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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Whim Museum Makes Most Endangered List

Hurricane damage on the north side of Whim Museum from 2017. (Photo courtesy Michael Connors)

Being on a national list of the “worst” doesn’t seem like a good thing, but according to stakeholders, Whim Museum being designated one of the 11th Most Endangered Historic Places in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation will improve, rather than hinder, the St. Croix museum’s chances to repair the damage caused by the 2017 hurricanes.

“It is definitely positive to have a national spotlight on the Estate Whim Museum complex and our efforts to restore all its structures,” Sonia Jacobs Dow, executive director of Landmarks Society/Whim Museum (SCLS), wrote to the Source.

“To be designated one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places signifies both Estate Whim Museum’s importance but also the pressing need to take action if this landmark is to be preserved,” Michael Connor, SCLS life member and the former director of the museum’s furniture collection, said.

The assistance offered by NTHP is not financial, they both said. Connor, who initially contacted and applied to the National Trust, said he’s already been offered help in the grant writing and new contacts. Dow said prospective donors and partners began contacting Landmarks soon after the list was made public.

Tiffany Tolbert, senior director for preservation for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, for the NTHP, said Most Endangered organizations can use the listing to raise awareness and to reach out to current and new supporters.

“We will continue to be a technical resource and partner, while 11 Most [Endangered] listed places are encouraged to look for National Trust grant programs that would be applicable. However, they would be subject to the application process and guidelines and criteria of those programs,” she said.

SCLS plans to restore and repair the site, working with the Office of Disaster Recovery, Tolbert said. Landmarks will then be able to expand interpretation and programming at Estate Whim.

“As they move through these phases, National Trust support could be applicable, but it is not guaranteed for those sites listed on 11 Most Endangered,” Talbot wrote to the Source.

For the last three years or so, Landmarks Society and the Save Whim Museum (SWM) group have been at odds. The SWM group, comprising around 200 members — mostly current or former Landmarks members — complains about the management of the museum. They say there have been no meetings or financial statements for the last four to six years.

“No one has come up with a financial report in years,” Olasee Davis, college educator and SCLS life member, said. “Someone will ask for an audit someday.”  At the same time, Davis sent a letter to the National Trust in support of the Whim Estate application.

Another point of contention is about the non-profit status of the museum. Guidestar has no record of the status, nor does the IRS. Several SWM members tried to locate the 501-c3 designation by the IRS. One said she was told by an IRS agent that the designation was revoked in February 2023 and has not been renewed. Without demonstrating tax-free status, large foundations will not accept applications from non-profit organizations. Donations to a charity are not taxable if the organization is not recognized as a 501c3 charity.

Responding to a question, Tolbert would not say if she was able to locate a tax I.D. number for the Landmarks Society.

The last time a membership meeting was attempted was October 2022, according to several SWM activists. Newly recruited members were not allowed to join the meeting and eventually the annual meeting was cancelled, they said.

Connors said the NTHP is trying to schedule a meeting between the two groups to see if they can reconcile. The V.I. government owns Whim Estate and several people have requested the Governor’s Office to intervene. So far, the impasse remains.

“We must come together to prevent the erasure of cultural landmarks. Estate Whim has been treasured by generations of families and researchers and is critical to the identity as Virgin Islanders,” Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said in a press release on May 3.

Recently, the governor signed a memorandum of understanding so that the V.I. Office of Disaster Recovery can work directly with Landmarks to manage FEMA funding. According to the ODR website, the cost of repairing the Whim Great House is estimated to be around $1.5 million — which have been obligated/promised by FEMA. The targeted start date is August 2025 and completion is estimated to be March 2028.

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