One man’s dust is another man’s treasure…
We preserve structures–that’s what we do.
The work can be challenging and sometimes it sucks–but the concept is really friggin simple:
We save as much of the original building as we can.
This aint dropping a 7-11 on the corner; this aint taping up a plywood mcmansion.
Enter Michael Burrey, a man who is as passionate about saving every part of an historic structure as anyone now drawing breath on this mortal coil.
Really. As in, this is his calling and he can’t refuse the call.
Where most people see a derelict and lost eyesore–and developers see dollar signs–Michael’s eyes light up with the possibility of preserving not only a structure, but the rich and untold history of one little part of the world.
One building at a time.
If there were 36 hrs in the day, he’d be at your historic doorstep, knocking on it with a mallet and leaving you pamphlets asking if your house is saved.
He is as compelled to save an historic building as Noah was to build the ark. Pine and oak, two by two.
The wanton destruction of historic structures is Michael’s white whale. It galls him. He takes it personally when he hears of the thoughtless or greed-fueled razing of a building which could have been saved.
“Is he mad? Anyway there’s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks.”
So all this arrives with Michael when we meet up at the job site each morning.
He packs up his passion for preservation like you and I would throw a turkey sandwich into a plastic grocery bag.
Some days, there’ll be layout marks on the skeletonized dust of ancient, bug-happy sapwood.
You want me to cut this line, I ask, knowing full-well the answer.
Yep, he’ll say, with that familiar smile all of us who’ve worked with Michael know very well.
And if you know MLB, you know there’s a LOT behind every yep:
Like, there’s the craftsman side of things–he does some stupidly good work, from the finished details of a newel post to knowing just where to hit the sledgehammer to knock apart a joint to being one of the best hewers in the western hemisphere. There’s the historian/archaeologist, who could give you the full historic narrative of a structure being preserved and the skinny on many of the artifacts in and around the grounds. There’s the, Hello this is Michael of MLB restorations, answering a call from a church on Nantucket, or a timber framed bridge in the pine hills of Plymouth, or the don’t forget about tonight’s cub scout meeting from home.
The dude doesn’t even drink coffee.
So while all this is rolling around inside his head like some frenetic game of jai-alai, some well-meaning but uninformed soul might wander (wonder) by and ask,
Why don’t you just replace the whole thing? That’s what I would do. I could put up a new rafter in 20 minutes.
He’ll pause before replying, gathering himself in a way that I simply could not.
Dear readers, let us pause to take in the full meaning of that response…
If we can save a timber, a trenail, a sheathing board, we will.
It’s messy. Yep. It’s frustrating. Yep. It’s slower than replacing the whole thing with something new.
-and it’s the right thing to do.
Because once that original sash-sawn rafter is gone, it’s never coming back.
If you can save half of it, you do it.
And when you can’t save a piece of the original, the replacement tells a pretty good story–about another time and place, and about the community who cared enough to preserve something special.
Who will carefully and skillfully wrest out the good from the gone?
Look for the men and women with structural dust on their pate and in their pockets.
That’s the dust of centuries.
That’s the dust of preservation.