Old mansion in for revitalization

By PAUL GLASSER Published:

The 1906 baby grand piano that Gov. Steve Beshear's sons first learned to play will be restored to the Old Governor's Mansion as part of a plan to revitalize the property.

In November, first lady Jane Beshear announced a project to restore the Old Governor's Mansion on High Street. On Tuesday, the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted to allow several structural modifications and return the baby grand piano to the mansion.

The Queen Anne baby grand piano was built in 1906 and was loaned to the state. The Beshear family used it when they lived in the Old Governor's Mansion between 1983 and 1987 - it was then used as the lieutenant governor's home.

"It is very near and dear to my heart," Jane Beshear said Tuesday.

Judi Patton purchased the piano in 1994 and presented it as a gift to the mansion foundation. However, it was replaced in 2002 and the 1906 Queen Anne is in storage.

Several other restoration projects at the mansion were also approved Tuesday and will be completed at no cost to the taxpayers, said David Buchta, director of the Division of Historic Properties. He said contractors have agreed to work for free.

On the first floor the state dining room and library will be converted into one large dining room and reception hall. The two rooms are currently divided by pocket doors that will be removed.

"This will make it much more functional," said Stephen Collins, chairman of the commission.

Plans also include restoring several Victorian-era windows in the state dining room that were bricked-up during the 2002 renovation.

"It adds a lot of light and character to the room," Buchta said.

The renovations are part of a plan to restore the mansion as a guesthouse for economic development prospects or visiting dignitaries. Since being completed in 1798 the Old Governor's Mansion was a destination for eight U.S. Presidents and other international dignitaries.

Jane Beshear said a competition will be held this year for interior designers to submit ideas to redecorate the mansion. The designers will donate their time and materials to implement the ideas and no state funds will be used, Beshear said.

The Old Governor's Mansion is open for tours but attracts few visitors.

The historic preservation commission also approved a fee schedule for use of the Vest-Lindsey House on Wapping Street. It formerly housed the Executive Branch Ethics Commission but is now open to visitors and for conferences.

The General Assembly passed legislation last year that required the building be used as a state meeting house.

The 12-room Vest-Lindsey was the boyhood home of George Graham Vest, who served in the U.S. Senate for 25 years. He's best best known for coining the phase "A man's best friend is his dog."

Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, a general in the Union Army, bought the house and his family owned it for 100 years.

The home was featured in the Gothic thriller Until the Day Break, by Robert Burns Wilson, and appeared in many paintings by Paul Sawyier.

The fee schedule is $75 for a weekday meeting or conference and $150 for a weekday reception or luncheon of three hours or less. It will cost $300 for a weeknight or weekend reception of three hours or less.

The commission approved a 50-percent discount for official state agencies or officials. Buchta said with the current budget crisis few state agencies can afford to pay the full rate.

"If we have more use there is a greater justification for keeping it open as a meeting house," he said.

Jerry Graves, deputy commissioner of the Department of Facilities and Support Services, agreed and said the more people who know about the facilities available at the Vest-Lindsey House the better it can be marketed.

The historic preservation commission also voted Tuesday to recognize the people and organizations that put the statues of Henry Clay and Ephraim McDowell in the Rotunda. Clay was a noted statesman and McDowell was the first physician to remove an ovarian tumor.

The sculptor Charles Henry Niehaus gave the models to the state. Philanthropist Isaac Bernheim who donated the original statues to the national Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The Kentucky Bar and Medical associations donated marble bases for the statues of Clay and McDowell respectively. The commission approved a plaque on each marble base acknowledging the generosity of both men and each association.

The commission will approve the final design of the plaques later this year and they will be installed in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Capitol in 2010.

A collection of paintings by Kentucky artists on display at the Governor's Mansion, including 28 original Paul Sawyiers, will be officially unveiled at a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Feb. 27.

The current set of art includes three oil paintings and five watercolors by Sawyier and will be on display until May and then a new set of paintings will be rotated in.

The paintings have been on display since November and are one of the largest private collections of Sawyier's works. The paintings are on loan to the state and Jane Beshear said they have already created a lot of conversation among visitors.

"It adds a whole new dimension to tours of people who come through," she said.

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