HIS inventions helped launch the electric, sound-recording, and
Yet Thomas A. Edison's laboratories, studios, and nearby 23-room
Victorian home on a six-acre site here, have deteriorated badly.
This year, they made the endangered-site list published by the
National Trust for Historic Places.
And with fewer federal dollars, the National Park Service, which
manages the Edison National Historic Site, has listed the brick
laboratories and home as 102 out of a priority list of 120 sites in
the country that need attention.
"Artifacts need to be in cool, dry places," says
Superintendent Maryanne Gerbauckas about the need to upgrade the
heating, humidity control, and air-conditioning in the storage
vaults and to fix some long-deferred maintenance problems.
Recent torrential rains leaked through the third-floor
laboratory roof, damaging a map collection, while some early disk
recordings are warped and cracked beyond the point of being
playable. To make matters even worse, during winter the site is
infested with squirrels.
The Friends of Edison, a private fund-raising group, has
estimated the cost of restoring and renovating the national park as
high as $30 million.
"History is deteriorating before our eyes," comments Ken
Mandel, a trustee and chair of the capital campaign. "If George
Washington's or Abraham Lincoln's writings were lying about, you'd
be outraged. There would be a bill in Congress to stop it."
The Friends of Edison have attracted a wide group of supporters
from New Jersey Sens. Bill Bradley and Frank Lautenberg, actors
Eddie Bracken and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., folk-singer Mary Travers,
actresses Celeste Holm, Ruth Warwick, and June Lockhart - whose
parents met while promoting the Ediphone - to restoration architect
John Belle, who worked with the Park Service on Ellis Island, and
"Batman" producer Michael Uslan.
"The film is deteriorating," says Mr. Uslan, a Bayonne native
who reshot several of Edison's earliest films to show at a recent
fund-raising event, including "The Sneeze," "The Kiss," "The
Great Train Robbery," and "Smashing a New Jersey Mosquito."
Adds Uslan, "Without Edison there wouldn't be `Three Sovereigns
for Sarah,' no `Age of Innocence,' no `Jurassic Park.' "
But there is still a long road to go as the Friends continue to
cast around for a national figure to spearhead the capital
"We're looking for an Iacocca," says Mr. Mandel, a
documentary-film producer, referring to the former Chrysler
chairman who helped restore the Statue of Liberty. Mandel further
estimates that it could take two or three years just to raise the
necessary funds to restore Edison's "Invention Factory," a
carry-over nickname from his previous laboratory in Menlo Park.
The Park Service, the town of West Orange and the Main Street
Redevelopment Corporation are discussing the possibility of
purchasing the Lakeside Avenue section of Edison's original factory
in which he produced batteries, Ms. …