Touring Providence, Round One

The recent jaunt to Rhode Island included a visit with my preservation pals in Providence. Undoubtedly you saw the many Mr. Stilts photo pop up on Preservation in Pink. Instead of a flamingo invasion, here are some of my favorite sites along the tour.

Along the riverwalk in downtown Providence.

Along the riverwalk in downtown Providence.

Providence Public Library.

Providence Public Library.

I cannot take my eyes off this building.

I cannot take my eyes off this building.

Westminster Street.

Westminster Street.

Another view on Westminster Street, a great place to stroll, shop, get coffee.

Another view on Westminster Street, a great place to stroll, shop, get coffee.

Westminster Street, looking up. Rhode Island is ahead of Vermont in the flower count.

Westminster Street, looking up. Rhode Island is ahead of Vermont in the flower count.

Providence, RI. Another one of the beautiful buildings to catch your eye.

Providence, RI. Another one of the beautiful buildings to catch your eye.

New use of an old, hidden space: an outdoor movie screen. Creative use of a formerly underused space?

New use of an old, hidden space: an outdoor movie screen. Creative use of a formerly underused space?

To be continued.

Preservation Photos #231

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Reflections in Providence, Rhode Island.

Preservation is Good for Your Health

Mark Fenton, the keynote speaker for the Rhode Island Preservation Conference delivered one of the best talks I’ve heard. He linked public health and historic preservation, in a way that makes the connection seem so obvious. Read on to learn more from Mark’s conference talk.

Preservation is good for your health, plain and simple. Preservation improves quality of life, which likely includes health. Many of us know this, but have we thought about it enough to put it into words?

How is preservation good for you? Historic towns and cities were built for human scale, often prior to our auto-centric designs. This means that buildings are closer together, the streets are not filled with vast parking lots and strip-mall style setbacks. Streetscapes include sidewalks, street furniture, mature shade trees. Cars are not what connected people. Instead, people walked or rode public transit.

The problem with our auto-centric suburbs? Our transportation design and development patterns do not encourage walking (i.e. exercise). Every task requires a car. Bike paths don’t necessarily link neighborhoods to a downtown core. The destinations need to be functional, with the trailheads at our front doors.

The solution? Better design that allows passive exercise for all ages. Meaning that people are encouraged and able to walk for errands. Not every task requires a car. Networks are safe and user friendly. How? Vocal concerned citizens need to speak up and alert their elected officials that design matters. Their town doesn’t have to settle for the typical corporate big-box chain look. Schools should be built in towns, rather than off in the middle-of-nowhere. Zoning needs to change.

We need to stop building a world conducive to inactivity, and recognize that our historic development patterns made more sense. Telling people to exercise is not going to work. It’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Instead, we need to change how we design, how we build.

Transportation design, building design, and community planning must be improved. Step up to the plate and negotiate. Make your community healthy and believe that your community deserves the absolute best, not the run-of-the-mill design.

Need smaller steps in your community? Add benches. Add shade trees. Buy a bike rack. Be an active role model. If you can, try walking for just one errand. Businesses are looking to locate in healthy communities.

Doesn’t it make perfect sense? Of course historic preservation is good for you. And that is another tool in our preservation toolbox.

Want to hear the entire talk? Watch it here – begin at 23 minutes for Mark.

Providence, RI. A healthy city block.

Providence, RI. A healthy city block.

Preservation Conferences All Around

Spring is conference season! Everywhere you look, there’s a new conference. Get ready to be invigorated by preservation and inspired by colleagues. Check out this brief list below. Add your own in the comments:

I’m excited to announce that Preservation in Pink will be featured at the Rhode Island Statewide Historic Preservation Conference as part of the session “Getting Social for a Cause: Social Media and Historic Preservation.” (See the conference brochure, page 12, session C2.) With a theme of “Pride in Preservation” and an opportunity to share my love of social media and historic preservation, I’m honored to be included!

Session C2: Hope to see you there and meet new faces.

Session C2: Hope to see you there and meet new faces.

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A great program. Click to read about the conference.

Will you be there?

Preservation Photos #172

Carey Mansion in Newport, RI. (Also known as  Seaview Terrace.)

Carey Mansion in Newport, RI. (Also known as Seaview Terrace.)

One of the Newport summer cottages, and the fifth largest, this property was leased to Salve Regina University (students lived here!) until 2009. It is the fictional Collinwood Mansion in the Dark Shadows opening credits. Its construction began in 1923, however, this mansion incorporated a 1911 relocated mansion from Washington D.C. It has also been used as US Army headquarters and an all-girls’ summer boarding school. (Read more here.) Currently, it is private property.

Abandoned Rhode Island: The Bells

An abandoned (neglected) and deteriorated carriage barn – referred to as “The Bells” by locals – found at Brenton Point State Park in Newport, Rhode Island. A brief history of the property, from the Rhode Island State Parks:

…a fine house, known as ‘The Reef’ was built in 1885 for Theodore M. Davis by the Boston architectural firm of Sturgis and Brigham. An elegant shingle and stone-clad Queen Anne villa was erected to house Davis’s collection of paintings and Egyptian artifacts, collected during his wanderings between 1903 and 1912. Under official license by the Egyptian government, Davis directed expeditions that uncovered nearly a half dozen major tombs, establishing important holdings for Egypt. The Reef was also famous for its walled gardens and green houses. The entire estate took up some eighteen acres.

After Mr. Davis’ death in 1915 the estate went into the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Budlong of Providence. The property suffered in the ’38 Hurricane, but the members of the Budlong family used it until 1941. During World War II, the site’s position as one of the gateways to Narragansett Bay made it an ideal location for a coastal artillery battery. Footings for these guns can be seen today. Returned to the Budlongs in 1946 the house and grounds remained unoccupied. The house continued deterioration in the 1950s, and a fire destroyed the villa in 1960. Two years later it was demolished. Surviving on the site are a bungalow and carriage house. In 1969 the site came under the control of the State of Rhode Island as an ‘open space’ property in the Green Acres Program. In 1976 it became a state park.

It was a cloudy New England winter day, but still good enough for photographs.

Blending into the winter surroundings.

Blending into the winter surroundings.

The carriage barn.

The carriage barn.

Fenced off and deteriorating.

Fenced off and deteriorating.

A grand entrance between two chimneys, now with a missing roof.

A once-grand entrance between two chimneys, now with a missing roof.

Straight through the roof.

Straight through the roof.

Architectural details.

Architectural details.

Those roof trusses aren't long for this world.

Those roof trusses aren’t looking great.

Horse stalls.

Horse stalls show decades of neglect and vandalism.

Various floor surfaces.

Various floor surfaces.

The view from the watch tower.

The view of the carriage barn from the observation tower.

The observation tower.

The observation tower. Climb up for a great view of the building and the ocean.

A fascinating visit if you’re in the area. Combine a trip to Brenton Point with a tour at The Breakers. It will make for a great Newport day.

An Audio Tour at the Newport Mansions

There are house museums and then there are the Newport, Rhode Island mansions. No matter what you think of historic houses, house museums, and tours, it is impossible to be unimpressed by the Newport mansions. This is particularly true about The Breakers, the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt and family, the quintessential home of the Gilded Age.

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Recently, a dear preservation friend and fellow UVM alum, Katie gave me a weekend tour of Newport, which included a visit to The Breakers. The tour was an audio tour, a new experience for me. Each guest is given a headset and small audio device. Signs guide you from room to room along with directions narrated on the recording. Each room has a separate audio track. All you have to do is press play when you are in a new room. You can listen and move about the room, and linger until you are ready to move. Supplemental tracks give more information to those interested. Katie and I did our best to press play at the same time. A few times we had to correct the track, but all we had to do was type in the track number.

You know what? The audio tour was excellent. It was clear, informative, interesting and included oral history excerpts. Often in historic preservation we talk about the lack of accurate sounds for historic houses – and audio tours solve that. I loved it. Granted, I could have been entertained with very little in The Breakers, but I am glad to have taken the audio tour.

The Breakers is breathtaking and almost left me speechless. The opulence is evident in every single inch of the mansion from floor to ceiling. They look impressive on the exterior yes, but the interior – my goodness, I cannot do it justice. The lifestyles are fascinating – what a unique period of time and social class in American history, one that will never happen again (the Gilded Age was prior to the income tax). Most of us cannot fathom such a life.

But how grateful we should be to the Newport Preservation Society for preserving and sharing these mansions and this history with us, and for providing us with the opportunity to imagine the life of the Gilded Age.

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By all means, visit the Newport mansions when you are in Rhode Island. And do tell, what do you think of audio tours?

February Flamingo-grams

Some adventures from around the Northeast in February.