BEHRE COLUMN: Surrounded by (old) news
When Hirona Matsuda stripped the Sheetrock off her kitchen walls — the kind of task done by untold numbers of do-it-yourselfers — she didn't exactly make news.
But she sure did uncover it.
Pasted top to bottom on all four beadboard walls were copies of newspapers more than a century old.
“I don't want to cover over it,” she says as she walks around the room. “It's so cool.”
Ever since the recent discovery, Matsuda's remodeling project at her new 25 Cleveland St. home has been delayed a bit as she and others pore over circa 1910 headlines, mostly from The (Charleston) Evening Post.
“She's Insane, Say Alienists, Mrs. Edith Melber, Slayer of Little Son, May Escape Death,” reads one of the more provocative ones.
Others are a bit more banal: “Race Track Here Not Yet Assured,” “Advancing Years Sapping Strength,” “Death Doesn't Deter Aviators,” and “Wintry Blasts All of a Sudden.”
Of course, the ads on the wall are equally amusing, with good Thanksgiving news for some readers: “Mr. Dyspeptic, You Can Now Eat!”
Still, the thinking behind gluing newspapers to the walls appears to be a bit of a mystery.
Those working on old buildings often have found instances where newspapers have been used as a sort of cut-rate insulation, blocking drafts from whistling through less-expensive construction.
In fact, traces of newspapers were found inside at least one old slave cabin at Magnolia Gardens in recent years.
As part of its award-winning Slavery to Freedom project, Magnolia restored one of these 19th-century cabins to its likely appearance in the 1920s. Newspapers from both Charleston and New York, presumably bought by the Hastie family, had been used for cabin insulation and were recreated there.
However, the newspaper inside 25 Cleveland St. is on both exterior and interior walls, raising the question of whether its role was more cosmetic than thermal.
There's no question that Matsuda's old newspapers offer a unique aesthetic, particularly now that they're a century old.
Certainly, today's papers don't offer the same intrigue as those printed before there was such a thing as televised soap operas: “What will happen to this bride?” is one of the featured headlines on her wall. “Lily Elsie tapped her fingers at all the time-honored superstitions and now her friends are wondering if she can ever be happy.”
Matsuda says she ultimately plans to cover them over, but adds, “I've been kind of holding off doing anything because I love it so much —and people keep coming to look at it.”
The newspapers also offer an intriguing clue as to the history of her house near Hampton Park. While Charleston County's database places its year of construction as 1930, the newspapers on the walls inside are two decades older than that.
And perhaps having a house built in part with old papers was simply a bit ahead of its time.
The website electrictreehouse.com says a Mieke Meijer, a Dutch designer, has created Newspaper Wood, a new building material that's made from recycled newspapers.
The chic-looking blog Bijou Living gives pointers about using newspaper, sheet music, maps and other everyday paper as wallpaper. “The more creative the better,” it suggests.
Of course, The Post and Courier's circulation offices probably don't market this newspaper as a building material, and maybe we're missing an opportunity there.
When redoing my old house on Chapel Street, I found newspapers wedged into a hollow column on my front porch — inside a gap too wide to be filled by caulk alone. At the time, I felt certain I was the only one in Charleston with a column in the newspaper and newspaper in a column.
So keep in mind there's more than one way to recycle what you're holding onto.
And for all of you reading this online, sorry, but you're out of luck.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.