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Restoration Diary: Joists and Belgian Waffles

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment


The big news at Lionel Lofts over the past month -- during which time not a lot of *visual* progress has been made, save for the new foundation wall in the back of the building -- is that the retail space has been leased to "B Too," a new concept from Belgian chef Bart Vandaele, who has built a following at the Capitol Hill neighborhood's popular brunch spot Belga Café.

Even cooler is the news that all of the building's original joists will be reused inside the restaurant. The boards will be taken offsite to be cleaned and treated, but will retain a rustic looks inside the new space.

The Washington Post revealed some exciting details on the restaurant space last month:

The ground floor of the 150-seat restaurant, a former locksmith shop, will feature a waffle bar and breakfast by day and frites served through a window at night. To access the private dining room in the basement of B Too, diners will descend on a glass stairway that will make visible the contents of the wine and beer cellar. Open kitchens will distinguish both floors.

Guess we still have a few Restoration Diary posts to go before this great building adaptation is complete...

More information on this development project can be found on the Lionel Lofts website.

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.


Oklahoma City's Gold Dome Bank is unique. Built in 1958 as a Citizens State Bank, the roof is a geodesic dome made of anodized aluminum panels that gleam in the sunlight. It was the fifth geodesic dome built in the world, and was designed using futurist Buckminster Fuller's patented plans.

An Oklahoma City postcard showing the Citizens State Bank in the 1950s.

In a January 2011 article for Yahoo! Voices, Oklahoma City resident Brandon Bowman wrote: "The dome is constructed of 625 diamond-shaped anodized aluminum panels which were originally a bright gold color, but they have faded over the years to patchy shades of gold and silver. The dome is supported by aluminum struts which have also aged from black to a chalky white color. But despite the effects of weathering, the overall effect is futuristic, unearthly, and immediately attention getting. For those with an active imagination, it looks like a domed metal spacecraft has landed in the middle of Oklahoma City. Which was what the architect and builder intended; a modern and technological marvel of a building, a real "traffic stopper" for it's time."

But when the bank building was listed on our America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2002, it wasn't for deferred maintenance. The building had been purchased by a new bank that wanted to demolish it and build a new branch on the site -- news that Oklahoma's preservation community wasn't thrilled about. After organizing under the name "Citizens for the Golden Dome," supporters gathered to rally in the streets, lobby the city's Historic Preservation and Landmark Commission to give it landmark status, and even enlisted the Sonic drive-in across the street to put a preservation message on its billboard.

On the inside, the panels still gleam a bright gold.

Fortunately for Oklahoma City, the new owners delayed their plans to demolish the building, giving supporters an opportunity to find a new buyer for the building that was interested in saving it. In 2003, just as time was starting to run out, local optometrist Dr. Irene Lam -- who had been looking for an interesting building to expand her practice in -- stepped up to the plate. Since then, the building has been listed as an Oklahoma Historical Site and placed  on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the last decade, the Gold Dome has seen tenants come and go. It is now used as an event space, a multi-cultural community center, Dr. Lam's practice, and home to two art galleries. A popular restaurant that had located in a portion of the space, Prohibition Room, recently closed, and some have speculated that the building might work best in its original function: as home to a single tenant. For now, not knowing what it might become down the road, the community is just glad the building is still standing.

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.


I've guessed at the British folk rock band Mumford & Sons' affection for old and interesting places since seeing their "Sigh No More" album cover showing the band standing in an old London shop window. The music video for their popular song "Little Lion Man," which was filmed at London's historic Wilton's Music Hall, furthered that theory.

But it wasn't until I heard about their upcoming summer "Gentlemen of the Road" tour -- which stops to perform at and give back to four small main streets and downtowns across the country this August -- that I realized they were really serious about these places.

According to the band: "We want to stop off in towns where bands don't usually tour, and celebrate the people, food, and music that make them special. We’re keen to promote the town’s local businesses, and we’ll be using the local bars and venues for after-show parties, whilst working closely with the local people to get everyone involved in making these shows spectacular."

Another reason we love this idea? Two of the selected towns are National Trust Main Street communities: Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee (considered to be the birthplace of country music) and Dixon, Illinois. And get this: the tour producers are generously giving one percent of ticket sales to the local Main Street programs to help with their revitalization efforts, and have worked out agreements to bring in additional revenue from the shows and after parties.

Check out the full "Gentlemen of the Road" tour website for more information on ticket sales, interesting tidbits about the towns, and where to eat, drink, and visit while you're there.

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: Found on Facebook Edition

Posted on: May 24th, 2012 by David Garber 2 Comments


Today's Preservation Round-Up is a selection of stories you alerted us to on our Facebook page. As much as we have our ear to the ground for local preservation stories and efforts around the country, we can't be everywhere at once, so we greatly appreciate your shares. Here are some recent posts worth checking out.

Historic Preservation Needs in Los Angeles

"I've just created a shared google map for alerting folks to historic preservation emergencies in their LA communities. Click to see what's in danger near you, and please add any place you are worried about which is not already on the map."

The Last Humble Gas Station

"Humble Oil was once the most important oil company in Texas with service stations stretched across the state and huge refineries that supplied both Texans and motorists across the country."

Massive Fergus Falls, Minnesota Hospital in Danger of Demolition

"What would you do with 700,000+ square feet of pretty much raw space? The Historic Fergus Falls State Hospital (now RTC) is in need of your ideas. No idea is too outlandish - what would you do with this building?"

Philadelphia's Historic St. Peter’s Church Needs You

"St. Peter’s is one of those places that makes you realize you can go home again.  From her beautiful windows to the high boxes inside the church, to the climb up the stairs for a look out over the church yard, St. Peter’s is just a very cool place."

Kickstarter to Restore a Historic Building and Open a Coffee House

"I am trying to save this historic building and create a gathering place for the community and visitors! The Kickstarter project is to help raise the funds to complete the restoration of the building and create an outdoor space open to the public." ... 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.


Sometimes it's easy to experience an old or historic place and take for granted the many hours, efforts, and people it required over the years to preserve its character. It's easy to think that everyone holds the same preservation values, and that the hard work of keeping things around just kind of happens. Somehow.

But for anyone who's been on the advocating side of things knows, preservation -- in most cases, at least -- doesn't just happen. The story of St. Augustine, Florida's 1927 Bridge of Lions is a great example of this.

St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European city in the continental United States (San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the oldest in the entire U.S., whereas Acoma Sky City in New Mexico is the oldest non-European city in the U.S.), has such great, aged-in-place architectural history that there's almost an assumption it's all already been saved.

But when the Bridge of Lions, which connects historic downtown St. Augustine with neighboring Anastasia Island, was threatened with demolition and replacement with a wider span, preservationists rose up to save it. I spoke with Theresa Segal, president of Save Our Bridge (the organization formed to, you guessed it, save the bridge), about her involvement with their efforts, which eventually led to a full restoration.

What inspired you to get involved with the Bridge of Lions?

In 1998, the Coast Guard entered the debate on whether to rehab or replace of the Bridge of Lions, citing that the bridge was an impingement to navigation. Before they weighed in, the decision-making process had been going in the direction of preservation. It wasn't until the Coast Guard got involved that I worried that losing the bridge could actually happen. I was born in St. Augustine, and couldn't bear to watch the dismantling of one of its signature historic structures. ... 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.


You might be asking yourself, "What does a Chinese boat have to do with historic preservation in America?" It's a valid question. But at some point along the way, many of us came to America from someplace else, and this story is about the boat that brought San Francisco native Dione Chen's father here from Taiwan in 1955.

Truth be told, Dione Chen wasn't really even thinking in "preservation" terms when she started advocating to save the Free China, the Chinese "junk"-style boat that her late father sailed on in 1955 with a Chinese and American crew participating in a yacht race across the Pacific. She initially wanted to save the boat mostly because it reminded her of her dad, his interests, and his resourceful idea to participate in the race as a means to a more prosperous future in a new country -- and didn't want the story of his trip to be forgotten. Her resolve only deepened upon discovering that it was one of, if not the, last remaining junks of its kind in the world.

Toasting the Free China's future. From left: John Muir (from the National Park Service and an advisor to Chinese Junk Preservation), Paul Chow (Free China crew member), Calvin Mehlert (Free China crew member), Vera Chow, Iris Chen (widow of crew member Reno Chen), Dione Chen (daughter of crew member Reno Chen and founder of Chinese Junk Preservation), Nguyet Mehlert, and Byron Chung (son of the late crew member Marco Chung).

Dione's journey to save the junk began in September 2007 after visiting the yard where it was being stored -- and seeing its dwindling condition -- with her family after her father's death. In 2008, she launched a nonprofit, Chinese Junk Preservation, recruited advisory council members, and applied for financial support from the National Park Service, the National Trust, and the Chinese Historical Society of America.

After a couple of years trying to woo someone in San Francisco -- or even elsewhere in the United States -- to restore and display the junk, she reached out to entities in Taiwan, where the junk originated, and where a maritime museum in the city of Keelung finally offered assistance. On April 30, 2012, the junk was hoisted onto a massive cargo ship to Keelung, where it arrived yesterday.

I had the chance to talk with Dione about her story, her introduction to preservation, and her advice to people interested saving something or someplace that's important to them.

Have you always been fascinated with the history and future of the junk?

Growing up, I took the junk and its history for granted.  It was "old history." So, no, I can't honestly say I was "fascinated" by the junk. Proud of my dad's story and his pursuit of the "American dream" -- yes. But no, I never had dreams of saving it before my dad died.

I'm sure my dad was disappointed that I didn't ask him more about his life and the junk when he was alive. This is something I regret.  I've been asked what my dad would think about my efforts to save the junk.  I believe that he would have been surprised and proud.  Surprised because he was resigned that no one was interested enough in the junk to save it.  Proud that so many people want to see the Free China junk saved.

I suspect it's often the case that one doesn't fully realize what is "history" worth saving, because we're so busy living in the present.

The Free China on its original journey to the United States in 1955.

Would you consider yourself a preservationist? Why or why not?

I am not familiar with the term "preservationist" as a vocation/calling, so would not consider myself one.  If anything, I am an "accidental preservationist" -- I am well aware that I lack formal training or experience in preservation.

I realized that the junk -- something of historical importance -- should be saved, hopefully could be saved but was in fact destined for destruction. And I thought that I should and could do something to save it because no one else was going to do it.  In hindsight -- with the past 4 years of experience behind me -- I would say that I am someone who has come to realize the important role that each of us can play in preserving history.

Ideally, everyone would consider it their privilege and responsibility to preserve the places, stories, and things that are part of our individual and collective history. Each of has a role in determining what values, stories, and lessons are passed on to future generations. You don't have to be a "professional" historian or archaeologist to step up. ... 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.