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Written by Jeff Eichenfield

KoreaTown-Northgate is a lively but long-neglected commercial corridor along Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California that is seeing a lot of positive change these days due to efforts of a group of property owners who have banded together to revitalize the district under the multi-culti tagline “Oakland’s Got Seoul.”

The idea to form a “Koreatown” in Oakland has been kicking around for more than 10 years because there are a large number of Korean-American businesses and service groups along Telegraph Avenue. But it wasn’t until 2007 that property owners voted to create a property-based business improvement district that raises more than $250,000 annually to organize the effort.

Telegraph Lofts involved the conversion of the old Sears Roebuck building at 2633 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland's Koreatown into 54 live/work units, 11,000 square feet of retail space and 28,000 square feet of self-storage.  A new penthouse level and an open-air atrium are key components of this successful adaptive use.

Telegraph Lofts involved the conversion of the old Sears Roebuck building at 2633 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland's Koreatown into 54 live/work units, 11,000 square feet of retail space and 28,000 square feet of self-storage. A new penthouse level and an open-air atrium are key components of this successful adaptive use.

Darlene Drapkin of Urban Transformation and I were hired last August as contract staff. We are long time Main Street program devotees, having managed local Main Street programs and having worked with the National Main Street Center as consultants on numerous occasions. It’s been very helpful, and natural, for us to organize our efforts in Koreatown-Northgate using the Four Point Main Street Approach to Revitalization.

One of the most interesting aspects of the program is that the district is not all Korean… far from it. There are African-American, West African, Muslim, Arab, and Caucasian owned businesses as well. Our challenge is work with all these cultural groups on a common vision… one that respects the current cultural mix but recognizes the value of attracting more Korean investors in order to carve out a unique identity that will make the district stand out in the marketplace and bring in more income for all.

Our first order of business has been to make sure the district is clean and orderly, so we hired a sidewalk maintenance service and a street ambassador who walks the area every day, meeting and greeting business owners and looking for graffiti, illegal dumping, drug dealing, and other problems. We also instituted a program that removes graffiti from private property at no charge. And we have been meeting regularly with the Oakland Police Department to increase patrols and address security concerns.

Oakland's Got Seoul banners.

Oakland's Got Seoul banners.

Our second order of business has been to brand the district and enhance its visual appeal. Our Design Committee just installed beautiful “Oakland’s Got Seoul” street banners. Their unveiling ceremony attracted over 150 individuals, including many from the Korean press and the Korean Consul General’s office. Other projects being discussed include gateway treatments and murals involving local artists and youth.

With the district looking and feeling good, our Promotions Committee is planning our first annual Koreatown-Northgate Festival to be held this September 19, 2009. The festival will showcase the diverse cultures and business opportunities in the district. And a multi-cultural BBQ contest will be part of the fun!

Learn more:

Jeff Eichenfield is the executive director of the KoreaTown-Northgate Community Benefit District. Contact him by email at jeff[at]KoreatownNorthgate[dot]org (replace the words in brackets with the customary symbols), by phone at 510-343-5439 (ext.3), or online at www.revitalized-downtowns.com.

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South Asians: Stewards of America's Roadside Heritage

Posted on: May 19th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

The neon sign at the El Don Motel, Albuquerque, NM, during the day.

The neon sign at the El Don Motel, Albuquerque, NM, during the day.

Written by Anne Dodge

Since April of 2008, I have been working on a project called “66 Motels”, a collection of photos and interviews that document the independently owned, historic motels of Route 66 and their owners. I was drawn into this project after studying preservation planning along Route 66 for my master’s thesis. In my research, I discovered that the towns and cities along Route 66 -- and the Route 66 property owners themselves -- view the road and its resources in very different ways, and that preservation can take unexpected turns when what’s being preserved is an idea as well as a concrete series of buildings or places.

From a preservationist’s point of view, the corridor’s most authentic places –- the buildings that spoke most eloquently of the road’s history -– are the motels. Architectural styles range from the beloved wigwam motels of the southwest to the “Giraffe stone” motor courts of the Missouri Ozarks. By their use, siting, and architecture, the motels themselves tell the story of Route 66 –- how for decades, the road served as a major transportation corridor for migrant workers, recreational travelers, families, salesmen, immigrants, and anyone who planned to motor west. Once I began interviewing motel owners, I learned more about the complexities of running and maintaining an older, smaller motel and the forces at work against the preservation of these properties. Most interestingly, I found that more than 30% of the independent motel owners along Route 66 were new Americans, people who had come to the U.S. from India, east Africa, Europe, and other parts of the U.S. to own and manage these businesses.

Rest Haven Court, Springfield MO sign by night.

Rest Haven Court, Springfield MO sign by night.

In addition to documenting the diverse group of owners and properties along Route 66, this project also looks at the power of signage and the history and contemporary practice of labeling a property as "American Owned." I began this research thinking that "American Owned" was a label that was used exclusively by white motel owners to promote their properties to customers who were disinclined to rent a room at an Indian American owned motel. This is, without a doubt, the origin of the "American Owned" sign, and some motel owners today defend this language and signage as a legitimate component of their advertising strategy. But I've learned, thanks to several generous interviewees, that this type of signage is often an accident of history, something that came with a property when purchased, or something that Indian American owners themselves use to make a statement about themselves and their properties.

Nina at the Americana Motel, Tucumcari, NM

Nina at the Americana Motel, Tucumcari, NM.

This project has several goals; one is to start a dialog about the role of Asian Americans and other motel owners in the preservation and development of the emerging Route 66 heritage corridor. This debate is part of a broader conversation about racial and cultural diversity in America’s preservation movement, and ways in which the work of public historians, preservationists, and other interpreters of the past can better represent the narratives of new Americans. In the meantime, the motels tell their own stories, and their new custodians add yet another layer of history to the many layers already evident along the highway. Behind every historic Route 66 motel is a person and a history that enriches the architectural and cultural experience of the whole corridor. And that's the story that I hope the 66 Motels project will tell to others.

Anne Dodge is a writer, researcher, and media producer based in Cambridge, MA, who also works as a circuit rider for Preservation Massachusetts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, providing technical assistance, advocacy, and preservation planning for people and the buildings they love across the Commonwealth. She blogs at www.annedodge.com.

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Written by Anne Dodge

The Wollaston Theater in Quincy, Mass.

The Wollaston Theater in Quincy, Mass.

In my job as a circuit rider -- a person who works in the field to bring preservation programs, services, knowledge and resources to local communities -- I get to work with a wide range of historic properties all over eastern Massachusetts. However, although the properties can be very different from one another, the people who call the circuit riders tend to have a lot in common. But every once in a while, a property’s fate hinges on the participation of a racially and culturally diverse population. The Wollaston Theater is one of those properties.

The Wollaston Theater is a single-screen, classical revival-style movie theater on a bustling commercial street near downtown Quincy. Known locally as “The Wolly”, the theater operated as a first-run movie theater until the 1990’s, when it began to fall into disrepair. The Boston Globe reports that a group of individuals in the arts have entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the estate that owns the building; reportedly, the new owners intend to keep the theater in use as some type of performance or cultural center.

Since the 1980s, the Wollaston’s North Quincy neighborhood has also been home to many Chinese and other Asian immigrants. According to The Next American City, Quincy’s Asian-American population stands at around 14,000, or around 17% of the town’s total population. When I was contacted by a concerned local citizen about the theater’s recent sale, we spent much of our meeting talking not only about the theater, but about the community around it. My client worried that it would be difficult to form a collaborative, diverse coalition of advocates -– not because the theater didn’t matter to all of the neighborhood’s residents, but because she had no knowledge of any Chinese-Americans in Quincy who worked in preservation. And unfortunately, neither did I, and neither did my coworkers, although the city has no shortage of knowledgeable preservation professionals.

The doors of the Wollaston Theater.

The doors of the Wollaston Theater.

From my perspective as a circuit rider and someone relatively new to the field of preservation, the Wollaston Theater is not only a building to be saved, but an opportunity to start a conversation about the issues of diversity, relevancy, and communication that characterize the historic preservation field. The field has worked hard in recent years to broaden both its participants and the types of resources it celebrates, but there is definitely more work to be done. Riding the “circuit” around eastern Massachusetts has shown me how few new Americans are engaged with historic preservation. And I don’t believe that this is primarily because the buildings often represent Anglo-American history or because historic preservation is a luxury business, but because preservation organizations have failed to create sustained and meaningful relationships with new American individuals, groups, and organizations.

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Written by Rod Scott

The Wapsipinicon Mill, Iowa's largest historic mill, is owned and operated as a museum by the Buchanan County Historical Society.

The Wapsipinicon Mill, the largest historic mill in Iowa, is owned and operated as a museum by the Buchanan County Historical Society.

When 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties were declared disaster areas after last June’s devastating floods, preservationists jumped into action. As President of the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance (IHPA), a statewide volunteer membership organization, I traveled throughout the flood zone providing expertise, assistance, and moral support to owners of historic properties damaged in the disaster.

Iowa’s historic mills, located by necessity along the riverbanks, were hit with the full force of the floodwaters. The IHPA partnered with the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area and the Buchanan County Historical Society to bring experts from Trillium Dell Timberworks, a Knoxville, Illinois company specializing in heavy timber restoration of historic structures, to assess flood damage at three of Iowa’s historic mills.

The 1875 Wapsipinicon Mill in Independence, Iowa’s biggest and one of the largest historic mills in the Midwest, had been seriously damaged in the flood. The ground floor or meal floor, where goods were originally sacked, had uplifted and collapsed, and several of the original floor girts had washed downriver. Trillium Dell Timberworks determined that the severity of damage was significantly exaggerated by the loss of the original structural integrity of the floor system.

Norma Gates (Buchanan County Historical Society), Rod Scott (Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance), Lynn Beier (Buchanan County Historical Society), and Tim Narkiewicz (Trillium Dell Timberworks) assess flood damage at the Wapsipinicon Mill.

Norma Gates (Buchanan County Historical Society), Rod Scott (Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance), Lynn Beier (Buchanan County Historical Society), and Tim Narkiewicz (Trillium Dell Timberworks) assess flood damage at the Wapsipinicon Mill.

Perhaps because our ancestors better understood the inevitability of flooding when they built alongside the rivers, historic mills were specifically designed to withstand floodwaters. Motor Mill and Potter’s Mill, the two other historic mills assessed by Trillium Dell Timberworks, were relatively unscathed by the 2008 floods. In contrast, the meal floor of the Wapsipinicon Mill had been radically altered in 1906 when the original floor girts and posts were cut short and left unanchored to accommodate new concrete columns carrying building and machinery loads. This configuration effectively interrupted the originally well-engineered floor system, allowing the floodwaters to cause serious damage to the historic building.

The good news is that FEMA has now agreed to fund both remediation and mitigation at the Wapsipinicon Mill, and Trillium Dell Timberworks will oversee the work. Because the 1906 piers are now a part of the history of the mill, Trillium Dell Timberworks designed a mitigation plan that retains those piers while effectively restoring the structural matrix and flood-resistant design of the original meal floor. The plan also calls for all timbers and flooring to be rot-resistant white oak, as originally used in the meal floor, and to exhibit matching milling characteristics.

The partnership between IHPA, Silos and Smokestacks, the Buchanan County Historical Society, Trillium Dell Timberworks, and FEMA demonstrates that honoring historic means and methods not only preserves our cultural heritage, but is also cost effective: with the structural integrity of the floor system restored, future floodwaters are unlikely to do more than cosmetic damage to the historic Wapsipinicon Mill, allowing it to grace the riverbank for another 130 years- literally, come hell or high water!

Rod Scott is the President of the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance.

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.

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Written by Amy Braun

The Hancock Village School in Vermont.

The Hancock Village School in Vermont.

The nation’s oldest operating schoolhouse, established in 1801, will close its doors late June this year.

When the building was first built, Thomas Jefferson was president. Back then, a wood-stove (not oil) was used to keep children warm. Many kids cooked their lunch potatoes on top of the wood stove while learning the three R’s right alongside their siblings. Teachers were paid for their services in cords of wood and when pencils needed to be sharpened they used a jack-knife. During the depression, no one in town had a job and the town fought to keep their school and identity alive. Times have changed.

Using the democratic process, 102 voters came together in the Town Hall in Hancock, Vermont on May 7, 2009. They held about a thirty minute discussion before voting to close the doors to their village school. Only 37 of the 102 wanted to keep the school open. The moderator announced the school had been closed, and some of the people in the room cheered and applauded. I watched, feeling sad and angry.

I am not a voter in the town so I could not speak at the meeting. This venue, an on-line blog about our country's treasures, is only my vessel for my right to speak and I am grateful to have that chance.

This was the third year we have been through this emotional process. There are two sides to this issue, absolutely no middle-road. Either a person respects and appreciates the history of the building or they don’t.

Those who want the school to remain open have remained strong for three years. This year we lost.

... 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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.