Author Archive

 

As part of back-to-school season, we’re featuring several impressive young preservationists who are saving places all around the country. This is the second profile in the series.

Forget history class: At just 11 years old, Nate Michalak is learning the stories behind his Historic Old West End neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio firsthand as he helps his family restore the three historic houses it owns. The sixth-grader and budding preservationist is so knowledgeable and passionate, he caught the attention of Heritage Ohio and has been writing a column in the group’s quarterly magazine.

We caught up with Nate and asked him his favorite thing about restoration work, what he wants to be when he grows up, and what it’s like to be a magazine columnist before he’s even a teenager.

Your family is working to restore three historic houses, can you tell me about that?

The house we live in is from 1903, it’s the Julius G. Lamson House and when we got it, the earlier owners had totally gutted it and made it sort of modern, they modernized the kitchen and modernized everything. We’re working on the second floor, we’re almost done with the first floor.

And then we own a house next door (dating to 1904) where I’m planning to live when I grow up, and that was turned into an eight-unit apartment including the garage from 1913. The past owner painted the house rainbow colors, I mean literally pink, yellow, and green.

What we’re doing right now is there was a two-story addition that looked like a big rectangle that was on the back and they also put on a side porch. And just recently we took that off so we’re working on that and there were some really cool rafters that hung out, so we’ve got scaffolding up there, literally like 50 feet in the air, and it’s really fun to go up there. So we took all that off and the past owners, when they added the addition on, they took off about six rows of the green tile on the roof and we found somebody that tore down a school that had the exact same tiles so we going to get some of that and redo it.

The other house across the street (c. 1911), we’re trying to get my grandpa to move in. The house is really nice, it has a nine-car garage, we like hot rods so we’ve got a 1940 Willys and a 1953 MG TD. The house is stucco, it was painted brown originally, we’re painting the inside window [sash] green. There was a house next door but it had a fire and they tore it down, so it’s got a big side yard, which is really nice.

The original oak staircase was painted white when we got it and the people who lived here before were really big smokers so everything they had that was white is just yellow. In all of our houses all the radiators are painted white so we sandblasted those and painted them gold as they had originally been.

When you’re working on this, who all is working with you?

I work with my dad and my grandpa mostly. Every once in a while my mom helps out.

What kind of stuff do you get to do personally?

I get to do the whole shebang. I do the woodwork with my grandpa because the house next door has these pieces that hang off the roof and are really detailed. They have this swirl on them. My grandpa redid all of them in about a week and they were totally identical.

What’s your favorite thing about restoring old houses?

Tearing it apart, if you tear out the plaster on walls, let’s say, then you can see what the original wallpaper underneath that was like. So I think my favorite part of doing this, two out of three of our houses we have the blueprints to, and you just look at it and you think oh my gosh this is amazing and you think how could anyone take this house that’s amazing and turn it into an eight-unit apartment?

I told my mom it’s like finding buried treasure, there’s diamonds, there’s gold, there’s everything.

What do you like about history?

I like the architecture. Today everything is so plain, if you look at a fireplace today, it’s just a big hole in the wall.  But I’m sitting here right now and I see an oak wall, beautiful brick [fireplace] with a beautiful oak mantel coming over off the top, with beautiful scrolling that comes down. I think that’s not right that a lot of these kinds of houses are being torn down to make new houses or shopping malls and I wonder, why? Why would you tear down a beautiful old house and make something brand new?

What has it been like writing the column for Heritage Ohio?

It’s pretty cool. [The Heritage Ohio group] came here and we went through one house and then another and another and I was guiding them and then finally [Heritage Ohio Executive Director Joyce Barrett] said “Do you want to write articles for us?” and I said “Well, I’ll think about it.” But now that I think about it it’s pretty cool to be able to express my feelings about these old houses and just maybe some people will start to believe you don’t need to tear down these houses to put up a new modern one. Buy it and restore it to its original form.

The house next door is the house you’re planning on living in when you grow up. How did you choose that? Why do you like that one best?

I just like that one best because it’s a beautiful house and that way I can remember when I grew up that I fixed this and I did that. With the house we live in right now, I didn’t do much of this stuff, my parents did. And when I have kids I want to be able to say, “Look at this, I did this.”

Is this something you want to do when you grow up?

To be honest with you I have no idea. I look at how my grandpa does all this stuff and I might want to be a carpenter; I might want to design things. I’d love to do this for a living, it’s just I think it’s really cool to be able to live in a house that goes back 110 years ago.

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.

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom is a former Preservation magazine editor and currently a writer, producer, and host at TouchVision TV in Chicago.

César E. Chávez Site Declared a National Monument

Posted on: October 9th, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom 1 Comment

 

In front of a jubilant crowd of thousands yesterday morning, President Obama declared the home of labor leader César Chávez and the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers Union a National Monument.

The Keene, Calif. site, known as Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz (or simply La Paz), is closely associated with unprecedented gains Chávez and the union secured between 1970 and 1984. Upon his death in 1993, Chávez was buried at La Paz.

“The National Trust for Historic Preservation believes the designation of a César Chávez National Monument is an important first step toward a more comprehensive celebration of the life and legacy of César Chávez and his contributions to the farm labor movement,” National Trust President Stephanie Meeks said in a statement. “We applaud the President’s selection of the La Paz property as a National Monument. La Paz is one of several historic sites identified by the National Park Service related to César Chávez that depicts an important but underrepresented aspect of our nation’s history.”

The César E. Chávez National Monument is the fourth national monument the President has designated. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president authority to designate monuments as a way to protect “objects of historic or scientific interest.” During his administration, President Obama has also designated national monuments at Fort Ord in California, as well as Virginia’s Fort Monroe and Colorado’s Chimney Rock, both National Trust National Treasures.

A total of 16 presidents and Congress have used the Act to establish more than 100 national monuments, with Bill Clinton creating the most (19). George W. Bush designated six during his administration, including Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the largest national monument at nearly 90 million acres. These sites are managed by various agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Forest Service.

The designation of La Paz is especially timely, Meeks pointed out, as it is occurring during National Hispanic Heritage Month. In her statement, she also emphasized that the National Trust is committed to continuing collaborative work with the National Park Service and its American Latino Heritage Initiative.

“Today, La Paz joins a long line of national monuments -- stretching from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon -- monuments that tell the story of who we are as Americans,” President Obama said at yesterday’s ceremony. “It's a story of natural wonders and modern marvels; of fierce battles and quiet progress. But it's also a story of people -- of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just and a little more free.”


César Chávez's memorial garden and burial site.

National Trust Advisor Luis G. Hoyos attended yesterday’s ceremony in Keene and said: “I noticed a lot of us were Latinos, of course; we come in all shapes and sizes. But on a closer look I saw old Latinos, men, veterans, what appeared to be former farm workers, dressed modestly and hanging on to canes, wheelchairs, a wife, a banner of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Those faces will be with me for some time.”

Also in attendance was National Trust Advisor Donna Graves, who commented: “Hats, t-shirts and buttons among the crowd testified to long-standing commitment to labor organizing and the United Farm Workers. President Obama’s appearance swelled the heartfelt joy of many gathered in knowing that finally their herencia, their heritage, was being honored at the highest level.

And for the National Trust’s vice president of historic sites, Estevan Rael-Gálvez, attending the dedication ceremony was moving professionally and personally:

“As I breathed in the air of La Paz at the end of the day, I remembered that back home, elders always remind us that ‘wherever we go, we leave our breath behind us.’ The spirit of this place -- surrounded by rolling hills, nearly 200 acres, 26 buildings and structures that were/are home and headquarters for the United Farm Workers and their families -- can equally be felt in the breath of those who remain dedicated to the work of social justice and those whose breath has been left behind as well. Chávez was certainly there today; he was in the slope of the hills, the dust from the road, and he was in the hands and faces of every individual who has ever longed for civil rights and social justice.

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.

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom is a former Preservation magazine editor and currently a writer, producer, and host at TouchVision TV in Chicago.

Searching for San Francisco’s History, Part Two

Posted on: August 17th, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom 7 Comments

 

After a second day visiting with friends and working out our quads on San Francisco’s notoriously hilly streets and our credit cards in its charming neighborhood boutiques, day three of my recent visit to the City by the Bay was filled with more heritage tourist must-sees. We hopped a cable car (okay, hopped may be a generous description, we waited in an hour-long line to squeeze onto a cable car), an enduring symbol of the city and one of the only moving National Historic Landmarks in the country, and made our way to the popular Fisherman’s Wharf. There, we filled our cameras’ memory cards with shots of the adorable pack of lounging sea lions that has made Pier 39 its home before boarding a boat to tour the bay.

Captain Jim led us under the breathtaking 4,200 foot span of the Golden Gate Bridge, constructed over four years between 1933 and 1937. The icon, glowing in International Orange paint even on our foggy day, was the longest span in the world for many years. With the bridge at our backs, the boat brought us close enough to Alcatraz Island to read the faded sign warning of severe penalties for aiding prisoners at the once-infamous prison. “The Rock” has inspired imaginations and movie scripts for its years as a federal penitentiary, but as historian Erwin N. Thompson reported in his Historic Resource Study of Alcatraz Island in the early 1970s after the land was transferred to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz also served as a Civil War fortress, the first lighthouse on the West Coast, and the site of pivotal Native American occupation and protest in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A hearty helping of soup from a signature sourdough bread bowl at the wharf’s storied Boudin Bakery is a satisfying way to wrap up an afternoon of history as the French shop has been serving up fresh-baked loaves of sourdough since it fed gold seekers when it opened in another section of the territory in 1849. On our way back to the hotel, we can’t resist a stroll through the crowded Ghirardelli Square, considered one of the earliest successful adaptive use projects in the country. When the original chocolate factory established by Domenico “Domingo” Ghirardelli shuttered in the 1960s, shops and restaurants popped up within the old factory walls, officially opening in 1964. Sea salted milk chocolate Ghirardelli square in hand, I took in the beautiful city around me. Gabby Douglas and Michael Phelps can hold onto their medals, after a trip like this, I was the one feeling victorious.

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.

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom is a former Preservation magazine editor and currently a writer, producer, and host at TouchVision TV in Chicago.

Searching for San Francisco's History, Part One

Posted on: August 16th, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom 3 Comments

 

Amidst the heart-pounding coverage of Team USA’s race to the top of the Olympic podium in London a few weeks ago, I vaulted across the country myself for a close friend’s California nuptials, spending three fabulous days in the culturally and historically-rich City by the Bay. Even on my short visit it was easy to see: When it comes to championing their diverse heritage and collection of historic places, San Franciscans prove why theirs is rightfully the Golden State.

The day we arrived in the city, a friend who lives in the area drove us around town, taking us first through the colorful streets of the Castro District. Once a collection of dairy farms and dirt roads that drew Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants looking for cheap land on the city’s outskirts, the neighborhood then known as Eureka Valley filled with spacious Victorian houses after the Market Street Cable Railway linked the area to the rest of the city in 1887. Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s and gay men began buying the charming historic homes at relatively low prices and restoring them. With the addition of iconic spots like the Twin Peaks bar and an activist atmosphere surrounding the 1978 assassination of city Supervisor Harvey Milk and the AIDS epidemic, the Castro became and remains a vibrant hub of the gay community.

Our drive took us past more of the city’s beautiful Victorian architecture by way of the postcard-perfect Painted Ladies of Alamo Square park. This row of six candy-colored houses built between 1892 and 1896 is especially noteworthy as the properties were able to survive San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire intact. Personally, I was eager to check out the real estate as a diehard Full House fan, curious to get a look at the buildings that served as the backdrop to the idyllic Tanner family picnic in the opening sequence of my favorite cheesy 90s sitcom. And what drive through the hilly streets of San Fran would be complete without a (very slow) trip down the eight sharp curves of Lombard Street? Touted as the crookedest street in the world for years, the stunningly steep one-way stretch between Hyde and Leavenworth streets was paved with bricks in 1922 and started drawing tourists after a photograph and postcard of the hydrangeas of the block’s landscaping were published in the 1950s and 60s. The city’s Board of Supervisors has received petitions to close the unique street to all but its residents in 1970, 1977, and 1987, but lucky for tourists like us, the closure never passed.

Check back tomorrow for more on my search for San Francisco history on a recent visit.

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.

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom is a former Preservation magazine editor and currently a writer, producer, and host at TouchVision TV in Chicago.

DC's Historic Howard Theatre Reopens After Major Restoration

Posted on: April 12th, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom 2 Comments

 

George Clinton surveyed the crowd Tuesday night and let out a soulful sigh: “Boy, do I have memories in this joint!” The legendary purveyor of funk, looking notably tidier sans his equally legendary Technicolor dreadlocks, took the Howard Theatre stage at the historic venue’s VIP grand opening concert and celebration following a $29 million renovation.

And Clinton wasn’t the only one looking spiffed up at the event: Dating back to 1910, the traditionally African American performance space that sat vacant and decaying for decades in Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood now shines anew, its stucco exterior façade brought back to its 1910 appearance; its cavernous interior modernized with gleaming wood surfaces, intimate booths, and jumbo screens flashing images of vintage programs for Howard performances featuring Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington.


Stripped of its detailing, this is how the Howard Theatre looked for many years before its recent restoration. (Photo: NCinDC on Flickr)

It’s an intimidating set of footsteps to follow for any performer. The Howard, billed as "the largest colored theater in the world” when it opened, hosted everyone from Booker T. Washington to Marvin Gaye until it closed its doors in the early 1980s. With an article looking at the restoration of the Howard and other historic black theaters across the country scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of Preservation magazine, we were especially excited to attend Tuesday night’s performance. ... 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.

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom is a former Preservation magazine editor and currently a writer, producer, and host at TouchVision TV in Chicago.

A New Chapter for a Preservation Classic

Posted on: March 27th, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom

 

"That Little House looks just like the Little House my grandmother lived in when she was a little girl," the woman says, "only that Little House was way out in the country on a hill covered with daisies and apple trees growing around."

It was a simple story: A countryside cottage, once a bustling family home, fades into the background as the big city springs up around it. Dwarfed by skyscrapers, the boarded-up Little House in Virginia Lee Burton’s classic children’s picture book is saved only when the original owner’s great-great-granddaughter buys the property and restores it to its former glory on another idyllic hillside. [Editor's note: Of course, if would have been nice to see the house restored in its original location. But hey, we're not trying to change the story...]


The special 70th anniversary cover. (Image: Houghton Mifflin Books)

The 1943 Caldecott Medal winner itself will find new life this spring as its publisher celebrates the 70th anniversary of the beloved preservation tale with a special edition.

"Not only does the Little House in the story remain sturdy, resilient, and unmoved through the changes that time ushers in, but it showcases the power of storytelling and a truly classic story," says Mary Wilcox, the new edition’s editor, and vice president and editorial director at Houghton Mifflin Books for Children and HMH Books. "Seventy years later, The Little House remains in print and we continue to celebrate its staying power."

With an included audio CD and new introduction by Burton’s son, sculptor Aris Demetrios, The Little House 70th anniversary edition hit shelves in April.

Look for this and other great content in the Spring issue of Preservation magazine. Subscribe today!

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.

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom

Gwendolyn Purdom is a former Preservation magazine editor and currently a writer, producer, and host at TouchVision TV in Chicago.