The Cracks Keep Coming Back
Volume XIX, Issue 22
I live in a building from the 17th-century. That means it’s about 350 years old, give or take a few years. (My street was created in 1626!) There’s almost nothing in the U.S. as old as this. (See for yourself, the short list)
It’s a wood frame building and that means that it’s moving…all the time. And that means that the walls crack. And no matter how many times they have been repaired, the cracks keep coming back. I’ve gotten used to them as part of the charm and never worried too much, chalking it up to the age, the structure and life.
I’d been watching the ceiling in the living room seriously crack for several years, to my utter annoyance, and resulting contemplation to expose the 17th-century beams so that I’d never have to bother with the cracks again. It’s such a massive project—to take down the ceiling, sand the beams, insulate in between them, not to mention the expense—that I’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off.
Then, a few weeks ago, I returned from having been gone about two weeks to discover that one door frame in the apartment, leading to the bathroom, had become cracked and unhinged. Specs of plaster were on the floor. That was a whole lot more alarming than the cracks in the living room ceiling, so I put out an “APB” to the Syndic (managing company) of the building to alert them to what I thought could be structural issues in the building. They responded very quickly and sent the building’s architect to inspect.
Monsieur L., a small white-haired gentleman who spoke good English, came with a tall good-looking young man, and closely studied the cracks all over the apartment. He came to the worrisome conclusion that it’s possible there might be either a leak from above and/or some structural issues and warned me that he would order up a viable professional study—this was important for the entire building. He also warned me that in order to do so, they’d have to make holes in the ceiling to look at the beams, it would be a bit of a mess (however, they would be very careful to minimize that) and the good news was that the building insurance would pay for it.
About now I’m thinking it’s a good thing I contacted them. I might have renovated the entire apartment at my own cost only to discover it fruitless if the structural issues were acute. But, two weeks prior to the date we set—Tuesday, June 1st—I had an anxiety attack thinking this was more than I could handle, with my daughter scheduled to arrive from the U.S. the next day, friends of hers visiting and heading off for the summer to Nice. I had visions of chaos in my apartment…furniture out of place, dust everywhere, holes in the ceiling, etc…a kind of nightmare at just the wrong moment.
I wrote Monsieur L. and begged him to postpone the date till the fall. He refused, explaining how important it was to do the study NOW. There was nothing I could do about it, so I sucked it up, became as zen as possible and took the attitude of “it is what it is.”
On Tuesday morning, 15 minutes before the appointed hour, one lone man came to my door with materials to protect the area and everything he would need to perform the work. He rearranged the living room to remove the furniture from the center. He then proceeded to lay protective plastics on the floor and create a tent in the room to trap all of the dust. It in itself was a work of art. I moved myself to my daughter’s room where I could work on a laptop while he did what he came to do.
After a few hours, he had made four holes in the ceiling of the living room and one near the bathroom door exposing the beams. A woman came in the afternoon to measure the findings. Another man came by to check for moisture if there had been a leak from above. Then, he sealed up the holes with plasticized paper, put everything back in place and one would almost not know he had been there at all. My “femme de ménage” (housekeeper) agreed to come over to give the apartment a once-over to get it back to pristine condition in honor of my daughter’s arrival the next day. By 6 p.m. it had all seemed like a dream, as if (almost) nothing was disturbed.
All that anxiety had been for nothing. (Lesson #1.) The quality of his work and the way he handled it was impressive. He found nothing significant…no leaks, nothing that stood out as a cause for the sudden movement of the building. Now I await news from the architect, Monsieur L., as to what the next steps are. I imagine he will come by soon to have a closer look and make a serious decision about what must be done to keep those cracks from coming back.
It’s always been of great pride for me that my building and the neighborhood has such a long history. Henri IV had formed the project of building in the Marais a large square which would be called “Place de France” on which several streets were to end, each bearing the name of a province. That never happened, but this is how this street bears the name of the province of Saintonge. The street was opened for traffic in 1626. It then bore the names of “rue de Touraine-au-Marais” between rue du Perche and rue de Poitou, “rue la Marche” between rue de Poitou and rue de Bretagne and already “rue de Saintonge” between rue de Bretagne and Boulevard du Temple. This last name was extended to the other sections in 1851.
Now I’m paying the price for that pride, but that’s what comes with the territory. If I wanted something perfect, without all those cracks, I suppose I’d have to forego the historical nature and all the charm that goes with it. And guess what? I’m not prepared to do that, cracks or no cracks.
The Adrian Leeds Group®
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