Grant helps restore Pleasant Home's summer dining porch

Funds will be used to stabilize room's foundation, preserve decorative elements

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By Devin Rose

Staff Reporter

The Pleasant Home Foundation has received more than $80,000 in grant money from Gov. Pat Quinn's office to restore the 19th century summer dining porch at Pleasant Home.

The $80,455 capital grant will be used to stabilize the dining porch, which is a room in the southwest corner of the 1897 home owned by the Park District of Oak Park, said Laura Mercier Thompson, chairman of the Advisory Council of the Pleasant Home Foundation.

Thompson recently resigned as executive director of the foundation, which operates the home, after eight years. She will be replaced by Heidi Ruehle-May, a member of the foundation's board of directors.

Thompson said the 12-by-16-foot room to be restored was where the Farson and Mills families who resided in the house ate their morning and midday meals. Also called a breakfast porch, it's adjacent to the house's dining room and looks out onto Mills Park. It has not been used for its original purpose since about 1930, but "really tells the story of the 19th century and how people lived in the house during that time," Thompson said.

For the last couple of years, it's been closed to tours because of its poor condition. The corner the room is in was built as a single story before a second level was added around 1899. But no accommodations were made to support the foundation, Thompson said, and it began to shift and crumble. Temporary stabilization was added over the years for safety, but the foundation staff always hoped they could finish it below that room.

The room's decorative elements, like the mosaic floor, two stained glass windows, and woodwork and plaster on the ceiling, will also be fully restored. Its windows that are now covered with a cloudy plexiglass material will be removed, Thompson said. Decorative elements on the door will be reinstalled after sitting in the attic for decades.

Architects will be guided by historic photos and documents during the project, which is expected to take eight months to a year. Since schematic designs are already done, staff is looking to hire an architect right away. Thompson said the foundation got a $2,500 planning grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2011 that was matched by the park district.

The recent grant is from Quinn's Illinois Jobs Now! program, which is part of the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program, according to a news release from the foundation. Quinn said in the statement the grants will preserve and enhance structures while boosting the economy by creating jobs and bringing in visitors to the state's museums. The grant program is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The park district is matching that grant as well.

Thompson said she's thrilled that the grant money will help keep the room a viable site for the community. Staff is looking into bringing in preservation students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago so they can see the restoration process. They also envision having tea in the space, among other programs.

"It's crucial to keep the house safe and in a good condition," Thompson said. "And it's really a boom for tourism and for special events and for programming."

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