A week on the Athenaeum roof 

click to enlarge Cassie Stockamp previews the view she'll enjoy for a week straight.
  • Cassie Stockamp previews the view she'll enjoy for a week straight.

Cassie Stockamp, president at the Athenaeum Foundation, says she just checked the weather report for the week, beginning Oct. 8, she plans to spend on the roof just above her office. And it looks pretty good: cold, then hot. No hurricanes. Or locusts.

But she's not without her trepidations. She pretty much conquered her fear of heights a few years back by jumping out an airplane, so no issues there (unlike for this reporter, who can't really climb down the attic-like ladder leading to the roof without feeling a bit woozy). But, well, you never quite know what'll happen when sleeping exposed on the mean streets, er, roofs, of Indy.

She'll at least have friends to stay with her at night. And, most of all, she'll have the company of a whole bunch of acquaintances and strangers, all invited to join her during a week of fundraising events that includes a screening of Going All the Way (with Dan Wakefield planning to climb up to attend), a fancy dinner with music (food by Mesh and music by the Athenaeum Pops Orchestra), lunchtime concerts catered by Mass Ave restaurants and sunrise yoga led by Stockamp, a yoga instructor.

Her travails are in the interest of The Athenaeum, with the goal of raising $100,000 for maintenance and improvements, including soundproofing of the Rathskeller (to silence or dull those thumping bass notes that bleed into the Athenaeum Theatre on weekend nights) and protection and repair of the theatre's plate glass windows (at a cost of roughly $50,000 per window).

“The entire building needs to be tucked, pointed and cleaned,” Stockamp says, referring to the process of restoring brick walls by repairing mortar and cleaning bricks. “When you look at the original pictures, the way the bricks are striped is magnificent. But they're under 117 years of crud.”

Not to mention that the rainy day fund always needs fresh infusions; a $150,000 boiler went down last year, and such unexpected costs add up over time when taking care of a building that's long passed the century mark. Rent and other income barely meets operating expenses, with little left over for such long-term needs. Stockamp estimates $6 million in deferred maintenance.

Stockamp is following a precedent of sorts with her stunt. In 1992, David Willkie sat on the Athenaeum roof for two months to raise much-needed repair funds. At that time, the building was on a path toward destruction, with a leaky roof and birds in the belfry. Willkie managed to raise $157,000 for the cause; an addition $645,600 was then donated by the Lilly Foundation, paying for the construction of a slate roof that should last 50 years (and still looks in great shape from the adjoining flat roof which will be Stockamp's home.)

Twenty years later, the Athenaeum doesn't have the same kinds of pressing needs; or, in other words, the roof is still holding up. As Spencer Valentine, development coordinator for the Athenaeum Foundation, told NUVO in June, "This is a working operating buildings that's not in disarray (anymore), but still has need being a 120-year-old building.”

Part of Stockamp's goal is to draw attention to the fact that The Athenaeum is many things to many people — a place to work out, a place to drink and party, a place to attend church — and the Foundation is in charge of it all, with respect to upkeep, making prudent financial decisions and other, as she puts it, “not very sexy” decision making.

“I think people are starting to recognize that the Athenaeum Foundation owns the building,” she says. “And we have to continue to push that brand. The Rathskeller's done a great job, and people think of this building as the Rathskeller. But that's just one, major component.”

To that end, a new sign is soon to be put in place in the parking lot, with The Athenaeum lettered across the top and then the building's three main elements — the YMCA, the Rathskeller and the Athenaeum Theatre — listed below. But it's not only about the non-profits and businesses that rent space.

“This building draws a unique group of people — everyone from 90-year-old Germans to young artists,” she says. “And if you go back to the founding principles of a sound mind and a sound body, the freethinkers who found the Athenaeum were abolitionists, women's rights activists; they were talking about free sex in the 1800s because they believed in the freedom of thought. I can't think of anywhere else in the city that has this kind of diversity going on.”

Stockamp says that her visions for the Athenaeum all come down to being responsive and receptive the community. It's not about imposing ideas, but about enabling those with ideas to see them find full flower. But she does have some hopes and desires.

“The lederhosen and the beer is fun, but one of my visions is to give the lobby area on the first floor into a contemporary German space,” she says.

David Wilkie and umbrella in 1992 on the Athenaeum roof, where he camped out for two months to raise money for repairs.
  • David Wilkie and umbrella in 1992 on the Athenaeum roof, where he camped out for two months to raise money for repairs.

A week on the roof:
(online registration at eventbrite.com)

Weekday mornings (Oct. 8-12), 7:30 a.m.: Yoga with Cassie

Monday, Oct. 8:
Noon: Music by We're Not Squibnocket, food by Hoaglin's To Go ($22)
7 p.m.: Indy Film Fest screening of Going All the Way; Dan Wakefield expected to attend ($54)

Tuesday, Oct. 9:
Noon: Music by Tony Shaw, food by Yats ($22)
4-7 p.m.: WIBC broadcasts from roof (free)

Wednesday, Oct. 10:
Noon: Music by Jason Barrows, food by Bru Burger ($22)

Thursday, Oct. 11:
Noon: Music by Brett Wiscons, food by Henry's on East ($22)
7 p.m.: Music by Athenaeum Pops Orchestra, dinner by Mesh ($54)

Friday, Oct. 12:
Noon: Music by One Wintered Life, food by Subway, appearances by Boomer and Rowdy ($22)

Some Rules of the Roof (according to the Athenaeum Foundation):
1. Please wear pants or clothes in which you will feel comfortable to climb up a ladder.
2. Please wear flat shoes (no pointy heels, boys) as you will be on the membrane of the roof.
3. Stay a comfortable distance away from the edge of the roof. Fall protection will be in place, but just as a gentle reminder, you will be on a roof.

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