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!


4 thoughts on “A Life in the Trades: October 2009

  1. Linda Merritt says:

    Wonderful write-up. Glad North Georgia had something to do with this career change. Also glad you inherited the love for old homes and buildings. Have a great time in Ohio. I miss drinking coffee with you.

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