A Life in the Trades: January 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009.

By Nicholas Bogosian

It didn’t take too long after my move to St. Clairsville, Ohio to realize that the community’s architectural pride rests on two structures: the Belmont County Courthouse and The Clarendon Hotel. Both are a short walking distance from my home. The Belmont County Courthouse, as it stands today, is a mammoth Second Empire sandstone structure replete with Corinthian capitals, tall arched windows, and Justice statues. Built in the late 1880s and designed by Joseph W. Yost, it is still used today as the county seat’s courthouse and boasts some of the area’s high-profile cases.

Belmont County Courthouse. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Across the street from the Courthouse stands the Clarendon Hotel, which was constructed in 1890 by Thomas Clark, superintendent of the Courthouse construction. It’s a 15,000 square foot Romanesque Revival brick structure which became a transient property over the past forty years. The city purchased the building and began to stabilize it in the 1990s under the direction of Dennis Bigler, Director of Public Services. Mr. Bigler has been the major proponent of the city’s downtown revitalization. Just having moved here, I can enjoy the fruits of their long labor. Coming upon St. Clairsville’s downtown through the winding and hilly Ohio Valley is a refreshing sight. Though passage of the Main Street Program never materialized here, the city has done well to implement a majority of the program’s phases.

The Clarendon Hotel. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The Clarendon Hotel. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The purchase of the Clarendon was the beginning of an effort to reuse the property and bring it back to its original function. The entire façade has been restored and the city hopes a developer will turn the building into a boutique hotel with a restaurant on the first floor. Though 12,000 vehicles pass the hotel daily on 40 (the Historic National Road), St. Clairsville’s downtown is not what one would call a tourist destination. This appears to be the biggest obstacle in finding developers. The city’s traffic is in large part due to its location on the Historic National Road – a main thoroughfare for the valley. Though lodging could be useful for out-of-town business people and scenic drivers, the city is really setting their hopes on the development of National Road scenic tours.

I recently got an inside peek into the Clarendon Hotel and got to see fragments of its past and current rehabilitation efforts. Most of the interior walls have had their plaster removed because of the extensive foundation work. Some ornament remains. Old wiring splays out from between joists. Walls reveal sandwiched layers of wallpaper and paint. The original framing remains, but very little else. Everything is bare and cold.

Foyer stairwell recently stabilized. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Second story hall. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Faux marble decorated fireplace. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Felt wallpaper. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Eastlake Door Knob. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Third story parlor room overlooking old sheriff's building. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Shag carpet covering the baseboards. Interesting. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Historic window frames kept intact in newly constructed emergency escape. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Tubs, sinks, heaters, and piping are organized in the basement. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

This was my first experience witnessing a massive rehabilitation effort which is utilizing Historic Tax Credits. Granted, the progress is slow moving, but the pride that the community has for the Clarendon is vivid and immediate. Lucy, who operates Sipper’s Café down the way, talks about her teenage daughter‘s ambition to write a history of the hotel. I recently served the mayor and his wife at a local restaurant. The Clarendon came up in our conversation and he told me he’d be happy to let me in anytime to look around. An original timber from the hotel with an impressive span of growth rings resides in my classroom at Belmont Tech. The Clarendon is hope for the city’s future vitality. Its completion will bookend a long list of rehabilitation efforts in the city and revive a nostalgic landmark to its original glory.

Special thanks to Tom Murphy, Dennis Bigler, & Brian Kralovic of the City Council as well as Mayor Robert Vincenzo for their assistance in my curiosities.


Preservation Photos #13

Barboursville in Orange County, Virginia, once the home of James Barbour and the finest residence in the county, it burned on Christmas Day in 1884. Today is stands in preserved ruins. It’s a captivating visit for anyone who loves mysterious buildings.

A Landmark Lesson

In another post I asked this of preservationists:

How do preservationists feel about watching the demolition of a bridge they fought to save? Is it a once-in-a-lifetime type of situation or more of an I-can’t-bear-to-watch issue or more like I-will-not-dignify-this-decision-by-watching-it? What lessons could preservationists learn from watching it?

So, would you watch the bridge? Did you watch the bridge demolition? If you are interested, here are a few videos: 1) from Now Public, 2) from You Tube, 3) from WPTZ news.

Undecided at first, after a few conversations with fellow preservationists, it seemed that the demolition of such an important landmark would be something worth watching, mostly because it serves as a sort of reality check or a bitter reminder of how impermanent everything is. Hopefully such an event would not be commonplace in our lives.  Since I’m not in Vermont this week, I watched it online and on television. Here on Long Island, Fox News showed a (very small) segment on the bridge, mostly the demolition. Watching the demolition, my mouth dropped. It is such a shock to see an engineered structure standing and just seconds later, behind a cloud of smoke and dust, it disappears. And I saw it without the sound of an actual explosion. And it’s strange to think that the bridge is no longer there; it is gone forever in a matter of seconds. It certainly was a heartbreaking reality.

My next question relates to the environmental effects. I have not been able to find the answers yet, but what are the consequences of the bridge falling in the lake? Obviously, demolition experts have overseen this event, but how are the effects mitigated and how is the process decided? If you know the answer, please share.

Did you see the bridge demolition in person? Please share your experience; I’m very interested.

Most of all, let’s hope that we all learn and apply lessons from the Lake Champlain Bridge (1929-2009).

Landmarks Shaping Me

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.” -Winston Churchill

How many places have played a part with defining moments that shape your life thereafter? It is possibly one that is significant to you, but not necessarily on the National Register of Historic Places (sounds like the National Trust’s This Place Matters campaign). A few weeks ago, fellow preservation blogger, Sabra Smith at My Own Time Machine, followed suit of another blogger and asked and answered the following question:

Can you think of any time or landmarks in your life that can teach you something about yourself that you’ve forgotten? We hold so many stories within the gaps… Find something heart warming and worth honoring about your life today.

(Read Sabra’s post; you’ll enjoy it!) What does this question mean to me? Well, first of all, trying to remember something that I’ve forgotten about myself sounds like a trick question, something along the lines of trying to look up a word in the dictionary that I don’t know how to spell (yea, thanks, Mom for that answer all of these years). I’ve been pondering this question for a while, and I cannot pinpoint just one. Maybe it is because when I think of landmarks in my life, I don’t think of buildings. I think of places, places in which I have spent much time in over the years because I know this was where the best conversations have been with the great people in my life.  To me, landmarks are landscapes, streets, and buildings with the human component. There are a few places that I know have shaped the person I am.

First, I think of Point Lookout, which I’ve written about many times (see this list and here). When I stayed with my grandmother in the summertime I would get up early and walk, run, or ride my bike to the beach, early enough that I had time to sit on the jetty before the lifeguards chased me away (KEEP OFF JETTY, the signs read). The sun would be shining brightly, halfway up the sky, the wind blowing my hair, and the ocean spray just reaching my toes. I loved to walk on the jetty or just sit there, imagining, thinking, dreaming. I might be imagining the lives of historic characters I was reading about (i.e. Laura Ingalls or the American Girl Dolls). Or I might be trying to recall days at the beach when I was much younger, when my dad would stand with me under huge, crashing waves. I know that this beach is deep in my soul and it is the reason I love the ocean as much as I do, and why I have to visit the ocean every time I visit Grandma Jeanne.

Another place that comes to mind is the basement of my parents’ house, before we finished it to the den, computer room, and another bedroom. My three sisters and I would play for hours, making up the best games from animal school, house, Global Guts obstacle courses, anything we could imagine and recreate amongst the workbench, Fisher Price kitchen sets, laundry room, hot water heater and furnace, on roller skates, on furniture dollies, and with our many, many toys. We would play the radio, sing, dance, skate, and to keep warm we turned on the small box electric heater and wear extra socks.  Between the four of us, we had the best imagination. The basement holds so many memories for all four of us, and it is a strong bond between us. The basement serves as a reminder of the importance of sisters and family and just how much fun we had without video games or really expensive toys. I think it kept us grounded and we understand the importance of an imagination and free playing. It shaped our personalities (I may have been the bossy, oldest one, ahem) and I would bet that part of my love for ordinary houses and the need to know the stories of buildings comes from the memories I have in an “insignificant” house.

I must have a thing for basements, because I also think of the basement in Combs Hall at Mary Washington, where I spent many hours studying, drafting, talking, developing into a preservationist and deciding to embark on whatever preservation task came my way. And I think of the basement of Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg, VA, where I worked as a restoration intern. And now I think of the basement of Wheeler House at UVM. Actually, why are preservationists always in the basement?

But let’s take a step back in time, before I was studying preservation in basements. Aside from basements, I think of Room 216 in my high school, Mrs. Morahan’s room. She came to be the in-school-mom for my best friends and me. We stored our track bags under a table in her room, gathered there in the mornings before the bell, during free periods, and always after school. My best friend and I had lockers right across the hall, so there was always a reason to go there. My friends and I spent our time with the loving Mrs. Morahan, and we loved her back. We talked about school stress, college choices, boyfriends, siblings, worries, happiness, track, student government, and just about everything that was on our minds. She taught us in the classroom and out of the classroom. It was always, always warm in her room and full of decorations (school related and holiday related), munchkin donuts every Friday, and the best teacher’s chair in the world. Whoever had the worst day got to sit in the chair. Mrs. Morahan remains my favorite teacher, she means so much to us, and I don’t think any of us would have done so well in school without her. Room 216 in the 1971 high school is truly the type of unassuming place that matters. Much of who I am developed in that room and many important decisions were made.

I don’t know that I have answered the question that Sabra asked, as my answers are more shaping who I am, rather than one defining spot. Maybe with more time, I can think of one place and one moment, but for now, I think in terms of connectivity. So instead, I ask the question:

How would you define landmarks of your life? What does that mean to you and what types (and specific) places have made you the person you are today? What do these places teach you about other places?

And, so, we continue the celebration of places and they shape who we are.

Lake Champlain Bridge Demolition

For those who haven’t heard, the Lake Champlain Bridge is scheduled to be demolished on Wednesday December 23, 2009 at 10am. (Talk about a terrible Christmas present for preservationists, huh?)

See this NYSDOT Press Release. The public may view the demolition at specific areas, such as on Vermont 125 (read this release from VTrans). If you are unable to attend the demolition, it will also be available online via live streaming – see the NYSDOT website on Wednesday morning.

How do preservationists feel about watching the demolition of a bridge they fought to save? Is it a once-in-a-lifetime type of situation or more of an I-can’t-bear-to-watch issue or more like I-will-not-dignify-this-decision-by-watching-it? What lessons could preservationists learn from watching it? Please share your thoughts.


UPDATE: NYSDOT has issued a press release stating that the bridge demolition will be on December 28, not December 23. Read it here.

Grad School Semester One

When I graduated college, I couldn’t imagine wanting to continue on to graduate school the following fall, mostly because I was tired of being graded on my life. I knew I would always go back to school so I decided that it would be best to take some time off, work in a preservation job, figure out what I wanted to study in grad school, and breathe for a while. Life has a tendency to work out and it did just that. Overhills was the perfect job for me and it led me to the University of Vermont for my M.S. Historic Preservation.

I used to wonder why grad school was only 1-2 years (in most fields) because it seemed so short compared to undergrad studies, but now I think I know why: 3-4 years of grad school might kill us all. Grad school is exhausting, but so far I have survived semester one. What is grad school like? Some readers know already, as they have been through this, but the best thing I can say is: as in most endeavors in life, graduate school is entirely what you make of it; you get out what you put in – regarding effort, interest, and thinking.

How does graduate school compare to college, so far? I generally explain it as UMW and UVM are complementary for me. I do have similar classes in graduate school, but having the well-rounded preservation base from Mary Washington has allowed me to approach my studies at Vermont differently. I am able to think one step beyond what I thought before, melding theory and practice and not learning it for the first time. It is easy to see why assignments and readings are given and how they fit into the historic preservation subject as a whole. Vermont fits me very in this sense. Regarding assignments, I think the major difference is that projects in grad school are semester long assignments and collectively build on each other, whereas in undergrad it was more common to have one assignment and then move on (carrying the lessons, but not necessarily the particular subject). Because of this, graduate studies can get exhausting because there is never a moment to stop thinking.

My semester projects can be summed up in just a few words and pictures. Architectural history, community design, researching historic structures, and preservation planning.

UVM HP200 / Architectural History: An architectural description and analysis for this lakeside house.

UVM HP206 / Researching Historic Structures and Sites: The Vermont Barn Census in Townshend, VT.

UVM HP304 / Contemporary Preservation Planning & Policy: A research paper on the case of the Lake Champlain Bridge and how it relates to and interacts with historic preservation.

UVM CDAE295 / Community Design Studio (Sustainable Communities): A semester long group project working to come up with sustainable, in all sense of the word, uses for a historic site in rural Charlotte, VT. My drawings are the second from left, top and bottom - it was kind of like measured drawings, but with more drawing than measurements.

And that was my semester. Following my architectural history final exam, my brain took a vacation and I couldn’t remember where I put anything while baking cookies the next day. (Where is the measuring spoon? Oh, right, behind me. Did I put it there?) But, I think my brain is back, which is good timing because I have some books to read and research options to consider over the break.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my first semester back at school, though I think all I did was homework. However, it’s nice to have some breathing room at Christmastime. Fellow students, how was your fall semester?

The Kitten Who Studied Architectural History

Meet Izzy: a three-month old white fluffy kitten joining us in our house. The benefits of a new kitten are wonderful: kitten cuteness to liven things up and make me smile when schoolwork was getting to be overwhelming, endless entertainment by silly kitten adventures, and a purring furball to stay up late with me when I am writing papers or studying.

Izzy. This picture is not posed; she thinks the laptop is hers.

She likes the pink flamingo computer.

Izzy enjoys walking across the keyboard, peeking over the back of the laptop, attacking my fingers as I type, and sitting under the laptop if it’s on my lap.  As you can see, Izzy helped to write my preservation planning paper and then during finals week she hung out with me at night to study for architectural history. Here is the tale of Izzy studying with me (it does not necessarily reflect  my study habits):

Days before studying, acknowledging and avoiding the book at the same time.

Here we go - studying class lectures.

Switching to notes and index cards.

Thinking she could possibly ingest the knowledge if she eats my notebook.

Izzy begins to wonder just how much more there is to study and how much time it will take...

Izzy needing something to stay awake!

Izzy getting tired of this studying thing.

And she's passed out in my arms.

And there you have it – that’s how tiring final exams can be. So Izzy the kitten may not be the best study partner ever, but she wasn’t the worst. But the cuteness, preservation friends, is why having a kitten by my side this last month of school was awesome.

Internet + Heritage Values

If you have a few minutes sometime soon take this quiz about using the internet to share heritage values. It comes from Voices of the Past, which is a netcast, podcast and accompanying website is to help inspire the advancement of heritage values in our society using today’s online communications tools known as social media.

I’ll be talking more about Voices of the Past soon, but for now they asked for help with the survey. Check out the website, take the quiz – quickly – before it ends!