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The Stage is Set for Oakland's Fox Theater to be a Huge Hit

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

This former vaudeville theatre re-opens tonight after $70 million rehabilitation, which followed a prolonged period of vacancy and decay. (Photo: © 2009 Nathanael Bennett)

This former vaudeville theatre re-opens tonight after $70 million rehabilitation, which followed a prolonged period of vacancy and decay. (Photo: © 2009 Nathanael Bennett)

If I could somehow pry myself loose from the crush of my current workload and from the marvelous entanglements presented at home by my two small children, I would be on my way from DC to Oakland, California right now. Why? No, not because flying to Oakland is a cheaper way to get to San Francisco. I mean I wish I was in Oakland. At 1807 Telegraph, to be exact. Tonight the Fox Theatre is opening its doors for the first time in forty years. Thanks to a whole lot of dough (including $11.4 million in tax credit equity from our very own National Trust Community Investment Corporation) and a whole lot of courage from a lot of stubborn and resourceful people, this beloved landmark that had been essentially left for dead is no longer playing to a house full of fungi. (I’m not exaggerating: back in the 90s, when the place was long abandoned, the leaky roof let mushrooms take root. Pretty sure they didn’t pay admission.)

Tonight, the Fox will host a grand opening gala event with a program of top-notch performers to celebrate this $70 million achievement. But it’s not the entertainment that has me mentally tallying my frequent flier miles and considering my post-pregnancy wardrobe (neither is very inspiring). It’s the theatre itself, of course. Tonight’s lucky attendees will behold its mystical golden deities, its Art Deco ticket booth (painstakingly restored thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Trust’s joint program with American Express, Partners in Preservation), its opulent dome -- all looking as resplendent as they did on opening night in 1928. This vaudeville theatre defined the glamour of uptown Oakland, where sweethearts could spend a magical evening, where families relaxed together, dazzled by an interior so fine the theatre was originally to be named the Bagdad [sic] — so think Baghdad circa 800 A.D., not 2003. And today’s Fox Oakland is certainly befitting of its glorious past. In addition to becoming a world-class performing arts center, it also now houses a tuition-free public charter school for the arts. So as grand as the Fox was back in 1928, I believe it is even better today.

In its heyday, the theatre drew crowds with it Mighty Wurlitzer organ, live shows and “talkies,” those novel moving pictures with sound. Like most downtown theatres, its demise was hastened by the television and the advent of suburban multiplexes. The theater’s descent was mercilessly slow: it stopped showing first-run films in 1962, briefly dabbled in softcore porn films, was hit by an arsonist in 1973, was threatened with demolition to make way for a parking lot in 1975 -- and of course there was that indignity with the mushrooms.

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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.

St. Elizabeths Hospital: A Q&A on Section 4(f)

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently submitted comments to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regarding its Section 4(f) evaluation of the proposed redevelopment of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act is the strongest federal preservation law available because it prohibits federal approval of or funding for transportation projects that "use" any historic site, public park, recreation area or wildlife refuge unless there is "no feasible and prudent alternative" to the use of the site and the project includes "all possible planning to minimize harm."

The following Q&A is meant to shed light on both our ongoing work to protect St. Elizabeths Hospital, as well as some of the lingering questions and controversies surrounding its proposed redevelopment as the new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Question: What does the development of St. Elizabeths have to do with the FHWA?

Shepherd Parkway

Shepherd Parkway (Click Image for Full View)

The scale of the development at St. Elizabeths (and the decision to relocate 14,000 employees to the proposed Homeland Security headquarters there) would require expanded access to I-295 in order to avoid gridlock. Any interchange construction or expansion connecting to an interstate highway requires approval by FHWA, regardless of whether or not the road construction will be paid for with federal transportation dollars. That FHWA approval triggers the need for a Section 4(f) evaluation.

The current plans for St. Elizabeths include a major expansion of an existing interchange on I-295, the installation of massive retaining walls (up to 57 feet high) along steep slopes, and the construction and widening of additional access roads. This proposed access road has the potential to impose substantial adverse impacts on a large swath of land owned by the National Park Service (NPS) known as Shepherd Parkway.

Question: Why is this decision so crucial?

All federal agencies involved in the Homeland Security headquarters project – including the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Homeland Security and the National Capital Planning Commission – have adopted an explicit condition that the project will not go forward unless and until an access road through Shepherd Parkway is approved. Even construction of the Coast Guard Headquarters building, which is currently being designed as the first new building on the campus, cannot begin without approval of the new access road. Meanwhile, as the owner of Shepherd Parkway, NPS has refused to allow its land to be paved over to facilitate a project that would destroy public parkland and irreparably damage a National Historic Landmark. Thus, if NPS refuses to transfer its land and/or FHWA concludes that the stringent legal requirements of Section 4(f) have not been satisfied, GSA will be forced to develop a different and less harmful plan for St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Question: Why was the Section 4(f) evaluation completed after GSA's decision to develop the Homeland Security headquarters at St. Elizabeths?

Section 4(f) evaluations typically occur during the early development phase of a project, and are performed contemporaneously with a National Environmental Policy Act evaluation and a Section 106 evaluation. These evaluations are published in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is circulated for comment by the public. Federal agencies use this document to assess a wide range of possible alternatives before undertaking work on a particular project. By conducting Section 4(f) evaluations early in the process, federal agencies have a greater opportunity to evaluate all the possible ways a project can be designed to avoid or minimize harm.

This, however, was not the case for St. Elizabeths, since the Section 4(f) evaluation occurred after GSA’s final EIS was issued. By this point in the process, GSA had already determined the course of action it would take, which severely narrowed and foreclosed the range of alternatives to avoid and minimize harm that FHWA considered in its own evaluation.

Click here for the full text of the National Trust's comments on the Environmental Impact Statement.

Question: What points were made in the National Trust’s comments?

Our comments on the Section 4(f) evaluation of St. Elizabeths focus on numerous flaws in FHWA’s analysis. In particular, FHWA made several false assumptions and omissions in its limited evaluation, failing to fully examine the project’s entire transportation management plan. FHWA also neglected to consider the long-running objections by the Department of the Interior and NPS to the use of Shepherd Parkway. FHWA’s failure to consider these objections directly conflicts with its own Section 4(f) policy. All of these flaws led to a blatantly deficient analysis of the project, which the National Trust and NPS believe is not legally sufficient to satisfy Section 4(f)’s requirements (i.e. there is “no feasible and prudent alternative” to the use of a protected site and the project includes “all possible planning to minimize harm”).

The full text of the National Trust’s comments is available here. In addition to our comments, other comments objecting to the 4(f) evaluation were submitted by the Department of the Interior/National Park Service and the Maryland Native Plant Society, Inc.

Learn more about St. Elizabeths Hospital, which was listed in 2002 as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Places, and visit the project's online document center for more information.

 - Ross Bradford

Ross Bradford is an assistant general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Saving Heat, Money, AND Your Wood Windows

Posted on: January 27th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

These days, “Go Green” is everywhere. Car manufacturers, cleaning product companies, the building industry, clothing, shoes — it seems like everyone is taking stock of their carbon footprint. As reported in Thursday's New York Times, even PepsiCo just completed a study that calculated how ‘green’ its orange juice is. (That’s 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per each half-gallon carton if you’re counting.) And as Bob Yapp recently pointed out in a guest column in the Des Moines Register, an April 2008 Gallup poll found that 83% of Americans have made changes — small and big — in how they live in order to help protect the environment.

Here in the Northeast, heating costs in winter are always an issue. Increasingly, we are concerned about not only how much we spend on heating our homes but the carbon footprint of staying warm. Last weekend as I shoveled snow off my driveway and into a pile that was taller than I am, I started to wonder if Mother Nature was trying to get our attention by dumping over 18 inches of snow on the area in two days. I also had plenty of time to contemplate where my own energy dollars were going.

One easy way for people to better manage their energy dollars and their carbon footprints is to have an energy audit done for their home. Many cities, state agencies, utility companies, and other organizations offer programs that enable homeowners to have an audit done for free or at a reduced rate.

In Jura Konicus’ recent Washington Post article “I Need an Energy Audit, Stat!”, the author walks the reader through the energy audit of her Washington D.C. 1937 brick Colonial.

Like many older houses, the primary areas where heat loss was happening in the Konicus’ house were in the basement and attic. Any place where air escapes, heat goes out too. Typical culprits for air leaks are gaps and holes in foundations where utility services come in, gaps around pipes under sinks, access areas to attics and basements, leaks around electric outlets and switches, leaks around recessed lighting fixtures, and up chimneys that don’t have properly fitted dampers.

Many of these areas can be tightened up by the resident for a modest investment. Using caulk and expandable foam insulation to seal leaks around plumbing, heating and cooling pipes, and utility access areas, weatherstripping doors and windows, adding door sweeps, beefing up attic insulation, making sure the fireplace damper properly fits, and adding foam gaskets to outlets and switches will make a noticeable difference in your comfort and your wallet. The company that did the Koncius’ energy audit reported that investing $150 in caulk would save their family about $300 annually.

One recommendation that appeared in the Koncius’ report that is particularly noteworthy was that replacing their original wood windows was not the best place for them to start in order to improve the energy efficiency of their home. This is supported by an ever-increasing body of research that has found that a properly maintained wood window with a storm window can be just as energy efficient as a new replacement window. The easiest wood window maintenance tip? Make sure that the sash lock is tight. Not just for security, the sash lock helps seal out leaks where the top and bottom sash meet.

The Konicus’ windows had already served the house well for over 70 years. Typically, wood windows made before about 1940 — like the Konicus’ — are built with old growth wood. The tight grain of old growth wood makes them far more durable and rot resistant than newer wood. The energy audit company estimated that if they spent $12,000 replacing their windows, they would save $600 a year. However, that means it would be 20 years before they started to recoup what they spent to replace the windows. And chances are, in 20 years or less, those new windows would need to be replaced by new windows. Some calculations have shown that it can take as much as 240 years to recoup in energy saving what was spent on installing new windows. Weatherproofing the original windows is a much better — and much greener — approach. For more tips on wood window maintenance and for links to articles and studies on improving the energy efficiency of historic wood windows, click here for a tip sheet. And if you don’t want to repair your wood windows yourself, you can feel added pride in supporting your local economy by hiring a trades person to do the tune up for you.

Simple actions such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, turning down the thermostat on water heaters to 130 or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, installing Energy Star-rated appliances, making sure your furnace’s filter is clean, and using insulated curtains on your windows will help lower your energy bills and reduce your carbon footprint.

More information:

-- Rebecca Williams

Rebecca Williams is a field representative at the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Boston, Massachusetts.

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.

Live Online Now: Plight of Mid-City New Orleans Comes Before LA House Committee

Posted on: January 22nd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

The Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee is meeting today to discuss the possible reuse of Charity Hospital as a medical facility. The Foundation for Historical Louisiana and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will present a plan that would transform Charity Hospital into a state-of-the-art medical facility, spare demolition of the historic Mid-City neighborhood, and return medical care to New Orleans more quickly and at less cost less than constructing a new hospital. Visit the Louisiana House website to watch live online. (RealPlayer plugin required.)

If you're not able to tune in, today's New Orleans Times-Picayune has a good article about the hearings: LSU-VA Hospital hearing set today at state Capitol.

Check back later today for a full report later from our New Orleans Field Office staff.

***

Learn more about our ongoing efforts to save Mid-City.

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. Vernon Square

Posted on: January 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Construction cranes.

"Transitioning neighborhood." I was introduced to that concept six years ago as I sat in my partner's rowhouse in the historic Mount Vernon Square section of Washington, DC. It was a gorgeous and peaceful spring day, so we had the front door open. The sounds of a nearby church's jazz band drifted in and out, in between dog barks and car horns. Then, a sudden loud and crackling rumble. Jerry jumped out of his chair.

"The crackhouse fell down," he said.

My response was simply: "What?" I'd heard his words, but--what?

We ran to the door and saw a rising pillow of dust rolling towards us from the end of the street. What had been an abandoned two-story brick rowhouse in an empty lot was gone. In its place, a pile of bricks and splintered wood at the base of a house seemingly cut in half. Neighbors slowly began to file into the street, calling the police or taking photos on their cellphones. It was so surreal.

"Wow," I said, "The crackhouse really...fell down."

This neighborhood and the areas surrounding it are no strangers to sudden changes. Wedged between Shaw to the north and Chinatown/Penn Quarter to the south, Mount Vernon Square transformed from a mixed working and merchant class commercial district to a solidly middle class African-American residential neighborhood by the middle of the 20th century. In April 1968, the riots that devastated large portions of Washington also severely crippled much of the neighborhood for much of the next 30 years. The crack epidemic of the 1980s did even more damage to the social and economic fabric of an already vulnerable part of the city. But long-time residents persevered, and newer residents moved in or opened businesses.

In my teens and twenties, I had no idea of the history of this place. I came to this part of DC to hang out in the underground punk and gay clubs. Much of the building stock was abandoned or empty, especially at night, and the streets weren't terribly safe. But the scene was unpredictable and cool. What else did a bored suburban kid like myself need?

Scenes, of course, cool down. We grow up. Neighborhoods keep changing. In Mount Vernon Square and Penn Quarter, new subway stops brought new development. The Verizon Center arena opened. A new convention center was built. Highrises and the chain stores popped up one after the other. And Gallery Place gradually became DC's "Times Square."

Honestly, I'm ambivalent about the path this part of DC has taken. It is ironic that I decided to settle down in the very place where I'd misspent so many of my formative years. And we live here now, so it seems a little silly to complain about the streets being too safe or the grocery store being too convenient.

Still, there's a part of me that misses the old 'hood. Ms. Tao, the Chinatown restaurant where I had a first date, is now a CVS. The 930 Club where I'd spent my youth losing my hearing to Fugazi or the Mekons is now a realtor's office. AV Restaurant is gone. The Warehouse Stage looks like it's gone. The DC Eagle may be next. Then what?

Two years after the crackhouse fell down, Jerry and I attended an open house on that exact spot for a row of five, brand new $1 million condominiums. They were beautiful. If we'd had a pile of money, we may have even bought one.

Obviously, neighborhoods aren't the only things that transition.

-- Warren Shaver

Warren Shaver is director of online communications at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This is our final post leading up to the inauguration from National Trust staffers telling 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. And when you're done, share your photos with us.

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.