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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.

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.

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.

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.

Interview: Talking Shop with Actor/Home Renovator Bronson Pinchot

Posted on: March 23rd, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom 1 Comment


Long before he started turning up as memorable Hollywood characters like Serge in Beverly Hills Cop, or Balki Bartokomous on the 80s sitcom Perfect Strangers, actor Bronson Pinchot was honing a very different kind of craft: historic restoration. As a child, Pinchot fixed up an old shed behind his 1920s house in South Pasadena, California.

Bronson Pinchot working to restore a bust inside one of his Hartford, Penn. projects. (Photo: DIY Network)

“I remember being eight and looking at worn surfaces and things that weren’t plumb and level and thinking how wonderful a secret they were and how it was a secret between them and me that they had survived and I was going to leave them the way they were,” Pinchot says.

This year Pinchot was cast in the role he says he was born to play in DIY Network’s The Bronson Pinchot Project, which follows the actor and his loyal team of craftsmen as they refurbish historic properties in rural Harford, Pennsylvania. The show’s first season wraps up March 31st.

We caught up with Pinchot while he was making one of his frequent trips to the salvage yard. ... 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.