Preservation chief to seek harmony ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

January 11, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Roberto Sackett looks like the kind of guy who would be more comfortable savoring an espresso in a New York coffee house than daintily sipping tea in an Annapolis parlor.

A native of Puerto Rico who lived for years in New York City, the intense 30-year-old who wears his dark hair in a short ponytail has given Annapolis' historic preservationists a new image.

He's the new director of preservation services for the Historic Annapolis Foundation, the nonprofit group that operates five restored Colonial buildings in Maryland's capital. In November, he replaced Sarah Filkins, who was the preservation director for seven years.

Mr. Sackett brings six years of work experience, carpentry skills and a long interest in the history of art and architecture to the foundation. He started his own business after graduate school, worked for two years for the State Preservation Office in Puerto Rico and supervised the restoration of a museum house in New York City.

He hopes to help improve cooperation between Annapolis business leaders and residents, who often have sharply different views on projects in the historic district.

Historic Annapolis has sometimes angered merchants by siding with residents against expansion proposals. The foundation also has been lumped with the city's Historic District Commission and dubbed "Hysterical Annapolis." Historic preservationists from both groups were criticized when the city required a small comic book shop to take down a poster of Spider Man.

"I know that there is usually in the preservation community as a whole a certain antagonism between preservation and business," he said. "I'm not exactly sure how to approach it, but I do want to work closely with businesses and the residents. I really don't want people to think we're anti-business."

Mr. Sackett traces his interest in historic preservation to touring in Europe as a teen-ager. Later, while he was studying art history and architecture at Columbia University in New York, Mr. Sackett's family bought a run-down, Victorian-era house in Brooklyn.

"It was a complete disaster," he recalled with a grin. "When I went to see the house the first time, I was in shock. I had never seen anything like it."

Built in the 1870s, the home had been converted into a boarding house and was in shambles, Mr. Sackett said. He and his parents spent the next four years stripping the doors, shutters and window frames, painting, having new plumbing and plaster installed and restoring the staircase.

He researched the history of paint colors that would have been used in the home and developed a lasting interest in old furniture.

After graduating with a master's degree in historic preservation from Columbia in 1986, Mr. Sackett formed a business with a friend who was a structural engineer and architect. But they had little business experience, and by the time Mr. Sackett left the firm a year and a half later, he had lost all the money he had invested.

In the next years, Mr. Sackett worked as a free-lance preservation consultant in upstate New York before moving back to San Juan.

"Old San Juan is probably as unified and as cohesive a district as anywhere else in the United States," he said. Pointing out the window of his office in the Gassaway-Feldmeyer House on Prince George Street, he added, "In some respects, it's a lot like Annapolis."

In 1989, after Hurricane Hugo swept across Puerto Rico and then slammed into South Carolina, Mr. Sackett returned to New York to oversee the renovation of the Morris-Jamel Mansion in Manhattan.

After just two months in Annapolis, Mr. Sackett said he feels at home and doesn't miss the bright lights and frenetic pace of New York.

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