Indy Love

20131104-092109.jpg

20131104-092233.jpg

What a wonderful whirlwind of preservation events, travels, and friends this past week. Now that it’s back to the normal preservation life, there is time to process and share the adventures and lessons. Indianapolis was a wonderful hostess! Stay tuned throughout this week; I have a lot to write, say, and share.

Indy Bound!

Heading towards Indy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference. Follow along over the next few days on instagram and twitter. Find me and say hi if you’re there. I’d love to meet you!

20131030-125410.jpg

20131030-125429.jpg

20131030-125447.jpg

20131030-125507.jpg

#Presconf Excitement!

Who is going to the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Indianapolis next week? There are so many sessions to attend, but if you get the chance to attend the session, “New Media, New Audiences: Case Studies in Social Media,” I’d love to meet you. I’m in conference preparation mode, so I thought I’d share a few links, hints, exciting events. Find the full program here.

(1) SOCIAL MEDIA! Need news and happenings or have a question for other conference attendees? Search and use #presconf on Twitter or @PresNationLive and someone will answer you, I’m sure. Wednesday night before the opening reception is the Tweet-up (7:15) and I’m looking forward to meeting all of the social media folks in “real life” as opposed to the Twitter/Instagram/blog world. (See below from @PresNationLive).

Tweetup @ #PresConf

The annual Tweetup at the National Preservation Conference will take place after the opening plenary at the Athenaeum (site of the opening reception), upstairs by the maroon banquette at 7:15 p.m. Take the elevator to get to the second floor.

(2) SPEAKERS! The Opening Plenary speaker is Henry Glassie. For anyone who studied vernacular architecture at Mary Washington, you are probably as excited as I am. The man is a vernacular scholar legend! I need to find a book for him to autograph! Prof. Stanton at Mary Washington would be proud. Check out the speaker bios.

(3) EVENTS! The Thursday night candlelight tour. This is always a conference favorite: beautiful homes, an evening walk, gazing at architecture. How many times have you wanted to go in a house as you walked by?! Well, on this tour you can! There’s also a silent film night with Indiana Landmarks and a social media cast party for the speakers. So much on one night! Browse the program, there’s no shortage of fun things to do and interesting people to meet.

(4) INDY! Some Indianapolis exploring. Following Tiffany (Historic Indianapolis) and Raina for so long, Indy looks like it’s going to be awesome. They are full of good Indy photos, idea, and tips. And many businesses are offering discounts for conference attendees. Print the list for reference and just show them your badge! Download the free Indy app to help guide you around the city. Do you live in Indy? What’s your recommended site, food stop, coffee shop, city adventure, etc?

I still have to plan out my schedule to be certain that I don’t miss a thing on my list. Lots to do before conference time! I’m sure there will be more to share before I head to the Midwest. Wish you could join, but are unable to this year? Check out this post from the Preservation Leadership Forum to see all of your options to follow along.

Days Like This

To quote Van Morrison, “Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this.” Why do I write that today? Well, some days the uphill battle of historic preservation feels incredibly steep. Sometimes it’s really hard being a preservationist in heart, soul, belief, and profession. Do you ever feel like that? Maybe you lost a preservation battle that you really believed in? Of course, every day cannot be easy and we preservationists like a challenge, but the big ones can weigh on your heart. Today an ongoing preservation issue gives me a heavy heart.

On Wednesday October 16, 2013, the brand new Wal-Mart opened a few miles outside of historic downtown St. Albans, Vermont. This particular Wal-Mart case began in the 1990s, and has come and gone a few times, fighting Vermont’s Act 250 law, among other issues. The Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV) did its absolute best to work with Wal-Mart, hoping to have the store site itself downtown in a smaller scale, as opposed to miles away from the existing downtown core in farmland. See the design proposals that the Preservation Trust of Vermont had hoped to achieve. You might expect a statewide preservation organization to be opposed to Wal-Mart. However, that is not the case.  PTV is pro-downtown businesses and responsible growth and development. In other words, focus the development in appropriate areas and spaces.

Vermont is a very unique state, and a wonderful place to live for its scenery, its quality of life, its focus on the local economy, just to name a few. Part of this quality of life is a result of calculated development and land use planning laws that have protected the state from poor, sprawling development. Sprawl has been a threat and continues to be a threat to our downtowns and rural landscapes. In fact, the entire State of Vermont has been listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Places” in 1993 and 2004, both times at risk from an onslaught of big box, sprawling development (see below).

During the 1990s Wal-Mart located three of its four Vermont stores in existing buildings and kept them relatively modest in size. Now, however, the world’s largest company is planning to saturate the state – which has only 600,000 residents – with seven new mammoth mega-stores, each with a minimum of 150,000 square feet. Theses potential new stores may be located in St. Albans, Morrisville, Newport/Derby, St. Johnsbury, Bennington, Rutland, and Middlebury. Wal-Mart’s plans are sure to attract an influx of other big-box retailers. The likely result: degradation of the Green Mountain State’s unique sense of place, economic disinvestment in historic downtowns, loss of locally-owned businesses, and an erosion of the sense of community that seems an inevitable by-product of big-box sprawl. With deep regret, the National Trust takes the rare step of re-listing Vermont as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

With all of this, why does Wal-Mart keep succeeding? Well, it has deep pockets. Obviously. And yes, people want Wal-Mart in their towns. Not all people, but many do, because they believe the prices to be cheaper (which is only selectively true) or because they don’t understand what is at risk when Wal-Mart moves in. And let’s keep in mind, that any big box store can bring up the same issues; this example just happens to be Wal-Mart.

The difficulty we preservationists face is explaining to naysayers that big box sprawl outside of downtown will have negative effects on our local economies. Sure, any store is technically geographically local shopping (as opposed to online), but that is not the true meaning of a local economy. A local economy supports itself, buys and sells good and services made and used within the region, and keep more taxes in the economy. Money spent at a big box store is money not spent at businesses owned by our neighbors. A big box store of approximately 150,000 square feet of retail space is consequently 150,000 square feet of retail space taken away from other businesses. A new store is not going to spout new consumers; roughly the same amount of people’s money will be spent shopping. So where it is spent shifts. Is it all from small businesses? No, of course not. But a good portion of it is.

It is important to remember that preservation is not anti-development or anti-progress or anti-capitalism. Preservationists are pro smart development and land use, and are pro small businesses succeeding. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, but the American typical sprawling big box developments is not the answer, especially when there are other, better options.

The current opinion regarding this new Wal-Mart is that it will bring more people to downtown. Business owners are in favor of Wal-Mart, or at least are of the opinion that since it’s there, they might as well join and encourage all sorts of business. It’s a good attitude. Hopefully the restaurants downtown survive, the small businesses continue to grow, and sprawl does not increase around the new Wal-Mart. Only time will tell.

So, preservationists, what do you think? Will a Wal-Mart located approximately 3 miles outside of a historic downtown have a negative effect on the downtown economy and local businesses? It is worth noting that there is an interstate exit located (practically) adjacent to this Wal-Mart, and customers would not have to drive thru the downtown. The St. Albans Drive-in Theater is located across the street from the new Wal-Mart. (Remember that many drive-ins failed because of the value of their land.) Also, St. Albans is a wonderful downtown with great improvement projects (most recently undergrounding utilities, streetscape improvements, building improvements, etc.). Are there examples of Wal-Mart or any similar big box store locating so-close-yet-so-far from a historic downtown and both surviving? I hope, for the sake of St. Albans, that this situation is the exception to the rule.

And that is why I have a heavy preservation heart today. Sometimes getting people to see in the long-term view and understand just how special their town or state is seems like an uphill battle. What’s your latest preservation heartache? Care to share? And what do you think about this one?

Preservation at the Crossroads: Indy 2013

Hope to see you there!

Hope to see you there!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference will be in Indianapolis, IN from Tuesday October 29 – Saturday November 2, 2013. If you’re a preservation who loves to meet other preservationists, be inspired, explore a new city, learn and share, this is the place to be. Really, check out the program. It’s going to be a ball!

I haven’t been to a NTHP conference since 2005 (Portland, OR) and 2004 (Louisville, KY), so I’m looking forward to this one. It’s a particularly exciting conference to me because I’ll be presenting with an awesome group of preservation gals! And aside from that, I’m psyched to see Raina, meet Tiffany of Historic Indianapolis, meet the NTHP folks and others I only know via the internet or by voice, meet new friends, and catch up with those I know. It’s one big preservation party, and all of the preservation nerds are welcome. Without further ado:

Join us on Thursday October 31 from 3:00-4:30 pm. 

New Media, New Audiences!

New Media, New Audiences!

NTHPslides2

The panel!

NTHPhandout (Click here for these images in PDF version. You can also find it on the NTHP conference website). 

Preservation in Pink will feature conference updates, news, plans, happenings as the conference approaches and of course during the conference. Check in for the fun. And if you’re going, let me know. I’d love to meet you!

Preservation Adventure in Montpelier, Vermont

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is participating in the 2012 Pacifico Beer summer promotion, Make Adventure Happen, and is competing for a portion of $100,000. As part of the contest, the National Trust “partnered with five preservation fans to highlight preservation adventures in cities and states across the country.” Preservation in Pink is thrilled to be one of those partners! This post about a preservation adventure in Montpelier, VT was written for the National Trust, and hopefully cross-posting it here on PiP will raise awareness and votes for the National Trust. This is the second adventure in the series.

Thank you to the National Trust for the opportunity, and the fun introduction:

Kaitlin writes the blog Preservation in Pink, which is one of the Trust staff’s favorite preservation-related blogs out there! According to her bio, she “loves a good preservation conversation complemented with a strong cup of coffee and accented by flamingos.” Who doesn’t?

———-

Overlooking the City of Montpelier.

First things first: how many of you know the capital of Vermont thanks to that 1990s Cheerios commercial?

Nestled in central Vermont’s Green Mountains along the Winooski River and the historic Central Vermont Railway, Montpelier is beautiful year-round. An entire day’s itinerary can be within walking distance in this city filled with Vermont character, locally-owned businesses and eateries and architecturally picturesque and historic streetscapes; Montpelier is the perfect place for a traveling preservationist. Though more bustling during the work week or when the legislature is in session, the weekends show no shortage of residents and visitors.

At the corner of Main Street and State Street.

1. Eat, Stroll, and Shop on State and Main

Begin on State and Main Streets — the heart of Montpelier’s historic commercial district, where you’ll find restaurants, cafes, retail shops, and professional offices housed in the colorful historic building blocks.

Grab breakfast and a cup of coffee at the Coffee Corner diner or at Capitol Grounds Café & Roastery (free wifi!), or enjoy a more leisurely breakfast at Kismet. Once you’re caffeinated and fueled, you’ll be ready to browse the practical and quirky stores nearby. Whether you’re looking for used books, new books, stationery, antiques, toys, new clothes, vintage clothes, outdoor gear, house wares, jewelry, candy, pet toys, groceries, hardware, pharmacies – you can find it all in downtown Montpelier.

As you’re browsing the stores, do yourself a preservation favor and look up: turn your eyes to the ceilings of the building interiors as well as beyond the first story of the exterior. There’s always something interesting to see above your line of sight.

The Vermont State House.

2. Lunch & a tour of the Vermont State House

Grab lunch from one of the many options on State and Main (try Pinky’s for a good sandwich). If you’re visiting during the week, there are likely to be many street vendors near State and Elm Streets.

On a Saturday, swing by the farmers’ market. If the weather is nice, get lunch to go and head down State Street to the 1859 Vermont State House. Montpelier has been the capital since 1805, but this Greek Revival building is actually the third state house — the first two were lost to fires. The granite steps or the green lawn are both perfect places to pause for lunch on a warm day.

After lunch, head inside the State House for a tour, guided or self-guided. With its granite columns and steps, interior marble floors and plasterwork, the State House is a breathtaking. The house and senate chambers — the oldest in the country — are remarkably intact.

The pedestrian bridge on the recreation trail. The Taylor Street Bridge can be seen to the far right.

3. Bridges, Houses, and Parks

After lunch, a tour, and maybe resting again on the State House lawn, take to exploring. However you like to enjoy the scenery and outdoors, you have options. If you prefer walking neighborhoods for the architectural entertainment, you’re in luck. Montpelier’s neighborhoods can keep you entertained for hours. Research some walking tours to get you started.

The recreation path along the river brings you across and adjacent to the many truss bridges of Montpelier, including the 1929 Taylor Street Bridge, a steel parker through truss, which was recently rehabilitated. The path on Stone Cutters Way will take you along the rail line, through the industrial section of town, with signage along the route about Montpelier’s rail and granite industry history. Visit the historic 1907 rail turntable, a small park on Stone Cutters Way. Further down the street are the Hunger Mountain Coop and the Granite Street truss bridge.

Or, if you seek some peace, quiet, and nature, walk (though you might prefer to bike or drive) toHubbard Park for miles of trails through the forested park, recreation fields and a stone observation tower. Hubbard Park is about 194 acres, 125 of which were gifted to the City of Montpelier in 1899.

The Capitol Theater on State Street.

4. Take in Dinner and a Show

After all that sightseeing and walking, you’ll be ready for some evening entertainment. You can catch a live show at the Lost Nation Theater in the 1909 City Hall or a movie at the Capitol Theater (which has a great neon sign).

You have your choice of many nearby restaurants — a short walk and you’re sure to find something you like. Try Sarducci’s in a former grain storage building, Positive Pie, or Julio’s Cantina, both in the historic building blocks on State Street. Following the show, grab a drink at one of the local establishments, where you’re sure to find locally brewed Vermont beer or a good glass of wine.

Historic buildings, excellent natural scenery, local coffee and food, shopping, good entertainment — all in a city that is livable and walkable? Preservationists, come visit Montpelier. You’ll love it!

You can support our preservation work by voting daily at  www.PacificoAdventure.com. A contest code is required to vote — codes are available on specially marked packages of Pacifico beer, in bars and restaurants, by texting 23000, or by clicking “GET CODE” online.

Historic Preservation Month, Big Box Stores, Preservation Tools

{Author’s note: an earlier version of this post has been altered for the purpose of education and advocacy rather than partial rant. This method – as in, not a rant – of writing is much more effective for the mission of historic preservation; I apologize for straying from the PiP mission on such important issues. I hope that the information in this post will encourage you to consider historic significance of our built environment and how to engage your community members along with how to appreciate and employ preservation regulations where appropriate.}

—————————-

May is National Historic Preservation Month. This year, four of the largest big box chain stores – Walmart, Target, Kmart and Kohls, turn 50 years old. These chain stores have changed the face and culture of America, so Preservation Month seems like a fitting time to discuss some related issues, including: (1) big boxes reaching 50 years in age and potential significance; (2) big box and chain store sprawl; and (3) the power that citizens have through historic preservation regulations to fight sprawl and poor development.

{This is a long post, but such length is necessary for this discussion.}

From the National Trust Main Street Center’s Facebook page. Click to visit.

First: Big box stores? 50 years old? Wouldn’t that mean they are old enough to be evaluated for significance and eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places? Technically, yes. Don’t get too excited, however. While the original stores may be eligible for evaluation, this does not mean that every single big box chain store is or will ever be historic. You will recall that a determination of historic significance is based on an evaluation of the seven aspects of integrity as related to criteria of eligibility. In other words, these original stores would need to have a high level of integrity in order to be historically significant. So, it is my opinion that yes, the flagship stores of chains that changed America, might be historically significant. Why? Because significant resources are not limited to the rose-colored-glasses-view standard. As for the hundreds and thousands of subsequent chain stores? Probably not. What do you think?

Ironically, the first Walmart store – Waltons five and dime – now serves as the Walmart visitors’ center in Bentonville, AK, which is a historic district.

Related to big box stores, though different, are strip malls. I’ve recently come across blogs, such as Pleasant Family Shopping, that are dedicated to preserving the history of strip malls. An interesting concept, yes? America would not be the same without strip malls, for better or worse. I’d venture to say that the history of the strip mall is more important than the physical building itself. Do you agree? When is history more important than the actual place? Thus, those thousands of big box retail giant buildings are not significant, even though the story is. In the case of defunct and empty box stores, the argument for reuse is best left in the environmental and sustainability playing field.

Second: Big boxes exist and will continue to exist for a while; but, let’s hope that the National Trust Main Street Center analysts are correct and main street businesses will find resurgence in the next 50 (or fewer!) years. Small business ownership, local economics and downtown shopping are gaining popularity in conversation and practice. Unfortunately, big boxes and sprawl continue to invade and threaten our towns, villages and cities across the country, whether you live in Vermont, Montana, California, Iowa — anywhere.

The Vermont Forum on Sprawl defines sprawl as, “Dispersed development outside of compact urban and village centers along highways and in rural countryside.” If you live in an area where village and town centers remain intact and distinguishable from sprawl and strip malls, then consider yourself lucky. Many people are not so lucky. Read more sprawl definitions on the Sprawl Guide from Planners Web.

Sprawl includes big box retailers such as the big four mentioned above who turn 50 this year; drugstores such as RiteAid, Kinney Drugs, Walgreens, CVS, Duane-Reade, etc.; other large retailers such as Best Buy, Toys R US, Dicks Sporting Goods, Staples, Dollar General, Family Dollar, etc. Currently, dollar stores are threatening Vermont left and right. Why are these stores contributing to sprawl? Simply put, most insist on constructing their own building and parking lot on undeveloped land, outside of village centers, targeting areas with weak zoning controls. Seldom will you see a box chain store nicely fitting into a historic downtown or village center.

The thing about sprawl is that anyone who has studied community development, land use planning, historic preservation, local economics or any related field, can automatically tell you that sprawl causes negative impacts to historic downtowns and local businesses. There is no question about it. And it is completely avoidable. So why are we still fighting the same issues? Do a quick web search; you will find countless studies, such as this one from the Sierra Club or this listing of reports from Planners Web.

Third: How can we prevent sprawl and big box development that destroys the vitality and vibrance of our historic downtowns, those same downtowns where Main Street is starting to find its resurgence? You and I can shop in local businesses religiously (as we should!), but there is absolutely no guarantee that development pressures do not exist or will not arise. Big box stores and outside-of-downtown development does not come because of a lack of downtown. It comes because a developer wants to, some people agree and local politicians agree.

Sprawl and poorly planned development near a historic district will negatively effect the downtown business district. In fact, a big box store/super center may eventually kill the local businesses and the local (as in locally owned, small business) economy. And then what? People are forced to shop at that store. Downtown is abandoned. The buildings are neglected. Quality of life and sense of place decrease. The historic business district is dead, and yet another, rare, formerly successful downtown is no more. Successful, sustainable downtowns are so critical to our economy and quality of life, and big box development can ruin everyone’s hard work in a matter of months or years.

How can you fix this? How can you preserve your town’s vitality?

The answer you will hear time and time again – because it’s true – is to insure that your town/city has proper zoning regulations. In brief, zoning classifies parcels into use categories (commercial, residential, industrial, etc.). Zoning can also dictate the size of a commercial establishment, which is often what precludes big box development out of a particular area. Unfortunately, many municipalities do not have updated zoning (out of date zoning can be just as bad as no zoning) because it has never been an issue or because people are misguided and are not in favor of zoning. How do you work around this? You have to start at the local level. Talk to your local officials. Use the Big Box Tool Kit website as a reference: it is one of the best of its kind.

The greatest changes happen at the local level.

Aside from local policies, our country is shaped by state and federal policies and laws, which include historic preservation regulations, particularly Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, both 1966 (see HP Basics No.2 for overview). The nuances of each vary, but it is important to know that state and federally funded projects must consider the project effects to historic resources and avoid, minimize or mitigate those effects. Both protect historic properties.

In addition to knowing the function of the laws, it is important to know that, as member of the public, you can be involved in the process of Section 106 and Section 4(f) through public and community meetings.  The Citizen’s Guide to Section 106 produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation is incredibly helpful and is easy to understand if you are unfamiliar with such regulatory processes (see page 12 for public involvement).

Working with Federal Agencies – page 12 of the Citizen’s Guide to Section 106, produced by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation. Click for original source.

Section 4(f) does not have quite the reader-friendly print edition as Section 106; however, the interactive Section 4(f) training website, produced by the Maryland Department of Transportation, is user and reader friendly (with only the necessary amount of regulatory speak). Enjoy both!

The federal regulations protect historic properties. In other words, proper building infill, appropriate building renovation, sensitive roadway improvements — all federally funded projects in, through or adjacent to a historic property are required to be reviewed by qualified professionals, in order to prevent adverse effects. These laws are effective.

Do you disagree with a project or an aspect of the project? How can Section 106 and Section 4(f) apply to you? Here are some important sections of the laws that relate to determining effects of a project:

As part of Section 106 regulations, step one is to identify the Area of Potential Effect, which is defined as: “The geographic area or areas within which an undertaking may directly or indirectly cause alterations in the character or use of historic properties, if any such properties exist. The area of potential effects is influenced by the scale and nature of an undertaking and may be different for different kinds of effects caused by the undertaking” (36 CFR 800.16(d)).  “Effect means alteration to the characteristics of a historic property qualifying it for inclusion in or eligibility for the National Register” (36 CFR 800.16i). An “adverse effect” has a longer definition, but “Adverse effects may include reasonably foreseeable effects caused by the undertaking that may occur later in time, be farther removed in distance or be cumulative” (36 CFR 800.5(1)).

Section 4(f) is more complicated, but essentially says that a transportation project cannot “use” a historic resource (or recreation resource, waterfowl or wildlife refuge) if there is a feasible and prudent alternative to doing so. An intriguing “use” under Section 4(f) is constructive use, meaning, “A constructive use occurs when the transportation project does not incorporate land from a Section 4(f) property, but the project’s proximity impacts are so severe that the protected activities, features, or attributes that qualify the property for protection under Section 4(f) are substantially impaired. Substantial impairment occurs only when the protected activities, features, or attributes of the property are substantially diminished” (23 CFR 774.15(a)).

When my UVM classmates and I first learned about 4(f), we thought it was the golden ticket. Proximity impacts?! That sounds like everything, we said. Only not. We learned that what we may consider an adverse effect in our academic bubble, was not necessarily articulated in the law. In other words, sprawl didn’t exactly apply for the application of this law. Every law has its place. Think of it as checks and balances; we need laws to work together, no matter what field or sector. Obviously, right? After all, no one resource is in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected. Are you with me?

So, for issues such as sprawl; let’s assume that it is clear that there are no historic properties in the project area. Therefore, no historic properties are affected, adverse or otherwise, under application of the laws. How will you protect your community from sprawl now? Where would protection against strip malls and poor development apply? In such a case where historic preservation laws do not reach, you need to employ other regulations. After all, one set of laws cannot solve everything, no matter how badly some of us might want them to.

The best protection of the economics of your community and the health of your community are local ordinances and local zoning (with concerned, dedicated citizens working in front of and behind these regulations). See how important this is?! Combined with historic preservation regulations, zoning and planning will preserve your historic properties and districts, which will preserve the economic sustainability and health of your community.

Can you make the argument that sprawl = negative impacts to your community? Of course. Learn how to prevent the negative impacts of sprawl. The answer: zoning, planning, community involvement, education! Our country, our states, our municipalities follow regulations and laws. It is important to understand the full strength and applicability of our laws to protect historic resources (and other resources). Where one set of laws does not meet your needs or does not apply to your concerns, you have to go other routes. Be an informed citizen and you will have a better quality of life and sense of place.

What do you think, about any or all of this?

Historic Preservation 1974 and 1977

Years ago, while browsing in a used bookstore in Pinehurst, North Carolina, I came across a thin publication titled Historic Preservation, dated April-June 1977. Sure enough, I had stumbled upon an early edition of Preservation Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The magazine had cardstock covers and inside pages that were filled with three column text and color photographs mixed in with black and white images.

The covers of the April - June 1977(left) and July-September 1974 (right) issues of Historic Preservation, published quarterly by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Shortly after finding this 1977 edition, I found a 1974 edition in another bookstore, whose name and location have since escaped me. I haven’t found one since then, but after all these years it seemed like a good time to finally read through them. And in doing so, I was reminded of a valuable lesson.

Inside cover of the 1974 issue. Click for a larger view.

Inside cover of the 1977 issue. Click for a larger view.

Since scanning entire issues seems silly, I’ll share a few of the article highlights with you.

In the 1974 issue, the magazine opens with a piece titled “The More Things Change.” It begins like this:

Preservationists spend a good share of time trying to explain their point of view, not to mention defending it. Saving old things can appear to be a lackluster occupation in and of itself. What makes it seem even more dull is the inadequacy of the explanation most of us are able to produce. The building is architecturally significant. It is 100 years old. George Washington slept here. We are often better able to articulate why something should not be lost than why it should be saved. Perhaps this because what makes a historic building or object important is an abstract quality. It derives from the point expressed by a French adage, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — “the more things change, they more they stay the same.” When we preserve, restore or illuminate historic buildings, objects or events we have the opportunity to better understand their significance in the context of their own time and to better understand our own time with the perspective afforded by knowledge of the past.

Interesting, yes? As I read that paragraph I was thinking that we since have moved on from the idea of a lackluster occupation, as we all know preservation is more than saving old buildings. To my surprise, this particular issue hinted at the other definitions and applications of preservation: how to adapt buildings to modern uses such as school buildings, for example, and how to solve the problems of abandoned buildings in our cities facing decreasing populations.

The article I liked the most was, “The Short Lived Phenomenon of Railroad Station-hotels,” by Diane Newell. It provided a good overview of railroad hotels; Newell explains their brief existence on the development of rail sophistication, in terms of rail networks and passenger comfort. These hotels were constructed primarily 1850-1880, when railcars were coach and without sleeping quarters or dining options. While these buildings are rare and exceptional to us now, when built they were simply products of the rail company engineers and draftsmen, not leading architects. Few survive today.

The 1977 issue had interesting articles as well. In “The Nonfiction World of Writers,” Stephanie Kraft writes, “Writers are a nostalgic lot. They are apt to have intense feelings about place in general and early homes in particular.” The article references the homes of Willa Cather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and others while discussing the factors of preservation success of particular literary authors’ homes.

“How to Publish the News” by Geoffrey C. Upward, begins with, “Historic preservationists need good communication skills for success. Finding supporters, keeping them informed and interested, providing education and strong defense of an area’s built heritage all call for effective communication.” The article goes on to discuss the importance of newsletters, as the most effective form of communication and evaluates tone, layout, size and the quality of the printer. While dated in its exact form, it is easy to recognize how this article could be updated to today’s social media world.

“Churches in the Woods” by Mary I. Cuffe analyzes the current movement of rural church preservation, these small, sparse buildings in rural America and their fate in parallel with the collapse of many communities across the country. “Whether interest in reviving rural churches throughout the country is lasting or merely passing romanticism is yet to be seen. Whatever their place in the future, the churches that still stand should be maintained as important components of American heritage. The construction was simple, but the foundation profound – when folks built their church they meant to stay.” This reminds me of the current discussion of redundant churches.

While the Trust has changed over the years, these articles strike me as surprisingly contemporary. You might expect a Historic Preservation magazine from the 1970s to be out of date, discussing topics that are no longer priorities or no longer current practices in the preservation field, but the articles mentioned above were comforting to me. Why? While reading through the magazine issues, I felt that preservationists have been doing a good job all along, with honorable intentions, pondering how society feels about categories of buildings, how to reach the non-preservationists, and communicating the importance of our history through sites and structures. The proper methods of interpretation and the best use for our built environment has long been on our minds. And subconsciously, I knew all that already. Of course the field of historic preservation has always been optimistic and well-intended, as I believe it to be today. But, it’s nice to be reminded.

Those of you who have been in preservation for decades probably know all that already, too. You may smile at my naiveté, and that’s okay. You have my admiration. To those of us who do not have those decades in our heads, it is important to remember that the field has evolved, but it also came from someplace good. How else would we have come this far? And because of that, it is important to learn from our colleagues, professors, mentors, old magazines, etc. We may have the digital world to our advantage and we may be helping to bring preservation to new levels, but that is exactly what our preservation elders have done, too. Preservation is continuously advancing, improving, evolving and believing. So I say thank you to those who have done so before the newest generation of professionals and college students; you are an inspiration.

Cold Weather Coming! Insulation!?

Who else is getting chilly in the Northeast? Maybe it’s chilly in the Midwest, too? And the Northwest? Certainly you southerners are still enjoying the summer sun’s warm rays with a few lovely, blustery fall days. My memory could be skewed, but I am fairly certain that October was still very warm in the North Carolina Sandhills.

Normally, I wouldn’t mind this chill, except right now we are lacking heat in our house. (Thanks again, Irene.) We’re working on it with insurance, so hopefully it will be warm again soon. Fortunately, as new homeowners, we have a never-ending list of projects to do, which means there is enough reason to move constantly and keep warm. My favorite task is painting. I love painting! We’ll talk paint colors again soon.

Before fun aesthetic matters like paint colors, let’s get back to insulation issues. I was relieved to hear that I am not crazy after my rant against spray foam insulation. See the comments by Maria and Henrietta.

As I’ve mentioned, this year’s winter will be for observing how our lack of insulation affects our 1928 house. The attic is insulated, so all will be okay this year. Next year we’ll decide what we’re missing. Between now and spring I would like to acquire more knowledge about insulation. Colleagues and friends know my stance on insulation (at least insulation in my house), and I’d like to have more credible answers – rather than just some knowledge combined with gut instincts – for when they ask me questions about their house. While I’ve never claimed to be an expert, people know that I care about historic structures. There is no use in caring and not applying preservation know-how or learning it.

Step One: Acquire References.

My list of references from reliable sources includes:

(1) Issues: Weatherization from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (with special note to insulation)

(2) Technical Preservation Services: Weather from the National Park Service

(3) Energy Costs in an Old House from Historic New England

(4) Q&A from Old House Online (Old House Journal)

(5) Q&A from Historic HomeWorks (John Leeke)

What have you found helpful? What can you add?

Step Two: Read & Comprehend. That is a project for winter.

As smaller measures this year, we’re making sure to close the storm windows and add insulated curtains. If necessary, maybe we’ll tackle weather stripping. However, I really do not expect the house to be especially cold. It’s a good house and I have faith in it.

Hey Buffalo, Wish I Were There!

This week is the annual National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Buffalo, NY.

I haven’t been to a NTHP conference since 2005 in Louisville, KY and before that, 2004 in Portland, OR. These are large conferences with many events, lectures, field sessions and meetups to choose.  They were interesting when I was in college, but at that time, I always felt that the National Trust catered to more experienced professionals. As a college student and a newbie to the preservation world, I remember feeling out of place, despite my passion for preservation.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that the National Trust has been changing its attitude and encouraging the younger crowd of participants. Young professionals are all a-twitter at this conference (pun intended), and I would have loved to have met fellow preservationist, particularly those who I only know through the blogging world. Maybe next time?

Meagan at HISTPRES compiled her picks for young preservationists attending the conference. Twitter was filled with #presconf hash tags all day today, as was the young preservationist meetup.

So, now, I’m wondering — does the National Trust seem to be encouraging more “young” preservationists because I’m older (i.e. no longer a college kid) or because that is the trend. I’m thinking it’s the latter, but college kids, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, unable to attend? The Preservation Nation blog put together a list of highlights and links so we can follow along. Those of you attending, hope it’s a blast!