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Sagamore Hill's $6.2M overhaul improves air flow

Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill home in Oyster Bay

Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill home in Oyster Bay is being restored by the National Park Service. (August 7, 2013) Credit: National Park Service

Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill mansion in Cove Neck never had air-conditioning -- and never will.

A $6.2 million overhaul of the Victorian is re-creating its original light and cooling ventilation shaft. Eight months into the project, the 23-room structure also has a touch of the new -- such as roof shingles -- and is well on the way to getting updated electrical and water systems.

"The way this house was built, it could never have air-conditioning in it," said Susan Sarna, the Sagamore Hill staff member in charge of cataloging and protecting the collection during the project, expected to last into spring 2015, at the Cove Neck National Park Service site.

In the 1950s, a ventilation shaft, its opening to the eastern-facing roof and a dormer over the opening were removed and the space added to the adjacent hallways. At that time, an air-handling system was put in the attic to improve air flow.

"We knew from the original architectural drawings that the ventilation shaft existed," said David Bittermann, the National Park Service' regional chief of design and preservation planning. "With the [exterior] windows open and the windows open in the ventilation shaft, it conducted air currents to have a cooling effect in the summertime. We thought that was an important feature to reintroduce to the house, not only because it would help us" keep the house cooler, "but it's also a tremendously important interpretive feature because so often these things disappear."

Since the house, completed in 1885, was emptied of furniture and thousands of artifacts and closed to the public last December, much of the new electrical and water systems have been installed by contractors. And the attic has two new systems to improve circulation and dehumidify the air.

Even the icehouse on the east side of the mansion has been reshingled and 1950s additions removed, Bittermann said.

Most noticeable to mansion aficionados is the re-creation of the structure's original central light and air shaft, which was eliminated when the house was renovated and opened to the public in the 1950s by the Theodore Roosevelt Association. Another visible change is the removal of a porch added at the same time.

On the back of the house when it was built "there was a service porch with a nice brick arch," Bittermann said. "During the 1950s renovation, space was needed for staff as a break room, so an addition was installed, covering the service porch completely" and extending out about 10 feet beyond the arch into the yard. Besides not being original, the elongated porch had deteriorated considerably.

"We saw that as an opportunity to go back to the earlier configuration," Bittermann said.

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