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Plenary, Reception Officially Open the National Preservation Conference

Posted on: October 23rd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Today, Max van Balgooy, director of interpretation and education for National Trust Historic Sites, reports on the official opening of the conference -- last night's plenary session and the party that followed.

The Cherokee Youth Choir performing at the Plenary.

The Cherokee Youth Choir performing at the Plenary.

Wednesday’s plenary session officially opened the National Preservation Conference in the magnificent Art Deco setting of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, recently recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Its soaring tower with narrow stained glass windows is more reminiscent of a skyscraper than a church. Inside, preservationists packed the main floor and balcony while listening to the Cherokee Youth Choir sing from the risers on stage. Cliff Hudson, Chairman of the Board, moderated the plenary session and we were welcomed by Mayor Taylor of Tulsa. Commissioner Winstead of the US General Services Administration described the recent successes in preserving federal buildings and their continuing efforts to find new uses for the obsolete federal buildings, either through commercial leases or transfer to government agencies, citing the example of the rehabilitation of the U. S. Post Office in Washington, DC as the Hotel Monaco.

In his report, Richard Moe, who now celebrates his fifteenth years as president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, noted that preservation is always a work in progress and always facing new opportunities and challenges, thus the work of the National Trust will never be done. The current economic downturn is a major speed bump and the National Trust has already taken steps in response, but he acknowledged that it will cause all of us to rethink the way we are operating. He reminded us that the current situation is temporary but the loss of historic places is permanent and encouraged all of us to seek partnerships to help overcome the current challenges.

A highlight for me were the brief comments of Robert Wilson, who has long been a major supporter of preservation, most recently providing challenge grants to statewide and local preservation organizations to build a sustainability. In his tour of Tulsa, he found that he was struck both by the beauty of the architecture but also by the desolation in parts of the city, the tragic result of demolition caused by the citizens themselves. Philanthropists have many ways to give away money, including health and homeless, but he’s pursued historic preservation because of the ability of great architecture to enhance the lives of many people, both today and into the future. Pennsylvania Station in New York City was a tremendous loss, especially since it was replaced by a “grubby subterranean space” and as a result, everyone’s life has been diminished.

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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.

Tulsa Poster Presentations: Excavation of the Steamboat Heroine

Posted on: October 22nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Priya Chhaya, program assistant for training & online services in the Center for Preservation Leadership, is in the Exhibit Hall checking out the poster presentations.

Bright colors and conversation surround you when you walk through the Exhibit Hall here in Tulsa. Conference-goers seem to be holding up despite the turn in the weather -- rain-rain-and more rain! People are darting to field and education sessions and attending the twice daily nosh and networking periods in the hall and most of them are smiling. On Tuesday night we got a taste of Oklahoma history at the special lecture by Dr. Bob Blackburn (we were in the gorgeous First Presbyterian Church which is just one of the architectural vistas here in Tulsa). We learned about the state’s unique preservation story and the great work that they are doing to preserve and embrace the various pasts.

Poster on the preservation of the "Heroine."

It was with this in mind that I started wandering through the poster presentations. As I took in the landscape I came across John Davis and Bob Rea of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Their poster, “Excavation and Preservation of the Steamboat Heroine” is a detailed look at their work to preserve the only underwater archaeological site in Oklahoma.

The earliest example of steamboat technology in the United States, the Heroine was built in New Albany, Indiana in 1832 and “transported freight, livestock and passengers on the Ohio, Mississippi and Red Rivers.” In May 1838 the boat got stuck in a snag two miles down from a public landing on the upper Red River and sank.

Bob and John have been working on the boat since 1999 -- working underwater for eight weeks at a time. If you’re in Tulsa visit their poster in the Exhibit Hall. If you aren’t, more information on the Heroine can be found at www.okhistory.org or www.ohs.org.

-- Priya Chhaya

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.

Is Less More? Conversations of the National Trust Historic Site Directors at the National Preservation Conference

Posted on: October 22nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences.  Yesterday, two members of our staff participated in the Site Directors meeting, and came away with a lot of thoughts surrounding technology, sustainability, and preservation at our sites. Below are their reports.

The directors of National Trust Historic Sites hard at work in Tulsa.

The directors of National Trust Historic Sites hard at work in Tulsa.

At every National Preservation Conference, the Site Directors of National Trust Historic Sites meet for a day and a half to discuss issues of mutual concern—many are the same issues facing the thousands of historic sites across the nation. This meeting includes topics such as measuring success, insurance, image management systems, heritage travel, and the current souring economy. A thought-provoking discussion on the value of air conditioning in historic buildings noted that the widely adopted 1991 New Orleans Charter calls for a balance between the needs of buildings and the collections they house, however, there has been no agreement how this should be achieved.

Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, explored several recent projects at National Trust Historic Sites that questioned the benefit of high tech solutions and proprietary systems due to the damage they caused to historic buildings, the high capital and maintenance costs, and more seriously, failure to operate as planned.  (Details on these projects can be found in Barbara's report below.) New projects at Cliveden and Woodrow Wilson House offer potential strategies that could be far less intrusive and expensive, while achieving reasonable levels of preservation for both the buildings and collections. These include allowing wider tolerances of temperature and humidity, focusing on controlling humidity rather than temperature, focusing on the rate rather than range of change in temperature and humidity, changing visitor behavior (e.g., altering tour routes or time spent in each location), and relocating functions (e.g., separating staff and collections storage areas).

This may not always meet the standards of current museum practices nor provide ideal comfort for visitors or staff in every season, but these strategies seem to be better long term sustainable ones for preservation.

As funding allows, NTHP will be pursuing this further through additional studies with the intent of developing best and future practices for climate management at historic sites.

- Max van Balgooy

Max is director of interpretation and education for National Trust Historic Sites.

***

Shutters on Lyndhurst for a forced ventilation system when there were never any shutters.  Lyndhurst is a National Historic Landmark National Trust Historic Site, in Tarrytown, NY.

Shutters on Lyndhurst for a forced ventilation system when there were never any shutters.

The National Trust is launching a National Initiative on Historic Sites as a means to assist historic sites struggling with issues of long term sustainability. One of the key issues that has been impacting the financial, programmatic and building fabric aspects of our sites is the appropriate installation and use of environmental management systems. I am leading this component of our Initiative and used this meeting to initiate the discussion among all of our directors and pose some rhetorical questions to get them thinking. We are not alone among cultural institutions that have discovered over the past decade that many of the new HVAC (heating, ventilating and cooling) systems that we’ve been installing have often caused more problems than they have solved. A basic reality that we discussed was whether we’ve been asking the right questions.

Rather than start a project by asking what kind of HVAC system we want, we should be asking what kind of uses our buildings and spaces need and can support. Do we even need HVAC systems? Should we be rethinking our programming first?

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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.

Tulsa's Sacred Spaces: Idiosyncratic, Intriguing, and Impeccably Preserved

Posted on: October 22nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Last night, James H. Schwartz, editor of Preservation magazine, filed this report.

"Tulsa truly is the heart of the Bible Belt," the guide for the Sacred Spaces tour said Tuesday afternoon, and—perhaps appropriately, for a metropolitan area where well over 50,000 residents (!) attend services each week—the range of ecclesiastical architecture here is extraordinary.

We started our tour on Cathedral Square, inside the sprawling First Christian Church, a 1920 landmark that is both a preservation success (the building is in fine shape and retains a remarkable collection of stained glass windows) AND a cautionary tale: renovation efforts in 1966 stripped the sanctuary of much of the original, ornate plasterwork, as well as superb oak doors and carved furniture.

My favorite discovery? First Christian had one of the most innovative ventilation systems in pre-air conditioned Tulsa. A central panel in the 28-ft stained glass dome overhead opened to draw warm air out of the sanctuary, reducing interior temps by as much as 15 degrees on summer days. (No wonder attendance skyrocketed for decades.)

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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.

Helping Preserve Galveston’s History

Posted on: October 17th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Members of the staff and board of the Galveston Historical Foundation in front of their offices in the 1861 Custom House, holding "This Place Matters" signs.

Members of the staff and board of the Galveston Historical Foundation in front of their offices in the 1861 Custom House, holding "This Place Matters" signs.

My visit to Galveston last week was bittersweet; on one hand, I was saddened by the enormous amount of damage Hurricane Ike inflicted on the city’s historic areas. But at the same time, I also saw first-hand the courageous response of Galvestonians to the storm, and the impressive progress in debris clean-up and remediation of damage that has already taken place.

I went to Galveston looking for additional ways in which the National Trust for Historic Preservation can partner with the Galveston Historical Foundation (GHF) on recovery efforts. For the past three years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been working on the ground in New Orleans focusing on post-Katrina recovery, and that work has given us extensive insight into large-scale disaster response efforts. I traveled to New Orleans just a few weeks after Katrina struck in 2005, and as I walked through Galveston last week, comparisons to the New Orleans I saw then came to mind.

New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods generally looked much worse off less than four weeks after Katrina, though its most famous historic areas largely escaped flooding. There is always a danger after disasters that people seek the quick and wrong solution of demolishing still valuable structures. As I mentioned, I’m glad that Galvestonians seem focused on rehabilitation and returning to their properties. The leadership of Galveston’s city officials has been a great help.

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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.