Perry Cox, superintendent of Spring Hill Cemetery, shows how inch-thick marble panels have warped and threaten to fall from the wall of the cemetery's mausoleum. The building has been closed for safety reasons.
The mausoleum has a brand new roof but needs about $100,000 of repairs to keep water from seeping inside, further damaging the marble-paneled interior.
One marble panel has fallen off the north wall of the mausoleum because of water infiltration problems, and others are barely hanging on. There are no current plans to fix the interior.
Superintendent Perry Cox opens the iron gates to the mausoleum, which has been closed to the public for several years. Workers had to install temporary plywood doors to keep vandals out. The original copper-clad doors have rotted.
A wooden board, installed years ago to replace fallen marble slabs, is pulling away from the wall of the mausoleum.
Barricades at the far end of the mausoleum keep visitors away from the north wall, where loose marble panels could fall at any time.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston leaders hope a state grant will fix the water infiltration problem that has been plaguing the iconic mausoleum at Spring Hill Cemetery for years.
But even if the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) awards the full development grant the city has requested, $100,000 won't cover any repairs inside of the 103-year-old Moorish-style burial site, where marble panels have been falling off the walls.
That means visitors, who have been locked out for about three years, won't be able to pay their respects to loved ones any time soon.
"We can't allow them in for safety," said Perry Cox, the cemetery's superintendent. "We have to keep their safety in mind. Once we get the interior fixed, they'll be able to go back inside.
Not that many folks stop by. "There's two or three families that make their annual trek at Memorial Day," Cox said.
Built in 1910 by Charles Abbitt, the mausoleum stands at the heart of the cemetery, across from the new headquarters building. It's red-tile roof covers two long bays, with concrete-encased crypts stacked on each side of the aisles.
All but 10 of the 505 crypts are occupied, from May Jones Faudree on April 6, 1910, to Mary Ann Holstein on April 26, 2009, and the rest are spoken for, Cox said.
For nearly 60 years, the mausoleum was privately operated by the Charleston Mausoleum Co. The company sold crypts and took care of the place.
But sometime in the early '60s the company, or its owners, ran into financial problems. A deed dated Dec. 1, 1969 notes that the company was assigned to a special receiver by a Kanawha Circuit Court on May 17, 1963 in a case called The State of West Virginia, Plaintiff, vs. A.B.C. Distributors, Inc., and ordered to be sold to raise cash for payment of back taxes.
The city of Charleston bought the property for $500 in 1969, and has been stuck with its maintenance ever since.
Judging by its current condition, those maintenance efforts have been minimal. Cox thinks some repairs were done in the 1980s, although he wasn't around at the time.
"The most recent problem we had was with water getting into the interior," he said.
While not a new problem, water infiltration was getting worse in recent years, Cox said. There are at least two avenues.
Someone removed several windows years ago in what Cox thinks was a misguided effort to add ventilation, so blowing rain easily gets inside. In addition, rainwater seeps through the mortar between the exterior limestone blocks. "Water will find the path of least resistance," he said.
Once it gets inside, the moisture warps the inch-thick marble slabs that cover the interior walls -- even the fronts of the crypts -- causing them to pull away from their backing and their wire hanger. Some slabs have fallen off, and others threaten to do so at any time.
"We were working with a plan to get that cleaned up and we had the derecho come through." Cox said. "It lifted the roof.
"The tiles are wired together. It lifted it up and shook it like a blanket and set it back down. The roof was already leaking, but it sure didn't help."
Using mostly insurance money, Tri-State Roofing put a new $337,000 roof on early this year.
Now Cox hopes to seal up the rest of the building. "We were hoping the roof would take care of that. It hasn't."
According to the grant application, repairs would include re-pointing and sealing of the mortar joints, sealing all the limestone walls, replacing window glass, covering air vents to keep out water and replacing the rotted front doors.
Because the cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, all repairs have to follow Department of Interior standards.
Competition for the grants is stiff, said Pam Brooks, grants coordinator at the SHPO office. She expected 40 to 50 applications for the $500,000 or so SHPO typically awards. Winners will be announced in July.
The awards are 50/50 matching, so the city would have to match up to $50,000 of state money. At the cemetery, the board of the Spring Hill Cemetery Park Combined Endowment Fund has agreed to provide the city's match, said Henry Battle, the group's treasurer.
City and cemetery officials are counting on the grant money to fix the mausoleum exterior. There's no Plan B if the funds don't come through.
And there's no plan to re-hang the interior marble panels with a modern system.
Cox said he had no idea how much that would cost. "I haven't even gone there yet. We'll have to look for funding to continue the repairs. We may have to look outside the box and think of a fundraiser."
City Manager David Molgaard has made it clear he doesn't want any more money from the city's general fund going toward building repairs.
Taxpayers already subsidize cemetery operations to the tune of nearly $1 million a year, said Joe Estep, the city's finance director.
The base budget -- mostly salaries and budgets -- tops $760,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Capital costs for vehicles and other equipment add another $122,000.
The cemetery is in bad financial shape because it was poorly managed years ago, Battle said. No one bothered to set aside money for continued maintenance and operations.
The endowment fund has what seems like a substantial balance -- $2.05 million as of late March. But most of that can't be spent, Battle said. Income available for spending totaled $122,393, he said.
"We use it for capital improvements. ... We do not want to use it for operating costs," he said. "So the mausoleum -- that's what we'd use it for."
If the grant is not awarded, the foundation board may not cover the difference, Battle said. "We have not talked about doing anything else.
"Also, I object, and surely the board would feel -- the city has a responsibility to take care of the mausoleum," he said.
"We know it's a big expense. We'll try to get the city to come up with the money, and we'll search for other grants."
Reach Jim Balow at firstname.lastname@example.org