Civic

Balancing Preservation and Development in the Rapidly Growing Capital

Posted on: October 17th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Ari Gefen, Public Affairs Intern


Streetscape in Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, Washington DC.

On Friday, October 12, I had the pleasure of attending two of the afternoon sessions at the DC Preservation League's 2012 Conference at the Charles Sumner School. The talks gave great insight into unique concerns that preservationists face in a city that is changing at an intense pace.

The first talk I attended was on streetscapes, which may not be what you think they are. Streetscapes are the trees, planters, and other breaks in the concrete and asphalt that line every street in Washington, DC.

These small patches of flora make the District one of the best stewards of green space within a dense urban center in the country, and are actually quite historic in nature. In fact, these streetscapes date all the way back to the Parking Act of 1870. Facing road deterioration due to weather and Civil War troop movements, as well as severe budgetary restraints, Congress came up with the inventive solution of “parking” its roads.

This parking created a distinctive “greenprint” for DC streets that now covers over 9,000 acres of space on District sidewalks. Besides providing practical benefits such as reducing crime, flooding, and pollution, these parking spaces also create a pleasant and consistent aesthetic that makes DC one of the most walkable cities in the nation.

Trees and planters on the sidewalks are probably not the first thoughts that pop into people’s mind when they think of DC, but this talk definitely made the point that the small things in a city are also an important part of what makes it great.

The second seminar concerned the subject of new developments in historic districts, and covered a wide array of approaches to the issue. The first speaker, James Appleby, spoke about the Bryan School, a disused but historic property in his neighborhood that was falling into disrepair.

Through the formation of a neighborhood association with the school as its landmark property, Appleby was able to work with developers to reuse the school as condominiums, revitalizing a community around a property that most people had written off.


Mural in U St. corridor, Washington DC.

Sheryl Walter, who is the current head of the U Street Neighborhood Association, discussed the challenge of maintaining the historic nature of a community that has become a serious entertainment hub with very desirable and underdeveloped space.

Though Walter seemed mostly welcoming of the massive development coming to her neighborhood, she was attempting to restrain overambitious and tall development that would obscure the nature of the neighborhood. Considering the breakneck pace of development in the U Street corridor, however, it was unclear how much power her community will be able to wield in holding back the onslaught of apartment complexes and retail space.

The third speaker spoke about perhaps the most unique preservation concern -- preservation of a community, rather than a building. Jim Myers lived through and wrote extensively on the horrible murders and mismanagement surrounding the Kentucky Courts public housing project in the 1990s. The Kentucky Courts were built in the modernist style and at first created a successful community in Capitol Hill East. Its interconnected stairwells and open courtyard fomented a sense of togetherness and encouraged neighborly interaction.

However, the same elements that made Kentucky Courts a pleasant place to live eventually came to serve a different purpose, as the building began to fall apart and its passageways became a perfect setting for a gang fortress in the 1990s. Through strong community activism, and with eventual cooperation from the DC government, Myers and his neighbors were finally able to bring down the infamous project and replace it with mixed income housing funded by a private-public partnership.

Myers’ story brought up an interesting point about the diversity of preservation that I believe was well presented in these conference sessions. Preservation often focuses on a particular building or neighborhood, but the preservation of community and character is equally important.

The talks I attended demonstrated that preservation moving forward will have to address both issues while also accommodating necessary change. Successfully navigating these challenges will ensure that DC remains the captivating place it is today, even as it continues to grow at a rapid rate.

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.

 

Last week, National Trust staffers took a field trip -- or, more accurately, a tunnel trip.

We descended into the steamy underground for a little-seen glimpse of Washington’s past -- the 75,000 sq. ft. trolley station and one-time fallout station that served DC’s popular Dupont Circle neighborhood until it was closed in 1975. (More on Dupont Underground's history here.)

 
Now, the Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground (ACDU) -- a group of dedicated architects, designers, businesspeople, and community leaders -- is working to reinvent the unused space as “a world-class center for arts, design, and innovative entrepreneurship.”

Our enthusiastic guide on this shadowy tour was Julian Hunt, ACDU’s founder and interim chairman as well as a Principal at Hunt Laudi Studio. His aim is to get the community excited about the possibilities the space affords and fire up their imaginations about how it can become a civic hub.

 
And fire them up he did. We left our 90-minute tour buzzing about the impact such a vibrant, multi-use space could have on the surrounding neighborhood. The plans call for green spaces, arts, community space, and civic engagement -- all with a preservation-friendly through line of adaptive reuse.

I followed up with my colleagues after the tour to capture their reactions to and reflections on the project, and their comments are as multi-faceted as Dupont Underground itself:

Lauren B.: I would love to see the space used to showcase local artists and for underground art walks, installations, interactive plays, and a haunted house. Revitalizing the trolley tracks would set an example about recycling old spaces for new uses and hopefully inspire similar projects.

Andy G.: I hope that the space is easily accessible by the public without changing the appealing and historic aspects of the above ground Dupont Circle community. I’d like to see a space that is well-maintained, frequently used, and that enhances the connectivity of Dupont Circle.

Tanya B.: Dupont Circle is a gathering space for DC’s homeless population. Why not build on the fact that the underground space had been occupied by many homeless before Dupont Underground got access, cleaned it up, and secured it? Creating jobs with livable wages will help. Can there be some sort of job training attached to whatever employment system gets created with Dupont Underground?

Claire H.: I would love to see the space transformed into a public, cultural center through partnerships with the neighborhood’s museums and embassies.

Dennis H.: When Americans (and likely the rest of the world) think about Washington, D.C., they think of tradition, classical architecture, museums, and partisan politics. Cutting-edge preservation, not so much. But converting the abandoned tunnels into a vibrant, useful space would put D.C. in the global spotlight for innovation.

Ann T.: The tunnels are odd, but quite beautiful in a strange way. It’s hard for me to picture any sort of regular activity down there. So I think I’d hope for something bizarre and new and playful that I can’t quite imagine -- something arts-related or artist-inspired. I was actually most intrigued by the above-ground entrances to the tunnels and the accompanying revitalized public spaces and how they could knit the city together. The quality of the designs for both the tunnel and the above-ground improvements was high and had a real “big city, global city” feel.

John P.: The Tour was almost like being in a sci-fi movie of a great city’s archaeological find and we were touring the find and talking about its history -- what it was and why it was and why it ended. We knew the truth and facts of course, but it was still a fascinating footprint of local times gone by and history.

Priya C.: After walking through the Dupont Underground I can see the space becoming something vibrant, distinctive, and creative. I think that like anything that has been abandoned it has the potential to spur on conversation -- and I hope that it will become a place where residents and visitors alike can gather and mingle. The impact it could have on the city is boundless -- not only as a piece of architecture that puts the city on the map in a modern sense, but also as a way to take old memories of what the underground used to be into the next generation. I know that the project is immense, but it is brimming with possibility and wonder.

And what would I like to see? I hope the tunnels once again connect the city in a thoughtful, purposeful way -- not with trolley tracks as of yore, but with smart planning and people-friendly design. Watching this project evolve right in our backyard is a rare delight, and to one day be able to say “I saw it when …” would be a great sign of progress.

If our experience has intrigued you, we encourage you to stay in touch with Dupont Undergound on Twitter, Facebook, and through their mailing list. You can also join as a volunteer, share your ideas for the space, and donate to the cause.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Preservation Round-Up: One-Dollar Movie Theater Edition

Posted on: July 30th, 2012 by David Garber

 

Why I Restored and Reopened the Closed-Down State Theatre and Started the Traverse City Film Festival -- MichaelMoore.com

"I asked the Rotary group to give me the theater for a dollar, and we eventually settled on a dollar. I set up a community-based non-profit organization that would own the theater. Four others and I donated all the money needed to bring the theater back to life. I promised that we'd complete the entire rebuild in 6 weeks. And we did."

New Park in Downtown Los Angeles Inspires Grand Hopes -- LA Times

"This week, after a $56-million renovation, that 12-acre rectangle from the top of Bunker Hill to the base of City Hall will be christened as L.A.'s Grand Park, providing downtown with its first sizable amount of open space. [...] The park begins along Grand Avenue with a dramatic view of a renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain and the tall white crest of Los Angeles City Hall. Parking ramps that once hid the fountain from pedestrians have been torn down, and the fountain is now programmed to run a colorful light show."

Local Museum Lands Sante Fe Sign -- Chicago Tribune

"The Illinois Railway Museum will take possession of the sign that advertised the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway from the roof of Chicago's Railway Exchange Building at 224 S. Michigan Ave." [...] Volunteers for the nonprofit museum will refurbish the sign, said Dave Diamond, the general manager for facilities. Once ready for display, it will join a collection of other Santa Fe equipment and railroad signs, many with roots in the Chicago area. [...] "It's a unique artifact that's tied to Chicago," Diamond said. "It keeps a piece of that in the area where it's still viewable to folks to understand Chicago's importance as a rail transportation hub."

Pittsburgh City Council Seeks Historic Preservation Limits -- Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit people from seeking city historic status for properties they don't own, a bill that grew out of the yearslong effort to save the old St. Nicholas Church building on the North Side. Mr. Burgess said third parties shouldn't have the right to interfere with owners' property rights. He said the city's historic designation 'should not occur without the landowner's consent.'"

Behind the Scenes: Teddy Roosevelt's House -- Washingtonian

"Ben Barnes has a Washington player’s résumé. He’s a Democratic lobbyist, he’s made a fortune in real estate, and he’s a former lieutenant governor of Texas and speaker of the state’s House. But there’s another side to him: history buff, art collector, preservationist. These are embodied in his building on 19th Street in downtown DC, where he has set up the Ben Barnes Group, a team of six including partners and staff. It’s the former home of Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, who lived there when Roosevelt served on the Civil Service Commission."

When Values Collide: Balancing Green Technology and Historic Buildings -- NRDC Switchboard

"I believe that historic preservation in the right context -- a healthy neighborhood -- can be intrinsically green.  Most historic buildings, at least the ones constructed before the days of freeways and urban flight, are on walkable streets in relatively central locations.  They represent embodied energy and materials that would be consumed if the same amount of space and the same function had to be constructed anew. [...] But, by definition, historic buildings do not have the latest technology unless it is added many years later."

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.

Restoration Efforts Continue at New Jersey's Squan Beach Lifesaving Station

Posted on: July 25th, 2012 by David Robert Weible

 

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but 12 years after being purchased by the Borough of Manasquan, New Jersey, the Squan Beach Lifesaving Station is getting closer to being rescued.

 
Beginning in 1848 the newly formed U.S. Lifesaving Service, a precursor to the Coast Guard, began constructing lifesaving stations along the East Coast, West Coast, and Great Lakes to house volunteers, and later, paid employees, along with boats and equipment to aid in the rescue of seamen from sinking vessels. The 1902 Duluth-style structure -- at the time, one of 41 in New Jersey and hundreds nationwide -- represents the third generation of Lifesaving Stations on Squan Beach.

In 1915, the Lifesaving Service became part of the newly formed U.S. Coast Guard. As navigation systems, maritime engineering, and technology improved throughout the 20th century, the beach-launched skiffs of the Lifesaving Service were replaced with long-range Coast Guard vessels and the station transitioned into a Coast Guard communications hub.

 
The structure was decommissioned from service in 1996 and remained vacant until 2000 when efforts by local preservationists and over 2,000 signatures on a petition to save the structure prompted the Borough of Manasquan to purchase it for $1 and set a bond to raise an initial $300,000 for its restoration.

Efforts by the Squan Beach Lifesaving Station Preservation Committee ginned up additional funding for the project, including a $450,000 matching grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust.

 
Restoration work began in December of 2006 with the removal of asbestos. Since then, efforts have focused on the first floor and included reviving the original paint schemes, refurbishing the hardwood floors, and replacing the windows.

The floor of the boat room was also raised and leveled to match the rest of the house and its bay doors were either restored or replaced. Finally, cedar shakes were installed on the exterior.

 
Still, there is plenty of work left to be done. The next step in the process is the removal of the lead-based paint that covers the porches and trim of the entire structure. After that, the roof is in dire need of replacement and the second floor remains gutted.

In the meantime, the community is making use of the structure as a community meeting place and office for the Manasquan Borough historian. The structure also houses a small museum demonstrating the area’s connection with the sea and displaying photos, prints, and objects recovered from local waters by divers. Plans are in the works to expand the museum to include a tribute to the Coast Guard and Lifesaving Service veterans who were stationed there.

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.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

 

It's the week of the Fourth of July, which means that we're dreaming in red, white, and blue, and thinking about flags, fireworks, and freedom. And maybe it's the fire engine red, or their symbol of civic heroism, but there's just something about fire houses that screams America. Add in a "rising from the ashes" story line and it's kind of the American preservation/restoration/rebuilding dream. Enter Fire Station No. 6 in Houston, Texas.

 
Built in 1903 (see "before" pictures above), No. 6 is located on Washington Avenue in Houston's Sixth Ward neighborhood -- a story of regeneration in itself, but still dotted with auto lots, empty storefronts, and untended buildings. When Tom Hair, founder of communications and marketing firm Axiom, was looking to buy a property to house his growing company, he wanted a space that reflected Axiom's creativity and energy. He found it in the then-dilapidated Fire Station No. 6.

Although the brick exterior was still in decent shape and structurally sound, the windows were rotten and the building needed a full roof replacement, as well as restoration work on the metal shingles and cornices.

 
Today, Fire Station No. 6 is a beacon for historic adaptation done right. The exterior gleams, and the interior feels fresh but still retains elements of the historic building -- like a brass fire pole that's available for use by the firm's employees. The building has marks of of the past -- exposed bricks, restored columns, and old photos splashed across the walls -- while still accommodating the needs and styles of a modern work space.

Owner Tom Hair is rightfully proud of his work: "We have one of the few buildings that has been restored to its original presence on Washington Avenue." Kudos on a job well done, and let's hope that as the neighborhood develops, the number of restorations only continues to grow.

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.