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Inside NCR

An era is ending at National Catholic Reporter. The current newsroom, with its clutter of wires going nowhere, nonworking light fixtures, eclectic furniture circa 1958, assorted boarded up doors (no one can figure out why they were placed four feet apart going to the same place), frayed rugs and jury-rigged bookshelves, will soon be a memory.

This is the room about which a visiting Tim Unsworth once pronounced, having just crossed the threshold and given a quick glance around: “Looks like an unmade bed.”

The immediate occasion for the remake is a sagging ceiling. It is now covered with acoustic tile, but is bowed ominously between the desks of Pamela Schaeffer and Therese Johnson, and has become a point of growing concern. (We wouldn’t want newsletters editor Joan Wingert crashing through from above, where the floor is so pitched we could rent it out as a skateboard park.) It’s one of the results of someone, at some point, having added an entire fourth floor to the rest of what is called the Armour Boulevard mansion.

The reconstruction will also eliminate the traditional editor’s office, stuck somewhat awkwardly between the newsroom and the production office with sets of big sliding glass windows on either side. The windows were great for pretending one was sitting in a huge confessional (the former priests around here have displayed great technique for sliding the windows without seeming to peek at the penitent). The windows no longer slide, something to do with that sagging ceiling.

Long before NCR came on the scene, this building had been renovated out of its early 20th century grandeur and split into offices. The only thing remaining of the original, we are told, is the elevator, an antiquated pneumatically driven deal that, the legend goes, was installed so that the faithful old dog of one of the previous owners would not have to struggle with stairs.

To accommodate the reconstruction -- once the ceiling is ripped out, it was reasoned, why not go fruther and bring the space up to at least 20th century standards -- the editorial and production staffs are vacating this area and dispersing to other rooms and floors.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress, if not our confusion. Wish us luck getting the paper out during the summer months. Target date for moving back into our updated digs is Labor Day.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, May 25, 2001