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Preservation Round-Up: Summer Reading Edition

Posted on: July 16th, 2012 by David Garber


Preservation Pop Quiz: The A/C Question -- Preservation in Pink

"Architectural integrity aside, when has an air conditioning unit ever been attractive? [...] Obviously, this is a preservation pet peeve of mine. It might be one of yours now, too."

Abandoned Walmart Transformed Into A Functioning Library -- PSFK

"The International Interior Design Association recently selected the McAllen Public Library as the winner of their 2012 Library Interior Design Competition. The city inherited the former Wal-Mart after the retailer closed the store [which was built in 1991] and abandoned it."

St. Louis County Library Seeks to Demolish Historic Lewis & Clark Branch -- Modern STL

"Designed by prominent architect Frederick Dunn, FAIA, with Emil Frei Stained Glass windows by artist Robert Harmon, it was completed in 1963 at 9909 Lewis-Clark Boulevard. After nearly 50 years in use, the building’s architectural integrity is unparalleled amongst its peers, and it functions as a vibrant hub for the surrounding North St. Louis County community."

Why All Philly Schools Look the Same -- Hidden City Philadelphia

"Standardization did not mean that all schools shared an identical look. Dimensions might be common among Catharine-built schools, but style and ornamentation vary widely. Many schools incorporated common Philadelphia architectural styles such as Second Empire and Georgian Revival. Still others bore styles scarcely seen in the conservative Quaker city."

What I Learned on Martha's Vineyard -- The Craftsman

"Recently I had the opportunity to visit Martha’s Vineyard. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, it’s an island off the southern coast of Massachusetts that has a rich history dating all the way back to 1602. Full of colonial era and mid 19th century buildings built by the captains of the then booming whaling industry I was like a kid in a historic candy store! But the incredible architecture was only the tip of the iceberg."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


Allison Wottawa is exactly the kind of person you want telling you about interesting places and the histories and stories that made them that way. She's energetic, smart, and glows on camera. As you'll read in our interview below and see in the below videos, Allison is the creator and host of an online travel series called Ally Quest.

Her show, which is produced to accommodate a future on television but is broken into easily digestible YouTube segments, is described on her website as "the ultimate show for anyone who has ever wanted to travel in time." Which is, for me at least, the ultimate dream. (And probably why I enjoy watching her show so much.)

I had a chance to talk with Allison about her background, her inspiration, and where the show is headed. And judging by her groundedness, passion, and quality of product, it's easy to see that Allison's star is on its way up.

Tell me a little about your background leading up to this series.

My college adviser said to me, "Allison, do you know the secret of happiness?"  Of course, I didn't.

"The secret of happiness," he continued, " is doing what you love and getting someone to pay you for it."  This is how I live my life.

I've been an actor and a producer for as long as I can remember, starting in theatre when I was six, coupled with a tremendous fascination for history.  History is, after all, a story that examines who we are, where we came from, how we got here.

I graduated from The George Washington University with a major in Political Communications and minors in Theatre and History, then followed my passion across the Atlantic and attended graduate school at Drama Studio London, receiving the English equivalent of an MFA.

What inspired you to create this series?

After graduation, I promptly moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in acting.  Los Angeles is a great city with so much opportunity and fabulous weather.  But I felt that something was lacking.  I wasn't feeling the "passion" and my career seemed somewhat empty.  I couldn't figure out how my career in acting was helping anyone.

I thought of my college adviser.  What do I love?  Easy.  Travel, history, communicating to an audience.  That's when Ally Quest was born.

Allison filming a golf cart driving segment on Catalina Island.

I know this sounds cliche, but I have always wanted to make a difference in a positive way. Of course, I am also completely selfish and want to travel the world.  I have a yearning to learn as much as I can about places and the people that live there.  My natural gift is communication.

So, traveling the world while researching a point in history, and relaying that information through the lens of the camera -- well, that's just me.  If I can do anything in the world, I'm going to do that! My Mom always said, "You can do anything you put your mind to."  And I believe her. ... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

[Slideshow] Detroit's Valentine Distilling Co.

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by David Garber 6 Comments


Last week I spent a few days in the preservationist mecca of Detroit, Michigan. I'll touch on some of my other preservation-related visits on the blog next week, but first -- a photo tour of Valentine Distilling Co., a company we highlighted last year because of owner Rifino Valentine's decision to locate his business in an old building.

The exterior of the Valentine Distilling Co., which has had a number of auto and industrial uses over the past 80 years.

So, like any good reporter, I figured I should stop in for a follow-up -- mostly, I'll admit, because I thought it was a cool company in a cool building, and I wanted to learn more about the distilling process. When I got there, I was greeted by Rifino and his dog, Sherbet, both of whom led me on a tour of the building.

The last user of the c. 1928 one-story brick building was a pool table manufacturing company, so turning it into a distillery was kind of keeping it in the family. And although records of previous tenants are thin, there's evidence that the building was used as an automobile repair shop before that.

The building's industrial feel is carried into the interior decor. Even where walls didn't exist previously, Rifino was careful to use bricks, blocks, and windows salvaged from demolished Detroit buildings.

Check out the above slideshow for more of my tour through Valentine Distilling Co., and if they don't already, ask your local bars to consider stocking the preservation-friendly Valentine Vodka. Remember, preservation is just as much about keeping sustainable uses in old and historic buildings as much as it is the process of saving those places in the first place. Cheers!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


It's the week of the Fourth of July, which means that we're dreaming in red, white, and blue, and thinking about flags, fireworks, and freedom. And maybe it's the fire engine red, or their symbol of civic heroism, but there's just something about fire houses that screams America. Add in a "rising from the ashes" story line and it's kind of the American preservation/restoration/rebuilding dream. Enter Fire Station No. 6 in Houston, Texas.

Built in 1903 (see "before" pictures above), No. 6 is located on Washington Avenue in Houston's Sixth Ward neighborhood -- a story of regeneration in itself, but still dotted with auto lots, empty storefronts, and untended buildings. When Tom Hair, founder of communications and marketing firm Axiom, was looking to buy a property to house his growing company, he wanted a space that reflected Axiom's creativity and energy. He found it in the then-dilapidated Fire Station No. 6.

Although the brick exterior was still in decent shape and structurally sound, the windows were rotten and the building needed a full roof replacement, as well as restoration work on the metal shingles and cornices.

Today, Fire Station No. 6 is a beacon for historic adaptation done right. The exterior gleams, and the interior feels fresh but still retains elements of the historic building -- like a brass fire pole that's available for use by the firm's employees. The building has marks of of the past -- exposed bricks, restored columns, and old photos splashed across the walls -- while still accommodating the needs and styles of a modern work space.

Owner Tom Hair is rightfully proud of his work: "We have one of the few buildings that has been restored to its original presence on Washington Avenue." Kudos on a job well done, and let's hope that as the neighborhood develops, the number of restorations only continues to grow.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Discovering Philadelphia's Favorite Places

Posted on: June 27th, 2012 by David Garber


If you haven't heard of them already, there's a great organization called Hidden City Philadelphia. Their goal is to highlight the city's unique and under-known special places by connecting them with resources in order to activate them in new and interesting ways.

As self-described on their site, "Hidden City is about transforming that innate, childlike sense of wonder that we all have into inspiration, ideas, and social action around place, making our urban environment a more vibrant, productive, and desirable place to live, work, and play."

This idea is translatable across all cities and towns -- and as much as I could write about all sorts of great things that Hidden City is putting on and getting together (hmm ... sounds like a great idea for an interview), I wanted to call attention to a series of videos they're creating called "My Favorite Place." Check out a couple of the videos below, or click through to see the entire set.

What are your favorite places in the city, town, or countryside that you call home? Are there places out there that people don't know enough about now that could use some creative marketing? Let us know in the comments!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Preservation Round-Up: Demolition Edition

Posted on: June 25th, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment


Did we hook you with that title? As our regular readers know, we at the National Trust are absolutely not in the business of condoning demolition. So we couldn't help but notice the provocatively titled 25 Buildings to Demolish Right Now list put out by California Home + Design last week.

Take a look at the list -- and the other articles we share today -- and let us know: What do you think could be done with these sites (particularly the historic ones)?

The Geisel Library at University of California San Diego made California Home + Design's list of "25 Buildings to Demolish Right Now." Those are some dramatic angles!

25 Buildings to Demolish Right Now -- California Home + Design

"When proportion, balance, form and function come together in a delicate harmony, architecture is nothing short of an art form. But when, on occasion, those principles clash, the results can be eye-searingly awful. We asked 15 architects and our own staff to weigh-in on what buildings, given the chance, they'd take a wrecking ball to."

The Real High Line Effect: A Transformational Triumph of Preservation and Design -- The Huffington Post

"The success of New York's High Line -- a stretch of abandoned elevated railroad on New York's West Side that has undergone a Phoenix-like resurrection to become one of the city's most popular destinations -- has generated much conversation about the so-called "High Line effect." Several cities are looking at their own long-disused sections of track, hoping they can literally replicate New York's success. Perhaps, but that narrow interpretation ignores the confluence of unique factors that made New York's High Line an instant classic."

Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Over-the-Rhine -- Metro Jacksonville

"Metro Jacksonville visits what is believed to be the largest most intact urban historic district in the United States: Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. [...] What's slowly taking place in Over-the-Rhine indicates that when a city invests in itself and quality-of-life, privately financed market rate development tends to follow."

Renovated, Repurposed Buildings in Massachusetts --

"Boston is well-known as a historical city -- the Cradle of Liberty produced some sturdy buildings. If one goes into disrepair, there are numerous restoration societies that aim to keep the city's historic buildings up and running. Here’s a look at some of Boston's renovated and repurposed buildings where the outside is the same, but the inside is very different."

Texan Lighthouses a Preservation of History -- Galveston Daily News

"Mention the state of Texas and it brings to mind barbecue, the Alamo, football, real cowboys, longhorns, spring break, astronauts, big hats and lighthouses. Lighthouses? Maine and North Carolina have lighthouses, but Texas? The truth is that about 90 lighthouses and lightships have dotted the Texas coast through the years, guiding mariners through barrier island gaps into thriving ports at Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Indianola, Galveston, Houston and Beaumont."


The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.