Author Archive

My American Road Trip, Part 1: Leaving Town

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 17 Comments

 

Two years ago, almost to the day, I drove my little hatchback from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, with nothing more than a couple boxes of kitchen items, some books, and my boyfriend, Blaise. I had said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and headed out to become an assistant editor with Preservation magazine. (Writing about old buildings and the people who save them? Definitely worth the 2,500-plus mile drive.)

Other than a few brutal battles with humidity (I lost), I have loved every second of my time here. What’s not to like about a city that’s immanently walkable, with traces of history around every corner? And from my little perch in a 1909 row house, I’ve watched my neighborhood of Columbia Heights change, grow, and welcome new residents who have restored their own old houses or started businesses in empty storefronts.

But now Blaise and I are packing up the car again and pointing her west, back to Los Angeles, where, I’m happy to say, I’ll be continuing my work with Preservation. In my new location, I’ll be bringing you all the latest news from the West Coast -- and, for the next two weeks, from many of the places I’ll pass on my way there.

After all, the best part about driving between coasts is being able to investigate all the nooks and crannies that you miss when you fly over them.

I leave DC today (gulp). From there, I’ll be driving to Nashville to check out the historic sites, then on to do the same in Columbia, Missouri; Boulder, Colorado; Jackson, Wyoming; Butte, Montana; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Davis, California; and finally, Los Angeles. That’s a lot of ground to cover in such a short time, but if there is something in any of those cities -- or on the roads in between -- that I absolutely must not miss, I am all ears.

Rest assured, my laptop and my camera are fully charged, ready to document those places that make the United States such an exciting place to explore.

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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Theaster Gates' Art & Revival on Chicago's Dorchester Avenue

Posted on: March 21st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 1 Comment

 

The 6900 block of Dorchester Avenue in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood easily could have been another casualty of the economic downturn, or another tale of a blighted neighborhood lost to neglect. But when Theaster Gates, Jr. rehabilitated an abandoned house there in 2006, he had a vision.

"I thought if I could just take care of my little house on the block, there might be some residual effect," says Gates, an artist, and urban and cultural planner. "I could share my lawnmower with my neighbors and help create a better place just by being present."


A night of jazz on the Dorchester Projects' reclaimed deck. (Photo: reallyboring on Flickr)

Two years later, as the economy and housing market took a nosedive, he watched one family after another vacate their homes. So he began purchasing and rehabilitating a few of them, slowly transforming his neighborhood into a vibrant cultural haven.

He started with the house next door. After restoring it, using original materials when possible, along with salvaged or recycled materials, he filled it with 14,000 art and architecture books from a shuttered local bookstore, as well as a collection of 60,000 images donated by the University of Chicago art history department’s lantern slide archive.


Theaster Gates inside the house on Dorchester Avenue. (Photo: Lloyd Degrane )

Down the street, Gates restored another home, creating what he calls his Black Cinema House. His own residence, now filled with thousands of LPs from a local record store that went out of business, doubles as the Listening House. A fourth house in his collection will eventually become an ad hoc soul food joint, a noncommercial space where Gates will host communal meals as a way to encourage conversations about art and culture. ... 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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.