Author Archive

 

I enter the [Cooper-Molera] estate and get lost in the archives for what seems to have passed in just a couple of minutes but has elapsed over hours. By midday the sun has evaporated the marine layer and the quaint recreation of a sunny Victorian garden replete with adobe horno and artesian well beckons curious glances from a few lost Japanese tourists. But the house remains locked, and the curious painted plaster volumes of various geometric shapes that together form the homes of three families over three generations remains unseen, untouched, inaccessible. I’m about the only one with a key, alone inside and left to sort through this bric-a-brac. As quiet as a tomb ...

So writes Christian Larsen, a Bard Graduate Center student who worked as the National Trust’s scholar-in-residence this summer through a partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC). In particular, he spent time at Cooper-Molera Adobe, a National Trust Historic Site that preserves life from the era when Monterey was part of Mexico to the beginnings of California statehood.

The three-acre site in Monterey, Calif. -- which includes a house built by several generations of the Cooper and Molera families, historic barns, vegetable and flower gardens, and an extensive museum store -- tells the story of ship captain John Rogers Cooper, who immigrated to California in the early 19th century and married into a prominent Mexican family.

But equally important are the stories of his wife Encarnación Vallejo de Cooper; the Diaz family, who owned a portion of the property and had their own home and dry goods store; and the broader hybridization of families, cultures, and styles.


This showpiece saddle from Mexico (c. 1880) is decorated with silver thread embroidery, silver mounts, and intricate stamped leather designs. It was exhibited at the New Orleans World’s Fair (Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition) in 1884-5 and the Paris Exposition Universelle 1889.

Larsen’s assignment at Cooper-Molera was to help catalog the materials that have accumulated since the 1820s when Captain Cooper first moved to the property. He ended up sorting through thousands of articles in the collection. “It was a big puzzle for me to sort out what’s what, from when, and date things, identify the manufacturer, and give them more backstory,” Larsen says.

Before Larsen wrapped up his residency, we sat down with him at National Trust headquarters and asked him about his experiences, discoveries, and hopes for the site.

How did this project come about?

This project comes out of the National Trust’s attempts to uncover stories that have not been told at their sites. They realize that a lot of the sites have had a traditional and/or static story line going on, and that there are sites and objects related to Latino culture they should probably be telling. And the best way to find those story lines is through objects and collections, because they do have intimate connections to Latino story.


These manufacturer markings help identify the saddle.

What did you hope to achieve through the cataloging process?

The National Trust sent me out there to identify what objects in the collection had any relevance -- what was made locally or made in Latin American countries, as well as what materials, craftsmanship, and techniques from those areas might have contributed to the objects and been part of these people’s daily lives.

I wanted to answer: How did the families express their Latino identity through the things they owned? What kinds of things would speak to that relationship of a hybrid family? And you see it in the collection itself -- Victorian-looking East Coast furniture, right next to stuff from China, right next to stuff from Mexico.

It’s a very cosmopolitan, global perspective … and this is in 1820s California. Most Americans think of California at that time as a western backwater, but it wasn’t at all. Even at that time, they were globally connected. This house reflects the glory days of Monterey.

Where do you even start on a project of this scale? Who helped you ‘crack the case,’ so to speak?

I worked with a number of different people, but two groups stand out. I talked to many of the volunteers; they’re the nice little old ladies from the community who sell items at the gift shop. But they have heard many stories over the years and become repositories of the history of the place. Some of it is accurate, some of it is totally mythologized, but it’s interesting to get their perspective, and their thoughts, ideas, and stories gave me leads on where I should be looking.

I also worked with California State Parks, who is the state steward and operator of the site. The rangers have been working with the collection for decades. They don’t necessarily know all the objects’ histories, but they know the conservation history and they have inklings about where to start.


The biombo folding screen is an artistic and decorative form that originated in Japan but took root in Latin America. That the Cooper or Molera families would have such a screen in their collection speaks of continued cultural ties to Mexican traditions and a much more marked taste for oriental wares in California than seen in other regional American households at the time.

You focus mainly on objects and material cultures. How do objects relate to the places they reside?

While we occupy houses, they’re more the repository for our experiences and the things that we live with. But they’re all part and parcel. I don’t distinguish that much between the building and the things in it; I think the building is equally important, and I look at it as a whole, as a complete experience. They all reflect changing tastes and styles change over time.

What do you hope visitors to Cooper-Molera will learn?

I would love visitors to understand the history of 19th century California -- this really crazy time when there are a few different sets of governments, who’s in power, what’s going on, and what daily life was like. It was really different.

You have to make history come alive. You can intellectualize it all you want, but the best way to reach people is through visceral sense. And that’s what sites do for you: You’re in the space, encountering it visually and through all your other senses. How can we give them the smells, the music, the dances? A place should evoke that feeling and give the visitor an intuitive sense of what it was like to live there.

Now the National Trust is re-imagining how to make the site more vibrant and more of a living place with better access to visitors and programming that keeps people coming back. If they can convey a sense of what daily life at that time was like, that would be the biggest takeaway.

Read more about Larsen's work on NBC Latino.


The archeological dig in the Diaz privy/trash pit uncovered shards of this British transfer-printed earthenware. This English Staffordshire ceramic pattern was produced between 1845-51 by Thomas Walker at the Lion Works in Tunstall.

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.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Green Your Historic Home

Posted on: August 14th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 8 Comments

 


Job Corps students help restore Grey Towers National Historic Site to make it a more sustainable facility.

We walked you through 10 easy ways to weatherize your historic home a couple weeks ago. Now we want to help you take it a step further with these simple approaches to making your home more sustainable.

But what exactly do we mean when we say “sustainable,” at least in the context of historic preservation? Well, we’re talking about using what we already have -- in this case, buildings, and the features and materials that make them unique and historic. Many older homes were constructed with energy efficiency in mind (when home owners once had no choice, because things like central AC weren’t an option), so their “environmental friendliness quotient” is already high.

Today it’s up to us, the current caretakers, to continue retrofitting and reusing these places in ways that both honor their original construction and also reduce their environmental footprint in a modern world.

So let’s not waste any more energy -- here are 10 tips for greening your historic home.

1. Keep original windows intact. Studies show that older windows can perform as well as vinyl replacements. Weatherstrip them so that they seal tightly, caulk the exterior trim, and repair cracked glazing or putty around glass panels. You'll reduce landfill waste and the demand for vinyl, a non-biodegradable material that gives off toxic byproducts when it's made.

2. Use light paint colors for your house's exterior. Lighter colors reflect heat better than darker ones. Many older homes were typically painted with light-reflecting finishes, so you can be sustainable and accurate in one fell swoop.

3. Insulate the attic, basement, and crawl space. About 20 percent of energy costs come from heat loss in those areas. Just take care to avoid materials that can damage historic fabric.

4. Reuse old materials such as brick, stone, glass, and slate when making home improvements. You can also scour local salvage shops to find contemporaneous materials (and save it from going to a landfill).

5. Plant trees. Evergreen trees on the north and west sides of your house can block winter winds, and leafy trees on the east, west, and northwest provide shade from the summer sun. Use old photos of your house to try to match the historic landscaping. (Don’t have photos? See our tips on researching your home’s history!)


Example of a well-shaded wraparound porch on a historic home in Oxford, North Carolina.

6. When appropriate, open the windows and use fans and dehumidifiers, which consume less energy than air-conditioning. Many old houses were designed with good cross-ventilation; take advantage of your home's layout. Ceiling fans lower the perceived temperature in summer, lessening reliance on air conditioning and saving energy. And in the winter, they draw warm air down from the ceiling, saving on heating costs. So again, double benefit for one change.

7. Keep doors airtight by weatherstripping, caulking, and painting them regularly. Recent studies suggest that installing a storm door is not necessarily cost-effective. Better to keep your doors in fighting shape -- and ideally in keeping with the character of the house.

8. Install fireplace draft stoppers, attic door covers, and dryer vent seals that open only when your dryer is in use. An open dampener in a fireplace can increase energy costs by 30 percent, and attic doors and dryer vent ducts are notorious energy sieves.

9. Restore porches and awnings. Porches, awnings, and shutters were intended for shade and insulation, plus they add a lot of personality to your home. To further save energy, draw shades on winter nights and summer days.

10. Inspecting, maintaining, and repairing your existing roof is the best way to "go green" by using what you already have. Depending on the materials, installation, and ongoing maintenance, some roofs will last longer than others. We hope to present more info on solar-powered roof systems in future 10 on Tuesday posts -- stay tuned!

And as we mentioned in our weatherizing post, an energy audit is the best place to start. It will help you determine what you need to do now and exactly how much you’re likely to save.

Happy greening!

Want a ballpark estimate on the cost of going green? Check out our Green Guide to get a sense of how long it might take to recover the dollars you invest.

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.

 

Last week, National Trust staffers took a field trip -- or, more accurately, a tunnel trip.

We descended into the steamy underground for a little-seen glimpse of Washington’s past -- the 75,000 sq. ft. trolley station and one-time fallout station that served DC’s popular Dupont Circle neighborhood until it was closed in 1975. (More on Dupont Underground's history here.)

 
Now, the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) -- a group of dedicated architects, designers, businesspeople, and community leaders -- is working to reinvent the unused space as “a world-class center for arts, design, and innovative entrepreneurship.”

Our enthusiastic guide on this shadowy tour was Julian Hunt, ACDU’s founder and interim chairman as well as a Principal at Hunt Laudi Studio. His aim is to get the community excited about the possibilities the space affords and fire up their imaginations about how it can become a civic hub.

 
And fire them up he did. We left our 90-minute tour buzzing about the impact such a vibrant, multi-use space could have on the surrounding neighborhood. The plans call for green spaces, arts, community space, and civic engagement -- all with a preservation-friendly through line of adaptive reuse.

I followed up with my colleagues after the tour to capture their reactions to and reflections on the project, and their comments are as multi-faceted as Dupont Underground itself:

Lauren B.: I would love to see the space used to showcase local artists and for underground art walks, installations, interactive plays, and a haunted house. Revitalizing the trolley tracks would set an example about recycling old spaces for new uses and hopefully inspire similar projects.

Andy G.: I hope that the space is easily accessible by the public without changing the appealing and historic aspects of the above ground Dupont Circle community. I’d like to see a space that is well-maintained, frequently used, and that enhances the connectivity of Dupont Circle.

Tanya B.: Dupont Circle is a gathering space for DC’s homeless population. Why not build on the fact that the underground space had been occupied by many homeless before Dupont Underground got access, cleaned it up, and secured it? Creating jobs with livable wages will help. Can there be some sort of job training attached to whatever employment system gets created with Dupont Underground?

Claire H.: I would love to see the space transformed into a public, cultural center through partnerships with the neighborhood’s museums and embassies.

Dennis H.: When Americans (and likely the rest of the world) think about Washington, D.C., they think of tradition, classical architecture, museums, and partisan politics. Cutting-edge preservation, not so much. But converting the abandoned tunnels into a vibrant, useful space would put D.C. in the global spotlight for innovation.

Ann T.: The tunnels are odd, but quite beautiful in a strange way. It’s hard for me to picture any sort of regular activity down there. So I think I’d hope for something bizarre and new and playful that I can’t quite imagine -- something arts-related or artist-inspired. I was actually most intrigued by the above-ground entrances to the tunnels and the accompanying revitalized public spaces and how they could knit the city together. The quality of the designs for both the tunnel and the above-ground improvements was high and had a real “big city, global city” feel.

John P.: The Tour was almost like being in a sci-fi movie of a great city’s archaeological find and we were touring the find and talking about its history -- what it was and why it was and why it ended. We knew the truth and facts of course, but it was still a fascinating footprint of local times gone by and history.

Priya C.: After walking through the Dupont Underground I can see the space becoming something vibrant, distinctive, and creative. I think that like anything that has been abandoned it has the potential to spur on conversation -- and I hope that it will become a place where residents and visitors alike can gather and mingle. The impact it could have on the city is boundless -- not only as a piece of architecture that puts the city on the map in a modern sense, but also as a way to take old memories of what the underground used to be into the next generation. I know that the project is immense, but it is brimming with possibility and wonder.

And what would I like to see? I hope the tunnels once again connect the city in a thoughtful, purposeful way -- not with trolley tracks as of yore, but with smart planning and people-friendly design. Watching this project evolve right in our backyard is a rare delight, and to one day be able to say “I saw it when …” would be a great sign of progress.

If our experience has intrigued you, we encourage you to stay in touch with Dupont Undergound on Twitter, Facebook, and through their mailing list. You can also join as a volunteer, share your ideas for the space, and donate to the cause.

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.

Where Are They Now? Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center

Posted on: August 8th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 


An example of the kind of urban industrial buildings that still line many of Brooklyn's neighborhood streets, and that manufacturer entrepreneurs are moving back into.

We cover a lot of different buildings and stories here at the National Trust, and it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling whenever we can report back on a successful project. Today's example comes straight from the New York Times, with a shout-out to an old Brooklyn industrial building that now houses Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center.

Preservation magazine first covered Greenpoint in the March/April 2011 issue, which shared the story behind the company's efforts to keep industry in Brooklyn. Then yesterday we opened the Times to find a report on how the niche factory trend is continuing apace.

Turns out more and more manufacturing enterprises and small businesses are launching every day that need access to Manhattan’s many museums, magazines, advertising firms, and artists to thrive, and Brooklyn is the reported popular place to do it -- in large part because of its available building stock.

It’s great to see that Greenpoint continues to thrive and that the neighborhood of East Williamsburg is able to preserve its manufacturing identity. As Greenpoint's chief executive Brian T. Coleman said to the Times, "We think this is the future of urban manufacturing." Places from the past playing a functional role in the cities of the future? That's a vision we're behind 100%.

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.

[Video] Miami Marine Stadium Becomes a Parkour Playhouse

Posted on: July 25th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

See the guy in the blue shorts in the video? That's Ben Jenkin (aka Jenx). He's 21 years old and one of the founding athletes for the World Freerunning Parkour Federation (WFPF). For those unfamiliar, Parkour is a physical activity and mental discipline that focuses on efficient movement around obstacles (with strong dashes of self-expression and personal philosophy mixed in).

Now see the building he's running through? That's Miami Marine Stadium, a Modernist icon and one of our National Treasures. Closed after Hurricane Andrew swept through the region, the Stadium once played host to boat races, concerts, and even Easter services. Its crowning feature (literally) is its 326-foot-long, fold-plate roof, the longest span of cantilevered concrete in the world when it was poured in 1963.

So what do these two have in common (besides this beautiful "urban ballet," as one poetic National Trust colleague put it)? Well, we decided to put that question directly to Ben -- and learned that Parkour's focus on overcoming obstacles is a perfect match for people who want to save places.

How did you get involved with Parkour? What about the sport appeals to you?

It all started for me at the park after seeing some older guys flipping off the roof in the playground. From then on I was drawn in. I could already do some basic flips, which my dad had taught me. We started traveling around England meeting up with other people who also did Parkour to see what other locations England had to offer. The thing that appeals to me the most about Parkour is the ability it gives you to overcome fears, unlike other sports.

What are your favorite types of places to do Parkour? What have been some of your favorite locations?

My favorite types of places to do parkour are places with a lot of risk involved -- for example, on top of a building, over a bridge, or just anywhere that gives me no other option to succeed or I will get hurt. I like the element of fear, and I feel that being scared is the best way to progress.

What were your first thoughts when you showed up at Miami Marine Stadium to shoot the video?

When I showed up to the Marine Stadium, my first thoughts were, "WOW, what an incredible building with a lot of potential." I couldn’t wait to explore it and see what it had to offer.

What was it like to do Parkour there? What was your favorite part of the Stadium, and why?

One thing that was really good about training at the Marine Stadium was the fact it’s like a little town with multiple training spots inside. It’s pretty hard to pick a favorite part of the stadium when they are all so different and equally as good. However, I did like the roof; it’s always nice to have such an incredible view whilst training.

In one of the closing shots, the camera is at your back as you look at the Miami skyline from the Stadium's roof. What was going through your head in that moment?

When I’m doing Parkour nothing really goes through my mind. I’m so focused on what I am doing at the time that all my attention is on the move itself. When I am looking into the distance for the camera shot, I am just simply admiring the incredible view.

What do you hope this video will teach people about a) Parkour and b) special places like Miami Marine Stadium?

[I hope it will] not so much teach, but [rather] inspire the people watching to go out and do Parkour. I [also] hope this video will help people become more aware of this amazing place and ultimately save it from being destroyed. Why would anybody want to destroy such a beautiful building with so much character?

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.