Author Archive

My Historic Washington: Lafayette Square

Posted on: January 15th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

We've all heard the expression, "If only walls could talk." But I would like to ask, what about town squares?

It seems like there is one no matter where you go - a central meeting place, a public park, a town landmark. Whether in a small village or a bustling city, these squares help form a community's identity, its personality. And if you're going to be in my town for the inauguration, I invite you to come visit our nation's square.

Formerly known as President’s Park, Lafayette Square is the D.C. neighborhood that President-Elect Barack Obama will soon call home. If it could talk, it would tell you the story of the United States in a way that no other place could - through tales of the legendary people who have met on the benches here and of the historic buildings that surrounded them.

I have the pleasure of peering out of my office window every day to see the square, which never fails to be a lively place. Some days there are packs of protestors, while others are quiet and calm. Sometimes there are people lying in the grass or flipping pennies into the fountains, and sometimes there are construction crews assembling barriers and metal gates to protect important White House visitors. And don't even get me started on the motorcades...

Lafayette Square has slowly been transforming though, a process that began in late 2008. See, every four years, rows of bleachers are erected in front of the White House and on the south end of the square so that we can properly welcome (or re-welcome) a president. With just days until the 2009 inauguration, crews are scrambling to complete the finishing touches. Check out some of the photos I've been taking this week in the slideshow above.

Lately, the Hay Adams Hotel has been buzzing with excitement, TV trucks and many secret service agents. As you probably know from the news, this historic hotel has been one of two temporary homes for the First Family as the big day gets closer and closer. For security reasons, all vehicle traffic has been diverted and foot traffic has been limited. Thankfully, it hasn't stopped people from enjoying the square or from taking pictures by its statues.

Others who work in the area scrunch their noses at the sound of what could be considered chaos. I, however, view it as history happening right before my eyes. Lafayette Square is a special place because for centuries, others just like me have witnessed the buzz on the square before, during and after historic events that eventually make their way into our history textbooks. Overall, I think those of us who work on the square are lucky. While we might not have tickets to the inauguration ceremonies or get to see the parade, we have had front row seats for the most important event of all: a historic election that will bring many new faces to our square.

If you are making the trip to Washington, I invite you to take a stroll past the I (or "Eye" according to locals) Street and 17th Street barriers to the Decatur House on Lafayette Square. We offer brochures for a free cell phone audio tour that will teach you the history of Lafayette Square and its value to our nation. And while you are here, you can also warm up in our popular museum gift shop. It will be a destination for inauguration mementos and souvenirs.

– Mame Croze 

Mame Croze is the manager of public relations and marketing for the Decatur House, a National Trust historic site. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Group Dynamics, Team Building, and Making it Personal

Posted on: January 14th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The 16th Street Baptist Church which has recently completed a $3 million restoration project.

Masonic Temple

I am very privileged to be a participant in Preservation Leadership Training 2009 and a first-time visitor to Birmingham, Alabama. The PLT experience includes an interesting study of group dynamics and team building. I am one of seven members of the “Green” Team, a group of professionals working in nonprofit organization, tourism agencies and government agencies from across the country. One of our team members is the daughter of Arthur Shores, an African American attorney that filed the lawsuit for Lucy v. Adams, one of the lawsuits challenging school segregation in Alabama. The 1955 Supreme Court decision ordered the University of Alabama to allow Ms. Lucy to register for graduate school. Arthur Shores had his law offices in the 1922 Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge (Masonic Temple) along with the headquarters of the NAACP, the Southern Negro Youth Congress (SNYC) and other organizations that brought together professionals, working class and upper class activities. “Green Team” member Barbara Shores has shared personal accounts of the events in 1963 when her family home was bombed and other threats carried out against her parents and other activists.

The Masonic Temple is the 2009 PLT project site, located in the Fourth Avenue North Historic District. For Birmingham’s African American community, for decades the Masonic Temple was the place of social interaction, entertainment, information and educational gatherings.

Lawyers, doctors, dentists and other influential members of the African-American community had their offices in the Masonic Temple. Social Clubs, sororities and fraternities held meetings, parties and formal balls in the second-floor hall. Barbara Shores has also shared her many memories of visiting her father's office, the parties and events that she attended in the ballroom, going to the doctors' offices, and the ice cream treats whenever she visited the pharmacy. While the building is still in use, it has fallen into disrepair and could benefit from a major infusion of resources.

4th Avenue

The Masonic Temple building is one of several iconic structures in the neighborhood. PLT participants are spending this week studying the site and developing reuse strategies that will be presented during a public community meeting scheduled for Friday evening. I anticipate lots of creative ideas and financing suggestions that will be useful to the community, and recognizes the building’s importance in bridging Birmingham’s past and future.

Preservation Leadership Training group activity

Birmingham is a treasure trove of historic sites and sounds, and I am excited and humbled to have walked along some of the same well-worn and familiar paths. National Trust Conference Staff and our host Main Street Birmingham have shaped a week of engaging speakers and interactive educational opportunities, and a chance to develop a reuse strategy for a downtown landmark building. PLT participants are based at the recently renovated Highland Hotel located in the historic Five Points South area of Birmingham. Five Points is a walkable neighborhood of 1920s low-rise commercial buildings, a great mix of old and new with interesting shops and restaurants, a restored theater that has taken on new life, three parks, schools, churches and synagogues, and residential buildings whose distinctive architecture reflects the community’s grand past. The setting encourages lots of dinnertime exploration and lots of opportunities to contribute to the local economy. I’m doing my fair share.

-- Evelyn Frazier

Evelyn Frazier is a program officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is a participant in this year's Preservation Leadership Training in Birmingham, Alabama. If you are in Birmingham on Friday, January 17, 2009 please attend the public presentations which will take place at 5:30 at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama. Click here to view the flier. For more information on PLT visit our website.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

My Historic Washington: Alexandria

Posted on: January 14th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Alexandria's George Washington Masonic Temple

Alexandria's George Washington Masonic National Memorial, home to my most cherished memory in the D.C. area.

I have always been one to push the boundaries, and now I'm glad.

I knew from move-in day of my freshman year in college that Washington would be my home. And while I may not be exactly where I envisioned that day, I love the twists and turns that make the story of my life - and have allowed me to make this my home. That day, my life was in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood where George Washington University is located. Today, my husband and I call Alexandria, Virginia home. And it's so much more than the shopping and foodie destination you might know it for.

How can I claim to still live in Washington, you might ask, when Alexandria is located across the river in the Commonwealth of Virginia? By sleight of history's hand. In 1789, Alexandria and a portion of two neighboring counties were ceded to become part of the newly created 10-square-mile District of Columbia. Formally accepted by Congress in 1801, Alexandria remained under the control of the newly established federal government until it was retroceded to Virginia in 1847. You can still visit 14 boundary stones of the District of Columbia located in the Commonwealth of Virginia today.

Now, if you know me, you know that there are a few quirks to my personality. And I want to take three of those - the historic, the monumental and the military - to explain my love for this place.

The Historic: Nearly 50 years older than the city of Washington, Alexandria is one of America's most historic communities. It began its historic preservation and urban renewal projects in the 1960s, achieved through the cooperation of citizen activists and the local government. Gadsby's Tavern Museum, on North Royal Street, was a central part of the social, economic, political and educational life of the city of Alexandria. Today, it's where the 18th century comes to life, from guided tours to tavern balls. It's also where I've attended Jane Austen birthday balls to honor my favorite authoress.

The Monumental: One mile from the riverfront, the 333-foot George Washington Masonic National Memorial is the prominent point of Alexandria's skyline. Dedicated in 1932 to the memory of George Washington - patriot, president and Mason - it serves as a built expression of the Masonic fraternity's faith in the principles of civil and religious liberty and orderly government. Touring it with my grandfather, a Mason, is one of my most cherished memories. It's also the local landmark that welcomes me home each time I land at Reagan National Airport.

The Military: From their earliest days, Alexandrians have known war. As the wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece and cousin of military members, the same is true for me. The Torpedo Factory was built during World War I and was used as a munitions factory in World War II. Prior to its 1970-1980 renovation, the ten heavy industrial buildings dominated Alexandria's waterfront. Today, it is an award-winning example of adaptive reuse, serving as working studios for over 160 professional artists. Perhaps best of all, it's the centerpiece of a lively waterfront that includes a marina, shops, public parks and walkways, restaurants, residences, and offices. It was where my college roommate made her wedding vows - and hosted a fabulous reception!

But it really comes down to the fact that this is my community now - my Saturday farmers' market on Market Square, one of the oldest continuously operated market places in the country; my restaurant where we celebrated our wedding rehearsal dinner; my spot on the street for our many hometown holiday parades.

It is, in short, one of the best words there is: home. I hope you'll come visit.

– Susan Neumann 

Susan Neumann is the director of member engagement for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Preservation Leadership Training: Blogging from a Birmingham Tale

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Industrial Revolution Birmingham

Birmingham was born after the Civil War, so it was a steel, boom town, another “magic city” about which I have come to learn is often referred to as “the Pittsburgh of the South”. This excites me because I am from Pittsburgh and I see so many commonalities between these two cities. I am very happy to be here. What a tremendous learning experience! Let the tour begin!

These are the “big gun” engines of the 19th Century Sloss Furnaces in Downtown Birmingham. Only 20 people loss their lives in 20 years working at this Furnace and we were all astounded by what our great tour guide described as a wanton disregard for energy conservation. Americans were willing to make them as big, as bold and as bad as anything needed to be in order to get us where we wanted to go. Preservation helps to teach us how to correct our lens and learn from our past mistakes.

Civil Rights District

I had to run through this Walking Tour in order to get all of the shots I needed and even then, I was the last person on the bus every time. Capturing history takes time. But I look at this horrific view of police brutality and injustice from the 50’s; and I can’t help but to think about the senseless murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California just days ago. Look at how the crystal blue sky shines brightly against the backdrop of such ugliness. It symbolizes the potential for us to improve our sense of humanity and reminds me of why it is so important to preserve the history of the people who encouraged us to follow “higher laws”, in order to move America past its inhuman treatment of its citizens. Preservation captures the best and the worst of who we are and encourages us to do better.... 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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

My Historic Washington: Mt. Pleasant

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Mt. Pleasant: Home to cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

Mt. Pleasant: Home to rich cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

One thing you should know about me is that I was born and raised in D.C, which The New York Times recently called “the last colony." Voting rights or not, it's my hometown and I love it.

I grew up in Barnaby Woods, but I’ve lived in Mt. Pleasant since December 2001. Mt. P (as locals call it) is one of those neighborhoods area realtors describe as “transitional.” Property values have definitely gone up over the years, but we’re not quite what some folks would consider “gentrified.” Personally, I hope we never are.

We have our own little shopping district on Mt. Pleasant Street. I make it a point to check out the latest outrageous outfits displayed in the El West window on my way to picking up the best Peruvian chicken in the city at El Pollo Sabroso. But Mt. P is nothing compared to what has been going on just two blocks to the east in a neighborhood called Columbia Heights, which The Washington Post believes is thriving at the expense of Mt. P.

Since I moved here, the gang activity in Columbia Heights has been pushed to neighborhoods to the north and south, there is a brand new middle school building, and the area around the metro station has been transformed by luxury apartments and a shopping mall complete with a Target. When I walk home from the gym or the shiny new grocery store, there are people on the street everywhere, no matter the time of day. I admit that I love the new shops - even if most are national chains - and the new locally-owned restaurants, mainly because I can walk there instead of driving out to the burbs.

But all of this convenience comes at a price, and it’s a loss of diversity.

For decades, Mt. P and Columbia Heights were home to immigrants from South and Central America. Spanish was the dominant language on the streets, and the shops and take-out joints catered to Latino tastes. Now, low-rent housing and empty lots are being converted into condos that are priced out of reach for many that call these areas home. When the customers leave, the businesses will leave too, and Mt. P will lose it’s flavor. Columbia Heights already has.

It’s selfish, but I’m not sorry that the five-lanes of 16th Street have so far insulated Mt. P from what is happening in Columbia Heights. Because of this, my neighborhood is still "in transition," though it is not clear what we are transitioning from or to.

I, for one, hope we stay in transition for a long time.

– Alison Hinchman

Alison Hinchman is the technology manager for PreservationNation.org. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.