Marconi Center Could Be Model For Preservation Of 16th Century Italian Palazzo

By: Elizabeth Van Wye

Topics: History

Princess Elettra Marconi talks with Ed Moxon during her visit to the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center last week. ELIZABETH VAN WYE PHOTO

How do you go about turning a very old, historically significant building into a modern museum, welcoming to students and tourists alike? If you are Princess Elettra Marconi, daughter of the wireless pioneer Guglielmo Marconi, and the building in question is the 16th century Palazzo Marconi in Bologna, Italy, a visit to Chatham might help you find some answers. Over the past 17 years, public and private support has helped make Chatham's Marconi Maritime Center campus a model for what historic preservation can accomplish.

On Friday, among a host of activities last week, Princess Elettra received a tour and an update on the museum's progress since her last visit in 2014. She was accompanied by Professor Livio Spinelli of Rome and Professor Corey Brennan of Rutgers University, as well as a camera crew recording the visit for an upcoming documentary on Guglielmo Marconi. She was especially keen to learn more about how the Chatham campus was preserved, and on Friday she got some answers from CMMC volunteers and town officials.

Volunteer Ed Moxon walked the visitors through an overview of the museum, including the current exhibit "Chatham Heard Round the World." Moxon recalled that when the buildings were abandoned, "a lot of equipment wandered away. But the big transmitters remained." A centerpiece of this year's exhibit is one of the station’s big SSB T-3 transmitters, made by RCA. The transmitter was saved from the scrap heap and has been restored for demonstration purposes.

The transmitter which is now installed at CMMC allows visitors to see and hear a complete demonstration of how the equipment worked together and what it was like during the heyday of the station. "The transmitters were always on air," Moxon said. "When they weren't transmitting messages, they were sending out the station ID. It was the transmitters that communicated with the world."

Chatham Housing Authority representative Shirley Smith described how the buildings Marconi built on the campus to house workers at the station were renovated and preserved to provide affordable housing for residents. Families who meet the income requirements are selected to live there and a portion of their rent each month goes into an escrow account that can be used to buy their own home after five years. "We are the only town on the Cape with a program like this," Smith stressed.

Jane Moffett, a longtime CMMC volunteer, described the fundraising challenges that faced the organization. She stressed the importance of seeking both public and private funds for an initiative like the one being contemplated in Bologna.

Selectman Peter Cocolis welcomed Princess Elettra, echoing the important role of public and private involvement. On a personal note he testified to how much can be learned from the museum. "I volunteered here and I learned a lot!" he said.

Princess Elettra particularly wanted to thank both town officials and volunteers. "This is a wonderful museum," she said. "I am so grateful on behalf of my father."


Chatham residents might soon have an opportunity to explore more of Marconi's legacy. Volunteer Roz Coleman, who organized Friday's event, noted that the facility in Chatham is just one piece of the worldwide Marconi network. She added that the organization would be sponsoring "Marconi flavored trips," including to Bologna, starting in 2019.

HARWICH — World Oceans Day 2018 will be celebrated with a number of events related to the waters that surround and collect beneath Cape Cod. The event is being put on by the Blue Institute at Cape Cod, which is located in the cultural center.

The institute has created The Blue Tour to celebrate area waters and cultural resources, combining learning opportunities and art to support healthy oceans. There are also events ongoing for the kindergarten classes in the district.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, students from Harwich Elementary School kindergarten classes will attend the Blue Institute in the cultural center on Sisson Road, where they will receive a lesson on water and keeping the ocean clean to celebrate World Oceans Day, said Judith Underwood, founder of the institute. Then the children will do an ocean-related drawing project as part of the experience.

“This is the first collaborating effort between the cultural center and Harwich Elementary School,” cultural center program aide Erica Strzepek said of opportunities for the adjacent facilities to work together.

The Blue Tour put on by the institute will begin on Friday, June 8, which is World Oceans Day. The institute is inviting the public to take several tours, free of charge, designed to provide a better understanding of where water comes from and the importance of protecting the resource.

On Friday at 9 a.m. there will be a tour of the Chatham Wastewater Treatment Plant, which will take people through the different buildings of the plant where an explanation of the processes will be provided. “It's immaculate, pristine,” said Underwood. Underwood said the plant operation has a particular importance with the town of Harwich getting ready to sewer East Harwich and pipe its wastewater to the Chatham facility.

“It will gives people a different perspective,” she said.

At 11 a.m. there will be a tour of the Harwich Shellfish Laboratory located on the edge of the public parking lot on the east side of Wychmere Harbor. Underwood said there will not be shellfish in the nursery yet, but Natural Resources Director Heinz Proft will be there to talk about the importance of oysters and other shellfish in keeping marine waters clean.

At 1 p.m. a tour of the Harwich Water Department on Chatham Road will take place. Underwood is a town water commissioner and she calls the facility a “remarkable place,” noting that the department has received repeated awards from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The department is “incredibly well run,” Underwood said, and people will have an opportunity to learn about the equipment used to monitor and protect the municipal water system.

“It should be interesting for people to find out where their water comes from. It's not just out of the tap,” Underwood said. “Water in the ocean is all connected to fresh water. It's one big circular system.”

That will be the topic of a SoulCollage Workshop at 2 p.m. at the cultural center, where Underwood will speak about water systems and how fresh and ocean water are connected. Laurinda Raquel will offer a meditative artwork session for adults to express ways to celebrate and honor the ocean through their work. Art materials will be provided.

On Saturday at 8 a.m. there will be another tour of the Harwich Shellfish Lab and at 9 a.m. a tour of the Harwich Water Department. From noon to 3 p.m. Blue Institute will hold an open house at suite 205 in the cultural center. Underwood will talk about curriculum being developed and programs about water security and the environment the organization will be providing this year.

On Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. there will be an open house at Pleasant Bay Community Boating on Pleasant Bay. Underwood said PBCB offers a number of environmental classes and summer water-related programs, including sailing and kayak tours along Muddy Creek. There will be a barbecue, and the public is invited.

Underwood urges tour participants to wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes and said children are welcome at the events as long as they are accompanied by adults.