West End Museum Fast-Tracking Renovations

The West End Museum was already planning to close for a couple of months next year to allow for an extensive renovation, but that timetable and fundraising goals for the project are now being fast-tracked as the museum reels to recover from last month’s flooding.

“It would’ve been a big task either way,” said Sebastian Belfanti, the museum’s director. “We just wanted to do it without the headache.”

A sprinkler check-valve apparently ruptured on the fourth floor of the West End Place condominium-cooperative at 150 Staniford St. on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 15, leading to flooding in nearly 30 units on the building’s bottom four floors, as well as in the adjacent museum and office space.

Around Jan. 15-16, it looked like most of the museum’s exhibits  would be fine, said Belfanti. But the museum kept the temperature at around 90 degrees, and due to the humidity, some of the photos from “The Last Tenement” exhibit were either ripped off their base material, or in some cases, the bolts holding them in place were ripped right out of the wall.

Most of the approximately two dozen large images featured in  the exhibit were damaged to “varying degrees,” according to Belfanti, and “those make up about 50 percent of the exbibit.”

“They all had to come out, and [that exhibit] is never going back up,” said Belfanti. “They’re not really salvageable because of the moisture damage and [due to the damage incurred when removing them from the walls].”

Belfanti attributes part of the problem to how the photos were printed in 1992 when the Bostonian Society first presented the exhibit at the Old State House.  (“The Last Tenement” reopened in 2007 at the West End Museum.)

The museum’s archives fared “surprisingly” well, said Belfanti,.

“We were kind of prepared for an event like this in that space,” he said. “[Everything] was stored in plastic.”

Only around 50 items were lost, about 40 of which the museum has duplicates of, while other documents had been scanned. Just two or three photos were lost completely.

“A handful are severely warped,” added Belfanti.

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, photos were printed on a heavy cardboard stock, instead of on thinner paper stock like today, “so those are warped,” said Belfanti, “Storing them will be a huge pain,” he added.

The museum’s offices, where there was up to 3 inches of water, sustained the most damage, and as a result, the bottom of most of the walls had to be cut out.

“We just got lights back last week,” Belfanti said Friday.

The museum’s galleries didn’t suffer any significant structural damage, however.

“The ceilings mostly came out all right, but some of the drywall had to be removed,” said Belfanti, adding that some of the walls built were already slated to be removed as part of the museum renovations.

 Before the flood, fundraising was set to begin next month in anticipation of undertaking renovations next year.

“The idea was we’d be open to cover our operating costs before closing for a couple of months in 2023,” said Belfanti. “But now we’re trying to fundraise as fast as humanly possible.”

While it’s physically closed to the public now, the museum continues to engage the public via emails, walking tours, and other programming in the interim, said Belfanti.

“The reality here is we’re going to be back operational sometime in the medium term,” he added, “and it’ll be more accessible, a more alive and modernized museum than it was.”

To contribute to the West End Museum’s renovation efforts, visit https://www.facebook.com/donate/628026908312700/. (Contributions made to the museum this way aren’t subject to processing fees as opposed to those made through the organization’s website at thewestendmuseum.org.)

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