Author Archive

The Power of Women Volunteers

Posted on: March 30th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

A Place

A Place that Matters: The D.C. Headquarters of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs

My first job in D.C. was in a big corporate office on the twelfth floor of a building in Dupont Circle.

It was exactly what one would expect when coming to work in the big city. What one rarely expects, though, is that a few years - and a few job moves - later, one returns to the same neighborhood where that first job was located to work in a bona fide piece of history. That's right; every day I come to work in a building with a grand staircase and murals brought from Paris in the 1850s. I also walk right past a lace bonnet that was worn by Lucretia Mott. (Yes, that Lucretia Mott…abolitionist, social reformer and proponent of women’s rights!)

This overwhelming sense of history and the energy it creates are exactly what the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) is about. Since the Federation was formed in 1890, so much has happened that it’s hard to believe more people don’t know (and love) this organization.

GFWC was the brainchild of Jane Cunningham Croly, a pioneering journalist who thought women and their ideas were worth something substantial. Since its founding, the organization has had a very serious focus on philanthropy, social and political advocacy, and community leadership. This focus has paid off throughout GFWC’s history; accomplishments during its first century include establishing 75% of the country's public libraries, developing kindergartens in public schools, and working for food and drug regulation.

During its second century, the Federation has pledged to maintain its commitment to working for a better world. With "Unity in Diversity" as our motto and a strong umbrella of programs that clubs can adapt to suit the needs of their communities, GFWC encourages the flexibility that has enabled it to expand its reach in a rapidly-changing society. GFWC programs and projects focus on the major issues of our time - supporting women’s health, preserving natural resources, promoting literacy and equality, and encouraging volunteer service. Our programs are structured to enable member clubs to harness the vast resources of our international membership to address the emerging needs of their individual communities.

One of the most enduring issues for GFWC has been conservation, both of natural resources and of historic buildings, objects and art. From the very beginning, the work of the Federation has been recorded and preserved in a formal archive that dates back to 1889 and tracks the chronological development of the organization. This archive - the Women’s History and Resource Center - is housed within GFWC’s most important piece of history: 1734 N Street NW, our headquarters and a National Historic Landmark.

Our new partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation fits in perfectly with our conservation program, and we have been working on sending volunteers for the National Trust’s Rebuilding Together New Orleans project, as well as spreading the word about the This Place Matters campaign.

GFWC's headquarters matters to the more than 100,000 members of the Federation who take special pride in donating art and artifacts to be a part of our collection. The building is an important part of local architectural history, and the activities recorded in GFWC’s archives are important to the national history of women and women volunteers.

Yes, this place mattes, and our clubwomen, friends and supporters are committed to protecting and preserving it.

- Nikki Willoughby

Nikki Willoughby is the senior director of public affairs at the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

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.

California Parks Supporters Take to the Capital

Posted on: March 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Chuck Quinn with the California Council of Land Trusts at the Rally

On Monday more than 160 parks advocates gathered at the California State Capital for State Parks Advocacy Day 2009. Spearheaded by the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) 33 teams from around the state met with nearly 120 Assembly members, State Senators, and their staffs. The advocates discussed the importance of proposed park protection measures, economic stimulus for parks, and the grave impact of the state bond freeze on park projects.

Last year’s proposal by Governor Schwarzenegger to close 48 of the state's 279 parks gave the coalition momentum that has clearly coalesced into a formidable parks movement in California. The threat of these closures compelled the National Trust for Historic Preservation to list the California State Parks System among America's 11 Most Endangered Places in 2008. Fortunately, the Governor took note of the over 30,000 handwritten letters opposing the proposed parks closures, and his revised budget last spring restored nearly all the previously proposed cuts. All the parks remain open and visitation broke records in December, January, and February. Annually 76 million people visit California State Parks.

Elizabeth Goldstein, Executive Director of the California State Parks Foundation (and former NTHP Western Office Director) Leads a Rally on the Capital Steps

Brian Turner and Anthony Veerkamp from the National Trust Western Office attended five meetings on Monday and particularly emphasized the importance of the park’s system to preserving California’s history. The State Parks system contains more than 3,100 historic buildings. Many of these buildings are in dire need of basic maintenance and repair.

The economic climate, of course, has not been helpful. Funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation is partly dependant on bonds approved by voter initiative. Last December the State’s Pooled Money Investment Board voted to freeze all state bond spending, which immediately stopped 5,400 projects across the state, 1,200 of which are State Parks related.

The effect of the spending freeze has hit non-profit parks friends groups hard. Many have existing obligations to contractors for conservation and preservation-related projects that were expected to be funded by State bond sales. These groups are stuck footing the bill for the contracted work with no financial guarantees from the State. State Parks Advocacy Day activists pushed their legislators to support Assembly Bill 1364 which will allow state agencies to adjust timelines and grant deliverables for these projects.

Rick Arendt and Patrick Garcia Wear the Message

The day ended on a hopeful note from State Treasurer Bill Lockyer at the closing reception. Lockyer is the former Attorney General in California and was recognized by CSPF for his critical role representing the People of California against the proponents of a proposed toll road which would have cut through the San Onofre State Beach (the project was successfully stopped last fall). He told the crowd that while advocates were busy at the Capital on Monday, the State sold $3 billion in general obligation bonds. On Tuesday, the total reached $6.54 billion, much more than originally expected. The numbers signal an increasing confidence in the State’s economic recovery and hope for the future of the State Park system.

-Brian Turner

Brian Turner is Law Fellow in the Western Regional Office of 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.

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.

Forum on Historic Windows: Part 2

Posted on: March 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Yesterday, in Forum on Historic Windows: Part 1, we opened the floor for discussion on the common reasons for and against restoring historic windows.

Now we're back with part two, and we're asking the same Forum members to chime in on a new question. Take a look at what each has to say, and then sound off by leaving a comment below with your own thoughts and ideas.

Question: Generally, what factors should preservationists and homeowners think about when evaluating the cost of a window replacement/rehabilitation? How is the cost for an appropriate replacement/rehabilitation usually determined?

A well-restored or renovated window with a new storm window is going to lose a little more energy than a new window, but the carbon debt to make and transport and install the new window, as well as the waste of embodied energy as the perfectly good old growth sash and glass are thrown in the landfill, just about washes the small gain away, and all you have left is the empty wallet from paying for all new windows, which will fail in 20 to 40 years. This is the final measure of un-sustainability. The greenest window is the one that is already there and was restored by a local worker who spent his money in his local community adding economic sustainability to the equation.

Costs for rehabs/restores are as individual as the windows themselves. Condition is the main factor, and so is the degree of restorative work. My style is to make the windows work as well as when they were new. In my blue collar style, we often fix and seal the upper sash and make it stationary, and then install blue board in that weight track (if the trim is off). Then we usually install an aluminum storm window and strip the lead paint off if it is in a friction spot. We cut the sash as needed so the meeting rail and lock align. Then I find a good quality triple or double track and mount it inside the trim on the stops. Budget window rehab costs about $300 per window including storms/painting extra. Rotted or damaged sashes which need rebuilding will add cost of course.

- Chris Sturbaum owns Golden Hands Construction in Bloomington, IN. They have been in operation since 1979.

1) Consider reducing the scope to save cost. If they are taking a comprehensive look at their windows, think about which windows are actually used and put their money up front. Most of the owners we meet use some form of air conditioning part of the year. If they have no intention of giving up their A/C anytime soon, you can typically restore full operation to anywhere between 30% and 60% of the windows to save money on the mechanics of making all of the windows fully operational. The remaining ones are either restored or maintained in-situ fixed (stationary) until they need to be addressed down the road.

2) Consider the role of high-quality, wooden storm windows to save cost. These can often buy time, defer or completely table the restoration costs of the primary window.

3.) Consider how the replacement affects the interior casing/trim and/or exterior casing and brick mold, and whether that's covered in the cost.

4.) Consider how you maintain or repair the replacement window. How do you replace a cracked or broken thermal pane of a new window? Typically you have to replace the entire sash, insert or window!

5.) Consider the reality of sales pitches and bogus claims. Will the replacement window company sign a guarantee that their windows will save X% on their energy bill? Will they reimburse you for the difference (as adjusted for annual heating degree days)? Our cost varies widely depending on the quality of the window; whether storms/screens are included; where the work starts and stops (sash only, window only, window and trim, etc.); if double-hung; whether both sashes will remain operable; whether the window originally had groove and rail metal weather-stripping or the sashes need to be routed out; etc. Windows and doors are the only mobile millwork on the house. They require maintenance and they are the items most often neglected by old house owners. The cost in our area varies from $300 to $2,500+ per opening for wood, and $900 to $3,500+ for steel, depending on the work required, storm windows/screens included, and the standards of the final product desired. Usually, handymen are handling the lower range and our projects tend to range on the higher end. However, that said, we also deal with leaded glass, large fanlights, rose windows and other unusual window types.

- Neal Vogel of Restoric, LLC, a firm located in Wilmette, IL that provides restoration of historic structures.

I think the more basic question here is what percentage of homeowners actually consider or thoroughly evaluate the rehab of existing windows. I realize that the folks that are members of PreservationNation and/or the National Trust would routinely consider rehab versus replacement, and within replacement, they would be more likely to consider historically consistent windows. However, I’m not sure that our members recognize that the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily share their view or their passion for preservation. Remember that the National Trust has 250,000 members out of a population of 306 million – that’s less than one-tenth of one percent of the population! And Forum, where discussions can be both passionate and heated, has just 4,000 members! The lesson of course is that, to some extent, we’re preaching to the choir rather than to the congregation!

Different sectors of the population use differing hierarchies for decision making. For some, it’s price. For others, it’s quality. For others, it’s how quickly I can have what I want.

It’s interesting to note that the discussion on this issue is not confined to the National Trust and its affiliates. There are discussion groups that have touched on this topic on Yahoo and a website dedicated to promoting window restoration. It’s also interesting to note that if you Google “window rehab” or “window restoration," none of the top 25 hits direct you to National Trust resources.

- Jeff Donohoe of Donohoe Associates, an economics and real estate consulting firm located in Manchester, NH.

Want to learn more? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources on historic windows, including Window Know How: A Guide to Going Green, our Green Home Tips and our Tip Sheet for Historic Wood Windows. Also, check out the National Park Services’ technical preservation services page for additional resources.

- Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is a program assistant for the Center for Preservation Leadership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Forum members can read past messages from Forum-L on Forum Online, which is now located at www.preservationnation.org/forum. If it is your first time visiting the new site, please follow these instructions.

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.

Examining the Life of Mary Todd Lincoln

Posted on: March 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Mary Todd Lincoln, c. 1863 (Credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Mary Todd Lincoln, c. 1863 (Credit: Library of Congress)

Mary Todd Lincoln, a deeply controversial figure of her day, continues to draw an intense amount of public interest, sympathy and even scorn. As much as we continue to debate Abraham Lincoln and his presidency, so too do we dissect his wife's actions and role in the overall Lincoln story.

Mary Lincoln was intelligent and highly educated (fluent in French, she received ten years of formal schooling to Lincoln's aggregate one year), with a well-connected family (Dolley Madison was a kinswoman and Henry Clay a neighbor and family friend), and had a keen interest in politics. Mary was one of the first to see the promise in Abraham Lincoln and, to her family's initial dismay, wed the prairie lawyer who was virtually unknown, unrefined, and lacking formal education and familial and political connections. Not unlike other first ladies, Mary Lincoln appears to have been intimately involved in Lincoln's political career, even at a time when overt involvement in politics by females was regarded as inappropriate or unwelcome.

It cannot be denied that when the Lincolns arrived in Washington, D.C., they entered a social and political minefield as the Civil War loomed. Opponents wasted no time deriding and ridiculing the Lincolns. Not unlike celebrity gossip rags today, the public gobbled up outrageous stories about Mary Lincoln, always eager for more. But for every sensational story - whether based in truth or not - published about Mary, you can find a redeeming one that drew little press attention. And for every judgment of Mary, you can find a great deal of context that's omitted.

Much is made of Mary's spending habits, but little is made of her frequent visits to hospitals to bring supplies and to help care for wounded soldiers. Fewer know of Mary Lincoln's letter to her husband requesting $200 to be donated to Elizabeth Keckley's Contraband Relief Association (CRA). The Lincolns' $200 donation was the largest donation received that year by the CRA, which provided relief to formerly-enslaved African Americans who had fled to the District after the D.C. Emancipation Act was passed in April 1862.

With her patriotism frequently questioned, Mary was called a traitor and a spy in large part because of her Kentucky roots and her Confederate family members. The theme of divided family is integral to the Civil War story, and was experienced first hand by the Lincolns while they were living at the Cottage. Yet Mary never publicly mourned the loss of her siblings who died fighting for the Confederacy, once saying in private, “They would kill my husband if they could, and destroy our government - the dearest of all things to us.”

Like all humans, Mary Lincoln had her faults and weaknesses. Her faults cannot be denied, but her strengths and admirable qualities deserve equal attention.

President Lincoln's Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site, strives to offer a balanced story of the Lincolns and their time at the Soldiers' Home. For those interested in learning more about Mary Lincoln, we welcome you to join us in May for Cottage Conversations, during which Catherine Clinton will talk about her new book, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life. Click here for more event information.

-Erin Carlson Mast

Erin Carlson Mast is the curator at President Lincoln's Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site.

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.

Forum on Historic Windows: Part 1

Posted on: March 26th, 2009 by Guest Writer 4 Comments

 

Check out window tips from the latest issue of Preservation magazine.

Check out helpful window tips from the latest issue of Preservation magazine.

A few weeks ago, a member on Forum-L (the discussion list for Forum, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s professional membership) raised a question regarding window deterioration. And, as is the case with many topics pertinent to energy efficiency and sustainability, the thread got a lot of attention.

As a result, we asked three of the contributors to the conversation to answer two follow-up questions on the topic. The first question dealing with reasons behind replacement is answered below. Tomorrow, we will post the answers to the second question involving cost considerations.

And of course, please feel free to discuss your own thoughts and opinions on historic windows by leaving a comment below.

Question: What are the most common reasons that homeowners use to replace a historic window? What are the reasons that homeowners should not replace a historic window?

The most common reasons that homeowners use to replace a historic window are that they’re hard to open or that the ropes are broken. Drafty. Some of the windows are showing signs of decay. People want to save energy.

As for reasons they shouldn't. Original windows look better and have character. It is cheaper to fix them and put on storm windows. They are usually a hundred years old and will last another hundred if they are cared for. New windows will last fifteen to fifty years tops, and they will need new glass in five to twenty years usually, and their plastic parts will break down sooner than that, and they are mostly not replaceable. The payback in real energy savings is slight and the cost recovery time is something like 40 years.

- Chris Sturbaum owns Golden Hands Construction in Bloomington, IN. They have been in operation since 1979.

This is a loaded question because the reasons are broad and all encompassing. However, that said, the calls we receive for window restoration fall into three general categories: a) new homeowners planning to replace all of their windows (this is particularly problematic when the call comes from "flippers," or owners buying older houses to simply rehab and sell with no intention of living in them and no personal care for the property, just maximizing profit.), b) new or existing homeowners planning an addition or remodeling to include new windows, or c) a cold winter, hot summer or high energy bill that spurs them to consider replacements.

We are most often called when a new owner has acquired a property and is planning major rehabilitation work to the entire house. They are weighing window restoration against complete window replacement. They typically need to be personally enlightened (i.e. consumer education) in the first place because the window replacement market is very accessible and convenient. Most architects, contractors, sales people and suppliers financially benefit more from window replacement, so no one should have difficulty comprehending why the window replacement market is so prolific; many of these professionals simply want a known quantity and zero-risk approach.

As for the second part of the question, not replacing a window, the answer is "all of the above." A properly-restored historic window provides better service over the life of the window; is more comfortable (with a proper storm window); will perform better in terms of energy over the life of the window if properly maintained (with a proper storm); is easy to maintain compared to new windows after the first few years of service; and will cost less than replacement over the life of the building.

That said, window restoration is not convenient, as it requires some personal sacrifice on the part of the owner if the house is occupied during the work. One way we have tried to address this is to use translucent board-up materials (with or without temporary operable vents) so they at least get daylight and/or ventilation through the openings. More often than not, the work is staggered around the house. Meanwhile, reducing removal/reinstallation to just a few windows at a time increases logistics and costs substantially unless they are dealing with a local handyman one window at a time.

And of course, sustainability!

- Neal Vogel of Restoric, LLC, a firm located in Wilmette, IL that provides restoration of historic structures.

I think that most “average” homeowners look to replace their windows because of their concern over energy bills, and their expectation that a newer-insulated window will help to reduce the energy loss associated with their existing windows, and that they’ll have a tighter seal and therefore be less likely to be “drafty”. Once a homeowner has decided to replace their windows, cost becomes a primary consideration.

I know that many of the staunch “preservation supporters” will be grinding their teeth about now – they’re thinking to themselves “people should have existing windows repaired, they shouldn’t be replacing them!” Unfortunately, that’s not always the preferred alternative for a variety of reasons. Some markets, for example, don’t have a ready supply of specialists that can provide restoration/preservation services. In some other areas, the most highly regarded restoration specialists don’t have the depth of staff to meet the needs of homeowners within a realistic time frame. Some may not be able to do the job for months because of their backlog. Once the homeowner has decided that they’re going to replace their windows, many will choose products with price as a determining factor. This is frequently because the homeowner has a shorter term view. The U.S. Census indicates that the median length of time in a home is nine years, so many homeowners will look for a shorter term “fix”, taking the stance that the next owner can use historically accurate windows if he or she wants to.

As for reasons not to replace your windows, I’ll be shocked and disappointed if someone doesn’t say, “The existing windows help to keep the home original, and therefore will enhance the value of the property”. True enough if you’re dealing with an educated buyer. However, that’s not always the case. Real estate is first and foremost about location, and since many historic neighborhoods are well-located, some buyers care more about the location than they do about the “authenticity factor." This is, in part, one of the factors that drives the McMansion effect, where historic homes are purchased and demolished in favor of constructing a new home. People want the location more than they want the structure.

So, in my opinion, the original windows will appeal to a certain segment of the buying public, but they’ll be a detriment to another segment of the buying public. Some will see it as an opportunity to own a more “complete” home, while others will see it as an expense that they’ll incur to replace the windows as soon as they close.

- Jeff Donohoe of Donohoe Associates, an economics and real estate consulting firm located in Manchester, NH.

Want to learn more? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources on historic windows, including Window Know How: A Guide to Going Green, our Green Home Tips and our Tip Sheet for Historic Wood Windows. Also, check out the National Park Services’ technical preservation services page for additional resources.

- Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is a program assistant for the Center for Preservation Leadership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Forum members can read past messages from Forum-L on Forum Online, which is now located at www.preservationnation.org/forum. If it is your first time visiting the new site, please follow these instructions.

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.