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Oakland's Restored Fox Theater "Worth the Trip"

Posted on: February 10th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments

 

Sign

The sign for the Fox Theater, Oakland.

Oakland, California. San Francisco’s New Jersey, snarky bridge & tunnel references and all. (As a proud Jersey boy, I think I’m allowed to say that.)

Oakland also has to contend with one of the most frequently repeated quotes about an American city -- yes, I’m talking about Gertrude Stein’s observation about Oakland that “there is no there there.”

Ms. Stein was not, as almost everyone assumes, comparing her native Oakland to her adopted Paris and suggesting that Oakland was a podunk town lacking in substance. Rather, the remark stems from a visit she made to Oakland in the 1930s as part of a book tour. While there, she went to visit her childhood home and couldn’t find the house. It’s not a catty quip, it’s a melancholy reflection of a disconnect from childhood memories.

Still, the misunderstanding of the quote stubbornly lives on, as does the latent snobbery toward Oakland that’s just below the surface of many resident’s of “the City” across the bay. Having made my home in San Francisco for 17 years, I’m afraid I’m part of the problem -- I tend to treat the San Francisco Bay crossing as if it were the Straits of Gibraltar rather than the three-mile wide puddle it is. In my defense, I don’t own a car, and I know just a wee bit too much about what could happen to the BART tubes in the Big One to want to make the crossing on a regular basis.

Performers took the stage during the opening.

Performers took the stage during the opening.

But if I’m part of Oakland’s problem and have played my own small role in holding back a long overdue urban renaissance in Downtown Oakland, I’m ready to make amends. Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Grand Opening of the Fox Oakland Theater, and I gotta say, I was blown away. If Oakland too frequently comes up short in head-to-head comparisons with San Francisco, its time to recognize a fundamental fact: Somehow, a profound attack of cultural amnesia allowed San Francisco’s magnificent 1929 Fox Theatre to be demolished just months after its closure in 1963. The Fox Oakland could easily have met the same fate, but Oaklanders never completely gave up on their Fox Theater, which opened the year before the San Francisco Fox and closed thee years after the closure of its sibling across the bay.

The next few decades were not kind to the Fox, but somehow it survived. In 1996, the City of Oakland purchased the Fox. Two years later, recognizing that the Fox was still at risk, the Oakland Heritage Alliance put the Fox on its endangered list, and shortly thereafter spun off the Friends of the Oakland Fox. That same year the City made a commitment to begin repairs, and Jerry Brown was elected Mayor. In a series of acts of faith, pride, and a little bravado, Oakland moved at first haltingly, then full force with the restoration of the Fox. Many organizations and people can claim a role in the rebirth of the Fox, but the support and vision of Mayor Brown and the tireless efforts and sheer exuberance of developer Phil Tagami were key.

The restored ticket booth.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation played its part too. I had the dubious pleasure of touring the theater after its purchase by the City when the roof was shot and it was a petri dish for every mold, mildew, and fungus known to man. Recognizing Oakland had a diamond in the rough, in 2003, we provided a $5,000 Mitchell Grant for Historic Interiors to hire a conservator for the restoration of the Hindu deity statues that are one of the highlights of the interior. Two years ago, we provided a $75,000 grant for the restoration of the Art Deco ticket booth through the American Express Partners in Preservation program. Finally, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC),  in partnership with the Bank of America, made an $11 million Historic Rehab & New Markets Tax Credit Equity Investment in the rehabilitation project.

So, this then, is the tale of two Foxes, or maybe the tortoise and the hare. On the one hand we have San Francisco (a/k/a the hare) which long ago rid itself of an obsolete liability, and left itself with a sad reminder of what we’ve lost in the cruelly-named eyesore that is the Fox Plaza.

The neon-lit lobby of the theater.

The neon-lit lobby of the theater.

Tortoisey Oakland, on the other hand, made no rash decisions. Sure, it took some patience (the Oakland Fox has been closed longer than it was open) but eventually the stars aligned. The results, as I said, are stupendous. I’ve been around preservation long enough to see some remarkable transformations, but this one left me slack-jawed (and no, that wasn’t a result of the freely-flowing champagne).

So San Francisco, you can’t win ‘em all. But take solace in the fact that the best place to see a concert in the Bay Area is just across the Bay. A short ride on BART will deliver you to just about to the Fox ticket booth. Trust me, it’s worth the trip.

-- Anthony Veerkamp

Anthony Veerkamp a senior program officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Western Office.

Updated 2/11/09 to note the partnership between NTCIC and Bank of America

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.

This Place Matters: PLT January 2009 Final Report

Posted on: February 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama.

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama.

There is a notion among those of us involved in the work of history that the buildings we fight to save, the landscapes that we honor, and the lives that we enshrine in our texts are a part of the very fabric of our national identity. No one building, landscape, or person tells just one story. Often times they serve as connective tissue linking individuals, communities, and events, and they also underscore that we all serve as protagonists in a larger, greater narratives extending beyond ourselves.

The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama represents one of these cases. It is not just the architectural styling that makes this building worthy of saving -- this is the place where many African-American citizens in Birmingham came together on a daily basis to get their teeth cleaned, buy ice cream or even attend a concert or two. It is a place which houses the headquarters for the Prince Hall Masons in Alabama. It is where Arthur Shores, a prominent African-American attorney worked with the NAACP legal defense fund to fight racial segregation in education and at the ballot box.

A detail of the Grand Lodge.

A detail of the Grand Lodge.

The Prince Hall Grand Lodge stands at the corner of the Fourth Avenue Historic District, steps away from Kelly Ingram Park and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. In this sense, it is also an integral part of the larger leaps that this country took to rectify the wrongs of segregation. As such, this building is the story of an individual, a community, and the nation.

As we have documented in earlier blog postings, for one week this past January, 35 preservationists from across the country came together for Preservation Leadership Training (PLT) to learn and work in one of the cities pivotal to America’s Civil Rights Movement. As with the 25 sessions of PLT before it, each participant left the week armed with new ideas, new goals, and a new network of co-preservationists across the country. With only one week available to them, they also worked hard to come up with creative solutions and ideas for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge. These ideas have been consolidated together in this final report. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” and so this PLT class of 2009 says with resounding confidence that this place matters.

-- Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is the program assistant in the office of Training and Online Information Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Birmingham PLT team.

The Birmingham PLT team.

This Preservation Leadership Training would not have been possible without the work of our strong local committee and the support of the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation and Main Street Birmingham, Inc. In addition the program was made possible by the generous support of the The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, Inc., Alabama Power Company Foundation, Susan Mott Webb Charitable Trust, Alabama Department of Tourism, Southern Progress Corporation, Balch & Bingham LLP, Brookmont Realty Group LLC, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, and Brown Chambless Architects

The deadline for applications for the next Preservation Leadership Training in Deadwood, South Dakota is March 31, 2009. To apply, or for more information on PLT, please 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.

25 Random Things About the National Trust for Historic Preservation

Posted on: February 6th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 15 Comments

 

You may have heard about the "25 Random Things" meme that's making its way around Facebook these days -- but if you haven't, the New York Times, Washington Post, or Time magazine can fill you in on the latest craze in navel-gazing.

Since we have a page on Facebook, a few of us here at the National Trust for Historic Preservation decided to put our heads together and craft a list of random facts about this place where we spend so much of our time.  We're posting the list both here on the blog and on Facebook, though we're not actually sure Facebook will allow us to "tag" our partner organizations, as the rules require. So, in case we can't tag... Fellow preservation organizations, consider the gauntlet thrown down! Our list -- and the rules for playing along -- are below.

  1. We do an annual 11 Most Endangered list because the year we started it, we couldn’t narrow the list down to 10.
  2. The National Trust has given the same parting gift to its interns for the past two decades: “The History of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1963-1973.” You know, despite the fact that most of these interns were born after the book was published.
  3. Our congressional charter requires that our headquarters be in Washington, DC.
  4. The National Trust Library used to fit on one side of an office, but now has 18,000 volumes and is housed at the University of Maryland.
  5. Number of National Trust Historic Sites with bowling alleys: two (Lyndhurst and Montpelier).
  6. We have Main Street programs in a wide variety of places, including the home of US nuclear program (Los Alamos, New Mexico) and the home of Leinenkugel’s beer (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin).
  7. The full legal name of our organization is the “National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States.” We go with “National Trust for Historic Preservation” because that’s all that fits on our business cards.
  8. Our headquarters building once housed six luxury apartments, but now is filled with more than 200 staff. (So, were they really huge apartments or are we in tragically cramped offices?)
  9. The Main Street movement created 370,514 jobs between 1980 and 2007 -- so we’ll take Main Street over Wall Street any day!
  10. The Dixie Chicks played at the National Preservation Conference in Fort Worth in the mid-90s, before Natalie Maines joined the band (and, therefore, before they were famous).
  11. The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado – a member of National Trust Historic Hotels of America – was Stephen King’s inspiration for “The Shining.”
  12. We invested $54,287,438 in historic properties last year in the form of grants, loans, and tax credits.
  13. Country music star Kenny Chesney featured the Farnsworth House, a National Trust Historic Site in Illinois, in his video, “Don’t Blink.”
  14. Staff on the fourth floor of our building sit in rooms that displayed part of the art collection Andrew Mellon (who lived on the fifth floor) donated to create the National Gallery of Art.
  15. On Thursday, our entire headquarters staff received the following email message: “does anyone have the big roll of bubble wrap? if so.. please bring it back to the mailroom… thanks…”
  16. More than 200 of our current and former staff and interns have profiles on Facebook. Among our current status updates:
    “…is at Tastee Diner. Yum!”
    “…is wishing Rick Astley a very happy birthday.”
    ‘…thinks that tomato soup makes for weird dreams.”
    “…is convinced that the same person who has been siphoning his salad dressing has now completely jacked his bottle of mustard from the breakroom fridge.”
  17. Despite what some of our moms think, our name isn’t, in fact, “National Historic Trust.”
  18. Number of National Trust Historic Sites with formal cemeteries: eight (six for people, two for pets).
  19. Average number of visitors to National Trust Historic Sites each year: 801,096.
  20. The Northeast Office regularly offers to take representation of either the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico off the Southern Office’s hands (just to help out, really)…no luck yet.
  21. The Westchester County Kennel Club Show is one of the most popular events held each year at the Lyndhurst Estate (a National Trust Historic Site) in Tarrytown, NY.
  22. Once upon a time, our logo featured an eagle, so to promote this, we briefly offered a friendly stuffed bald eagle named “Trusty” as a membership gift. Some lucky staff members hung onto a few irregular or remaindered Trustys. They are now a highly endangered and coveted species.
  23. Once and for all – the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Register of Historic Places are not the same thing – not even close.
  24. If you really want to see anyone on our staff fly into a righteous tirade, bring up the latest example of a perfectly reuseable and retrofittable historic building being torn down to clear space for a new “green” building.
  25. Filoli, a National Trust Historic Site in California, was the Carrington Mansion on Dynasty.

Share Rules:
Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to "notes" under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

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.

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.

... 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.

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.