Archive for the ‘Preservation In the News’ Category

TGIF Readers! I feel like this is Friday #2 this week, with the holiday on Wednesday. Speaking of the 4th of July, since I am still coming down from my post-fireworks euphoria, I have decided to theme today’s Fantasy in honor of our recently passed holiday. As you may know (or may not, as I do have some foreign readers), Independence Day (often better-known as the 4th of July, for the date the holiday falls on) is an American Holiday in which the citizenry celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, by which the Founding Fathers of our nation stated that America was its own country and should be free of British rule. This act of treason led to war between Britain and the American colonies, which eventually led to the creation of the country we know today… and it all began on July 4, 1776 (granted, that’s the thumbnail sketch of the founding of the United States, as there were many acts of rebellion that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, not to mention some confusion among when the Declaration was actually signed, but to avoid writing a book that’s been written several times over, I’ll leave us with the understanding that the holiday is on July 4th and we’re celebrating America).

Today, the 4th of July represents patriotism and love of country, both of which I can wholeheartedly support.  In honor of those sentiments, today’s Fantasy is tied to one of America’s most beloved Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was America’s 16th President, responsible for leading the Union through the Civil War, writing the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was also assassinated.  What many people don’t know about President Lincoln is that, although he loved the White House, he actually dearly loved another house in Washington, DC, more. This other  house was a seasonal retreat for Presidents.  It was (and still is) a cottage on the grounds of what was known as the Soldiers Home (Now known as the armed forces retirement home).

(Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Photo, by way of wikipedia)

The Cottage was built in 1842 for George Washington Riggs (who later went on to found Riggs National Bank… Yeah, I’ve never heard of that bank either, but the guy had enough money to found a bank, so there you go….) in the fashionable Gothic Revival style. However, it did not remain a private home for very long, as President Lincoln had taken up residence there by the summer of 1862. It is even said he wrote preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in the cottage. (Photo from lincolncottage.org and Armed Forces Retirement Home)

The cottage underwent a major restoration beginning in 2005, and opened to the public for the first time in 2008.  The site was declared a National Monument by President Clinton in 2000, as well as a being included in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.   Today is is maintained and run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo from National Geographic)

Hope you enjoyed this look at President Lincoln’s Cottage. If you are in Washington, D.C., you should check it out. If you won’t be in the D.C. area anytime soon, you can visit the Cottage Website here.

Have a great weekend!


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Hey Readers,

I know I have been woefully neglecting you, but I have a good reason I swear!  It’s  National Preservation Month  and here at work that is combined with a time heavy in reviewing Architectural Plans and preparing for our awards ceremony, then add to that the fact that a co-worker and I promised  to give a presentation to a Local Historical Commission on re-purposing disused Municipal buildings, so yeah… I might have over-extended myself just a bit.

I don’t want to leave you hanging, though, so I’m going to leave you with a couple of pictures from one of the buildings in my presentation on re-using your town’s Municipal buildings. This particular building is the Salem Jail in Salem, Massachusetts. It underwent a MASSIVE rehabilitation where it went from an unused former jail to luxury Condos and a great jail-themed restaurant called The Great Escape. Check out their website, since it gives some before photos of the jail.

Here is a before picture from the Preservation Nation Blog:

Here is a an artistic view of  the after  from the company who markets the Condos (I love the guy hanging out in the doorway!):

I will be back when things quiet down a little bit. Enjoy Preservation Month!


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Happy Friday Readers, I’m back! This week’s Fantasy is a pretty great one, if I do say so myself. Today’s Fantasy is America’s oldest surviving timber frame home: the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Built between 1637 and 1641, the Fairbanks house has weathered well over 350 years and is still around for us to enjoy and study today.  Interestingly enough, we can really pinpoint the construction period for the Fairbanks house because the organization that owns the house requested a dendrochronology study to determine an exact date. For those unfamiliar with dendrochronology, it is the study of the age of a timber by counting the growth rings of the timber and comparing them to other rings formed at a known point in time.  The process is most often used to date the timbers that make up a house frame. (Photos from Wikipedia)

The house is a great example of continuous New England architecture.  Like many other venerable manses across our stony countryside, especially the ubiquitous connected farmsteads of the 19th century, it was slowly added onto over the years to become the house we see today.  The saltbox lean-to on the north side of the house was likely added later in the 17th century.  The east and west gambrel-roofed wings were added about a century later, when an extended unit of the Fairbanks family all lived there together. Both the small addition extending to the west off of the lean-to (originally built as a dairy, and later converted into the privy) and the mud room attached to the east wing were built during the 19th century. (For more information on continuous architecture, get yourself a copy of the book Little House Big House Back House Barn. Great book, you won’t regret it!)

The history of the Fairbanks house is, as you might guess, inextricably tied to the lives of the Fairbanks family.  The Fairbanks family called this place home for nearly 300 years, ending in 1904 when the last remaining descendant moved away at the age of 76.  Shortly after the house ceased its existence as a residence, the Fairbanks Family Association (a genealogical membership group made up of descendants of Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks, the family’s first immigrants to America and first owners of the house) purchased it and opened it to the public.

This intriguing link to 17th century New England is certainly an architectural treasure, but it continues to provide glimpses into the lives of its residents, as well, through the family furniture that’s found its way back home (or never left), and archaeological deposits around the grounds that continue to be studied.  It’s worth a visit to take a moment to step back in time and experience a home that’s been a part of over three centuries of history, and was the place that eight generations of a single family called home.

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the Countries oldest timber frame home.


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It is an unfortunate fact that Eminent Domain can be abused by towns and cities (and even federally) to ruin historic preservation efforts by tearing down whole blocks of historic buildings in the name of “progress” and “the greater good”.  For anyone who might not know what Eminent Domain is, here is a handy definition for you from expertlaw.com: “Eminent domain refers to the power possessed by the state over all property within the state, specifically its power to appropriate property for a public use. In some jurisdictions, the state delegates eminent domain power to certain public and private companies, typically utilities, such that they can bring eminent domain actions to run telephone, power, water, or gas lines. In most countries, including the United States under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, the owner of any appropriated land is entitled to reasonable compensation, usually defined as the fair market value of the property. Proceedings to take land under eminent domain are typically referred to as “condemnation” proceedings.”

Historically, terms like “blighted” and “run-down” and “worthless” have been applied to historic buildings in order to devalue them and turn public opinion toward favoring their demolition.  From the 1950s through 1980s, eminent domain went hand in hand with urban renewal and other public programs to “improve” our cities and towns by demolishing older building stock to make way for highways, parks, utility corridors and other public projects.  But today, eminent domain has been redirected towards demolishing entire neighborhoods or rows of homes on a street, in order to turn the vacant land over to developers who will build businesses that will generate more tax revenue than the ‘dilapidated’ and ‘worthless’ residences that used to take up the space.  An instance of this can be seen in New London, Connecticut, where a neighborhood was taken by eminent domain for an office park that was never built, leaving behind a huge swath of vacant land that generates a fraction of the tax revenue formerly earned.

Now, to the story at hand. A while ago, a reader named Jerome asked me to write a blog post about his hometown of East Wheeling, West Virginia, and the struggle several residents were having. The town wanted to demolish homes in order to build a sports complex, but these homes were historic, listed in the National Register as part of a historic district, and some are even in the town’s walking tour. At first, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should get into a local issue that was a bit far from me, geographically, but when I though about it I figured that as a professional Preservationist, if I could help in any way, I had better do it…. think of it as the Hippocratic oath for buildings…. the “histocratic” oath if you will. “I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all buildings”.

So, after I decided to tackle this, Jerome and I emailed back and forth and I got a bit of history from him.  Here it is in his own words. “The story regarding these tactics to take property is frightening. An unnamed not-for-profit tried to buy buildings in the neighborhood in 2009 and 2010. When no owners expressed interest, the City began “threatening” owners with Eminent Domain. Those owners that caved, their property was taken by a third party. Those who did not settle, were filed upon with legal Eminent Domain which my neighbors and I are fighting. The rumor is the nearby Catholic High School wants to build a practice football field where the homes are.”

Now, I’ve posted some photos of the homes included in the town walking tour below (which look like they could have been taken by one of the users on the forum mentioned later), and admittedly, some could use a little TLC.  There is a lot of talk around about how the homes aren’t worth saving because of their condition, but it seems to me that if these people are willing to fight to keep their homes, then they are worth saving. Not to mention that I see “good bones” in these photos and they just need a little elbow grease before they can shine again.  For anyone out there who thinks that these building should be torn down because they’re in need of some work, (like one comment I found on a forum that states: “I’d rather see these buildings knocked down rather than let them continue to fall apart because lets face it, given the economics of the area, the odds of someone/ something buying these structures and breathing new life into them are next to nothing.”), I have but one thing to say. Shame on you!  No, there might not be much money in the community, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! There are all kinds of options to pursue, like establishing a revolving fund to buy vacant houses, fix them up and then sell them to low-income families at an affordable price, or historic rehabilitation tax credits or CDBG (Community Development Block Grant for those not in on the lingo) funds. Just because a goal looks like will be an uphill battle doesn’t mean the view from the top wasn’t worth the climb!

Okay so… what is the point of sharing this with you fine readers? Simple: to get the word out. Maybe you can help Jerome and the other residents of 15th Street fighting for their homes, or maybe you have a similar situation in your town. The important thing is that Preservation exists because people care about their communities, places where they live and work, where they grew up and made memories and a large part of those memories is the environment that they took place in. All it takes to save these places are a few people who care standing up and make themselves heard!  So here’s to Jerome and East Wheeling’s fight to save these buildings.  Maybe if enough people stand up to show how much they care for their homes and towns, and refuse to accept eminent domain as a viable solution, everyone can sit down together and talk, to create a plan that will meet everyone’s needs!

EDIT: I have come to find out that the photos were taken by Jonathon Denson and that he has them on his blog which you can find here.

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Hey readers, I’m back!  Did you miss me?  Sorry about being MIA for a while, but Ash and I were on a much-needed vacation, which I will be writing about later this week.  I wanted to pop on and post a quick follow-up to a post I wrote in mid-September.  You can read it here.

If you recall, the federal Transpiration Enhancement program was in danger of being cut, but it was saved by the House… Now, it is in danger in the Senate, and Preservationists need to act swiftly to save one of our biggest sources of funding and YOU can help!

Just take a moment to click this link, read the Preservation Nation article and click their link so that you can contact your Senator and tell him or her to save the Transportation Enhancement Act and ditch the bad language.

Don’t forget to come back on Friday for our Fantasy.

Thanks for doing your part for Preservation, and have a great day!


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This Saturday Ash and I will be returning to our Alma-mater to attend a symposium on the future of Historic Preservation.

The symposium will be put on by Roger Williams University and Historic New England with some other sponsors from around New England including my work. As the symposium approaches I find myself more excited to return to where I first found out what Historic Preservation really meant. I promise I will give you a post on things that were discussed and how I felt about them.

For more information on the symposium go here.

Now I’ll leave you with some photos I found on Google of beautiful Bristol Rhode Island, where Roger Williams is located. Enjoy!

Hope you found Bristol as beautiful as I do!


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Hello Everyone! Today I’m going to talk about something that I have mixed feelings on: Recent Past Preservation, and since I have mixed feelings about the issue I’ve asked Ash to help me out with this post.
Recent past preservation is a growing controversy in historic preservation and architectural history.  Many (myself included, again, mixed feelings…) have derided the movement to look to the recent past (which is commonly accepted as the period encompassing the decades on either side of the National Register-mandated 50 year mark, i.e. 1951-1971 at the present) for cultural resources to preserve.  The argument has been bandied about that this period is too close to home, it’s the domain of nostalgia, and we historians can’t look on cultural resources from this period with objectivity if our view is clouded by fond recollections of our respective childhoods/teenage years/college years.  And what’s more, why should we look to the cultural resources so close to the present, when there are 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings in dire need, as is the case with our 20th century house museums that just can’t sustain the level of maintenance that was established during the halcyon days of the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the American public took pride in traveling around our country to learn of the founding generations?
If you need any proof of this rosy look on our countries founding generations look no further than this photo from Imageof.net
It has been said that a building is never in more danger than during the decades after it has reached 40 years of age.  The generation that builds values its buildings, as they recall the cost and effort that went into an edifice.  The next generation looks on the works of the previous generation with fondness, recalling the pride their parents took in those places, and the memories made during their youth.  By the third generation, many buildings have passed to new owners who don’t have the same emotional attachment, who don’t remember the pride or efforts that went into a building, or possibly even the original purpose of the building.  It may have become run down, it may be showing its age as systems wear out and materials reach the end of their life cycle.  This is the time when a building is often at greatest risk for demolition.
For example… if you didn’t recognize the house below as the Brady abode would you think it worthy of Preservation?
Not to go on at length, but recent past preservationists have considered these issues, and have stepped in to guide our cultural resources forward from questionable old places that are down on their luck to treasured landmarks that can be looked upon with pride for decades and centuries to come.  What’s more, mainstream preservationists are looking to the recent past as the new area for study rather than other periods, since the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were all the focus of the 20th century, so architectural historians have begun to look back on the 20th century from our 21st century vantage point.  Mind you, I’m not advocating the preservation of every Ranch home and every gas station and every school ever built!  Nor are recent past preservationists.  We preservationists (regardless of period) advocate taking a second look, reconsidering the value of a place, the history of a place, and even the building materials and craftsmanship that could be lost if a fairly recent building is demolished.  What will we remember about the 1950s if every drive-in theater is demolished?
The awesome neon-light display below is from Ohio.com (but the drive-in is actually in California… go figure)
So, I tend to rant about topics.  I apologize.  To make up for my lengthy discourse, here’s an interesting example of recent past preservation ideals in action: Lustron Preservation.  These folks have brought together a community of people dedicated to the preservation of Lustron houses, which were developed in the Post-WWII era as an answer to the housing crisis as GIs came home to start families and needed their piece of the American Dream.
insert photo
Photo courtesy of BFDhD.

Lustron homes were built entirely from enameled steel, including the interior and exterior walls, the windows, the doors and the roof!  Lustron is one of those unique Post-war ideas amid a sea of bland ranches and Leavitt-inspired Capes and split-levels that eventually flooded the housing market in the 50s, which is what makes them an architectural gem.  Sadly, only 2,680 Lustron homes were ever built, and nearly half of those have since been demolished.  So, intrepid enthusiasts of Lunstron took notice and have brought together info on their favorite historic resources and formed a community for other enthusiasts, Lustron owners and admirers of enameled steel living.

So what do you think? Is there a Lustron home in your future?

-Etta & Ash

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