of this difference.” Principia recognizes and follows the need to be totally compliant with these codes. This respect for the rules reflects our utmost concern for the protection and safety of every student.
Manager of Capital Projects Scott Gerber said: “Principia College has upheld the best pillars in sustainable design. It is the Principia objective to preserve these precious Maybeck treasures on campus, but also reintegrate building materials and examine their preservation.” For decades Principia has implemented dedicated preservation projects in order to sustain Maybeck elements in our buildings. However, due to lack of appropriate storage for the doors currently in question, these treasures are falling apart. Can we remedy this without building an entirely new storage space for the Maybeck doors?
The majority of removed Maybeck doors hail from Anderson Hall, Rackham Court, and Brooks House. Gerber said these removals were each “carefully researched and highly debated situations … Their removal was the result of questioning the Principia students’ safety.”
Chief Administrative Officer Peter Stevens said: “Principia College is very conscious of the historic nature of the Maybeck doors. There is a strong alertness to their preservation and sustainability. They have been stored in a barn near Eliestoun for many years. The open-air climate shrinks and swells these doors over time until they eventually come apart. They are also subject to insects and other pests. A climate-controlled storage space for these doors requires a lot of money for The Principia.” Stevens later added: “What is our highest sense of right? Should these doors deteriorate or be reused?”
Many people have recently signed a petition to halt the sale of Principia doors. The petition was initiated by Jeralyn Lewitz, the owner of Jeremiah’s, a resale shop in Elsah. When this issue of the Pilot went to print, the petition had 832 signatures. Lewitz said that the group of signers consists of “Principia alumni and friends, architects and preservationists, friends of Bernard Maybeck, and even two of Maybeck’s relatives. All are united in an endeavor to save something that is very dear to them. All signers are saying: Don’t auction off these doors and keep them at Principia College where they belong.” Lewitz added: “Principia has put a temporary hold on the auction and a group is trying to figure out what to do. This is a big issue. It’s not just doors.”
Stevens said, “Some people suspect that Principia wants to make money by selling the doors and that we don’t care about them. The exact opposite is the case.” So what is the motive behind this auction? Gerber said: “Principia is not doing this to make money. The entire motive is to find a sustainable way to preserve the Maybeck doors. Setting up an auction and supporting their preservation in a very fair and equitable way supports this motive. These doors will be reused in a meaningful way elsewhere.” Of the 167 Maybeck doors, Principia planned to keep 60 to 70. There are 12-20 individual door styles. One of each of these designs will be kept. Approximately 50 additional doors have been identified for possible reuse on campus.
Gerber said: “It’s not an inexpensive effort to go in and replace [a] Maybeck door. This is not an easy thing. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do that. The Maybeck doors have been in storage for 20 years. As we are now moving forward and completing fire safety renovation work, we are realizing that we have more doors than we can sustain. The reason for the auction was to preserve the doors.” Principia has engaged in active conversation with Chief Architect Michael Jackson at the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency to discuss creative solutions to this issue. Gerber said: “We have proactively sought their council and collaboration.” Grimmer added that Jackson has “commended Principia’s diligence in keeping the impact on Maybeck buildings as minimal as possible. Jackson has recognized our level of thought, dedication, and care.”
Grimmer stated: “It is important that students and administration love and value the Maybeck buildings. Living in an environment with Maybeck buildings is central to the Principia experience, [because these] buildings were designed to fit with Principia Founder Mary Kimball Morgan’s vision of a Principia education.” She added: “While we value and appreciate their design, workmanship, artistry, and historical significance, these Maybeck doors are deteriorating. We do not want to see them fall into ruin. …. Also, Principia is obligated to follow Illinois fire safety laws for student dormitories.”
What does the future hold for these Maybeck doors? Grimmer said: “We are very open to suggestions from others – students, employees, alumni, concerned or interested friends, and friends of Maybeck – regarding alternatives to an auction. How we can support the doors staying at Principia? Is there a group of interested individuals willing to provide funds to build a place to store them? Are there other viable solutions that can be identified?” Stevens said: “In January 2013, dorm life safety renovations are expected to be completed. At this time, a decision needs to be made. Will there be an auction or other creative solutions? Dr. Palmer said: “I am so grateful there are so many people who care about the Maybeck legacy. Principia is committed to being good stewards of this legacy. I believe our community will unite in finding an answer to this issue.”