Preservation on the Ground: Norla Preservation Project

Social media makes the world seem smaller and larger at the same time. Smaller in the sense that you come across people with similar interests and crazy six degrees of separation. News travels faster, instantaneously. Larger in the sense that you discover so much more than you knew existed. Best of all, this small and large  social media sphere allows us to meet people taking on exciting projects across the country, and world.

This brings me to introduce “Preservation on the Ground”, a new series for Preservation in Pink that will interview passionate people wrangling preservation projects and living inspiring stories.

The first story here brings us to Kelly Rich in Louisiana and the Norla Preservation Project. Kelly found PiP on instragram and intrigued by her photos, I immediately followed Norla and began asking questions about the project. Want to hear it straight from Kelly? Read on. Below is the interview with Kelly.

The shotgun houses in Shreveport, LA. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

The six historic shotgun houses in Shreveport, LA. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What’s your 30 second elevator pitch for your project?

Norla Preservation Project is a newly formed nonprofit utilizing adaptive reuse on a project that was set for demolition. We are trying to teach by example that historic buildings that may have outlived their original purpose still have value and potential for something new. We are taking six historic shotgun houses that were marked for demolition and re-purposing them into small business commercial use. We will use the project to promote awareness of our local historic architecture and cultural heritage.

The shotgun houses, boarded up and awaiting this project.

The shotgun houses, boarded up and awaiting this project. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What’s the overall plan?

Norla’s goal is to complete the shotgun commercial development and lease the buildings to local small businesses. Our ideal property would include at least two casual restaurants, a coffee shop and bakery, a small market selling Louisiana products, a bookstore and gallery, and a piano jazz bar. Once the property is successful and income producing, we will take the profit and adopt another adaptive reuse project. We will also offer preservation education opportunities to the community.

A site plan view of the Norla project. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

A site plan view of the Norla project. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

How will it be funded?

We are raising money and looking into grant opportunities. Also we are developing several sponsorship and donor possibilities for a state-wide supported project.

The birdseye view of the proposed site plan.

The birdseye view of the proposed site plan. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

Who is helping you on this project?

Not sure how to answer this one. I have several representatives from the City of Shreveport and other preservation groups in Louisiana that are guiding us in the right direction. We do not have any developers or corporate sponsors as of yet. We have nine amazing board members and a growing community of volunteers.

Do you have a time frame?

Once we go forward with the donation of the shotgun houses from the city this year, we plan to work with a 18-24 month timeline.

The Shotgun houses.

The Shotgun houses. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What motivated you to take on such a project?

As a single mom, I had an opportunity to purchase a historic building several years ago. After researching the cost and time requirements to rehabilitate, I regretfully walked away. I hate that story. I gave up too easily. When I encountered another rehab gamble with the shotgun houses, I stepped up with the thought of “Just try.” My motivation came from the realization that if I didn’t do something then, these houses would be gone forever. It started from a mild curiosity of asking questions to a feeling of obligation and responsibility to these houses. I hated the thought of losing a part of history because no one wanted them. And plus I am determined to have an “I told you so” moment….to myself mostly.

Kelly and her daughter.

Kelly and her daughter Madeline in front of the shotgun houses. Adorable! Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

Tell me about your background. How did you get interested in historic preservation?

My love of anything old came from my father. He is a wonderful storyteller and one of the most knowledgeable men I know. He would always have a story to tell about an old church or building, and it instilled in me an appreciation of how buildings and houses all have a story to tell if we take the time to pay attention. Ten years ago, I bought my first historic home, joined my first historical association, and fell hard for the historic preservation life. I’ve been active in different historic and cultural groups since.

Kelly showing that the shotgun houses matter!

Kelly showing that the shotgun houses matter! Photo courtesy of Kelly Rich.

Do you consider yourself a preservationist?

It’s definitely part of who I am. I’m no expert in the field of preservation, but I have a desire to learn and consider myself an aggressive advocate for the buildings that have stories that need to be shared. I am a bit of a romantic when it comes to old buildings. I imagine who all might have walked through the doors, what they might have thought about, what they might have seen. It hurts my heart to see them in disrepair because of neglect and indifference. I also have a constant need for a project to obsess over or I go insane.

What or who inspires you? What keeps you going?

I consistently am described as “enthusiastic.” I have had multiple occasions where I start sharing about the project and I get the dubious looks, but by the end of the spiel, their eyes are bright and they’re nodding in agreement. THAT’S what keeps me going…all the skeptics that I can convert to supporters. There’s a teeny tiny (ha!) stubborn streak in me that gets even more excited when challenged. I have learned that passion is contagious and we are trying our best to infect the masses with a preservation minded spirit!

The Norla logo. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

The Norla logo. Image courtesy of Kelly Rich.

What can others do to help?

The easiest thing is to share our project with others. Norla is new in the preservation world, and we hope hearing our story might trigger an emotional response and possibly create new volunteers and donors. Once we finalize our budget and timeline, we will plan several volunteer work weekends with a little Louisiana fun mixed in as well.We are working with Adventures in Preservation and the NCPTT to offer these working vacations themed on historic preservation. Keep watching the website or sign up for our newsletter to keep up with updates.

Find Norla on Facebook, on Instagram, and on the project website. And share this video with others! You can see how much passion Kelly has, and we all know that any preservation project could use some extra hands, good vibes, and some funding. Share the love and the good preservation news that’s happening on the ground.

Thank you, Kelly! Kudos for your courage to save these six shotgun houses. Keep us posted on your project progress.

Adaptive Reuse Followed by Vacancy?

Let’s ponder adaptive reuse and vacant buildings. It’s a sad day when a chain store buys out a smaller company, whatever the reason. Does it sting any less when that chain store now occupies the existing building? What if it’s just a larger chain buying a smaller chain? Does it hurt less than any chain buying an independent store? What happens when that chain store subsequently relocates, leaving the former mom & pop store location unoccupied? It’s akin to a big box store building a massive store outside of town and then relocating to an even larger store, and leaving its original site vacant.

While in Indianapolis, I came across this closed Dunkin Donuts building with the Googie style sign.

On the corner of Washington and Pennsylvania.

On the corner of Washington and Pennsylvania.

A bit of searching revealed a long history of Roselyn Bakery, a regional franchise of 40+ locations throughout Indiana. See this photograph of the Roselyn Bakery sign. The bakery operated in many stores until 1999, at which point the business shut down bakeries and began selling only to grocery stores. Following the bakery, a Panda Express Chinese Restaurant occupied the building for a while until Dunkin Donuts moved in, operating from 2008-2013.
And now? Plans are under review. Let’s hope the Googie sign remains. Roselyn’s Bakery signs still exist around Indy. Check out Down the Road and Visual Lingual.

Closer view of the V-shape rotating sign (it's still rotating).

Closer view of the V-shape rotating sign (it’s still rotating).

What is your barometer for businesses buying one another? Or do we chalk it up to capitalism and business plans? My preference is local businesses, smaller chains, and then larger chains that respect historical significance of location and building. So, it does sting a bit less when a big business makes an effort to be a part of an existing community, as opposed to trying to compete for a removed location. And while some buildings have a greater presence in a downtown block, it’s important to consider the bigger picture. Every occupied building makes a difference for an urban core or downtown.

A Train Station and a Fire Station

The fire station in Wallingford, Vermont is located in a the former train station, which is still located adjacent to the tracks. It’s quite the unique adaptive reuse. Take a look (those photographs were night shots, hence the blurry quality).

Note the station agent's bay on the left side, and the tracks in the bottom left corner of the photo.

Note the station agent’s bay on the left side, and the tracks in the bottom left corner of the photo.

The brackets are visible under the roof, a classic sign of railroad stations.

The brackets are visible under the roof, a classic sign of railroad stations.

Ramp access added. See the clear view of the station agent's window and the brackets.

Ramp access added. See the clear view of the station agent’s window and the brackets.

This photograph shows the most alterations in the conversion from train station to fire station. The walls were extended (see how the brackets are enclosed). The truck bays were added, and an addition for bays is at the end.

This photograph shows the most alterations in the conversion from train station to fire station. The walls were extended (see how the brackets are enclosed). The truck bays were added, and an addition for bays is at the end.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across a non-traditional building turned fire station. Remember the Cavendish Queen Anne house that became a fire station with truck bays on the first floor?

What do you think of this one? The station remains in its historic setting and is still legible as a train station, though altered. The fire station is located in town. Residents know it was the train station and are glad to have both in town. Two simple improvements I’d suggest are (1) move the soda machine and (2) expose the brackets above the original door and transom. But, otherwise, it’s nice to see a town working with what it has to the best of its ability, and appreciating its history. It wouldn’t be eligible for a historic preservation tax credit, but that’s not always the point. Or is its integrity too far gone? Your thoughts?

Adaptive Reuse: Queen Anne to Fire House?

Driving down Route 131 in Cavendish, the streetscape through the historic district looks intact, interesting, cohesive — like many other historic Vermont villages. Take note of the gray building in the photograph below.

Route 131 in Cavendish, VT. Click to zoom.

If you’re not paying attention to the buildings, you might miss this. But if you are looking out the window, you will see that this house has a unique current use.

The Cavendish Volunteer Fire Department.

Yes, the sign on the building reads “Cavendish Vol. Fire Department.” Yes, behind those overhang garage doors on the front facade are truck bays. And yes, there were fire trucks in those bays.

Another view.

The bays fit right into the front facade and these porch posts remain. The concrete pylons beneath show the height of the former porch.

Curved sash windows remain, as well as clapboard and shingle siding and many architectural features.

Looking through the “porch.”

I’ll admit, I was a bit stunned looking at this building. What do you think about it? Unique, yes? I’ve never seen anything like it. One on hand, it’s great that the fire department fits into the district and the building remains part of the historic streetscape. On the other hand, I cringe to think of what was removed inside (the floor and architectural details).

Overall, it seems like a great compromise and solution for the “lack of space” problem that our small towns often face. Whatever it’s story, I think this building wins in a category for “most resourceful.” My suggestion would be improved bay doors. What do you think? Would you approve such a project?