Author Archive

@Home: Every Home has a Story

Posted on: June 15th, 2010 by Dolores McDonagh 1 Comment


The author in front of her childhood home.  Check out her grown up home (profile name “Cape Heritage”) and others at

The author in front of her childhood home. Check out her grown up home (profile name “Cape Heritage”) and others at

I grew up in the quintessential historic house – a rambling four-square Victorian with six bedrooms that I shared with my parents and eight brothers and sisters. It had tons of nooks and crannies perfect for rainy day games of hide-and-seek, a shuffleboard court inlaid in the basement floor and a teeny, tiny room built around a window seat where I could retreat with a book after school.

Now it wasn’t a showplace, and preservation purists might have fainted at the shade of orange my sister painted the cast iron radiators in our room, but it was a HOME filled with laughter and love and sometimes insanity (think Cheaper by the Dozen reduced by twenty-five percent).

It wasn’t until I turned eleven that I had any clue that our house was “historic.” I was doing a project on the history of my home town, North Attleboro, Mass., and as I turned the pages of a book produced by the local historical society, I came across a picture of MY HOUSE! In a HISTORY BOOK! I can still remember the pride I felt, the sense of importance and of a connection to something bigger than my 5th grade world. I’ll tell you, from that moment, I was a preservationist.

When I talk to other preservationists, including members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, more often than not their stories mirror mine. Their preservation journeys also began at home , whether they grew up in a New England Victorian, a New York Brownstone or a New Mexican Adobe.

That’s why I’m so excited that the National Trust has officially launched @home – our new website for people who – plain and simple – love their homes. Don’t get me wrong, in the years since that 5th grade history report, I’ve become a real preservation geek – I can talk tax credits and form-based codes with the best of them. But sometimes I think we’ve gotten so technical that we’ve lost touch with the basics that bring people to preservation – those everyday values of home, family, neighborhood, and caring for a good thing instead of throwing it away when it starts to show its age.

So check out

I promise, we won’t tell you what color to paint your house or insist that you be featured in a history book before we consider your home “historic.” We will, on the other hand, let you post pictures to brag about your kitchen renovation, share tips on how to make your home more energy efficient and be inspired by others’ restoration projects. You can also view historic homes for sale, including a few that are crying out to be saved from the wrecking ball.

Come visit – and tell your friends. Every home has a story, and we want to know yours!

Dolores McDonagh is the vice president of membership at the National Trust for Historic 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.

How Do You Say This Place Matters?

Posted on: March 18th, 2010 by Dolores McDonagh


The Dutch version of the “This Place Matters” sign was debuted during a recent National Trust Tour in the Dutch Antilles.

A few months ago, I was talking to my sister, Sue,  about "This Place Matters" – the National Trust for Historic Preservation's online photo sharing campaign designed to help people celebrate places that matter to them in their local communities.

At the time, we were gearing up for our 2009 photo contest announcement. In our planning, I noticed that we were a little short on entries from the Southwest, including Arizona (where Sue lives and works as a Spanish teacher). I e-mailed her and asked if she’d do me the favor of submitting a photo. I even suggested that she might want to do a submission in Spanish. Little did I know the conversation that would start!

Sue, who speaks Spanish like a “Tica" (she learned the language while on a year-long stint with World Teach in Costa Rica), suggested that our Spanish translation read “Este Lugar si Importa.” However, when I asked an Argentinian colleague, she informed me in no uncertain terms that it would have more impact to say “Este Lugar es Importante." It was at that point that I began to understand why my “simple” request to get a sign in Spanish was anything but simple.

Since my foreign language experience is limited to four years of high school French, I asked my 14-year-old son who was taking Spanish. He grunted (in Spanish, I think) as 14 year olds are wont to do when questioned by their mothers. No help there. So I sought out the National Trust's Director of Diversity, Tanya Bower, who clued me into the fact that, in Spanish (just like in English), there is more than one way to express a passion for place.

So, I'm very happy to report that we now offer both Spanish versions of our "This Place Matters" sign for download, as well as versions in French, Japanese, and Dutch (recently used by our Executive Vice President David Brown when he traveled in the Dutch Antilles on a National Trust Tour). There is even a blank sign that you can customize with your own message.

We hope you’ll check them out along with this great story about Wyvernwood; it's the first large-scale garden apartment complex ever built in Los Angeles. Today, the local Latino community is using “Este Lugar es Importante” as their rallying cry to save this special place.

Regardless of how you say “This Place Matters,” let’s keep the conversation going. Please download your sign and join our campaign today.

Dolores McDonagh is the vice president of membership at the National Trust for Historic 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.

Let's Do It For Our Daughters (& Our Sons)

Posted on: March 2nd, 2009 by Dolores McDonagh


The author takes her guys on a hunt for women's history at the Forest Glen Seminary in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I grew up in a very female-centric world – one mom, seven sisters and the ubiquitous nuns all through my Catholic school days. Sure, I had a dad and two brothers, but we definitely skewed "girl." But nature has a way of evening things out, so I wasn’t really surprised to be blessed with two sons. A little intimidated, but not surprised.

It turns out boys are pretty great - if for no other reason than they give me an opportunity to channel my inner guy. You see, I love trains, baseball and visiting historic sites (including battlefields). And since we live in the Washington, D.C. area, there are plenty of those to go around. There’s the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia, Fort Stevens in northwest D.C., and one of the National Trust’s newest sites, President’s Lincoln Cottage, in northeast D.C.

But I recently got to thinking, "What if I’d had two girls?" Would it be as easy to find historic sites that daughters could identify with? Sites that told the story of the girls and the women who helped forge our nation? Well, it turns out that it’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. A perusal of lists just four "women’s" historic sites, and one of those is an art museum.

So then I think, "Maybe it’s just D.C." But sadly, it seems to be a more widespread phenomenon. When I asked our National Trust Historic Sites staff for information about women’s history at our own sites, more often than not the I answer I received was "Well, the house was donated to the Trust by a woman."

The fact is, we (and I include the National Trust in this indictment) do a pretty bad job of telling the story of women’s history – and of the role of women in historic preservation. Kind of ironic as it’s often women who are at the forefront of preservation battles. Hell, the movement was "birthed" by a woman – Anne Pamela Cunningham, who in 1853 thought maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to let them tear down Mount Vernon. She galvanized a national fundraising effort to buy, restore and operate the home of the "father" of our country, and today, Mount Vernon is still faithfully stewarded by the Ladies’ Association of Mount Vernon.

So, let’s change this sorry state of affairs, shall we? Starting right now on just the second day of Women's History Month, let’s take some time to recognize and  celebrate the accomplishments of women – undaunted and unsung, famous and infamous, daring, and yes, domestic.

We’ll start with a few stories on our own Women's History Month website on, but we really want to hear from you. Post a picture to our This Place Matters photo-sharing campaign or share a story of a women who made a difference in history (yours or our nation’s) by posting a comment below.

Let’s do it for our daughters – and our sons.

Dolores McDonagh is the vice president for membership development at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Learn more about how the National Trust is celebrating the accomplishments of women in preservation by visiting our new Women's History Month 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.

Not Your Typical Architecture Patron

Posted on: September 29th, 2008 by Dolores McDonagh 1 Comment


Living room of the Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site. Photo by Ron Blunt.

Living room of the Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site. Photo by Ron Blunt.

I know as VP of Membership for the National Trust for Historic Preservation I shouldn't have favorites among our historic sites.  And I love them all for different reasons.  But I can't help but have a major soft spot in my heart for the Pope-Leighey House on the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, Virginia.  That's why the obits took me back a little this weekend when I read that Loren Pope had passed away, the man who commissioned the Usonian jewel of a house the National Trust for Historic Preservation rescued in the 1960s when it was slated to be demolished for Interstate 66 through suburban Virginia.

Now many of us think of Frank Lloyd Wright homes as iconic, groundbreaking, beautiful.  But rarely are they ever thought of as "affordable."  But that's just what Loren Pope's home was -- part of FFLW's vision for "Usonian" architecture -- utopian housing for the "common man."  I've heard Mr. Pope tell his story about how as a young DC journalist he wrote FFLW and asked him to design him a home within his modest budget.  And how, rather than scoff at him, Wright accepted the challenge and answered "Of course I am ready to give you a house."  (Of course it came in over budget, but it was still a bargain.)

I've always loved the Pope-Leighey House -- the way it sits in nature, the way you immediately feel welcome and embraced when you enter this modest home.  And I've often thought it said volumes about Frank Lloyd Wright.  But until today, I never really thought much about what it said about Loren Pope.  The next time I visit, I will think about Loren Pope and what he taught us through his bold act to commission this masterpiece.

Don't be afraid to be bold.  Don't be afraid to ask for what you want -- you might just get it.  Patronize the arts -- you don't have to pay a zillion dollars to bring beauty into your life.  And don't let anyone tell you to settle for less because you are looking for "affordable" housing.  We ALL deserve homes, neighborhoods and communities that enrich our lives, even if we're not Wall Street magnates with golden parachutes.

Thanks, Mr. Pope.

I'll leave the obituary to the Washington Post, but I will pass along that you can learn how to visit the Pope-Leighey House (the only FFLW home open to the public in the DC metro area, and yes (National Trust for Historic Preservation Members DO get free admission) by visiting our Pope-Leighey site on PreservationNation.

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.

Dallas Hotel Sparks Community Conversation

Posted on: September 19th, 2008 by Dolores McDonagh


Every morning we get an email called "Preservation in the News" that includes links to news stories that mention the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Since by some act of God my schedule today is actually bereft of meetings, I actually took a few minutes to read the "feed" and came across this story in Unfair Park, the online blog of the Dallas Observer about the Statler Hilton Hotel, listed on this year's 11 Most Endangered list. The story talks about the city's dilemma with the abandoned hotel but what really struck me were the comments made on the story by Dallas residents (Dallas-ians? Dallans? Dallasites?). Reading the comments was a fascinating experience. At first, I felt like an eavesdropper, listening in on a married couple's argument at the next dinner table.  Then, I felt like an urban planning grad student, getting into the past and possible future of a city I'd never visited.

As a preservationist, I wanted to only love the comments from people advocating to save and reuse the Statler and find nothing but buffoonery in those giving other opinions. But I couldn't -- because in almost every comment I found a love of Dallas and a common desire for finding the best future for their downtown and city. And I took encouragement from the fact that even those who weren't advocating preservation weren't accusing preservationists of "blocking progress" -- which I think shows how we're having some success convincing Americans that preservation isn't JUST about preserving the past, but also about helping to define our future.

I will share my favorite comment, even though I'm not sure john's a preservationist:

john k. says:

I only wish downtown were like it was in the 50's. Before the $4.00 mixed drinks. Before the old library closed. Before the Dalls Police Department quit enforcing the traffic laws and let the Constables do it. Before the Internet. Before the tunnel which put most of the daily pedestrians under neath the city. Before the hotels quet having named entertainment in their big rooms. Before, Jack Ruby and Oswald put Dallas on the map as a bad place. Before, when Dalls women needed some time before going to bed with a stranger. We all got to know each other better and loved being here as one of the best places in the United States to live.

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.