A Life in the Trades: October 2009

Read series introduction.

By Nicholas Bogosian

El Dorado, AR (’92): Though established in Union County in 1843, it wasn’t until the 1921 oil boom that El Dorado gained the historical character it is known for today. With a historic district that comprises nearly seventy brick and masonry structures, the star is clearly the Union County Courthouse – a four story Classical Revival style building of cut limestone block.

My family moved from Houston to El Dorado in 1992. I was nine then, and had never really known of a life that had a town square at its center. Living in Houston sprawl created the perfect antithesis to a historic home across the street from the funeral parlor, the Episcopal Church, and the gas station.

The Rialto Theater on East Cedar Street. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The Rialto Theater on East Cedar Street. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

My zeal for dinosaurs was met in all its glory when I saw Jurassic Park at The Rialto – the oldest operating Art Deco theatre in the state (gold-plated popcorn dispensers, the ghost of Greta Garbo, plush seats, red velvet drapes…you get the picture). The town came to life every year with the advent of Music Fest. Zydeco street musicians, high school marching bands, crawfish broils, all zipping up and down Main Street into the early morning hours.
El Dorado Main Street. Source: Preservation Nation

El Dorado Main Street. Source: Preservation Nation

I grew quite comfortable with this new life and the rehabilitation of our 1904 home on the corner of Madison and Shepard. I still keep the few pictures we have from that time. Though we’ve moved on to other places, my mother has a picture of the façade of our house in a frame which reads “HOME.”

Claremore, OK (’94):

In the many boutiques lining Claremore’s main street (Route 66), one can always count on a slew of Will Rogers tourist goods. The iconic political satirist was raised there. My parents took me to his birthplace in Oologah, OK on the shores of Lake Oologah.

Dog Iron Ranch. Photo source: Stock photo from The Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

Dog Iron Ranch. Photo source: Stock photo from The Will Rogers Memorial Museum.

The ranch home was built in 1875 and is considered a vernacular interpretation of the Greek Revival style. Here was history out in the wide open. Built with 10-inch logs hand-hewn from indigenous oak/hickory/walnut, encased with clapboard siding – inside, sitting in a glass display, Will’s typewriter (retrieved from the Alaskan plane crash) that was abandoned mid-page: “death.”

Houston, TX (’08):

In my last semester of college I developed an insane Talk Radio addiction while making the thirty mile commute to school every day. And when I was fortunate to catch Houston traffic, I was often able to listen to whole hour-long radio shows before I even made it home. I was about to be bestowed with a degree in Theatre and I had recently come to the conclusion that the theatre wasn’t for me anymore. Like Mark Twain realized in his Life on the Mississippi, “…the romance and the beauty were all gone from the river.” And even more than that, I wanted an occupation in life which was useful, in a practical sense, and tangible. How nice it would be to see the results of your own labor.

While visiting family over Thanksgiving in North Georgia, I discovered the umbrella term “Historic Preservation.” I had exhausted my Google searches on career placement sites by this time. Soon, I got wind of North Carolina being a beacon state for Historic Preservation. “Historic Preservation? What is that?” I can’t tell you the frenzy of excitement that rushed through me when I realized that something I had intuitively loved and understood for so long was a viable career choice for me.

St. Clairsville, OH (’09):

Many have lamented that preservation trades training is dead, and that there are few skilled laborers left to carry out the work of preservation. Some have argued that the Whitehill Report of 1968 unnecessarily limited preservation training to graduate level students and created a barrier for those either in the building industry already or kids fresh out of high school. Others claim that it’s a moot point: “the trades are alive and well! What ‘lack’ of skilled workers?”

Regardless of the current state, I was happy to find one such institution alive and well in its training of skilled preservation workers: Belmont Technical College. Fully accredited through its partnership with Eastern Ohio University, the Building Preservation & Restoration program is typically a two year program and awards an Associate of Applied Science Degree in “Preservation Technology.” Nestled in the Ohio Valley eight miles west of Wheeling, WV and one-hundred-and-fifteen miles east of Columbus, OH, the school attracts students from all over the nation and from wide-ranging academic backgrounds.

Just skimming the curriculum can cause one to drool: Chemistry for Conservators, History of American Architecture 1 & 2, Preservation History & Theory, Building Interiors, History of American Landscapes, Ceramics, Plaster, Masonry, Building Pathology, Documentation Field Techniques, Model & Mold Making, Roofing Fundamentals, etc.

The Benjamin Lundy House. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The Benjamin Lundy House. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

I have been fortunate to lease from a local landscape architecture firm the Benjamin Lundy Home on Main Street while I am here attending school. Built in the early 1800s, it is a house of modest style – a two-story brick row home. Its true significance lies in it being where the first substantial abolitionist society in the country was formed – The Union Humane Society. Benjamin Lundy would go on to incite some of the greats that we often associate with the leaders of the Abolitionist movement, but would sink into obscurity and die before emancipation ever became a reality.

Plaque near the front door. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Plaque near the front door. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Though the home is in decent shape, it has absorbed many alterations through its time and has lost a lot of its integrity. The prospects for the home becoming a museum someday are still in abstract form.

Lundy House first floor fireplace (possible parlor room). Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Lundy House first floor fireplace (possible parlor room). Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

In the coming year, I look forward to being able to utilize the Lundy space in many of the challenges that one faces in preservation work in conjunction with my training. I will have 24/7 field lab access here to ruminate, investigate, uncover.

Next month on Preservation In Pink, I will be focusing on the historic Quaker Village of Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, eight miles north of St. Clairsville. Though it is a registered national landmark and has a significant history attached to the underground railroad, it has fallen by the wayside and many of its structures have not been properly maintained. Meanwhile, a very large and expensive Underground Railroad Museum has been established in Cincinnati.

FYI – Turns out the NTHP awarded El Dorado, AR in its Great American Main Street program this year along with four other cities across the country!

A Life in the Trades Series

Preservation in Pink welcomes a new monthly series by Nicholas Bogosian, a student at Belmont Technical College’s Building Preservation and Restoration Program in St. Clairsville, OH. His primary interests lie in the preservation trades and community development. In each “A Life in the Trades” post Nicholas will discuss preservation trades lessons and information that he is learning program.  From his training, he will be able to apply new skills to the Benjamin Lundy House, the home of the first notable abolitionist in America, which is currently owned by an architecture firm and leased by Nicholas. As Nicholas will show readers, it is like living in a preservation project. In addition, he will share local history with readers. Restoration, preservation, a historic home, hands-on work, local history – what could be better?

A Life in the Trades will be posted on the 30th of each month. To find all of the series, click on the category for “Nicholas Bogosian” or “A Life in the Trades.”

Preservation Photos #1

The series begins with an architectural detail of my favorite building on the UVM campus: Billings Library designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson.  (Click for a larger image.)

Billings Library, UVM, architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

Billings Library, UVM, architect Henry Hobson Richardson.

Preservation Photos

Preservation in Pink is introducing a new weekly series: Preservation Photos. Every Tuesday, expect a historic preservation related photograph. Perhaps a building, a landscape shot, an architectural detail, field work scenes, graduate school studies, scenes of Burlington, and probably many more. You, preservationists, know just how far a tangent can go.

There are a few reasons for this new series. First, since I find myself in new surroundings constantly and I have yet to be unimpressed by Vermont, I like to take pictures everywhere. Second, most of my preservation projects require accompanying photographs. We have an interesting batch of projects, research, and field work to share. Third, with the stacks of books to read and the projects beginning to snowball, sometimes it is nice to just have a photograph at which to gaze rather than blocks of text.

Enjoy the indefinite series and please, feel free to contribute.

Indoctrination

By Melissa Celii

Ah is there anything better than a young mind, so thirsty for knowledge and easily malleable to the persuasion of their superiors? And what better to fill those naive young minds with then historic preservation. That’s right, it’s time for next generation indoctrination!

As I child, I know how much I loved going to museums and exploring old houses and structures, longing to learn all of their secrets and inner workings. As an adult, I can not wait until I have kids of my own and can teach them about all the wonders that the built environment has to offer and the complete joy they can experience uncovering the past (though if psychology has taught me anything, my kids will become suburbanites that love modern art…they will quickly be shunned and written out of my will 🙂 ). Walking around downtown, I can’t help but think how fun it will be to have architectural scavenger hunts…i.e. how many Doric columns can we find? (If there were any doubts about my complete dorkitude, I think the last sentence will squash them.)

Apparently however, I am not the only one. I’ve come across a couple great websites that are great (and fun) tools for teaching historic preservation and appreciation for the built environment and history in general. St. Louis Historic Preservation has a great site on teaching different kinds of building materials and even features a fun quiz. (I am ashamed to say that I did pretty horribly…clearly my current realm of grants and affordable housing has weakened my mind!) The History Channel, as part of its Save our History campaign, has some great lesson plans too (for those of you who prefer a more structured brain washing). You have to register to access the plans; I just said I was a home-schooler. I’m sure there are plenty of other great sites out there, so if you come across any please share. In the mean time, if you happen to come across a child be sure to tell them that all the cool kids know what rusticated limestone means and that the real reason it rains is because God is crying because somewhere an old barn just fell down.

That’s a Barn!

Grafton, VT

Grafton, VT

As I mentioned, for one my graduate school classes, I (along with my 12 fellow classmates) am participating in the Vermont Barn Census. For our purposes it involves windshield surveys, which are just what the term sounds like. With maps, architectural guide books, notebooks, pencils, and cameras in hand, we plot out a route in our specified area (a Vermont town in our case) and drive the roads. When we see a barn we stop, snap a photograph, record the address and some other notes if necessary, occasionally talk to the property owner who is giving us an odd look, and moving on until we see another barn, or agriculture related buildings (i.e. equipment shed, ice house, milk house, sugar house, corn crib, etc.) Often we shout “that’s a barn!” when we see one in the distance, or we turn around to photograph the one we just caught out of the corner of our eyes.

Grafton, VT.

Grafton, VT.

Conducting a survey is an actual tool used by historic preservationists and architectural historians. It reminds me of the New Deal days when HABS started and crews spread across the country to document America’s built environment and shared heritage. Windshield surveying has its advantages and disadvantages, all of which would make for a good discussion. However, the justification for a windshield survey is to gather preliminary information on as much land as possible in order to evaluate which areas require in depth survey and further research.

Record keeping: making sure the addresses and photo images match.  (Photograph courtesy of Emily Morgan.)

Record keeping: making sure the addresses and photo images match. (Photograph courtesy of E. Morgan.)

Today is survey day #2 for Emily and me. We’ll leave early with coffee in hand and explore more of Vermont, hoping to find many barns. Last week we experienced just how many dirt roads are in Vermont, how beautiful of a state it is, how maps aren’t always accurate, and of course the many, many barns in Grafton, VT.

Technology often helps in survey, but not when the GPS cannot figure out our location!

Technology often helps in survey, but not when the GPS cannot figure out our location!

Not all barns are extant, so we have to record them to help figure out the rate of barn loss in Vermont.

Not all barns are extant, so we have to record them to help figure out the rate of barn loss in Vermont.

Expect more Barn Census posts this semester. In the meantime: check out the Vermont Barn Census.

First Day of Autumn

Ah, Autumn (or Fall, what have you)… it’s a perfect time for enjoying the landscape and appreciating your community. Cooler temperatures and falling leaves bring out a happiness with pumpkins, corn maizes, festivals, apples, hay bales, bright colors, cozy days, hot drinks, and people enjoying the comfort of their homes. Celebrate the comfort of your house today and the spirit of your neighborhood. During the weekend – find an apple festival or go pumpkin picking!

apple

Architecture Toys

Did you have wood blocks to play with when you were a kid? My sisters and I had a basketful of plain wood blocks. We’d take over the living room and build towers as high as we could. Or we’d build abstract cities. Recently I rediscovered blocks in a toy store (and resisted the urge to buy them) marketed as architectural blocks. Talk about starting the kids young, huh? They seem like an excellent way to get kids interested in buildings and sense of place at a young age. Plus, for those of you preservationists with young children, it will keep you entertained as well.

HABA Wooden Blocks Extra Large Starter Set

HABA Wooden Blocks Extra Large Starter Set

The company is named HABA and the buildings blocks are reported to be of quality construction and unique with many different collections from the starter sets to logic sets to landmarks such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, pyramids, skyscrapers, a Japanese house, Russian architecture, a castle, and so much more.

HABA Romantic Era Building Blocks

HABA Romantic Era Building Blocks

HABA Baroque Architecture Blocks

HABA Baroque Architecture Blocks

I’m not a parent, but it seems to me that in an age of plastic toys and video games, classic blocks are a good way to stimulate the imagination and build a child’s knowledge. My sisters and I would have chosen these blocks over video games any day. And I happen to know a handle of people (ahem, Mary Wash preservation kids) who would still play with these.  Certain designs would be an excellent interactive teaching method for architectural history. Enjoy! Does anyone know of other preservation related kids toys?

Ghost Lines

When examining and analyzing buildings, preservationists love to find ghost lines (or marks) that give us clues to where there was once a window, a door, or a change in original construction. These are some very subtle hints on the surface like a change in brick pattern. They are always fun. Imagine my surprise when I saw this while visiting Montreal, Canada with some of the UVM HP students:

IMG_7779

This one tells quite the story. Enjoy!

Collecting Buildings

In one of my classes we spent some time talking about the history of historic preservation and the ways which it has evolved over centuries, internationally and nationally. Part of preservation’s history, particularly in the United States, lies in a phase of collection. People interested in the past collected items and sometimes began their own miniature museums. If you have been to Monticello, think of the walls in Thomas Jefferson’s house- my what conversation that must have sparked among guests. Yes, people have always collected objects.

Think ahead to those people and places that have collected buildings in one way or another – Henry Ford (Greenfield Village, MI), Electra Havermeyer Webb (Shelburne Museum, VT), Historic Deerfield, Storrowton Village, Old Sturbridge Village, and even Colonial Williamsburg.

Collecting and moving historic buildings can be a controversial topic. On one hand, the buildings will be “saved” when moved and shared with the public, but on the other hand, once a building is moved from its setting, its historic integrity is lost. It is like finding an arrowhead in a plowed field – without the stratigraphy, it means nothing because there is no context to tell the story.

However, it is important to understand that not every “old” building has historic integrity. How do you judge historic integrity? As always, refer to the National Register of Historic Places criteria. There are four basic criteria, but there are also considerations for exceptions. Basically, the property is significant if it can be argued (on the nomination form) that it has been associated with a signficant event in history, is associated with a significant historical figure, it embodies characteristics of a certain period or a high style or work of a master, or it yields or could yield important information about the past. (But read the link above for the exact wording.)

I started thinking about building integrity when I was reading an article in the New York Times titled “The House Collectors” (September 16, 2009 by Sarah Maslin Nir). A couple who lives on a large piece of property (10,000 acres)  in Texas fills their time by buying “wooden country houses” (as the article calls them). They move the houses to their property, fix them up, and decorate them in period style. Most of the houses they buy are in delapidated condition and falling down in pastures, hidden by brush. On the property, the Elicks have three ranches where guests come to stay for a weekend or so. They stay in one of the houses, for a fee of course, and can participate in the working farm activties. The Elicks rent out the ranches for special events, corporate events, for film locations, and to everyday people just wanting to spend some time in the Texas countryside.

Back to the houses… they are moved and restored to a certain time period (the article did not explain how Mrs. Elick decides on the period). The houses, when purchased, are in terrible condition and are just sitting out on the prairie. Did they have no use on their past property? What is their history? How much is lost by moving them? How much is gained? These houses are not for museums, but for a business.

How do you feel about this? Not every old house should be a museum and not every house has historic integrity. However, every house has history and a setting. When is it okay to move a building? It’s a difficult question to answer.