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The Preservationist

Howard Stahl, Class of 1969

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Whether in a courthouse or an Italianate manor, Howard Stahl is at home.

Howard Stahl '69 likes a project, and the bigger, the better.

By day, he resolves complex business disputes as a partner at Washington, D.C., law firm Steptoe & Johnson.

On the side, he restores historic mansions. It's anyone's call which job requires more concentration.

Stahl recently was lead trial and appellate counsel for a U.S. telecommunications firm that, after years of litigation, obtained a $2.1-billion fraud verdict against a Turkish company.

Stahl's persistence and diligence were critical to the case's outcome.

Of course, those same traits pay off in the restoration world, where treasures of the past need lots of tender loving care.

In Washington, D.C. and Virginia, Stahl has tackled restorations of a Federal-style bank, the Greek-revival Berry Hill Plantation and Moss Neck Manor, where General Stonewall Jackson made his winter headquarters during the Civil War.

He doesn't always move from king of the courtroom to lord of the manor easily. At Berry Hill Plantation, he "never felt quite comfortable living in the mansion. There was just something about the place ... so I lived in one of the slave buildings."

More recently, Stahl began a restoration of the Calhoun Mansion in Charleston a building he regularly walked past as a student. The mansion was already in pretty good shape, especially compared to the Charleston properties he remembers seeing in the late 1960s.

"Much of what I saw was simply ruinous," Stahl remembers, "but I became fascinated by the architecture, by the houses and buildings that were yet to be discovered and restored."

Despite the building being in good condition, the restoration was still quite an undertaking, considering the Calhoun Mansion, built in 1876, is downtown Charleston's largest residence, with 35 rooms covering more than 24,000 square feet.

Whether he's handling a racketeering case or overseeing the restoration of an antebellum estate, Stahl doesn't seem to get overwhelmed.

It was the same way at the College, where he took classes while holding down three jobs. He's selective in what he spends his time on, and gives each project careful consideration.

"I have to like the potential of what I see," Stahl says. "And, of course, it has to be historically important and represent the best example of what it is to be worth the time, effort and money."