Preservation Photos #104

A worn marble step is a testament to the building's history and connection to the village of Brandon, VT. Isn't it amazing how mobility patterns emerge in our landscape and buildings?

Cute Start to a Monday

Every Monday needs a kitten and a flamingo, right?

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Mr. Stilts and Scooter.

Isn’t Scooter adorable? He’s the newest addition to my parents’ house. I love this kitten.

Adventures in Gatorland

Featuring a guest post today with a good roadside America tale!

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By Elyse Gerstenecker

Florida is well-known for its wacky attractions, roadside architecture, and, let’s face it, unusual citizenry. This, along with live oak trees hanging with Spanish moss, bungalow and Mediterranean houses, and abundant orange groves are all situated under the umbrella known as “Old Florida.” If you have read a Carl Hiaasen novel, you probably understand what I mean. I now live in Central Florida, which is a mecca for lovers of Old Florida. I have created a long list of places to visit and hope to provide entertaining posts for Preservation in Pink’s followers who are interested in Florida beyond the beaten Disney path, although Disney World often serves as a catalyst for wackiness.

On a recent Saturday morning, I woke up with a desire to seek out some roadside architecture. I picked up my Roadside Florida book in search of a basic guideline to follow, and, when my boyfriend A woke up, I informed him that the day’s plan was simply to drive east on US Route 92. The early portion of our day was spent exploring antique stores and other shops in Lake Alfred and the recently revitalized downtown area of Kissimmee. For those planning a Disney trip, I highly recommend visiting Kissimmee for a Main Street experience. After we saw signs for Gatorland, one of the places on our “Old Florida Must-See List,” we decided on our destination.

From the brochures and old-school wooden signage, A and I expected the usual roadside attraction – cheesy and a bit run-down. Instead, we stumbled upon a wonder that attracts quite a number of visitors, is very well-maintained, and operates both as a theme park and an alligator, crocodile, and bird preserve. Future visitors, be warned: the admission price is not terribly cheap, and the place draws quite a crowd of families. This being a theme park that centers on man-eating creatures, I would highly recommend families with little bitty ones avoid it to save themselves (and others, like yours truly) the anxiety.

The Gatorland mouth. Photo courtesy of Elyse Gerstenecker.

Gatorland opened in 1949 under the ownership of Owen Godwin, whose family still owns the park. Godwin had operated a small alligator sideshow out of the backyard of his home south of Sebring, Florida in the 1930s, and his wife sold gator products out of their kitchen. Godwin then decided to achieve his dream of creating a park showcasing native Florida wildlife and purchased a borrow pit for an alligator-themed park off of Routes 17 and 92, which were then the highest-traveled roads in the state.

When the park opened as the Florida Wildlife Institute, it featured snakes and alligators, and local Seminole Native Americans lived on the property and wrestled alligators for entertainment. Godwin changed the name to Snake Village and Alligator Farm in the 1950s, and then to Gatorland in 1954. During this time, Godwin began traveling with a 13-foot alligator named Cannibal Jake to northern states to drum up tourism. Business boomed with the growing tourism industry in the 1950s, and Godwin traveled on safaris to attain more creatures for his farm. The famous concrete open-jawed alligator head outside the park entrance was designed by Godwin’s son, Frank, and placed in 1962. Frank Godwin later took over after his father’s death in 1975. Since the 1970s, the park has greatly expanded, but it has also joined forces with the University of Florida to perform research and breed alligators, which were on the national endangered species list from 1967 until 1987.

When A and I visited, we toured ponds and “marshes” FULL of alligators, some so enormous it was frightening. There was a bit of a crowd when we entered, all watching Gatorland’s famous Gator Jumping Show, in which entertainers send out whole chickens on lines for the alligators to jump up and snap off. Visitors walked around with hot dogs in hand, purchased to toss to the alligators for a snack. There were several exhibits about the snakes of Florida and other kinds of wildlife, as well as a sheltered exhibit that featured Louisiana’s albino alligators. I was thrilled to see a flock of flamingos.

A and I strolled through the park’s Swamp Walk, attended the Gator Wrestling show, and, for a fee, had our pictures taken sitting on an alligator and holding its mouth (taped shut by a trainer). Sadly, we did not purchase the photos. We finished our day by walking around the park and seeing all of the saltwater crocodiles. One of my favorite features of the park’s various alligator and crocodile exhibits were the signs telling some of the more outrageous stories associated with some of the creatures – an alligator captured in Tampa after eating several people’s dogs, an alligator kept in a New York City school basement, and an albino alligator so nasty that even the trainers are frightened of it.

Not kidding. Those birds are rather daring. Photo courtesy of Elyse Gerstenecker.

Gatorland has clearly adapted as ideas about entertainment have evolved. The park not only features a petting zoo and miniature train but also now has Gator Gully, a miniaturized water park for little ones to play. This spring, Gatorland opened its Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, a series of zip lines in which visitors in harnesses can zoom high across the alligator marshes. A promptly pronounced it awesome; I personally thought it insane. I can see that, through this evolution, the park has kept to Owen Godwin’s original idea and spirit, combining growing exhibits about Florida’s wildlife and natural landscape with outrageous shows and other forms of entertainment. It is, after all, a Florida theme park, and one that has managed to survive and thrive.

If Someone Offered Free Vinyl Siding

Note: This is going to get a bit lengthy, but if you are interested in my ongoing battle with insulation decisions, read on.

Last week, we had a free post flood assessment offered courtesy of Efficiency Vermont. The organization has really stepped up to help those affected by the flood throughout Vermont. Though I signed up beforehand, I heard more about the post flood assessment at the Button Up Vermont Workshop, and was under the impression that the assessment would address all sorts of flood related problems: moisture, mold, air sealing, insulation, etc. Although insulation wasn’t on my list of post-flood worries, I was eager to talk to someone about mold and cleaning my house and to hear about other energy efficiency measures for future reference.

I need to note that the contractor who visited my house was a subcontractor of – not an employee of – Efficiency Vermont.

Upon the contractor’s arrival, I summarized the flood damage and events for him, but what he really wanted to see was the basement. After I explained the water levels and what we did to clean the basement, etc., he looked around and asked if I would be opposed to spray foam.

SPRAY FOAM?  As if I wanted to talk about spray foam. However, I gave the contractor the benefit of the doubt and said that I am opposed to spray foam, but if he could convince me of the merits of spray foam, then I’d consider. This was a matter of understanding the product, not questioning his professional abilities. He didn’t have a great answer for me, but we talked about air flow and the space in between the first floor joists. (For reference, there is absolutely no insulation in my basement.) He said my basement was perfect for foam because it could be hidden and there wasn’t really an aesthetic to ruin; it’s not like I had a dry laid stone foundation. Aesthetics is only one part of my concerns.

The contractor mentioned that normally putting spray foam in a basement like mine – just between the joists, above the concrete foundation – would be about $1500. Hmm, that sounded like a good chunk of savings. I considered it a bit more, with caution. I said I had to talk to my husband about it. When I couldn’t reach him, I called my father-in-law, who seemed to be in favor of it. However, I was still not convinced (because I’m difficult like that).

In the meantime, the contractor said he would do a blower-door test. That was neat! If you’re wondering, our house is completely average for air leakage. While this was going on, I was frantically reading about spray foam online and harassing a few preservation colleagues for their opinions (thanks, Jen). Nothing I read about spray foam was beneficial to historic buildings. Nothing. Yikes! For starters, here is a paper from Historic New England.

Why so frantic? Well, it seemed like a decision that I had to make that day. Admittedly, I did not ask outright, but that seemed to be the case. Back to discussions with the contractor. He had said that either you insulate everything or nothing at all; you can’t insulate half your house if the other half is not insulated. I brought that up, figuring that my walls did not have insulation. Why should I insulate the basement, I asked? No good answer. He also told me that spray foam isn’t reversible. And he never mentioned anything about a vapor barrier.

Finally, Vinny and I had a chance to talk. I told him that something about spray foam just made me nervous (well, lots of things) even if it’s just in a few spots. I didn’t want to regret doing something later. The only thing that sounded good about this offer was that it would be absolutely free to us. Vinny, agreeing with my hesitation, said to me,  “If someone came around and offered free vinyl siding and installation, would you take it?”  Without skipping a beat I scoffed and said, “No.”  He replied, “There’s your answer.”

Good point. Doing something to my house just because it’s free, when it’s something that neither one of us feels comfortable with or has researched enough, would be a ridiculous decision. My main conclusion was that the 83-year-old house does not have any problems, but I change the air flow, it’s quite possibly asking for problems. Right? Why ruin a good thing and fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed? Before we decided on the amount of heat loss and cost and understand how this house works through winter, we shouldn’t mess with the system.

However, this particular contractor was focused purely on air sealing. To his credit, he did talk buildings with me and gave me much to think about. He looked in the attic and checked out the insulation there (currently 6″ of cellulose that possibly doesn’t extend to the eaves – yes, I am aware that it needs to be addressed). He was patient with me and didn’t give me a hard time when I sort of said okay for spray foam and then nevermind. Perhaps it was my own mistake, but I was not under the impression that this assessment would only be about air sealing. After all, you can’t air seal your basement and not consider the effects on or what is needed for the rest of the house.

If someone such as myself who is so vehemently opposed to spray foam (in my own house anyway) could waver a bit by the temptation of free work and materials, then surely I was not ready to make such an important decision without any warning ahead of time. I hate to think that others made rash decisions for their own buildings.

This is not meant to sound like a rant, but more to explain why I was probably the worst candidate for this type of flood “assessment.” I am grateful for Efficiency Vermont’s assistance to flood victims across the state and think overall they’re doing a great job. However, their sub-contractors on this job should be better informed.

The most beneficial part of the “assessment” was realizing just how much I need to study before making decisions about insulation. It was a good reality check for me as a new homeowner to think carefully through every major project.  But for now, I’m holding true to my anti-spray foam and air sealing, especially because the drafts of my historic house are no worse than a normal house less than half its age.

We can discuss other types of insulation after I read some more material. This graduate thesis by Sarah Elizabeth Welniak, Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings, seems like a good place to start. What else do you recommend?

Preservation Photos #103

The feet of an ornamental lamppost on the bridge in Brandon, VT on Route 7.

Details such as this one are often lost with rail, lighting and bridge upgrades due to time, efficiency and cost. Only one of these lampposts remains on this masonry arch bridge. It could use some rehab, too.

Happy October

Whether you are enjoying Columbus  Day inside or out, at work or at home, I hope you have a lovely day. I’ve been painting my living room and am now covered in blue paint.

Traveling Route 100.

Waitsfield, VT.

In the Mad River Valley.

Some red foliage - my favorite!

In case you haven’t heard, our Vermont roads are indeed open. Some are slow going, but that’s what you want for foliage traveling. The towns are hoping for tourism revenue. Come visit and support Vermont as we rebuild and get back on our feet after the flood. Foliage is just about at its peak. It’s beautiful.

Looks and Feels Like Fall

Warren Village, VT.

The faintest feelings of fall surprised me in early September: crisper mountain air, rustling of the leaves, cooler temperatures. Before long, the pumpkins, hay bales and apple festivals were everywhere. Now that October is here, and we’ve had a string of chilly days, fall is here to stay (until this weekend’s respite).

Brandon Village, VT.

Need some fall activities? Check out your local town website for harvest  festivals, pumpkin picking, apple picking and the last of this season’s outdoor concerts. It seems as though everyone in Vermont is soaking up the last bit of outdoor weather possible.

Need some preservation fall events? Lucky for you – fall always seems to be the prime calendar spot for conferences and workshops. The National Trust for Historic Preservation conference is at the end of October in Buffalo, NY. Check with your State Historic Preservation Office to find out about your state’s HP conference. While national conferences are fun and bigger, the state conferences may be more beneficial to you in terms of networking and relevance. Preservation Directory and PreserveNet do a good job about keeping up to date with events and conferences. Energy efficiency workshops are everywhere. Preservation Directory’s list is long and diverse right now – check it out! It is also the season for fall walking tours, ghost walks and open houses. What do you have planned?

As for me – it’s a good season for running on back roads, hopefully painting some of the rooms in my house and enjoying the foliage.

Do you have a local event or open house that you’d like to mention here? Send a picture and a brief summary – show your community pride! Show off what your organization has accomplished. Or do you have a good shot of what fall looks and feels like in your town? Send it my way. I’d love to include mini features throughout the season.

Useful iPhone Apps for the Preservationist

This post was written prior to the news of Steve Jobs’ death on October 5, 2011; it seems eerily timely. The world will miss the man who played a role in changing the world. It seems only fitting to tie this statement from Apple to this post. Click the box below to head over to Apple.

For the longest time I was opposed to smart phones. Sure, they’re cool; but I already had an unhealthy obsession with email. Did I need to fuel that addiction? No. Smart phones quickly advanced and then the iPhone came on the scene, with improvements to follow. I knew a bunch of people with Blackberries, but they never seemed to work properly. I always figured that if you were going to get a smart phone, the iPhone was the way to go.

Back in April, Vinny and I cracked and we entered into the world of iPhones. Awesome. Sure, it reinforces my email addiction, but I decided that I would do my best to use the full potential of my iPhone. The wonders that it could do for blogging, photos-on-the-go, directions on the go, and much more. I’ll admit it – I love it. But I maintain that it is a luxury item, it is something I could live without. I like to remember that distinction. If you are wondering, my iPhone has a pink and black case; must include some PiP reference in all digital objects I own.

I’ve been working on compiling a list of iPhone apps that are useful for the historic preservationist. i don’t know of too many, so I’ll share my short list and hopefully you can add to it. Now that the unbelievably advanced iPhone 4S is out, my iPhone 3GS probably seems lame to iPhone addicts, but I’m still happy with it. Let’s start with my favorite app:

1. Field Notes LT (free version): I found this one by searching for notes and GPS. I needed to be able to photograph a structure, take the coordinates and add notes to create one single file. Field Notes LT will do just that, and then you can email your note as a .kmz or zip file. The .kmz files can be opened in Google Earth, for example. It has been incredibly useful (more on that another time).

2. Compass: The compass comes on the iPhone utilities already, so I didn’t find it. Regardless, it is incredibly easy to use. While I was a Girl Scout, cardinal directions on the fly aren’t my forte. This compass is easy to use and helpful for site descriptions.

3. Sherwin Williams Color Snap: Take a picture (or choose one on your phone already), zoom in to the color that you want and it will match that color to a Sherwin Williams paint color, providing the name and product number. Fun! Other paint companies should get on this. I haven’t used it for anything other than just playing around. Has anyone used it professionally?

4. WordPress: Of course this one is useful to me! I have written many posts from my iPhone. It is a bit more tedious, and until recently you couldn’t add in links or special fonts, but the most recent update is amazing. The app allows me to approve comments on the go, check stats, add photos and write posts. And publishing from the iPhone still alerts Twitter and Facebook that a new post is up. I love how they can all be integrated.

5. iHandy Level: That’s right, your phone can be a level. I’m not sure what carpenters think of it, but it’s good enough for hanging pictures and other minor household tasks.

6. Miscellaneous city guides, museum and road trip iPhone apps, though I haven’t tried any yet. I have only used free apps so far. If you’re taking a trip, you should check out available apps before heading out.  Google iPhone app and road trip or New York City or trip planner – there are many.

7. NCPTT app for assessments. I am anxiously awaiting the release of this one.

If you know of helpful smartphone or iPhone app for historic preservationists on the go, let me know. I’ll add it to the list! Or if you have advice for general iPhone usefulness, I’m happy to hear it.

Preservation in Pop Culture

I know I am late in the game here. Humor me, please. There are few television shows that I watch, and those few are the shows to which I am addicted: Gilmore Girls and Scrubs. My love for Gilmore Girls is thoroughly documented, whereas my love of Scrubs is just a new fun fact. Anyway, within the past few months, Vinny and I have finally started watching Mad Men. (Actually, we already watched all 4 seasons. I don’t joke about addictions.) I love Mad Men for the writing, the outfits, the decor, the continuous references to actual happenings in society, the insight into the advertising world and the sheer shock I feel during every episode. I am constantly grateful for the fact that I did not grow up or live until the 1980s and beyond.

Season 3 begins in early 1963; in Episode 2, “Love Among the Ruins,” the infamous Penn Station (yes, that Penn Station) makes an appearance. It’s not a large role, but I loved that a relevant preservation topic was discussed as a background current event to the show. Great job, Mad Men! In brief: Pete Campbell brings in clients who are in favor of razing Penn Station to replace it with an arena. Paul Kinsie sides with the protestors, in agreement with the architectural merit of the Station. Not much else happens in the episode with Penn Station until, Lane Pryce tells Don Draper the HQ (in London) wants the Madison Square Garden account dropped. Don disagrees, believing that it opens the door for the World’s Fair and future Madison Square Garden business. He clearly believes it is progress and the best thing for New York City. He states, “New York City is in decay.” There is no conclusion to this segment – it’s never mentioned again.

Okay, so the lack of follow through was disappointing. I would have loved to have seen Mad Men’s take on the actual Penn Station case. But, it was still exciting to see in such a popular television show. Check out the behind the scenes clip. (Now that I discovered the behind the scenes clips, I’ve probably ruined my productivity after dinner. Great.)

Jane Jacobs and Philip Johnson in front of the old Penn Station in 1963. Life Image/Getty Images. Click for source.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Penn Station case, the easiest explanation is that supporters of the building lost. It was demolished, and the preservation movement grew in greater force and importance. The blog post, “Lead Us Not into Penn Station” by Ed Driscoll offers a good summary of the Penn Station context.  Here is a Penn Station summary from the New York Preservation Archive Project.

East Facade, Penn Station. Library of Congress HABS. Click for source.

Library of Congress HABS collection - Penn Station, Concourse from SE. Click for source.

Penn Station Concourse. Library of Congress, HABS.

You can check out the full collection of HABS Pennsylvania Station photographs at Library of Congress – click here. I think it is time for me to read Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks by Anthony C. Wood. In the meantime, I’m still psyched about the mention in Mad Men (as were my fellow preservationists around here, who have also just started watching). If you haven’t started watching yet, you should.

Preservation Photos #102

I cannot resist a roadside gas pump image. This one is located on Main Street in Isle La Motte, VT at Hall's Orchard.