Monday, September 22, 2008


To Wit

A couple of nights from now, a group of some of America's most talented writers - including our own Stuart O'Nan -- will assemble for an evening intended to benefit the Mark Twain House.

As everyone knows, the Mark Twain House is in terrible financial straits. You have to know this, because there was a big story in the New York Times and then, just the other day, a big story in the Wall Street Journal. This is one of the many things I find mildly irritating about the Mark Twain House. It can't even go broke quietly. It has to make a big splash about it. Edith Wharton's house is broke too, but you'd never know it. No. Edith Wharton's house says, "Don't mind me. It's just a little cough. A financial cough. A hacking, blood-producing financial cough. I'll just lie down over there and die on that wicker thing. Like, you know, Lily Bart or somebody."

If the Twain people have to file for bankruptcy, I can pretty much guarantee you they will do it live on the Oprah Winfrey show.

The Twain House is in trouble because of - and how familiar does this sound? -- drastically overborrowing on a kind of "Flip This Museum" building project - a museum addition by architect Robert A.M. Stern -- that wound up costing $19.5 million.

Parenthetically, have you noticed that there are only four architects in America?. Robert A.M. Stern. Cesar Pelli, Frank Gehry and Richard Meier. When you think of all the grand projects they have spurred along and then, when you think of all financial ruin waiting down the road - and I use "down the road" in its explicit Cormac McCarthy sense - you kind of wonder if there might be some bloody Place de la Revolution moment of reckoning in the future. Maybe lawyers get blamed for too many things. Nobody in Shakespeare ever says, "First thing we do, let's kill all the celebrity architects."

But I digress. The Twain House had planned its building project with a price tag of $11 million. Apparently, that sounded reasonable. But surprise, surprise. The Twain project did NOT become the first major building in the last 20 years to come in on budget. No, there were cost overruns. Who would have dreamed?

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