Author Archive

My Historic Washington: Brookland

Posted on: January 7th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments

 

A small town in a big city, Brookland is a place where people still wave, which is perfect for a big city guy with small town tendencies.

Brookland's charming 12th Street, where mom and pop shops still rule.

I’m a big city guy with small town tendencies. Sounds strange I know, but that’s the only way I can describe it.

I grew up in a speck on the Louisiana map called Sulphur, a two-exit town I spent many years trying to escape for bigger and brighter lights, but now appreciate because of its warmth and simplicity.

It’s the kind of place where people swing on their porches every evening when it’s warm enough (which is most evenings when you live on a swamp) and wave to friends and total strangers. Houses are referred to by family names (“Across the way are the Thibodeauxs and next to them are the Bergerons.”), and plates of food covered in tin foil pass between neighbors after dinner, sometimes as nice gestures but usually just because there are leftovers. Come Sunday, the streets are dotted with ladies in big heels (and sometimes big hats) leaving church, tripping occasionally on sidewalks that have been rendered into jagged glaciers by roots that dig deep and spread wide.

These days I call the District of Columbia home, a place that Google says is 1,278 miles away (literally and figuratively) from what I was used to growing up, but that I’ve really come to enjoy. After years of pumping ourselves up by watching the DIY Network, my partner and I finally decided to buy our first house in the area in 2007. We ultimately settled on a neighborhood called Brookland, partly because the price was right and partly because - even from the window of our realtor’s SUV - we could tell that there was something different about it.

Much like Sulphur, Brookland is the kind of place where people still wave and the center of afternoon social activity is still the front porch. Our signature bungalow houses are detached (an anomaly in Washington), the yards are generously portioned, and our small streets are lined with towering trees. We have a fledgling Main Street anchored by a hardware store that I swear might have beat George Washington here, and during the winter when all the leaves are gone, the bells of the nearby National Basilica echo peacefully through the neighborhood.

My fondest memory so far was actually hand delivered to me by my mailman on one of our first Saturday afternoons in our house. Instead of quickly depositing our mail in our mailbox that day, he knocked on our front door. I answered not knowing what to expect, and boy was I right. In addition to my T-Mobile bill and the newest issue of Rachael Ray’s magazine (a guilty pleasure), I was handed a warm plate of sweet potato pie wrapped in tin foil. He explained that it was from Mrs. Dixon, an elderly woman who lives alone across the street. Earlier that week, she had seen my partner and I hauling tools and construction materials into our house for a big bathroom remodel. She called us over to her porch and asked if we could help her with a few odd jobs around her house. We did, and the homemade pie was our thank you.

For this reason and so many more, historic Brookland is my Washington. If you make your way to D.C. for the inauguration, I invite you to come explore why it's the best of both worlds for this big city guy with small town tendencies.

-Jason Clement

Jason Clement is an online content provider for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Check out his Brookland photo album for more neighborhood pictures, and stay tuned over the weeks leading up to the inauguration as more 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.

New Year, New Travels

Posted on: January 2nd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Beautiful Aiken, South Carolina is just one of 110 historic locations already included in our ongoing list of Distinctive Destinations.

Where will 2009 take you?

If you're looking for an antidote to cultural homogenization, consider visiting a city or town that is listed as one of our Dozen Distinctive Destinations.

Every year for the past decade, we've unveiled a list of places that offer authentic visitor experiences by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes, and strong commitments to historic preservation and revitalization. There are lots of options. In fact, you'll find 110 different locations in 42 states and Puerto Rico that are fun, family friendly and refreshingly original.

The list runs from Aiken, South Carolina to Woodstock, Illinois (sorry, we don't have a "Y" or "Z" named towns, yet). These places are home to great stories about interesting people and events, remarkable historic sites, and memorable places to eat, shop, and stay. What National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe said earlier this year about the 2008 list really applies to all of the sites listed over the past decade: “These communities represent the richness and diversity of America’s cultural heritage, and in preserving their historic fabric and spirit of place are models for other towns and cities.”

So, in thinking about the places you want to go in the new year, be sure to check our list first. And stay tuned because on January 13, your travel options will increase by twelve when we announce our Dozen Distinctive Destinations of 2009.

–Nord Wennerstrom

Nord Wennerstrom is the Director of Communications at 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.

Here’s to Our Treasures

Posted on: January 1st, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Something

North Carolina's Cupola House is just one of 40 preservation projects to receive a Save America's Treasure challenge grant (Photo: Cupola House).

Just in time for the holidays, 40 preservation projects across the country will be raising a glass to more than just the New Year – they are among a select group of historic sites and collections that were recently awarded a Save America’s Treasures (SAT) challenge grant. This prestigious national program is providing $10.52 million in preservation and conservation dollars to an impressive and diverse list of nationally significant projects.

While the historic collections of Jamestowne and Valley Forge help tell the beginning chapters of the birth of our nation, two Frank Lloyd Wright buildings – Unity Temple in Oak Park, IL, and the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel in Lakeland, FL – stand testament to one of the preeminent figures in the story of America’s built environment. South Dakota’s Clowser Collection holds rare artifactual remnants of the Northern Plains and other American Indian tribes. In the nation’s capital, the 1910 Howard Theatre remains a cultural landmark of the African-American community and is being restored as the anchor for a larger effort to revitalize a neighborhood once known as “Black Broadway.” Edenton, NC, was an early booming port under British rule and its colonial-era Cupola House is the finest example of Jacobean design south of New England. Meanwhile, out West, the history of Tulsa’s oil boom is reflected in the opulence of its magnificent art deco buildings, and the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture is conserving important architectural drawings, photographs and other artifacts associated with the Art Deco school.

The list of winners goes on and on, but as you can see, these awardees are as varied as the American experience.

... 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.

I Say "In With The Old!"

Posted on: December 30th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Delores and I in Tulsa.

Dolores and I visiting a historic site in Tulsa this past October. Both of us resolve to see more of them in 2009.

2009 is right around the corner. As we all make exciting plans to celebrate the new year, I would like everyone to take a moment to really think about the new year. What will it bring to preservation?

I'll admit that I'm not usually one for making resolutions, but one of my hopes for 2009 is that - through my work at the National Trust for Historic Preservation - I can help people better appreciate what's old, inspire them to hang on to what they have, and perhaps even fix it up a little so that it sticks around longer. That's the right thing to do for the environment, for our pocketbooks and for our community. In the go-go economy of the last five years, it seems like anything that was new was all the rage. Well, it's a new era, so I say in with the old!

And, if I can indulge myself, along with polishing the wood floors in my dining room and replacing the aging linoleum in my kitchen, I want to try to see more historic places in 2009. Every time I visit one of our sites or a historic place within our network, I find myself newly inspired to work harder and to save more places.

For instance, this last year I spent several days touring New Orleans and looking at art within the context of historic buildings. What I saw and the stories I heard were powerful reminders of the creativity and the tenacity of the city's residents, both then and now. Another example is my trip to Chicago when we launched our Partners in Preservation program. Our Midwest Office took us on a tour of the prospective grant winners, and I fell in love with the Fountain of Time, the Viking Ship, the Robie House and Unity Temple. The Pui Tak Center taught me about the history of Chinese immigration in Chicago, and our opening event was held in the Stock Exchange Room at the Art Institute, an exquisite space that was saved from demolition.

These places tell a diverse and fascinating story of our irreplaceable heritage, and actually seeing and experiencing them brings them to life in a way that photos can't possibly replicate. When I asked some of my colleagues at the National Trust what resolutions they wanted to share, our Vice President for Membership Dolores McDonagh sent along a similar sentiment:

"My resolution is to take my boys on more 'mystery rides,'" she said. "As a child, my father would announce on random Saturday mornings: 'Who wants to go on a mystery ride?' It was always a crapshoot. You might end up tagging along on a trip to the hardware store to pick up a part for a broken lawnmower, or you might find yourself enjoying a frosty root beer float delivered by a roller skating carhop at A&W. You just never knew. Some of my favorite mystery rides were to historic sites, and in 2009, I resolve to take my own two boys on more of them. Over Thanksgiving this year, I took Ian and Noah to President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington, D.C. I was, of course, proclaimed the 'Wicked Mom of the West' over the injustice of depriving them of another hour of video games. And at one point, I feared they would refuse to get out of the car when they realized that we were at an historic site. But all was forgotten after a great tour. Noah was even overheard saying, 'That was pretty good, Mom. I'd even go again.'"

This past October, Dolores and I were traveling together in Tulsa for the National Trust's annual conference. In between sessions and meetings, we had some time to drive out to nearby Bartlesville to see Frank Lloyd Wright's only skyscraper. It was shorter than I imagined, but incredibly consistent with his legacy. It was not only a highlight of my trip, but something I want to be sure to do more of in the new year.

But enough about me. I want to hear about you. What is your preservation resolution for 2009? Post a comment below and share it with our other PreservationNation readers. Who knows? You might just inspire someone.

–Jan Rothschild

Jan Rothschild is the Vice President for Communications & Marketing at 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.

Wal-Mart Superstore Threatens Wilderness Battlefield

Posted on: December 22nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 8 Comments

 

Virginia’s irreplaceable historic landscapes, from the Piedmont to the Tidewater, are at the heart of our national heritage and their preservation is an issue that should concern all Virginians.

So, it is shocking to learn that commercial real estate speculators are now pressuring elected officials in rural Orange County to approve plans for a bland but mammoth 145,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, a sea of parking, and a 900-acre business park and retail center with three more big-box stores. This cookie-cutter behemoth will sit just one-quarter mile from the main entrance to a unique treasure, the Wilderness Battlefield, which honors the sacrifice of the 29,000 Americans who were killed, wounded or captured there in one of the largest and most strategically important battles of the Civil War.

The heart of the battlefield sits within the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, a key destination in the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground,” named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2005, and this year designated a National Heritage Area by Congress. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and a growing coalition led by the Civil War Preservation Trust and Piedmont Environmental Council strongly oppose intensive commercial development at this historic place, the intersection of Route 20 and Route 3.

These incompatible new commercial developments would irreparably harm the battlefield and the National Park – and the bulldozers are poised to start construction.

The so-called “Wilderness Wal-Mart” would severely degrade the wooded setting for the Civil War battlefield, promote commercial sprawl and drastically increase traffic through the heart of the park. Moreover, the resulting big-box traffic congestion is likely to resurrect VDOT’s flawed plan to widen Route 20 from two to four lanes, paving over a swath of the battlefield and the National Park – a fatal mistake strongly opposed by preservationists because the historic Orange Turnpike, now Route 20, was the scene of fierce fighting during the 1864 battle.

Beyond destroying the historic integrity of the area and creating a situation that might call for the destruction of part of the historic battlefield itself, the development also would undermine local efforts to generate much-needed revenue from tourism.

When visitors stand today on Civil War battleground at Gettysburg, Cedar Creek, Antietam, or the Wilderness, and are able to see the same fields and hills that soldiers fought across nearly 150 years ago, their understanding of the history that happened there is greatly enhanced. When those heritage tourists are inspired to extend their visits or return for a future visit to the National Park and Wilderness Battlefield, Orange County’s local businesses benefit economically. Over-sized commercial growth adjacent to a unique and irreplaceable preserved landscape risks the authenticity of the battlefield viewshed and erodes the experience of those visiting the historic site.

Recently, 253 eminent historians – including David McCullough, James McPherson, Edwin Bearss and Ken Burns – joined the chorus of Americans imploring Wal-Mart to abandon its destructive proposal.

To its credit, Orange County’s comprehensive plan embraces the importance of conserving the county’s rural character by limiting sprawling growth and promoting the preservation of historic areas. In fact, in 2007 the comprehensive plan was revised to “discourage development that would necessitate the construction of a four-lane highway over any portion of Route 20 in Orange County.” Accordingly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its allies believe that Orange County’s elected officials should reject current plans for the Wal-Mart and business park at the gateway to the historic battlefield.

Experts agree that the Wilderness Battlefield is one of our nation’s most significant Civil War battlefields. More than 2,700 acres of the battlefield are permanently preserved for the public’s benefit within the boundaries of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. However, it’s up to the leaders and citizens of Orange County and the Commonwealth of Virginia today to conserve the battlefield’s rural setting against ill-conceived growth and transportation planning.

Preservationists certainly are not opposed to commercial growth in Orange County, but we believe the proposed Wal-Mart and 2.6-million-square-foot business park should not be permitted to critically threaten Virginia and our nation’s heritage. There are many potential sites for Wal-Mart, but only one Wilderness Battlefield, the preservation of which is crucial to the understanding of our history and the education of our children in addition to the welfare of local communities.

For more information about the Wilderness Wal-Mart, please visit www.wildernesswalmart.com.

-- Richard Moe

Richard Moe is the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This op-ed article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on December 21, 2008.

Sign Our Petition Against the Wilderness Wal-Mart

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.