Author Archive

Paranormal Preservation: Looking for Ghosts at Historic Sites

Posted on: October 31st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 1 Comment

 


Exterior of Oatlands, a National Trust Historic Site.

All old buildings come with their share of creaks, groans, and the occasional bone-chilling draft. But ghosts?

That’s what Belinda Clark-Ache, a representative of the National Paranormal Society, and her colleagues are dedicated to studying.... 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.

 

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

Her blisters may have healed, but Millicent "Millie" Pepion’s work isn’t over.

This summer, the 27-year-old, a senior at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., trekked 1,300 miles from her Midwestern college town to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for the Wakarusa Wetlands. The only remaining indigenous wetland prairie in Lawrence, the sacred site is threatened by proposed highway construction.


The Wakarusa Wetlands.

The land has been used as a space for ceremony, prayer, and education since the university was founded in 1884. For Pepion, whose origins are in Navajo and Blackfoot tribes, these wetlands have both historic and personal significance.

"I go there every week," Pepion says. "Walking around, putting energy into it, I feel better. It’s holy to me."

Saving the wetlands, she says, means honoring the children who died there in Haskell’s early days, as well as saving the more than 400 indigenous plants and 260 migratory birds that have been documented on the grounds.

As former president of her university’s environmental group, Pepion felt compelled to take action.

"Some people have been like, 'Just build the highway. It doesn’t matter; it was a long time ago. How will we ever move forward?'" she says. "But I think we can move forward. If something is truly special, it shouldn’t be destroyed just for a freeway."

Naming the walk the Trail of Broken Promises, she wrangled together a group of 13 students and community activists, plus one intrepid dog, to call attention to the wetlands and the challenges that come with preserving sacred places within Indian Country.


The walkers pause at the Trail of Death marker in downtown Paris, MO. Top row (l. to r.): Jackson Shaad, Wayne Yandell (Choctaw), Leonard Lowery III (Choctaw), Isacc Mitchell (Osage), Chad Buttram, Mary Iorio (3 Affiliated Tribes of ND), Shireen Ohadi-homadani (Creek), Michael Ofor (3 Affiliated Tribes of ND), and Millie Pepion (Navajo, Blackfeet). Bottom row (l. to r.): Julia Trechak, Mark Olsen (Citizen Band Potawatomi), and Chad Crisco (Kaw).

Setting out on May 13, the group covered eight states, taking turns to walk in groups of three or four while the others rode in cars, and arriving in Washington, D.C., seven weeks later.

Along the way, they visited little-known Native American sites and participated in events like the Great Lakes Native American Cultural Center’s powwow in Portland, Ind. They also met former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference in Chicago on June 8, delivering a proposal to create a CGI Native America convention.

Once in the nation’s capital, Pepion and her group presented to Congress a piece of legislation to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, "to provide a right of action to protect Native American Sacred Places" -- like the Wakarusa Wetlands. They also met with the Committee on Indian Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, and U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forestry to discuss the wetlands and the importance of preserving Native American sites.

Back in Lawrence, Pepion will continue to educate people about the importance of the wetlands and raise support for the legislation she presented to Congress.

"The walk is over, but we’re not done yet," she says. "We still have a lot of work to do."


Outside Congress. From l. to r.: Chad Buttram, Millie Pepion, Leonard Lowery, a fellow walker from the Navajo tribe, Stanley Perry (Navajo), Julia Trechack, Jackson Shaad, and Michael Ofor.

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.

LA Dispatch: New Exhibition Open at Neutra VDL Research House

Posted on: August 27th, 2012 by Lauren Walser

 

We’ve already established that I welcome any excuse to tour a cool, old house. So when I found out that there was a new art exhibition opening at the Neutra VDL Research House in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood, I cleared my calendar.

And I was glad I did. Because not only is Richard Neutra’s Modernist complex tricky to tour (tours are typically offered only on Saturdays, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays for larger groups by appointment only), seeing it reinterpreted through the eyes of an artist helped me view the site -- and my city -- in a whole new way.

The exhibition, Architectones, is the creation of French artist Xavier Veilhan. It is the first in a series of installations he is producing for various Modernist landmarks, including Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21 in Los Angeles, and, further afield, Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille, France, and the Melnikov House in Moscow.

Each installment of Architectones will respond to its environment, and the work Veilhan created for Neutra’s complex managed to highlight some of its most stunning features, while also nodding to the Neutra family, Modernism, and Los Angeles’ place in design history. A mobile of golden orbs on the second floor catches the natural light streaming inside from the wall-to-wall windows; a series of black silhouettes of Neutra capture the architect throughout various stages of his life; and a mirrored silhouette of the Neutra family at the top of a staircase reminds you that while it feels like a museum today, the structure was, in fact, a family home for more than four decades.

There are a number of other silhouettes on the property, plus sculptures of a car, a boat, and a metal flag soaring above the rooftop. A soundtrack created by a member of the French band Air accompanies the exhibition as well.

To produce such an intimate interpretation of the house and its history, Veilhan lived in the VDL House with his family prior to the opening of the exhibition. He cooked dinners in the small kitchen, his children slept in the rooftop solarium, and, I would imagine, the entire family relished every second of living in a house where the indoors and outdoors merge so fluidly in classic Neutra fashion. I admit, I am jealous.

At the exhibition’s opening night, Veilhan shared how much he and his family enjoyed their time in Neutra’s house. It’s no wonder why. Neutra designed his home to be a living and working environment that, despite limited space (the complex was built on a 60-by-70-foot lot), could still offer a tranquil, inhabitable environment that combined high efficiency and good design -- without sacrificing affordability or a sense of privacy.

The result was a stunning prism of wood and glass with gardens, reflecting pools, and patios, plus gorgeous views any way you turn. Neutra named it the VDL Research House after Dutch industrialist Dr. Cornelius H. Van der Leeuw, who provided Neutra a portion of the capital to build his experimental home.

The main house was completed in 1932. (A fire destroyed the original house; Neutra and his son Dion, also an architect, redesigned the structure in 1965, and the Garden House at the back of the lot was built in 1939.) Legions of architects, writers, scholars, and other intellectuals flocked to the complex upon its completion, turning it into a vibrant cultural salon for decades.

Today, after years of neglect, the complex is regaining some of that vibrancy, as a major restoration is underway. Two roofs have been restored, but there’s plenty of work that still needs to be done -- and plenty of funds that need to be raised.

Veilhan will contribute a portion of his sculptures’ sales to the restoration efforts. And in the meantime, VDL House Director Sarah Lorenzen says that events like the Architectones exhibition help attract new audiences to the complex, drawing attention not only to its preservation needs, but also to its importance to the city.

The exhibition is open Thursdays through Sundays and will run through Sunday, Sept. 15. Admission is $10 on Saturdays, and a $10 donation is suggested for other days.

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.

 

Feisty oil heiress and theater star Aline Barnsdall would have been pleased to see the scene that unfolded on her lawn at Hollyhock House last Friday: throngs of people sprawled out on picnic blankets, sipping wine, catching up with friends, and watching the sun set over Los Angeles.

I know I was enjoying the revelries. When I received an email earlier this summer announcing the start of this year’s Friday Night Wine Tastings at Barnsdall Art Park, they had me at “wine tasting.” Imagine sitting with a glass of pinot in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright’s c. 1921 Hollyhock House, built for Barnsdall, who had bohemian tendencies and an affinity for supporting radical causes.

But throw in the opportunity to tour the iconic house, and I was sold. So last Friday, I drove to East Hollywood and hiked up the hill where Hollyhock House stands, overlooking the city.

 
Before we began sampling the libations, my friend and I lined up for our 7 p.m. tour. It was quite a treat to be touring the house that night: It has been closed to tour groups since July 20, save for tours given during the Friday Night Wine Tastings, on account of ongoing restoration work at the site. (It is scheduled to reopen to the public in September.)

We were led through a side door and into a small room where we were instructed to put protective booties over our shoes to spare the flawless hardwood floors. Thanks to Wright’s open floor plan, I was able to survey a good portion of the house while waiting for the tour to begin. Sheets of plastic covering the various construction zones blocked some views, but the visible parts were breathtaking. I was excited to begin exploring. ... 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.

My American Road Trip, Part 8: Last Stop

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Lauren Walser 5 Comments

 

Two weeks and about 4,500 miles later, Blaise and I have limped across the finish line to Los Angeles, exhausted and glad to be home. But in between Portland and here, we made one final stop: Blaise’s hometown of Davis, California.


The Davis Amtrak station, built in 1913.

After two weeks of exploring brand-new places together, it felt nice to be back in familiar territory. While we spent a good deal of time recovering from our drive (there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal and a place to wash your clothes), we also spent some time downtown. And as we were walking around, Blaise, inspired by our two weeks of exploring historic sites, pointed out some of the older buildings in his own turf -- buildings I’ve walked by many times before, but never really studied. ... 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.