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[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Connect Main Street and Hispanic Communities

Posted on: October 16th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

This toolkit was adapted from a National Trust Main Street Center Story of the Week, “America in Translation: Hispanic Heritage on Main Street.” Read the full article.

Throughout National Hispanic Heritage Month this year (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), communities across the country honored the many contributions Hispanic and Latino Americans have made both to our nation and to their own cities and towns. This reflection is a great starting point for thinking about how to revitalize your own community while also honoring diverse heritages.

Norma Ramirez de Miess, Senior Program Officer at the National Trust Main Street Center, travels regularly to work with individual Main Street programs all over the country and help them reach out to their Hispanic constituents.

“Downtowns are at the heart of the community for everybody, and most cultures, even outside the U.S., have downtowns as their centers,” she says. “There is great potential for Main Street to be the catalyst for inclusion.”

Ramirez de Miess distills her long experience of building inclusive programs into three key principles: 1) understand what is shared among people in the district; 2) recognize the differences; and 3) build bridges. With these building blocks in mind, let’s look at 10 ways your town can connect with its Hispanic communities.

1. Spot economic opportunities. In many Main Street communities, often the more recent immigrants of the Hispanic community have become the primary economic force in once-forsaken downtowns. Take Woodburn, Oregon, for example. When an outlet mall dried up downtown business, the first-generation Mexican migrants living there saw an opportunity to start businesses in the vacant storefronts. Such entrepreneurship created a niche retail experience in the region, one that leveraged its Hispanic roots and also helped bring downtown Woodburn back to life.

2. Get hands-on. Betsy Cowan, Main Street manager in Egleston Square, Roxbury, Massachusetts, suggests that “tailored, on-site bilingual group training and one-on-one assistance programs designed for micro-businesses, although requiring a higher investment of time and resources, have been proven to yield results.” For example, with Cowan’s help, one local grocer realized that by making minor façade improvements and adding certain products to his stock, he could transform his business from a store catering primarily to Hispanic residents into a marketplace for all the neighborhood’s residents.

3. Start at the very beginning… A truly inclusive Main Street program needs to involve members of the Hispanic community on a fundamental planning level, whether through representation on the board of directors, partnerships, or volunteers. As Ramirez de Miess says, “When there’s no sense of ownership, there’s absolutely no commitment in the community to participate.”

4. …and start small. Not all Hispanic business owners might be as comfortable with or educated about the formal processes necessary for non-profit organization planning. As Woodburn’s Community Relations Officer Robyn Stowers suggests, “sometimes it makes more sense to start small, with the group that needs more coaching, and then strategically bring other groups in” as people gain more trust in the organization.

5. Take it offline. To successfully reach out to the Hispanic community in particular, Ramirez de Miess recommends direct rather than indirect forms of communication. In other words, have face-to-face meetings or visit individual businesses, rather than relying solely on email or phone calls.

6. Throw a party. Special events that celebrate important Hispanic holidays and festivals are perhaps the most visible way for a Main Street program to appeal to its Hispanic constituents. “I joke with people -- just give us a reason and we’ll have a party,” Ramirez de Miess says. “Celebrations of heritage, of family, are great for any culture.” And with the large number of volunteers required for a special event, celebrations are a great way to build a base of support in the Hispanic community for a growing Main Street.

7. Go bilingual in Spanish. In towns with a strong Hispanic demographic, make sure everyone can understand flyers, posters, and other promotional materials. In Amarillo, Texas’s Center City, the Main Street program translated all of its advertising copy into Spanish and launched a promotional campaign on a Spanish-language radio station for the annual August block party. While most, if not all, Hispanic residents are fluent in both English and Spanish, says Main Street Manager Beth Duke, “it meant a lot to Spanish speakers to hear the ads in the language of their home, it made them feel more welcome. Many people told me that they felt like they were truly invited to the event.”

8. Go bilingual in English. The language barrier can go both ways. In Bridgeton, New Jersey, Main Street manager Carola Hartley says that she used to hear complaints from English-speaking residents that it was hard for them to shop at Hispanic businesses due to the lack of English-language signs. In response, Bridgeton Main Street helped Hispanic merchants translate and put up signs and menus in both languages.

9. Balance preservation with culture aesthetics. In Harlingen, Texas, recent immigrants opening new businesses downtown sometimes have design ideas that clash with the existing built environment. “There’s a different aesthetic in Mexico -- large print, bright colors, the more signs the better -- so you want to respect the culture, but you also want to respect the original architecture of the building. You want to merge that,” explains Manager Cheryl LaBerge. Downtown Harlingen brings in architects and interior designers to work with individual businesses and educate business-owners about preserving the community’s architectural heritage.

10. Know your community’s makeup. Diverse ethnicities, nationalities, beliefs, and cultures are combined under the umbrella terms “Hispanic” and “Latino.” Moreover, established Hispanic communities as old as the town itself will likely have quite different needs than more recent immigrants or seasonal laborers. Learn your town’s particular makeup, and implement initiatives that will best help local entrepreneurs revitalize their businesses and participate in downtown activities.

When in doubt, the first step is always to respect the individual needs and rights of others, so that you can build mutual understanding and trust. As Ramirez de Miess puts it, “Building a relationship of trust means to connect with a genuine interest in people, finding out their needs and preferences. The first efforts need to be about learning about each other.”

Now it’s your turn. What examples can you share from your community about connecting with Hispanic heritage?

Interested in learning more about how Main Street can transform your community? Visit the National Trust Main Street Center for more info.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

[Interview] Mike Todd, Filmmaker: Documenting Joe Frazier’s Gym

Posted on: October 11th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

UPDATE: The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its preservation partners hosted a film screening of the documentary, “Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears,” at Temple University in fall 2012 that received an overwhelming response from attendees. The film about Frazier’s life that spotlights the importance of saving his gym in Philadelphia resonated with students, faculty, local preservationists and community activists alike.

In an effort to reach a wider audience with the film and raise funds to support preservation of the gym, the National Trust entered into an agreement Kultur International Films LTD., Inc. recently, in which the National Trust receives a portion of the proceeds from sales of the documentary DVD.

The National Trust will receive 40 percent of the discounted sale price ($17.99), or $7.20, on any sale of the DVD. Visit Kultur to watch a clip of the film or purchase a DVD. Enter the unique code “JFNT” to support us in protecting an iconic historic site and receive a discount on purchase of the DVD.

After watching the film, share your stories and thoughts on our Saving Places website.

It’s an old-fashioned story: the local boxing gym that becomes a community hub and plays an important role in its neighborhood. Can such a place still exist in the 21st century? Documentary filmmaker Mike Todd believes it can -- and considers boxing legend Joe Frazier a prime example of how to make it work.

Todd’s latest film, Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears, delves into Frazier’s relationship with his Philadelphia community through the lens of his world-famous gym, which he ran for more than 40 years with his son Marvis. Todd says, “I was interested in what motivated Joe to keep it open. He had devoted his life to it and built up a lot of community goodwill. It was amazing to see him still sitting behind the desk.”

But as often happens with documentary filmmaking, the inspirational story Todd started to tell was soon overtaken by history. As the filmmakers worked to raise funding and interest for their project, the gym was facing its own financial difficulties. Then Frazier passed away in 2011, and the gym closed for good.

Todd remembers, “We could see this important, iconic place slipping away. We as filmmakers wanted to step in. We did outreach to see if someone could take over its administration to help out. Surely someone, somewhere, would step in. Marvis and Joe wanted to keep it going. But that didn’t work.”


Director Mike Todd (l.) jokes around with boxing legend Joe Frazier (r.) at the gym.

The good news is, hope is on the horizon for Joe Frazier’s Gym. Named a National Treasure this year, the National Trust is collaborating with Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and Temple University’s School of Architecture to designate the modest three-story building as both a local and national landmark. It’s also working to find a preservation-friendly buyer for the property.

On Tuesday, October 16, the National Trust is organizing a screening of the film in Philadelphia with a complementary panel discussion to follow (event details here). In advance of the event, we sat down with Todd to learn more about his filming experience and reflect on what the building -- and Joe Frazier himself -- meant to him.

What went through your mind when you first entered Joe Frazier’s gym?

On one hand, it felt like a really important, iconic place with historic photos everywhere. But on the other hand, it felt like a community center. Kids were running around. It was a safe place where people had respect for each other. Joe’s name was on the door, and people knew they could go there to have space and freedom from the pressures of North Philadelphia (even if they never became famous boxers). You see so many celebrities who associate themselves with charitable work only for public relations value, but Joe did it with no recognition and his own money.

Who did you encounter in the course of filming that had connections to the space?

Oh, there were so many stories. People went to train there. People were mentored there -- not just in boxing, but in other opportunities outside the gym (job training, for example). If you were prepared to work hard and were motivated, and wanted a way out of the circumstances you were given, the gym was there to help you.

One great example is Richard Slone. He’s an artist, originally from England. He wanted to be a boxer, and every week until he turned 16 he would call Marvis and Joe, because his dream was to train with them. Marvis always encouraged and supported him. So when he finally turned 16, Slone came to Philly to train. He had nothing when he arrived, and ended up living in the back of gym. He became like a son to Marvis and Joe, who looked after him for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Slone was sketching pictures there at the gym. Marvis said to him, “You may never be a boxer, but you can be an artist.” Now Slone is one of the most successful sports artists in America.


Joe Frazier and his son Marvis pose at the gym.

What would losing Joe Frazier’s Gym mean to the neighborhood? To the sports community? To the world?

When we were 2.5 years into filming, the gym closed. Renovations weren’t going to solve anything; it was just stalling time. Marvis was still trying to find a benefactor, but with no success. The gym was slipping through the cracks, much like Joe did. When he passed away, the world remembered who he was. It was so clear how iconic he’d been, but in later years was unrecognized. The work the gym did in the community wasn’t recognized either.

You have to look at Joe’s life in a 20th century U.S. context. Joe’s story says something about the United States and its history, but also speaks to an international audience as symbol of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. There’s meaning and investment in the gym -- it was a beacon of hope.

To lose the gym would be a lost opportunity for the city. He’s a truly remarkable figure. Anyone would be proud to say Joe Frazier lived and ran a gym in their city. You can still preserve the legacy of what it meant, and it’s a story that can still inspire people.

If the building can be preserved and help people remember who Joe Frazier was and what he did -- both as a sportsman and a person engaged in community issues where others had turned their backs -- even posthumous recognition would be amazing. We want Joe to get the recognition he deserves.

How can your film help the cause to save the building?

In May 2011, Joe came to the preview cut in New York City. It was great we got to see the film with him. I even did a Q&A session with him. At the end, the audience gave him a standing ovation. In retrospect, it was great he got to see the story our film tells and why he deserves our respect. (He liked it, too!)

Our film can help raise awareness of why what Joe did there is still relevant -- that his life and the history he represents are still relevant. In that respect, it would be a fantastic achievement to keep the gym open as a place that provides a space for the community, as well as a museum about Joe and the civil rights movement of that era. It is a place linked to the most dramatic years of his life; I think it would be a place people would visit.


Quenell Jones films Joe Frazier in action at the gym.

What’s your dream for the future of Joe Frazier’s Gym?

Seeing the gym included on the 11 Most Endangered list this year proved its importance. It captured the public’s imagination. Our film captured those final years, and we captured that history. I just feel there’s a lot more to run with this -- it’s not sunk in how meaningful this issue can be.

My dream is to see the gym as a place where Joe is remembered, to make it a tribute to Joe’s achievements and what he dedicated his life to. If it can still inspire people locally, nationally and even internationally, then it will truly celebrate Joe’s life and capture what the gym represented.

“Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears” is available from FilmBuff on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube Rentals, Cinemanow, Vudu, and XBOX. You can also contribute to the campaign to save Joe Frazier’s Gym at SavingPlaces.org.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

 


Front view of the church. The dated stone’s translation reads: “Evangelical Lutheran German and English Church A.D. 1863.”

In June 2009, a small story appeared in Brian Brehmer's church bulletin looking for interested people who wanted to work towards preserving and promoting their historic church -- the Salem Lutheran Landmark Church, the birthplace of the Wisconsin Synod.

Despite his lack of preservation background, Brian was inspired to help the place where he'd been a lifelong congregant, and so joined with other preservation-minded community members to form the Friends of the Landmark Church.

Now, three years later, the Friends group is continuing its work to repair the building and catalog the history of this local treasure. We caught up with Brian to learn what the church means to his community, and how these local preservationists are shaping the future for a historic place.

Describe your personal history with Landmark Church and the community. What does the church mean to you?

I have been a member of [Landmark Church] my entire life (40 years) and am the fifth generation of my family to be a member. I was baptized in the old church and had both my kindergarten and first-grade classes in the adjoining building. I live in the same city (Milwaukee) as my family has since 1858.

The church is important to me both as a reminder of my religious home, but also as a reminder of those people who lived and died before me. It also allows me the opportunity to give something back to those who gave something to me.

Tell me more about the historical significance of the Wisconsin Synod. What is it, why is it important to your community, and how is it tied to the church you’re working to save?

The Landmark Church, built of cream city brick in 1863, served as the home of Salem Lutheran Church's congregation from 1863-1977, before a new church was built to accommodate more members. It is important as it marks the birthplace of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church body (albeit across the street from where the original log cabin church stood).

This church, now a museum for the work of the Wisconsin Synod throughout the last 150 years, reminds not only us but the community as a whole about the importance and continuance of the mission started by a handful of families long ago, a mission we still continue to do. This church is also one of the oldest remaining buildings in the city of Milwaukee and has been recognized as such.


This original altarpiece and the other white chancel furnishings were donated in 1922 (the 75th anniversary of the congregation) by the Ladies Aid.

When you first saw the notice in the church bulletin about helping save the church, what went through your mind? What convinced you to pitch in and help save it?

When I first saw the notice, I saw it as an opportunity to use my education and my history with the church at the same time. I felt that since the Brehmers have been attending the church for 100+ years, I had an obligation to help preserve it and draw attention to the cause at hand. It was an opportunity for me to use my education and to give back in some way to the church that had served my family for so long.

I also could not see another historical building lost as so many have in the city of Milwaukee. Plus I wanted to learn about the history that I myself was not a part of, the history that existed before I was born.

How much preservation experience did you bring to the table at the outset? What have you learned over the course of working with the Friends?

Absolutely none, actually. While one of my degrees is in history (the roots of which were started by my 7th grade teacher at Salem, Mr. Bruce Bintz), and I have a lifelong love of archaeology and the study of the past, I had not been able to actually get my hands dirty in actual work, nor did I know just what went into saving a building and its artifacts.

I have learned that while not easy, working towards a common goal is actually fun and full of personal opportunities. I have also learned the importance of something as simple as a photo that lay in a drawer for years which was able to fill in gaps or answer questions.


This stained glass window depicts Jerusalem -- originally called Salem.

What’s your dream for the church?

My dream for the church is that it continues to serve as a reminder for those who are still living and for those who have not yet been born. I want it to continue to draw people to it and to remind them of the sacrifices that have been made on a private personal level as well as on a more communal level.

I'd also love to see the archives and the stories documented and presented in such a way that others can learn and grow from the work that we have done and will continue to do.

What’s your biggest piece of advice to people in other communities who want to save a place that matters to them?

The biggest piece of advice is to not give up. There will be both highs and lows, but all of them will be learning experiences and will pay off in the long run.

Also, be willing to constantly look for and accept help and input from others. Work is much easier if you have many workers than just a handful of dedicated ones. Plus, you never know what skills or abilities that one may bring to the table.

Lastly, I think that its important to have a clear-cut and constant goal. But don't carve it in stone, [and remember that] just because you have to adjust things doesn't mean you have failed yourselves or your mission.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

 

Windows are the most visible, yet most commonly underappreciated, components of older and historic homes and buildings.

In addition to adding beauty and character, original windows serve a great purpose -- they connect the outside of the building to the inside and, as an integral part of the architecture, offer invaluable clues to a building's history.

Despite this value, however, historic windows often get the blame for a building’s energy loss. Most often, people jump to replace their historic windows because a) companies promise that their replacement windows will save clients time and money, and b) it’s promoted as the "green" thing to do. In fact, a thriving industry has grown around this perceived need to replace rather than restore.

The latest report from our Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement, tackles this unfortunate perception head-on. The study examines multiple ways you can retrofit (read: modify) your historic windows for better performance, and outlines each option’s energy, carbon, and cost savings across a variety of climates.

The heartening result: Retrofits for historic windows perform comparably to new replacement windows, and almost every retrofit option offers a better return on investment (at a fraction of the cost).

For more facts and figures, we encourage you to read the full Preservation Green Lab report. In the meantime, check out the top 10 things you should know about retrofitting your historic windows.

1. Include retrofitting in your cost-benefit analysis.

As you’ll see throughout these tips, retrofitting historic or older windows has numerous, measurable benefits. Still, not every old window needs to be saved, so it can help property owners to ask these questions as part of their initial cost-benefit analysis:

  • Are my windows an important architectural or defining feature of my building?
  • Are there ways I can retrofit my windows to achieve greater energy efficiency?
  • Will replacement windows last as long as my originals?
  • Are there more cost-effective approaches available other than replacement windows?
  • Will replacement windows fit the character of my property or detract from it?

2. Tackle other energy-efficiency measures first.

Just as windows are a part of your whole house, so should they be part of a whole-house solution to cutting back on energy use. As we discussed in a previous 10 on Tuesday, first do an energy audit of your house, preferably with an experienced professional. They can help you evaluate energy-saving solutions, the proper order for implementing them, and estimated costs. Then consider what additional efficiency gains or energy savings retrofitting your windows can offer.

3. Retrofits have better returns on investments than replacement windows.

Window retrofits such as cellular shades, storm windows, and insulating shades can achieve energy savings comparable to replacements at a much lower cost. Interior storm windows also reduce potential exposure to lead-based paint, while exterior storm windows help extend the useful life of historic windows by offering protection from the elements.

In comparison, replacement windows may offer high energy performance improvement, but the upfront costs are substantial and are not rapidly recovered through savings in energy bills.

4. The range of energy performance for retrofit options varies significantly.

The highest performing retrofits include interior window panels, exterior storm windows, and combining insulating shades with exterior storm windows. The performance of these measures varies significantly depending on the climate in which they are installed (see next tip).

Weather stripping was found to have the lowest energy cost savings and a low average ROI relative to other window improvements. However, the study determined that when homeowners install the weather-stripping themselves, it produces a higher return than any of the other window options studied.

5. Take climate into consideration.

The best retrofit option for Phoenix may not be right for Chicago, given the difference in their heating and cooling needs. For example, in places like Chicago that rely more on heating, insulating cellular shades helped reduce heat loss (even more so if the window also had exterior storm windows).

Meanwhile, if you’re in a place that relies more on cooling systems, like Phoenix, consider whether exterior shading, such as overhangs, trees, or nearby buildings, is present. If these elements are already shading the windows -- or if windows are not oriented toward the sun -- the windows will receive minimal or no cooling benefit from a retrofit.

6. Take matters into your own hands.

Perform high-return, do-it-yourself installations first, where possible. Weather stripping (good for old, drafty windows) and interior surface film (good for homes with big cooling bills) generate immediate savings at a low cost and don’t prevent you from adding other cost-saving retrofits later.

Taking a phased approach to window upgrades -- focusing on the highest returns first and using savings to pay for future improvements -- can eventually lead to long-term savings of money, energy, and carbon emissions for older homes, even for households that are on a tight budget.

7. Saving existing windows is greener than producing new windows.

Keeping existing windows saves the energy and resources needed to create new windows. Like any product, the production of replacement windows requires materials, and these materials generate CO2 and other environmental hazards from the extraction, manufacture, transport, and disposal processes. Retrofit measures also require materials, but are often less materials-intensive and so impact the environment less than an entire window replacement.

8. Saving windows preserves a home’s character.

Historic windows were custom fit to their original openings and often have sizes and shapes not found today. Replacing them usually requires changing the size and/or shape of the opening. So while standard-sized new windows might save on operational costs, they’ll com¬promise the character and historic integrity of a home with smaller windows, less light, distorted proportions, and trim that doesn't match the opening.

Moreover, changing the opening’s size or shape decreases the chance that new stock replacement windows will fit well. The resulting gaps around the windows will be just as (if not more) drafty as the historic windows they’re replacing.

Tip: The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Secretary of the Interior’s Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings can guide you on how best to approach the preservation of windows in historically designated homes, or homes that may be eligible for listing.

9. Older windows are built with high-quality materials.

Wood windows made prior to the 1940s are likely to be made from old growth wood -- a stable, dense wood that mills well, holds paint and stain well, is not as attractive to insects, and has natural rot resistance. Also, the wood was most likely harvested locally, making it better suited for local climate conditions.

10.    Older windows can be repaired.

Traditional windows are made from individual parts. Each piece -- the rails, stiles, muntins, stops, sill, stool, jamb, etc. -- can be individually repaired or replaced in kind. Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit, and the components generally cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, or the vinyl warps, the entire unit must be replaced.

Bonus benefit of older windows: Repairing and increasing the energy performance of existing wood windows is good for the local economy, as hiring a window repair specialist to refurbish windows creates skilled local jobs.

So, as you can see, historic windows have a lot going for them, and the more you understand what options are available for improving them, the better you can protect your building’s character -- and your wallet’s health. Read the Preservation Green Lab report to learn more.

For a more detailed report summary, check out Preservation Leadership Forum's post Old Windows Are Worth It.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

A Fresh Start for Pittsburgh's Bakery Square

Posted on: September 26th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh, PA is having a sweet second act. Thanks to a preservation-minded redesign by firm Strada LLC, this former Nabisco factory has traded baked cookies for browser cookies and become the LEED-certified home for several technology tenants, including Google's regional office.

We chatted with John Martine, founding principal and lead design partner at Strada (not to mention a preservationist), about striking the balance between preserving a building's heritage and adapting it for modern use.

The exterior of Bakery Square as it appears today.

Tell me about Bakery Square’s history. What was the building’s former function?

It was built in 1917-1918 as a bakery factory for National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. Crackers and cookies were made at this particular Nabisco plant until it closed in 1998. The building was then purchased by the Atlantic Baking Company in 2001, which continued to operate it as a bakery until 2004. The smell of baking cookies was a sweetly memorable landmark in the East End neighborhoods surrounding the factory for many years.

What is it now?

The building is now the major office building and anchor of a mixed-use complex of offices, retail, hotel and a parking garage known as Bakery Square.

What was your role in transforming Bakery Square into the office and retail hub that it is today?

Strada's primary role has been to transform most of the Nabisco building into office space for a variety of technology companies. Initially, Strada was commissioned by Google to design the two uppermost floors, six and seven (which is partially a mezzanine), into offices for their growing Pittsburgh staff. This effort was quickly followed by Phase 2, with additional designs for Google’s expansion on the fifth floor.

In addition, we are completing interior architecture for other technology tenants including University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Technology Development Center and Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. The building is now 100% leased by technology companies.


The 6th floor of the Nabisco Building before construction.

What were the benefits (and drawbacks) to adapting the cookie factory into spaces for technology companies?

There were many benefits in adapting this factory space for contemporary office use. Users like Google are drawn to the open floor plans, natural light and materials, and aged character of historic structures -- they fell in love with the scratched and worn wood floors that show the patina of 90 years of industrial use.

There is abundant natural light because of the expansive fenestration already in place, which helped to achieve LEED for Interiors Gold certification. And unusually generous floor to ceiling heights allow for a greater feeling of openness and provide ample space for the necessary mechanical systems so they didn’t become a visual distraction. In summary, there were far greater benefits than drawbacks.


The same view of the 6th floor after completion. In the foreground is a cluster of workstations with steel and brick conference towers beyond.

What were the challenges you faced in preserving some of the building’s original features while making the space tech-friendly for its new tenants? How did you overcome any of these challenges?

For the most part, we stripped the building's interior spaces bare of equipment, exposing the bones of the industrial floor plates and the structure. The design team devised a strategy that took full advantage of the existing post-industrial space with its high ceilings, amazing natural light, and quirky features.

The existing 60’ wide x 200’ long x 30’ high open space, with its trussed ceiling, lent itself well to forming the foundation of a one-of-a-kind “wow” factor. The team placed several large architectural elements within the vast space to enhance the visual and spatial experience of it. Elements included a curved lecture hall with viewing gallery, several one- and two-story conference towers, a giant cargo net hammock, and a bamboo forest with 10’-high cascading water walls.


This open-circle seating area on the 5th floor, known as the Think Pit, provides an ideal space for collaboration or relaxation.

However, salvaging all of these elements created obvious challenges -- for example,  auspending a 20’ x 20’ cargo net hammock from an existing concrete truss spanning 60’, and reinforcing 5’-deep beams to support an exterior roof deck.

What will the building’s rebirth mean for the neighborhood and the city today?

The project has been a huge success for the developer with the attraction of immensely desirable tenants like Google, and the building is now fully leased. Bakery Square has also become an important anchor in the revitalization of the East Liberty section of the city that was historically the second largest commercial center in Pittsburgh, but suffered badly from the effects of urban renewal in the 1960’s. It -- and other projects like it throughout the city -- are a testament to the enduring economic, aesthetic, and social value of historic structures.


The flooring material of this 5th floor cafe is made using scraps left over from the furniture industry.

What’s the next chapter in Bakery Square’s story? Has it inspired other preservation or development stories nearby?

As luck would have it, a major development site has come available directly across the street from the Nabisco building in the form of a decommissioned middle school built in the 1970s. The developer of Bakery Square is in the process of acquiring this 13-acre site for the next phase of development, Bakery Square 2.0. Although this will be new construction, it will expand the mixed-use character of Bakery Square by adding residences, as well as new office buildings, to the project. Strada is the master planner and urban designer for this next phase.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.