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Culture / News / Virgin Islands / January 24, 2018

ST. THOMAS — Stung by a report that Catherineberg had not been adequately secured following the passage of Hurricane Irma, the West Indian Company (WICO), which owns Catherineberg, issued a release on Monday revealing the damages that the property sustained, and the steps it’s taking to secure important artifacts while repairs are being conducted.

According to WICO, the residence along with other ancillary buildings at Estate Catherineberg suffered structural as well as cosmetic damage as a result of Hurricane Irma. Two major structural breaches occurred at the main residence, WICO said, one on the southwest corner of the second floor and another one on the northwest corner of the second floor. Several trees were uprooted, debris was strewn throughout the property and several of the gates and fencing were damaged. The pool collected debris caused by the storm and several of the exterior fixtures were destroyed. A preliminary assessment of the damages was done and the property was secured.

WICO, a government-owned company run as a semiautonomous entity, said the building has been leased to the Office of the Governor for exclusive use. Even so, WICO said it maintains the property and pool. The property, which is insured according to the release, is currently going through the insurance claims process, which would clear the path for repairs — especially on the property’s historic areas — to be conducted.

Felipe Ayala, Jr., who was hired by the Office of the Governor to conduct an assessment, said major breaches resulted in furniture being pushed across four rooms, to include two bedrooms, a storage room and a secondary hallway space. Damage to mahogany pieces was limited and cosmetic, Mr. Ayala said.

“The furniture collection at Catherineberg is a mixture of high quality, hardwood period reproductions alongside some locally produced pieces,” he said. The bulk of the furniture collection was not made in the Virgin Islands, according to WICO.

Once the upended pieces were assessed, it became clear that they were generally in their pre-storm condition and simply needed to be reconditioned and repositioned, according to Mr. Ayala. “The ten locally produced pieces were not among the pieces affected by storm activity,” he said.

The Office of the Governor has reported that each item of furniture at Estate Catherineberg has been accounted for and assessed. In addition to the mahogany furniture collection, Estate Catherineberg is also home to a small art collection. Like the furniture, this is also of mixed provenance and importance. Most of the art work consists of prints and similar reproductions except for several originals by noted local artists, WICO said. The originals by the local artists are off-site, in the custody of the Office of the Governor, which owns the paintings. Each painting and print in the Estate Catherineberg collection has been accounted for and assessed, according to WICO.

“These older buildings need to breathe and ventilate,” said Mr. Ayala. “Free flowing air will prevent an accumulation of mold and mildew and protect the historic materials used to construct and finish the buildings.”

WICO said the property has regained electricity and has been undergoing repairs by WICO’s employees as the company awaits the finalization of the insurance claim to begin the full restoration.

WICO went on to allege that a reporter “trespassed and entered the property while repairs and landscaping work was taking place, took pictures of two storage rooms with damaged furniture and selected inexpensive prints and pieces, and interpreted this as abandonment.” A V.I. Daily News reporter did visit Catheringberg recently and reported on what looked like an abandoned facility.

“When the reporter entered the property, it would have been more appropriate to contact the Office of the Governor or The West Indian Company Limited and request a tour of the property for an update on the contents of Catherineberg, why the building was open and what arrangements to safeguard the property were taken after the hurricanes,” WICO said. “Unfortunately, the president and CEO of The West Indian Company Limited was out of the country when the reporter ran the story. However, the president and CEO would like to extend an invitation to the media to tour the property with preservationist, Mr. Felipe Ayala, Jr. and The West Indian Company Limited for a true understanding and education on the current status of Catherineberg,” the company concluded.


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