Author Archive

 

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.

 

When I first learned that Annie Gray Dixon, a 17-year-old high school junior from Edenton, North Carolina, was hosting a "Paint for Preservation" art auction garden party to raise money and memberships for the National Trust, my initial thought was "Wow, what a great idea!" followed quickly by "Wait a second, I think I know someone from Edenton -- I just might need to make a road trip out of this!"

Turns out that my friend, a Carolina expat now living in DC, grew up two doors down from the family hosting the event, that his parents were already planning to attend, and -- small town that Edenton is -- that word had spread and people were already hoping we'd come. Reasons enough for me to pack my camera and head on down.


Paint for Preservation's gracious hosts: Gray, Sambo, and Annie Gray Dixon.

Edenton is an anomaly of sorts: a prospering small town completely unconnected to any major metro region or highway. There's a 1940s airport on the outskirts of town with antique vehicles parked in the lot for visiting pilots. The Taylor, Edenton's local main street (which in their case is called Broad Street) movie theater, still sells tickets for seven bucks a pop -- five if you're a kid.

There's no CVS or Walgreen's on Broad Street, but instead you'll find Blount's Mutual Drugs, where the pharmacist, Jim Blount, knows his regulars by name. Whether going to dinner at 309 Bistro, grabbing coffee at Edenton Coffee House, or shopping for supplies at Byrum Hardware, you're likely to run into Jennifer Harriss, the local Main Street director, who checks into all the local businesses and is passionately working to help the town's business scene thrive.

 
And so on Saturday afternoon, after a windblown (read: AC was broken) drive, we arrived in Edenton: the charming postcard town best known to outsiders for its 18th century courthouse (the oldest continuously operating courthouse in America, mind you), plantation and seafaring history, small business culture, and dynamic social scene -- into which, I'd soon learn, the evening's preservation garden party was intricately woven. ... 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.