For all six years that Greg Sages has worked at this National Trust for Historic Preservation site on Ponus Ridge, the Brick House, a building that complements the campus’s most famous structure, the Glass House—designed at the same time and finished a few months earlier, in 1949—has been closed to the public, its collection in storage.
The roof of the Brick House is not intact, there’s water coming in underground and above-grade, and an in-floor radiant heat system must be jack-hammered out with its interior slab and replaced—an approximately $2 million project that Sages said he would like very much to tackle “next” (that is, after the ongoing Sculpture Gallery restoration is finished).
“It [The Brick House] needs restoration, and we haven’t identified the funding for that,” Sages, a Stamford native and 1972 Rippowam High School graduate who resides in Greenwich, said on a recent afternoon from this sprawling, sloping 49-acre campus.
“It is all a matter of coming up with the funding to undertake this. At the National Trust, we have something called the ‘Critical Priority List.’ What needs to be done on each of the  structures here. So we know what needs to be done. We have employed architects and consultants to determine exactly what needs to be done. The Glass House itself will need a restoration before too long.”
Which will be another significant financial undertaking at a business with a $2.6 million operating budget, where challenges on fundraising often are complicated by strict rules on use of the property as well as just how money can be spent.
For example, any work done on the historic and architecturally significant buildings must be done in compliance with Secretary of the Interior standards—an expensive proposition that involves industry specialists. Under a special operating permit with the town, the Glass House is restricted to operating May to November, faces a cap on daily tours and visitors, any activity involving 50 or more people requires advance approval and fundraisers are limited to one per year (and involving no more than 250 people).
The government provides no funding for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which offers some support services to the Glass House (finance, HR, legal and IT), though otherwise the staff there—11 full-time equivalents year-round, with an additional 25 people who work part-time as tour guides or in the Visitors Center on Elm during the season—figure it out themselves.
That staff—whose diligence and creativity won praise from Sages, who singled out Deputy Director Scott Drevnig and Communications Director Christa Carr—have done a great job of making do. For example, revenue from the Summer Party fundraiser grew from $100,000 to $400,000 in three years.
Asked to characterize the financial situation at the Glass House, Sages said: “Certainly it is OK, and we need to be doing better.”
He appears to be the right man for the job, though significant challenges loom.
Hired originally as manager of finance at The Glass House, Sages came into the role of director a few weeks ago. He grew up in a residential construction family business, and spent three decades working in finance and corporate America, much of it with construction companies.
Meeting the Glass House’s capital and operating needs will mean not only finding new donors and hitting on programming that resonates, but doing so in a way that honors and continues “the legacy that Philip Johnson established during his lifetime here.”
In 2015, new art installations and speaker programs at the Glass House have helped “drum up interest in the site, kept us relevant and given people a reason to come back for repeated visits.”
Even if the Glass House itself goes “out of service” for a period of time—its roof will need to be redone, its steel frame rusts and some of the glass in the structure is not safety glass, and will need to be replaced—there’s a possibility of attracting some with “hard hat tours” to witness the restoration work in progress.
The site’s first significant restoration is underway now.
Taken out of service just before the Summer Party, the Sculpture Gallery became a priority thanks to a major donation from Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope to cover the aluminum system that holds the glass skylight in place on the roof of the building, Sages said.
The 10-month project—including below-grade waterproofing and drainage work—will cost some $2 million when completed (hopefully for the start of the 2016 season), Sages said.
Up to now, Sages said, “Because that’s the level of funding we have had available to us,” smaller projects have been completed. Those include the dredging of the pond and Painting Gallery roof replacement.
With more money, those smaller projects could all be addressed while meeting the longer-term capital needs at the Glass House.
“The Trust undertook an obligation when it received the property from Philip Johnson, to disseminate his work but also to open as a museum and to maintain and preserve the site in accordance with the vision that he had when he established the buildings,” Sages said. “That is a significant responsibility both financially and operationally.”