Williamsburg On The Subway

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They also formed the Friends of Alice Austen House, which is dedicated to supporting and improving Clear Comfort. At the Friends urging, the city, which now owns both the house and the land, spent more than a million dollars in the mid-1980s on a full-scale restoration. The house and grounds are now a museum, which offers changing exhibitions of Alice Austen’s voluminous work. The photographs and the house together can be captivating. The director, Mitchell Grubler, remarks, “I don’t know what it is—the small rooms, the memory of Alice maybe—but people tell me that right after they come in the front door, they feel a sense of history, of a time in the past. They also begin to see why the name Clear Comfort is so appropriate.”

Restorers replicating lost details had only to study Austen’s superb 1890s photographs.

Further restoration is needed, but the restorers have a valuable ally—the photographer herself. When expert craftpersons from the Historic House Restoration Crew set to replicating intricate lost scrollwork that had adorned the living-room mantel, they had only to enlarge some of Alice’s photographs from the 1890s. The pictures showed them exactly what to do.