Author Archive

Portland: Achieving Sustainability One Demolition at a Time?

Posted on: April 29th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Written by Val Ballestrem

It’s no secret that Portland, Oregon has long prided itself as a forward-thinking city in terms of the environment, and maybe that’s deservedly so, at least in some respects. But there is one aspect of the sustainability equation that the city fails to address effectively: demolitions. Sure, from time to time we see great press coverage about some building or house that is being deconstructed. Even a few notables, like the Ladd Carriage House and the Simon Benson House, have been moved, and some fantastic buildings have been adaptively re-used. But for every building in Portland that is deconstructed, moved, or re-used, untold numbers are simply smashed to bits.

For the most part, demolitions face little review or public scrutiny in Portland. In fact, the City’s Bureau of Development Services is not even required to notify residents of impending demolitions, unless the building is on the National Register of Historic Places or is a locally designated landmark. Even then, most buildings can still be torn down after a demolition delay period. This means that the average homes and buildings that make up the fabric of our older neighborhoods can be taken down with zero public input or notification. Compounding the problem are the state’s owner consent laws, making it nearly impossible to halt demolitions, especially when the endangered building does not have officially recognized historic significance. The problem then is twofold. Without notification it is nearly impossible to save something that no one knows is endangered. Second, even if one knew of a pending demolition there is in most instances no legal mechanism to keep it from happening. The net result is that one day you might be walking by a house in your neighborhood, the next you might find it ripped to shreds. It is frustrating and sad to see this happen, and seems especially disingenuous when supported by public policy and a city that espouses its intentions to be the “most sustainable” in the world.

Case in point, just the other day I was walking to work and came across a house in mid-demolition phase. It was not even 9 a.m. and the contractor had already chewed up (literally) more than half of a modest, circa 1890, house in southeast Portland, just across the street and outside the borders of one of the city’s most notable historic districts – Ladd’s Addition. The huge pile of debris that was once someone’s home certainly didn’t fit my idea of recycling in any realistic way. In the rubble were windows, doors, trim, interior moldings, bricks from the foundation, etc… much of which was (prior to demolition) in usable condition. At the very least I thought the property owner was short-sighted for not recognizing that the house could have been renovated. But what really raised my blood-pressure was finding out later that this perfectly solid home was torn down – in order to simply build another single family residence. Where is the sustainability in demolishing one residence to simply construct another? I understand some houses need rehabilitation, but a city that supports a “demolish first” mindset is also supporting an enormous waste of resources, energy, and further contributes to global warming.

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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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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.

Teaching Preservation: Lessons from the Field

Posted on: April 24th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

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Notes from the Teacher's Desk

Greetings, PreservationNation!

It’s been a few weeks since my last update (the move to our new digs has, of course, been fraught with technical difficulties), and man oh man do I have some exciting news to report.

First order of business: Potters Field.

Last week, Bryan R. blogged about his research of the families buried in this mysterious section of Good Hope. His piece solicited the following comment on the National Trust's Facebook page (where everything you read here gets fed):

This is wonderful. Not only are younger students getting an invaluable introduction to conducting historical research, they are also being introduced to one of the most neglected and often overlooked historical landscapes - the American cemetery. Potters Field in particular provides an especially complex set of issues. I think it's great to see them tackled like this.

I couldn’t agree more.
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Just a few of the old records my students have used to tell the story of Good Hope. Click for a larger view.

Our last two blogs on Potters Field (here and here) are what Research History is all about. The students got out of the classroom and experienced first hand what it means to put together a puzzle and tell history. In doing so, they learned that things are not always as they appear, and they used a variety of sources (from interviews to old ledgers like the one you see here) to figure it all out.

Another lesson from Potters Field has been a simple one about people. The word “pauper” (the bulk of those buried in Potters Field) is definitely not a part of teen lexicon these days, so that was a conversation in itself. The students were a little shocked to learn that certain people were actually buried without headstones. It was an interesting day in the classroom that day.

So, did we fully solve the mystery of Potters Field? Maybe not. Did the students get a learning experience unlike anything they would ever have in a classroom? Absolutely.

And now for the big news…

A couple of weeks ago, Jeremy M. blogged about our work to secure funding for a historical marker for Good Hope. I’m very pleased to inform you that we received word this week that we won a $2,000 grant to make this happen. Definitely more to come on that front, so please stay tuned!

- Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue teaches Research History at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. The ultimate “hands-on” classroom experience, his course takes students into the field to learn about preservation and community service. Stay tuned for what's left of this academic semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, keep an eye out for future “Notes from the Teacher’s Desk” columns from Paul himself.

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.

 

Written by Denise Ryan

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but getting a home energy audit has been on my to-do list for at least three years. So what got me moving? What got me to face the “inconvenient truth” that my house leaks like a sieve.

The answer: guilt, a growing concern about global warming, and my public policy co-worker, Patrice Frey.

Patrice leads the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Sustainability Initiative, which recently launched the Preservation Green Lab in Seattle to preserve (sustainably, of course) older and historic buildings. Now, it probably won’t surprise you that we do “talk shop” at work. Thanks to these water cooler conversations, it wasn’t long until I was sufficiently inspired to, as Mahatma Gandhi would say, “be the change [I] wish to see in the world.”

As a first step, I visited Angie’s List, an independent website that provides hundreds (maybe thousands) of reviews for service companies in D.C. and beyond. I’ve had great experiences with them looking for everything from plumbers to pet sitters, so I logged on and searched for an energy audit company. And that’s how I found Pascale Maslin with Energy Efficiency Experts, an expert/entrepreneur who conducts all of the audits herself. Much to my surprise, we were able to schedule an audit just one week later. No chance to backslide now; we were moving ahead.

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Pascale prepares my front door for the blower test, which helped us track down leaks and drafts.

Now for some background on my house. Built in 1956 and located in Cheverly, Maryland, it’s a detached, three-level Cape Cod with three bedrooms, two baths and a full basement. In addition to some high bills, I’ve got very little attic insulation, original windows, an old furnace, an old air conditioner, and an odd temperature discrepancy between the main floor and the upper level. I’ve done some starter improvements here and there (installed a programmable thermostat, replaced light bulbs, put a blanket around my hot water heater, etc.), but I knew that nothing would compare to the expertise of a professional home energy audit.

On audit day, the first thing Pascale did was conduct a blower door test, which sucks all of the air out of the house so that drafts, holes and cracks are easier to detect. She built a custom frame around my front door and inserted a shockingly powerful fan through an elasticized hole. Once she flipped the switch, we (very systematically) walked the entire house checking for air coming through any and everything. Among other things, we found a leak in my fireplace’s flue vent and a good size hole around the pipe under my kitchen sink. Oh, and the door to the basement was a veritable wind tunnel! What was that about?

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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.

Teaching Preservation: The People of Potters Field

Posted on: April 17th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

I love a good mystery.

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Making a list and checking it twice! My Research History classmates hard at work recording names on gravestones in Good Hope Cemetery.

It’s a passion that, through my school’s 4-H program, has kept me knee-deep in old records for a two-year genealogy project. The result? I’ve learned to root through census records (among many other sources) to collect information and piece together stories. Along the way, I’ve tracked down members of my own family dating back to the early 1600's.

Needless to say, I was quite excited when Mr. LaRue asked me to research the people who were laid to rest in the elusive Potters Field section of Good Hope Cemetery.

With a list of gravestone names recorded by my classmates in hand, I headed to my first stop in the research process – our local library. I pulled the 1880 census information and searched for all of the names I was given. I also worked my way through microfilm for each. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find all the names, but I was able to gather some interesting information on three families – the Martins, the Galloways and the Lyles.

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One of many mysterious gravestone remnants uncovered in the Potters Field section of Good Hope.

The first family I found, the Martins, was a large African-American family. James Martin, 70, was the leader of the household, and it was noted that he made a living as a local farmer. He was born in Kentucky and eventually moved to Fayette County. According to the census record, there was no wife living in the household at the time. James had one son, Scott, who was 24 and also a farmer. He also had four daughters: Mary, 17; Ella, 15; Dileina, age unknown; and another with an unknown name and age. Dileina was listed as “keeping house.”

The Galloways were the exact opposite of the Martins. Listed as Caucasian, their family was very small. Joseph Galloway, 27, was the only male in the household, and his occupation was noted as laborer. He was born in Pennsylvania and married to Amy Galloway, 26. Amy was listed as “keeping house.” She was born in Ohio. At the time of the census, Joseph and Amy were the only two people in their household.

Lastly, the Lyles had a four-person household consisting of a father, a mother and two daughters. The father, 26, was a farm laborer, and his wife, 24, was the keeper of the house. Their daughters were very young at the time of the recording; Alice Lyle was 2 and Emma Lyle was barely 1.

After finding all of this interesting information in the 1880 census, I decided to expand my search to other years. I started looking in records from 1870 and the early 1900's. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on the 1890 census because it was destroyed in a fire many, many years ago. I was able to find a family in the 1900 records that I believe to be the Lyles. I’m not 100% sure, but I have some reasonable facts to suggest that it is. For instance, the information from 1900 is exactly 20 years apart from my original 1880 source, and all of the ages noted reflect that same difference. Also, in the 1900 census, they have a daughter who is 16 years of age. This makes sense because she would have missed the 1800 records by four years.

At the end of the day, I wish I could have crossed a few more names off of my original list, but that’s how research goes. However, I hope the information I uncovered will be a good jumping off point for future curious minds.

And the mystery of Potters Field continues...

- Bryan R.

Bryan R. is a senior at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. For the remainder of this semester, he'll be working with his Research History classmates on a variety of preservation projects, including documenting and preserving local cemeteries like Good Hope. Stay tuned as they share their experiences here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.

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.

What We Lost, and Gained, in the Fire

Posted on: April 15th, 2009 by Guest Writer 14 Comments

 

Written by Justin D. Sanders

At 8:45pm last Wednesday I geared up for my favorite guilty pleasure—American Idol. I sat down on the sofa and noticed a missed call on my cell phone from Lori Ann, a local high school teacher with whom I’d been working on a restoration project. I found this odd as we had spoken a few hours earlier. I was still excited from the news she had shared with me earlier that evening.

Our first visit to the site in April 2008.

Our first visit to the site in April 2008.

I’ve been working with Lori Ann, and fellow teacher Amy, for a little over a year. Some of their students had discovered a lost treasure in the old Erwin (Tennessee) Municipal Building. A performance theater filled the second floor of this 1923 building; and while time and neglect had shadowed its former beauty, the essence of the place was still there. Amy’s Key Club students felt it only right to attempt to restore this piece of town history. Others joined from the Unicoi County High School’s theater program and the library’s Teen Advisory Group. The students quickly gained support of the school board, local government, and members of the community. The group and the project were reaching critical mass, planning fundraisers and community events, and recently beginning an oral history project to raise awareness of the building’s rich history.

So it was no surprise that I was still ecstatic when she called earlier that evening to tell me another group of students had adopted the Theater Restoration Project as its focus for the community Earth Day celebration. The students, who recognized the importance of reusing historic buildings, wanted to highlight what they called “recycling on the largest scale,” with proceeds from admissions to go to the restoration effort. I assumed she had more information, so I quickly returned her phone call.

Flames ravage the historic 1923 building.

Flames ravage the historic 1923 building.

Then, everything changed. I learned that a fire had started in the municipal building and was quickly spreading. I rushed out of my apartment and made my way towards Erwin. The calls from teachers, friends, and others started flooding my phone. At this point, the story had made it to the news media, and the images were bad. When I crested a hill entering the downtown historic district, the sight I was greeted with made my jaw drop. Flames had reached the roof of the four-story building and were at least another 15 feet in the air.

I rushed to find Amy and Lori Ann, and was met with a sea of people—mostly students, with tears in their eyes watching this project which they were so passionate about light up the sky. At that moment, the tears came for me as well. I watched the walls crumble as fire crews fought the blaze, and was told I had just missed the sound of the heavy balcony falling.

In that moment, it was easy to think that all of the past year’s work was lost. What I learned, however, is that you should never count out the determination of teenagers with a passion. Students came up to us saying that the project was bigger than one building. One student had tracked down the town mayor and asked him what other vacant building in downtown they could restore for use as a performing arts space. And another student added that “we’ll come back even bigger and better than before.”

The community of Erwin lost a venue rich with history, where music performances, countless dramas, and graduations were held. They lost a physical representation of a community rallying for a cause. But my hope is that what was gained, defiance and a resolve to move forward, will far outweigh that loss.

Justin D. Sanders is the Preservation Field Services Representative for Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia

News reports on the fire:

www.johnsoncitypress.com/09/News/article.php?ID=68175
www.erwinrecord.net/Detail.php?Cat=HOMEPAGE&ID=58780

Learn more about our Statewide & Local Partners program.

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.