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tv   The Presidency White House Stonemasons  CSPAN  June 25, 2018 12:00am-12:48am EDT

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take away that the music here is still a living, breathing artform in new orleans and the rest of the country. even people who say they do not like jazz or no jazz, no jazz songs. it's part of your life even if you do not realize it. >> our city's tour staff recently traveled to new orleans history. about its rich learn more about new orleans and our tour at n jeanne tower, you're watching american history v all weekend every weekend on c-span 3. -- ext
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>> next on "the presidency," a white house historian discusses the scottish stonemasons who helped build the white house. he is an author about "a white house of stone." this was part of a daylong symposium and focused on the history of british and irish connections with the white house. it is about 45 minutes. >> the next session is one that is special for me personally. as a 10th generation scottish american, the story of the scottish stonemasons at the white house is very meaningful and important. our presenter for the session, dr. william seale, literally wrote the book on these masterful craftsman, available to you today in our shop, if you would like to use your 10% discount. he will also be at the reception this afternoon and will sign your copy of the book for you. this is a wonderful book that tells the story of the scottish stonemasons and the work you can still see evidenced on the white house today.
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we're also honored to have an actual scottish stonemasons, is chuck with us? he is in the back. if you have not been to the blue tent to see his masterful work, please take time to do so between sessions or during the reception this afternoon. about a week ago, that was a solid block of stone that had originated in the quarry for the original white house stone. thanks to our friends at the national park service, they have been assisting in converting that block of stone to the beautiful scottish rows you will see under the blue tent in the back. the past several days, this is been carved on the south lawn of the white house and was yesterday moved here and they have continued their work, and you see it in practice today.
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the idea of chuck joining us for this symposium evolved from a meeting i had in edinburgh last summer with the cabinet ecretary for culture, tourism and government affairs for the government of scotland. while she could not be with us today, we are honored she sent us a video message that affirms the story of the scottish stonemasons and the importance of the story in the u.s. and scotland. >> greetings from scotland. i am happy indeed to be able to contribute to the white house historical associations symposium for 2018, which will celebrate the historic relationship between the united kingdom, ireland and the united states of america. the bonds of friendship which stretch across the atlantic are found throughout the pages of history, and will be further explored in the presentations for this year's symposium. when i met your president last year, i was interested to learn
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about the role scottish stonemasons had played in the construction of the white house, which means the links between our countries are in a very real sense embedded in the roles -- in the halls of every american president since john adams. the story is compelling. on october 13, 1792, the group charged with building the presidents house late a cornerstone in a simple but dignified ceremony. the place between the stones listed the district commissioners, the architect and a master scottish stonemasons. williams was teaching five orders of architecture in new york city until his cousin recommended him to the commissioners. the commissioners were staying at georgetown. williamson was brought on, and
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despite competition between the irish architect in the scottish stonemasons, they made quick progress on the foundation and ground-level. the project had a major impact on the commissioners. the white house needed more stonemasons from edinburgh to complete the task at hand. as a result, a merchant journeyed to scotland to find and recruit stonemasons for the white house. he found himself in edinburgh, where construction projects had halted because of the war. walker courted james and williamson, who connected him with scotland. six members of the brotherhood, along with the williamson brothers decided to take up walker's offer of work in the american capital. the scottish stonemasons got hard at work on the outer walls.
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they finished the majestic house of stone by the end of 1798. afterward, some state and worked on the capital building. others, such as the williamson brothers, return to edinburgh to finish their projects. their legacy has been further -- forever cemented in the white house. tens of millions of visitors have glanced above the north door to see the double scottish roses, acorns, oak leaves, and griffins. this is their house, as well. here, several homes still survive that were built by the same stonemasons that worked on the white house. their current -- the current plan underway by the white house historic society to install
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historic plaques at these sites to tell the story of these master craftsman and the international reach of their work. i look forward to welcoming our friends from the white house historical association to celebrate these plaques representing our ties. the ties between our two countries are long-standing. they are deeply embedded in our respective cultures and provide a bedrock to build future generations. it is in the spirit of our shared and rich past, and i wish you all the best for a successful symposium. [applause] >> there is more recent news since the recording of this video. we have received word a plaque will go up at 66 queen street, one of the sites in edinburgh where the stonemasons worked in
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scotland. please join me in welcoming dr. william seale, i believe the infinitive -- definitive authority on the white house. he is the editor of our quarterly history journal. [applause] >> thank you very much. i am going to talk about, as the program suggests, the stonemasons on the white house. some context, i am delighted with my predecessors here. to begin with, we are in a scottish area where all of this took place to begin with. the towns of alexandria and
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georgetown were incorporated into the site george washington into the site george washington selected for the capital of america. they were both settled by scots, and run by them. it was not unusual they would look to scotland. we know the shops were supplied with materials from scotland, and so -- washington put this plan here in an area he had long admired, long before the revolution. businesspeople had seen this site is about 400 miles from the sea, from the ocean. you could come here on a sailing ship. this is probably the deepest we had come into the interior in colonial america.
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this was very deep. that's why these two towns were founded, and just below the first of the rapids, everybody knew that the potomac would go way into the interior and would eventually join the ohio and mississippi. it wasn't part of the country when this happened, but it happened very soon after the white house was finished. washington selected this site because he wanted a great city, a city that was a capital in the sense that paris was a capital. he was humored. he appointed a commission of planters, the most unlikely people he could have gotten, who had no knowledge of architecture at all.
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i can't think of much they did, except that one of them had 18 children. [laughter] >> he was pretty fit. [laughter] >> james hoban was, washington met in charleston. it was probably arranged. he was prominent there, and all of the men, the five men who recommended him, knew him and all were involved in society there. james hoban have built the links in the town. there's almost no documentation of what he built. the court building seems likely, since all of his recommendations were on the board of the building of the courthouse. he was taken out the hampton, the plantation where a portico had just been added, it looks
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like him. whatever the case, he shook hands with washington, and washington came back and told his commissioners that he had met a man in charleston, and he was obviously very good and had many lands of his own. an american qualification. hoban quickly headed to philadelphia to meet with washington. it was a successful meeting. a competition was held for the presidents house. it was fixed. [laughter] >> there were many curious entries. one had a thrown minute. -- a throne in it. all kinds of architects, one of them the great carver from new england. but hoban won. washington won. they cut the plan down, the
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house would've been four times the size it is now. the plan called for a grand avenue outside decatur house. it came from three streets and joined as one with gates and the usual idea of a french palace. this did not work, but washington was going to have his house. he also realized it was more likely to be able to finish that -- house than the capital. when the plans were made for reducing the house, he would not step back from the carving, that was important to him. that had to be kept. as hoban was an easy man to get along with, had different ways of doing this, it happened to be
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the way the world worked -- at a meeting at the fountain inn, john scooter overheard one of the meetings and realized they were after stonecutters. he told them he had a cousin named williamson who was working in new york, from scotland. williamson hurried down and they turned the whole thing over to him, the whole project. although hoban was the head man. williamson was from the highlands. one of his recommendations was that he worked for a powerful landholding family. he had a patron who had a little bit of a drinking problem, and got half finished with the house he was building for the daughters, and his son james took over the estate and took it to court and took away from him and fired williamson and hired
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the adam brothers. they were -- it was a modest country scottish mansion. it burned about 15 years ago. williamson also mentioned his patron. people in these days knew the upper-class in europe, they all knew about them. like we do movie stars, i guess. williamson took over. he was a personality, he was older than the other people involved, and he had an impatience that did not serve him well. but he built the basement around the white house with the rustication, it has survived, to work on it. the commissioners, he and hoban, they just did not get along.
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williamson said that hoban hired every irish vagabond he came across to work on the place. hoban did have trouble with workers. they came in in huge numbers and they were all average. -- irish. williamson observed how they drank and cursed and partied all night, and there was even a brothel opened beside the white house on the grounds. it was very nice. [laughter] >> they went -- the commissioners were scandalized, hoban went to defend betsy, madam.
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they compromised by moving the brothel just outside of the grounds of the white house. [laughter] >> she continued in operation, and she was washington's first, i think. there was a lot of battling. no dummy. they compromised by moving the he organized a militia and the workmen all joined it, if they their pay y got docked. he mustered them every week. every sunday afternoon, they were mustered. if they did not please him, he took it out of their pay. that's how he controlled the workmen. williamson cannot stand it. the commissioners thought williamson was too much trouble. they asked a friend, a scott from edinburgh, who lived in georgetown who had stores in philadelphia and georgetown, they asked him to take letters to europe for them. they have tried this with the french and were advised, don't do it. the french will not like this, they will think the americans are meddling.
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so george walker, and very irritable old man, took the letters to edinburgh. his contact was dead. they had a friend in philadelphia who was a well-known stonemason, and a friend of jefferson, and he aspired to be a sculptor. he had great connections. he recommended this man in edinburgh who had died. the widow let him to other people, mainly to the masonic lodge, believed to be the oldest in the world there in edinburgh. and a sort of sub lodge within the major lodge, lodge number eight was operative, meaning working stonemasons.
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here he found creme de la creme of stonemasons. they were working on a city development set down the hill, a beautiful neighborhood, flat carvings and so forth. if you were a stonemason or anybody, you had to build the front of the building as the adams brothers specified, then you could build the back like you wanted to and put it on the market. these men were real estate speculators. they had the wherewithal to do that and did it. the moratorium in 1793 of workmen, skilled workman of any kind, leaving britain, put them out of business. not really, they held on, but they had to get out and get some income. they agreed with walker and came to america.
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i don't know how many totally came, but seven of them we know pretty much as individuals. they would have fled from the western coast of scotland. we know they landed in norfolk, and apparently walked washington. they were in good shape. [laughter] >> there they were. i would like to start with these slides now. the upper circle is where washington was being built. down the potomac is a quiet creek which runs back end, it is navigable. later famous for a civil war encounter, but in our case, here was a little quarry there in operation since 1699.
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it was owned by the print -- brent family, old settlers, associated with maryland and mistress brent, who did minded -- who demanded the right to do business. not only to do business, she was the governor's business. she is one of the legends. she owned it. george washington was a patron. he had door steps made their, pavers -- made there, pavers, all sorts of things. i will figure this out. there. these are pretty random. you should read it fast. [laughter] >> this is colin williamson's original contract. they were so excited to get a stonemason, they turned it all over to him. here is a quiet creek where it
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was dugout, and in the quarry was a sort of mountain of stone back you see, it is cut into. that's where they started taking the stone out of, and they would ship it down the creek to the river and put it on barges and pole it, stick close to the shore, and pole it 35 miles to washington. when they got to washington, here was a special stone landing on the creek. they took a subsidiary creek and made locks, and the stones were lifted and oxen took them to the building site. please remember how heavy the stones were, extremely heavy. they had none of the conveniences we do.
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here we are in the quarry again. here are some apparently inferior stones, this is a wonderful one. the first issue was splitting the stone. it was sandstone. this is the only house i know of ever built out of it, and that is just a faã ade. that was replaced today by limestone, but originally it was sandstone. it was so deteriorated in 1976 that they replaced it with limestone in the restoration. you would be interested to know that general braddock came here, it was the home of john carlisle, a prominent scot, one of the leading people of alexanderia, and general braddock was heading to the french and indian war, and
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stayed there. in 1976, in the family home in scotland, the papers were found the told about the visit. he did visit their, and -- there, and john carlisle said he ate him out of house and home and ruined his grounds and how terrible it was. anyway, there he met with young george washington and washington went with them out king street, and on to leesburg and the ohio river. that happened in this house, and it is still there in alexandria. if you can forgive the limestone, please visit it if you can. [laughter] >> christ church was built with the trim of sandstone. it always had trouble with the weather, and the scots realized
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that. still a practicing church through war, the civil war, it was always protected because this is where george washington worshiped. one of two churches, a country church near mount vernon, and this one, christ church. very few changes. inside, it would remind you of barbados, wherever the british were, this kind of church. wait a minute -- i have done something wrong. we are all right. there we go. here, you can barely see it. they have split between two
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rocks. in the process. stafford county and jane o'connor have created a wonderful little park there, it is a highly desirable residential area. but is just as they left it when the buildings were built here. these are rejected stones, all over the place, evidence of their work and how they did it. here we go. here are some of the workmen in sketches the association had done. you can see these of driving sticks, maybe sticks, some of them might be iron. he drives these and and it naturally splits the rock. as the rock gets reduced to the sizes they want, which the stonecutters have told them, going on the plan, big papers that never survived from building.
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we need this and we need this. both here at a quiet park, it is called government island, we have owned it since 1791, our government. see where the spikes went down? sometimes it was a stick, and they drove it down and poured water on it, and it expanded and split, and usually the split was pretty smooth. here we are, some drawings. i have a critic i told to keep his mouth shut, he said there were -- there would have been six oxen. i don't know, i was in there. [laughter] >> there is the stone and the simple crane. you can see where it slants down to the creek. they were loading onto these stone boats, and they were poled along -- the potomac is pretty
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strong, so they got as much out of the current as they could to take it to the building site. here is the building site. the covers and stone dressers, where the stones were dressed. they were again evaluating, and if they did not suit the superintendent, they were thrown out. that would be john williamson. they were thrown out. these are the accepted ones, the accepted size, they were smooth on the side that would be seen. the rest is what we would call rough. here he is carving. what is so fascinating to me, and i will bring it up in a minute, he had the big drawings they did to work on full-scale.
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he would have the border, it would go under a whole window, but it might be for stones, so it would be fitted together and it looked like one carving, testing the skill of the men who built. there were not many tools documented. first tools bought from two blacksmiths in georgetown, and then baltimore had manufacturers, i guess we would call them, and they ordered hundreds of mainly chisels. they had all kinds of has on them -- of heads on them. here are the chisels. some others were made, the founder -- pounder and mallet. they were ordered in huge numbers from this place.
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they were carving anionic capital, carving the base of a window. and here is my favorite picture. this shows everything, practically. it shows the molding and it shows a mark right here. it wasn't not about until the 1950's. -- it was not known about until the 1950's. when they finish a job, they were paid. they were constantly trying to put them on wages and they would not hear about it. they wanted to be heard by measurement -- to be paid by measurement. it was the old way, i goes all the way back to egypt, or older than that.
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[indiscernible] thank you. say it was a long piece, before the work was done, a measurer was appointed. williamson came back many times as measurer. they agreed that whatever he said would be the price. that would be agreed upon by hoban. by this strange formula, they measured and figured the cubic content of the work and the quality of the work, and the measurer would establish the
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price of what they were paid. it was only disputable in court, so we would go to court, and i did not find any in dispute. apparently it was handled well. the scots, parenthetically, did not miss behave like the irish. [laughter] >> they were sober workman who finished everything on time and took care of everything themselves. [laughter] >> this shows during the restoration the different levels of work. here is a cutout. the house was built that way. well, here is a print from the garden library at oak spring of the scottish rose, which was introduced in the 1780's and created a great sensation. i know there are a lot of roses
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now. empress josephine had this one in her garden. it electrified gardeners in europe. our stonecutters, as you will see later, adapted this. this was the trademark they left at the white house. it is everywhere. there is the big rose. they are all a little windblown, if you will notice. there is a little effort to make them windblown. this is the 14 foot swaggered over the front door, i always fancied that general washington love to the carving so much that maybe they did that to please him. it has everything you can imagine in this carving. acorns, griffins, bows, and it was the finest of i think known in the united states for many years. today, you leave the white house and you don't see it.
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you go out the north door and most people don't turn around and look. it is dazzling even to one who is not interesting. there is the rose up close. is not interesting. there is the rose up close. the scots were very proud of this rose, it set them up as gardeners in a world very i call them cabbage roses, it was the first rose that was not flat like the dogwood you see outside. here you see the fine work on the house, the plasters. especially interesting i think is this corner. the house has plasters like that on the three sides, but not the front. the front is a smooth.
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you see how rich it is with the medallions at the top. most of it is filled air. the cornice with the arched window. here is the south portico. this was built after the rest of the house, it was finished in 1824. funnily enough, when it was cleaned -- come on, now. when it was cleaned in the 1980's, the stone suddenly turned red. it was from the cynical quarry -- seneca quarry of the potomac. a lot of it was used on the house and later additions, but it turned red and became the
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famous washington brownstone that you see around on the buildings, people loved it. the smithsonian building was built out of it, the oldcastle. undaunted, hoban just did it white. just painted it white. [laughter] >> this is the north portico. this was long planned. people look at the virginia capital and of jefferson, hoban claimed he did it, drawings of it. charles bulfinch had something to do with it, the famous boston architect. this is all stone from bottom to top and was added after the fire. is that the last one?
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maybe it is. the house was finished in 1798 and whitewashed. it was whitewashed to secure the stone and philippa craddock's -- fill the crack's so that in the winter, it would not split. it would wash off and leave the cracks with thick whitewash. the scots actually published it in the local newspaper. no president i guess wants to live in a dirty house, so it was whitewashed again. after the fire, the fire in the british invasion of 1814, the house was so blackened, james madison insisted the house be rebuilt as it was.
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he called it a repair, politically, because the capital, many people wanted to move the capital to cincinnati. the rivers were open, cincinnati was crowned the queen city by location with the sea. two locations by the sea. they wanted to do that, and madison was terrified, he wanted the city repaired so they repaired to the city. holden was very careful. someone else was hired, but he was impossible to get along with, he kept doing drawings for elaborate interiors and things and madison was very practical
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and it did not do. hoban was brought back, and the intricacy to which he takes the smutty stones. the north is greatly rebuilt. one of those window hoods might have 15 pieces of them, some of them black. the one in the basement that the ambassador is talking about, they kept. it has never been covered. the house was rebuilt, occupied by james monroe at a time he called the era of good feeling, it were to be no more political parties. [laughter] >> monroe made a national tour, he was a francophile, and ordered all of his furniture paris. e really lived it up, chandeliers and the whole works.
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washington would have loved. [laughter] >> the house went on, build, rebuilt, reused. as we heard earlier, democracy plate is part -- played its part in the use of the house. normally houses in america were not this big. the ceremony they did not want, but finally had to do. staff was hired, sometimes 30, sometimes 15. and the house lived on. it served for the rest of the century. sort of paralleling -- washington in the constitution was an extremely powerful figure. this was cut down and the election of 1800 and cut down variously from that time on until 1898 and the spanish-american war, when resident mckinley, one of the
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most significant presidents almost forgotten, retained for the status of power known to washington. the house survived all those years, just sort of the house, like the house of a banker in an american city somewhere. in 1902, president theodore roosevelt, looking for a new image, mckinley was assassinated. this young man came to office, a young and vigorous man, living publicity and loving to be around. he ordered the house restored. it wasn't really restored. but the stone walls were not harmed. there was a lot of damage to the basement. basement to the vaulting which was beautiful. it was repaired. 50 years later, president harry truman and the secret service faced the problem of danger, the
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floors squeaked, and the architect in the enlargement of the state dining room in 1902 used tire rods -- a enlarged the room, and he used them to screw the ceiling into the wooden timbers of the attic. in 1925, the attic was torn off and replaced and not much attention was given to that. so the ceiling sank. i took -- i talked to an engineer, and he said the east room ceiling had dropped in the middle almost 30 inches and the dining room more. it could have fallen at any time. they were faced with that. and the security issue. president truman ordered the white house -- he researched it. he loved the symbol of the stone house washington have built. he ordered the house gutted, and
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we built inside of steel and concrete, and that was done. he protected the stone walls because they needed to take a dump truck and a bulldozer in to dig two sub basements. he happened to come by when they were trying to air hammer a door wider to get through. stop, he said. both dump truck and bulldozer were taken down, carried through the doorway, and rebuilt inside. president truman also, every day he was at blair house, he also moved to cross the street to blair house for this process, although it did not affect the
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west wing. he would walk around and he began to notice the banker marks. we saw one, they are ancient in building. a building men might carry his mark through generations, a little change here or there, but it is his mark. that's how he identified his work. the whole inside was covered with them. truman was so excited. being a mason, and believe me, it did not hurt with george washington or truman that these stonemasons were masons. he ordered a number of the stones withdrawn and replaced,
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and sent one to every masonic lodge in the united states, canada, and mexico for their museums. they are all available to be seen, and they are very proud of them. we were not able to get one. he should have sent them to scotland. [laughter] >> the house was rebuilt in steel and concrete, but by no means bomb proof. every room was a cage. they worked hard. it is strong, but not bombproof for our time. in the 1980's, president carter authorized a cleaning of the white house stone. it would not hold paint anymore. it was being painted every year, and that was bad. under the direction of james mcdaniel, still a board member here, not that old -- [laughter] >> a board member here, under his direction and research, they
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developed a means of cleaning the stone, preserving the stone, and it is copied everywhere now. the stonemasons were mostly italian, coming from the cathedral. the house was taken down, repaired and repainted with a spray gun, horrifying. a modern spray gun. there is a light coat of paint on the house, but it is not white, is a pale yellow. and the white house is there, we hope, for the ages. thank you. [applause] []
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