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.

Behold the Map

By Missy Celii

The Census is amazing for many reasons. For a planner or anyone interested in better understanding a place, it provides invaluable information on the people and trends of an area. The literally are the federal authority on demographic facts and surprisingly, they actually produce tangible and useful things (true it takes them 10 years, well five thanks to ACS). I recently found another reason to love the Census: this map. As you can see, America is broken into four main areas whose borders confirm what I have always known and said: The South starts the minute you leave New Jersey. Sorry Delaware, you are not Northern!

Furthermore, if you look closely you will notice that no part of Virginia touches the North, meaning it is 100% completely in the South. So Virginia, please stop trying to be part of the North like some awkward kid in middle school inviting yourself to the cool kids parties, they are excluding you for a reason: you are not one of them. Now I love Virginia and can’t blame it for not wanting to be associated with Texas or Mississippi, so all I can say is buck up VA, you are a God among mortals and yokels. The one thing that seems wrong with the map is that it is missing Pennsyltucky as a subregion of the North. You know, that area that starts around exit 130 on the Garden State Parkway and contains all of South Jersey and the majority of Pennsy. There is a clear cultural and geographic difference as you cross into this region (usually accompanied by goosebumps and a shudder).

And speaking of maps, take a look at this beauty. In a segment of life I like to calll ‘wow, I’m actually using things I learned and school and making money for it,’ I was hired by Papa John’s to make a map of their different delivery sectors. And after countless frustrating hours and a near nervous breakdown (if Satan spawned a child and it happened to be a computer program, its name would be GIS), my masterpiece was completed, laminated, and promptly splattered with tomato sauce (oh how I lament).

Image credit: Cenusus Map: US Census Bureau, Created by the Geography Division.  Papa’s John’s Ivd Rd Map: Missy Celii

More on the 2008 Election & Preservation

Often a noteworthy comment goes unnoticed because not everyone is able to take time to read comments.  Missy Celii provided valuable insight to the post 2008 Election & Historic Preservation, which asked the question about the difference between Democrat & Republican views and practices of historic preservation.  Instead of leaving it hiding in the comments, I’m posting it here for all to read.

One difference is entitlement programs like CDBG/HOME. A lot of these funds are used by local governments and non-profits for housing rehabs, especially for the purpose of neighborhood stabilization. You know, the historic neighborhoods that every town or city has. The places where the average and minorities have historically and continually dwell, but that may today be facing problems like blight or gentrification. Obama would continue to make these funds available (which do a lot more than just rehab or preservation), while McCain plans to cut such funding.

One other difference, while a stretch concerns our world heritage. When foreign policy begins with diplomacy, there is the possibility that war and fighting can be prevented. Not only could this help preserve human life, but also human history. It pains me to think of what artifacts have been lost in Iraq and the Middle East, as well as wonder if it was a necessary loss.

-Missy Celii

Secret Gardens in Charlottesville

Wednesday September 17 was the United Way’s Day of Caring where thousands of volunteers from area organizations and companies go out into the community for various service projects. The City of Charlottesville was sent to the Monticello Area Community Action Agency for landscaping/yard maintenance. I was looking forward to a morning outdoors away from the office and getting some exercise so I could later rationalize my decision not to go to the gym. The day ended up being more than that, it turned out to be a ‘secret garden, this is why I love preservation’ type of day. It turns out where the school now stands was once a large manor estate. All that remains of this parcel of land’s former identity are a series of terraced gardens separated by field stone walls dating to about the 1910s.

When we arrived that day all we saw was vast overgrowth and the promise that we may find some cool things. By the end of the day, Charlottesville workers and State Farm Insurance workers had cleared out level upon level of gardens. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of what the gardens look like (I may have to ‘visit’ the grounds to get some). Roughly, they start at the top of a large hill and then descend down the hill towards what is now Schenks Branch Creek. A rock wall wraps around the entire property with a foot trail running along the wall. The manor house is now completely gone along with this large pond that was once on the property. (I can understand tearing down a house, but how does a pond just disappear?!)

The coolest part of the whole day was getting to see all the other volunteers begin to critically examine the history of a place and realize that things may not always be what they seem, but that with a little sweat (literally in this case), the past is just waiting for its secrets to be uncovered.

-Missy Celii

Future Historic Districts

Recently I was at a lecture with a couple different design professionals and one of them (bless his little heart) stated something that I believe should be tattooed on more than one designer/developer’s head: “We are designing America’s future historic districts.” How powerful is that? Too often those who are in charge of designing and building our new spaces and places can’t see past the potential profit they stand to make. A quick look at materials and construction methods will clearly show that they clearly are not concerned with the longevity of the project. But let’s just say these cookie-cutter-cracker-jack-boxes survive into the next 100, 200, or even 300 years, what will they say about life in America in the 2000s? What cultural and social clues will future generations learn from these buildings? I can’t even begin to fathom or comprehend the fact that one day school children may visit Ye Olde Wallyworld where re-enactors in blue vests greet them at the door and show them all the crazy things their ancestors used to buy (“and these q-tips came all the way from China kids on boats and planes but the cotton came from India. Of course this is what they used before ionic ear cleaners…”)

Now, of course, to have an accurate view of history you need to preserve both the good and the bad, brutally and honestly; otherwise, you get a false sense of what the past really was. Sure those historic buildings and gardens at Monticello are much more elaborate than what people have today, because hell, I’d have the nicest house on the block if I had a couple hundred people who willing took care and maintained it for free. And sure Germany, Poland, and other European countries have pretty fields full of flowers and soft soft grass at places like Auschwitz…almost as if there is a lot of rich organic matter beneath the ground fertilizing them. I think you can see my point. So it is important to save the good along with the bad (in this case the poorly designed and executed). But when the bulk majority of what our society is creating just makes you want to shake you head and sigh disappointedly, its hard not to write a letter to the future apologizing and explaining that we were not all commercially shallow people who lived in identical houses on identical streets in identical sprawling towns. If nothing else, perhaps we can start designating well-thought out and sensitive developments as historic at their ribbon cuttings, thus ensuring we have some good representation in the future.

-Missy Celii

Mondays by Missy

Good news, readers!  Missy Celii will now be featured weekly on Preservation in Pink.  Every Monday you can read her latest preservation thoughts, antics, endeavors, and theories.  She is a writer full of insight and humor, so be sure not to miss Mondays.  Also, for interested readers: her bio on the contributors page has been updated.

A Preservation Planner’s Inner Struggle

Friday while driving into work, for some reason, all the cranes in downtown Charlottesville seemed particularly noticeable to me and I found myself caught in the age old preservation/planner power struggle. I started trying to imagine what the skyline of “Cville” will look like when the new towers (dear god at nine stories you can almost touch the heavens!) are built. I couldn’t help but get excited to think about being able to see a place I love from far away. I remember being a child and getting giddy when I saw the New York skyline in the distance and knowing that I would soon be there and the awesome feeling of watching the buildings ‘grow’ as we drove closer. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but wonder how different the downtown will be. Our BAR (Board of Architectural Review) is very level headed and makes some really good decisions, so I know any new building will be scrutinized and adapted to be the best possible design possible, but still how will the sense of place, time, and scale change when all the new buildings are finally erected?

The Hook.

Cranes in Downtown Charlottesville. Source: The Hook.

Pondering this all day, I think -for me – preservation is more the big picture. Some would argue that it’s the buildings that make the downtown mall (well really the bricks make the mall, but you know what I mean), but that is not what makes downtown (or any downtown for that matter) special. It’s the way the buildings are arranged and the way they create the feeling of knowing you are ‘somewhere’ worth being. There is a there there. Will this really be changed by making the buildings taller? I don’t think so. I’m as saddened to see an old building torn down or facaded as the next preservationist, but sometimes I don’t think it is such a tragedy assuming they are replaced with another building that respects the balance of public/private space, complementing design, and the relationship to the street that the previous building had. But even as I write this, can such things ever truly be replaced? New York and Chicago for example, have some truly stunning skyscrapers today, but what about the ones from before. It makes me sick to think of all the Sullivans, McKims, Meads, and Whites, etc. that were torn down to make room for today’s skyscrapers. And what of those said lost treasures, what architectural gems did they destroy in their construction? Similarly, what new technology and design will one day lead us to tear down the Empire State Building or Sears Tower?

I think I should also note, that while the preservationist inside of me is sad to see the loss of any building or material artifact of our past, the environmentalist wants to do a back flip. Keep development where it belongs, which is on top of where it already exists. As the old saying goes, ‘farmland lost is farmland lost forever.’ These new residential, office, and commercial units need to go somewhere, so doesn’t it make sense to put them where development has already happened instead of green fields on the edge of town? And taking a step back to put things in context, what is more important, some old buildings or our children’s future resources? Makes it hard to argue for the buildings. The bottom line is that development needs to happen within the already established footprint of cities in order to ensure the long term sustainability of us all. As preservationists, it is our job to now figure out how to keep development within these existing bounds while protecting our limited historical resources. Not an easy thing to do, but I have faith that our passions and dedications will make it happen.

-Missy Celii

Editor’s note: For more information here is a link to an article about a construction in the downtown mall, in The Hook, Charlottesville’s newspaper. Note that the image credit belongs to this link.