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Preservation Round-Up: Six Feet Under Edition

Posted on: May 12th, 2011 by David Garber 2 Comments


Thursday afternoon. You know the feeling. Kind of has that end of the week air, yet there’s another few hours of slightly-less-ergonomic-than-advertised desk chair-sitting before Friday even begins to glimmer into existence. Weather outside is perfect, and you’ve managed the post-lunch shoe removal beneath your desk to simulate some other (probably more beachy) moment than the one you’re living now. Don’t get me wrong – nothing is abnormally off. Keyboard clicks have officially replaced morning office chatter, sun is streaming through the mini-blinds, and you're already hungry again after your noon fast break to the latest trendy food truck.

Now if you’re me, this is also the moment you begin to pull together the bi-weekly Preservation Round-Up, discover that all of your open tabs have something to do with death, and stare at your empty mug with those "Really, coffee, you're empty just when I need you most?" eyes and proceed to copy and paste links with tip-toe hesitation. Why? Because here at the National Trust, we try to add a sprig of optimism to our communications, and a news round-up completely relating to the grave might typically be described as less than life-affirming.

(Dramatic Pause)

Good afternoon from the online editing room!

The Amityville Horror house today. (Photo: Flickr user JOE MARINARO)

First up is a great slideshow of “murder houses” put together by This Old House (and tweeted out by them as “Murder is bad. Very bad. But, Murder Houses are kind of awesome”). As you can see from their list – which includes such wonderfully quaint-sounding places as “The Villisca Axe Murder House” and the “Hex Murder House” – some of the houses have used their horrific back stories as a way to preserve and maintain the homes (in case you’re interested, an overnight at the Axe Murder House will put you back a cold $400). Others, like the “Amityville Horror House,” where only a year after the grizzly 1970s murders, subsequent owners “reported everything from [the murderer’s] dark shadows and voices, to black slime oozing through keyholes and swarms of flies,” have now returned to residential use by owners “by owners who don't care for thrill-seeking visitors.”

To everyone scrambling through their local library’s microfiche for a murder story to add a few tourist dollars to their own pocket, never fear. The ghosts of literary giants work just as well. The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Landmarks Haunted by Debt Consult the Spirit World for Help: Ghost Tours Scare Up Cash to Keep Homes of Literary Lions Wharton and Twain Alive,” which is, naturally, about exactly what the title says.

The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn., where Samuel Clemens lived when he wrote "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," was mired in debt and on the verge of closing three years ago. These days, the house plays host to "Graveyard Shift" tours that combine ghostly stories with historical and literary lore. Price: $18.

"The ghost tours have been a cash cow," says Jeffrey Nichols, the executive director, who says his Twain museum currently breaks even, though it still owes $5 million. "I don't think we are being abusive to [Mark Twain's] legacy at all - so many people come and they get interested in Twain," says Mr. Nichols. "We can't keep operating the way we used to. It won't work."

Scene from inside Bennett Park in Detroit. (Photo: Flickr user doctor_gogol)

There are people ghosts. And then there are ballpark ghosts. Detroit, Michigan is beginning to think more seriously about the latter, but for the same tourism and nostalgia-inspired reasons as the places mentioned above. In the DBusiness magazine article titled “A New ‘Field of Dreams’ for Detroit,” author Jeff Samoray opines about the possibility of rebuilding Bennett Park, the motor city’s first baseball stadium.

In Detroit, what’s old is often considered disposable — it’s the flashy new vehicle that counts, not last year’s model. We all know about the landmarks and historic structures the city has razed or left standing in ruin.

But within this context, Detroit has an extraordinary opportunity to resurrect a piece of its past at a historically significant site. If done right, the project could stand as a progressive model for urban revitalization. It would be an unprecedented example of historic reconstruction never before attempted by a major American city.

No field of dreams would be complete without a little help from one of nature’s most underappreciated gardeners: worms. Yes, those ironically-unearthly squirming spindles of subterranea you find slithering across the sidewalk after a good rain. Masters of decomposition, worms are often associated with death – but in the good, “bringing new life as a result” kind of way. Why is this news? Well, landscapers at our under-restoration Villa Finale historic site in San Antonio’s King William neighborhood have built a special worm composting bin as part of their plan to keep the historic mansion’s grounds alive and healthy.

Now in this next case, worms might not be the answer – but what about a little McDreamy-style defibrillation? Across the country in San Francisco (this is the part where if this round-up were animated you’d see a giant dashed lined trailing a jet-liner across a pastel-colored U.S. map) preservationists are reacting to the city's changing historic preservation policies, and are coming to the same conclusion as Nichols. As in, new means of preservation might be needed for the movement to stay alive.

Fearing that new laws will only increase the number of loopholes that demolition-minded developers jump through to get their projects built, San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Bruce Blog notes that “The problem in San Francisco is not too much historic preservation, it's that we allow too much to get lost.”

But who needs a defibrillator when you’ve got a company like Living Social looking for “a unique building in a hip neighborhood” in which to move their headquarters? The Groupon-esque social-tech company decided against a glass box and instead snagged 918 F Street NW, an 1890 brownstone office building in the heart of Washington, DC’s quite vibrant Penn Quarter neighborhood – an area that just fifteen years ago was given up for dead (zing!).

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He prefers the Econo Lodge to places like the Axe Murder House, but affirms horrific murder ghost tourism as a means of building preservation.

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: Home Is Where the Heart Is Edition

Posted on: May 9th, 2011 by David Garber


At this point the idiom is completely cliché (almost to the point of being taboo to write about in any kind of legitimate way, yet I'm pushing forward anyway), but if we really step back to think about it, the concept of home can make up a good portion of our identities and our feelings of comfort and security. Add in the biblical saying "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" and for any homeowner who's spent money on renovations/restorations/re-buying-paint-because-it's-the-wrong-shade-of-eggplant, the concepts of heart and home intertwine all the more quickly.

This week's Preservation Round-Up focuses on a diverse set of houses, one that's going on display, another that's undergoing restoration, and thousands more that are getting bulldozed. Many homes, many hearts.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House (Photo: Flickr user RoRk)

First up is the news that the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana is finally opening for tours starting tomorrow. Columbus is well-known for its standout mid-century modern architecture, and the Eero Saarinen-designed (yet very Mies van der Rohe influenced) house is considered one of the architectural period's finest examples. Highlight: the sunken (and filled with bright pillows) "conversation pit" in the otherwise all-white living room.

In Los Angeles, Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House is about to undergo phase three of its whopping $25 million restoration. Hollyhock House was the first house Wright designed in Los Angeles, and it represents the architect's desire to create a new style of architecture for the region. For more information on the house and grounds, see the website for Friends of Hollyhock House.

But not every house is as lucky as the two mentioned above. Detroit, which is undergoing a massive "rightsizing," has demolished 3,000 homes in the last year. For a city that lost another 25% of its population in the last ten years, the demolitions are one way the city is trying to address its large swaths of abandoned neighborhoods and more efficiently direct its resources.

To close, I'll leave you with this snippet from Elvis Presley's 1961 "Home is Where The Heart Is:" Anywhere you are is home, I don't need a mansion on a hill. Really, Elvis? Then what would you consider Graceland?

Happy Monday.

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It's Monday, he's hungry, and lunch is just around the corner.

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.

Historic Properties for Sale: Free Pony (!) Edition

Posted on: May 6th, 2011 by David Garber


The barn at Sunnybrook Farm in Canton, Ohio. (Click photo to see listing)

So your daughter/granddaughter/niece/neighbor kid’s birthday is coming up and you’ve already spent two hours pacing the Barbie aisle at the not-so-local big box searching for the one you think she either doesn’t yet have or hasn’t already given a buzz cut. Mind racing and images of pink balloons, smiles, funfetti goodness, and, well, the pulsating sound of a room full of eight year olds screaming is taking up precious headspace, but the perfect gift still eludes you. Enter Sunnybrook Farm in Canton, Ohio.

As if its gorgeous yellow farmhouse, whimsically picturesque barn, and within-walking-distance proximity to Starbucks weren’t enough to sell any buyer on Sunnybrook Farm (Name ringing a bell? Buzzkill alert: the book Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and its three movie adaptations take place in Maine, not Ohio.), this historic property listing throws in a unique freebie: a real live pony. Birthday party problem solved. You’re a hero. And little ____ (insert mile-wide-grin-bearing gift recipient’s name here) is the proud owner of every little girl’s dream pet. A priceless moment for the actually quite reasonable price of $499,000. Do you want to be a hero?

But every property can't feature real live accessory items. For most historic property seekers it's things like orginal hardwood floors and a good vintage that sell the place. Then again, at "The Ailes House" in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, it might be the hardwood walls that do the selling. Not only does the 1860 farmhouse feature antique heart pine underfoot, the timber planks also sheathe the walls (and yet somehow manages to not look anything like most of America's "it's on our DIY list for next year" wood-paneled basement).

The exterior of Bachelor's Hope. (Click photo for listing information)

Now if you're anything like me, flipping through historic property listings is enough to make you want to give a proper name to the house you're living in now. Well, that or you've already named it *cough* something like *cough* "The Buffalo Room" because your (read: my) apartment number matched the area code of Buffalo, New York (home of the 2011 National Preservation Conference). But now we've gone wildly off track.

Bachelor's Hope in southern Maryland is one of those houses with a name that, well,  sounds like it has an interesting back story. Built in 1668 and surrounded by 303 acres, the property boasts a pond (containing catfish, bass, and bluegill - live animals!), three tobacco barns, a horse barn, a corncrib, cultivated farmland, and extensive woodlands. Of note: Bachelor's Hope was owned by Lord Baltimore Cecilius Calvert, the namesake for both the city of Baltimore and Maryland's Calvert County.

Need to see some additional historic properties before making that final decision? See our Historic Properties for Sale website for many more.

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Yes, he really did name his not-estate-like-at-all apartment The Buffalo Room.

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: Back to Basics Edition

Posted on: May 5th, 2011 by David Garber


There are a thousand reasons why we care about historic preservation: we like the stories, we like the idea and history of craftsmanship, we like the connection to the past, and probably most significantly, we like the look of older buildings. I'm not even going to enter the "but what about Brutalist architecture?" debate because, well, I'm the one writing this and I'm taking the more "clapboards and pastels" approach at the moment.

But in all seriousness, there are a lot of people out there (me and probably you included) that get really passionate about old neighborhoods and old structures. People think we're weird, yet we go on about cornice details and windowpanes and chain ourselves to causes that, let's face it, can inspire blank stares on the faces of even our closest friends. In this week's round-up, I'm highlighting a few stories and posts from around the interwebs that bring us back to the basics.

Charleston, South Carolina is a mecca for lovability, as indicated by it's record of immaculate building preservation. (Photo: David Garber)

First up is a post by author and designer Steve Mouzon that popped up on my twitter feed this morning. On his site "The Original Green" he talks about the concept of  "lovability" as a requirement for buildings to actually be sustainable. I mean, even if a building is technically built to the highest green standards, if it isn't lovable how sustainable is it? There is an intrinsic sustainability to lovable places (think about your favorite districts, main streets, and houses), which is why people make efforts to preserve, restore, and reuse them.

Speaking of windowpanes (work with me here, I mentioned them in the second paragraph), they've been credited with turning around public perception of a restoration project in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. Historic Boston and North Bennet Street School are bringing the Anna Clapp Harris Smith house back to its 1804 roots after a slew of 20th century alterations. As this latest blog post mentions, not even all the Historic Boston board members thought the building was anything special. That is, until the original window style was brought back. Really? Something as basic as putting in the old-style windows makes that big of a difference? Absolutely yes.

In their Portland Preservation blog post "On Old Buildings, Demolition, Deconstruction, and Reuse," local partner Architectural Heritage Center makes the case for preservation over the popularized alternative of deconstruction:

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about our city less in terms of what we can construct that’s new, justifying such work through our admirable recycling and deconstruction efforts, and instead begin to move toward a truly more sustainable model in which we reuse what we already have – not just materials but places too.

When talking preservation, it doesn't get much more back to basics than than a good reminder of what it is and why we bother with it in the first place.

Wait a second, you're reading the round-up and want some actual news news? Fine.

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He has an unhealthy obsession with old windows, as evidenced by their presence on just about every wall in his definitely-not-large-enough-for-the-amount-of-old-windows-he-owns apartment.

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.

Historic Properties for Sale: National Register Edition

Posted on: April 29th, 2011 by David Garber


The May/June issue of Preservation magazine features a primer on the National Register of Historic Places aptly titled “What is the National Register?” The National Register (you can even call it the Register if you’re hip and/or “with it,” just don’t call it the Registry … they really hate that) is a listing by the US Department of the Interior of the Nation's historic and archeological “places worthy of preservation.” In short, to get a home/lighthouse/sunken ship (yes, you read that right) on the National Register, the property owner must want the designation, and a formal application must be submitted to the Department of the Interior. If you’re interested in submitting a property for listing on the Register, their website is a great guide.

Greece meets antebellum North Carolina in the Bobbitt Pendleton Arrington House

This week’s highlighted historic properties for sale are all on the National Register and span three states and three housing styles. Moving from South to North (seriously, I had to pick a direction, and as a DC resident I can claim both northern and southern heritage: case in point, my affinity for both sweetened and unsweetened iced tea), the first house on the list is the Bobbitt-Pendleton-Arrington House in Warrenton, North Carolina. Think “Gone with the Wind” antebellum goodness, minus the drama, plus central AC. And speaking of sweet tea (or mojitos?), this home has a sweeping front porch on which to enjoy them. Originally built in 1793 in the Federal style, the home was significantly modified twice between 1840 and 1868, both doubling its size and transforming it to the Greek Revival style.


the Bowling Green farmhouse, built in 1741

Next up is Bowling Green Farm, the plantation that named the town of Bowling Green, Virginia. Built in 1741 by Revolutionary War Major John Thomas Hoomes, it is a quintessential Virginia estate home, replete with mature boxwoods, cedar lined drives, a gently whitewashed pre-Georgian brick exterior, and - you guessed it - a manicured front lawn ready and waiting for a game of bowls. And while the nearest water-cooler conversation might be in nearby Fredericksburg or one-hour-drive Washington, DC, there’s some great small talk to be made about some of the farm’s early visitors: George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette. Need another hook? Bowling Green Farm now has a one-acre vineyard planted with Cabernet Franc varietals (disclosure: I barely even know what varietals means, but it definitely fits the boxwood/brick/manicured lawn mold). Better act quickly, though, because this property goes to auction on May 3!


Images from a 1930 sales brochure for Hathaway, the Art and Crafts-style estate tucked into New York's Catskills

Last is Hathaway, a grand Arts and Crafts style estate home in the Catskills region of New York, a mere two hours north of the big city. The name alone could almost sell the property (though you'll be better off not thinking of Anne Hathaway at the Oscars), but the story behind its creation seals the deal. Completed in 1907, Hathaway’s low-slung, 35-room expanse gracefully cascades down a slightly overgrown landscape with views of the Hudson Valley. The original owners, philanthropist couple Everit and Edith Macy, knew they wanted a house to escape Manhattan’s upper west side, but were divided on whether they should spend the money on a trip to Europe instead. Edith wanted a house, Everit wanted Europe, and Everit won. What Everit didn’t realize was that during their stay overseas, Edith had orchestrated Hathaway’s construction.


Think you have the historic real estate bug but need more options (What, three houses of completely differing styles spread across the American East aren't enough?)? Head over to the Historic Real Estate site to browse the other listings.

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Not only does he enjoy writing about historic real estate around the country, he has actually bought and rehabbed a handful of historic homes in Washington, DC over the past few years, and, well, likes writing about those, too.

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.