Revitalization

Burlington, Iowa’s Old-School Movie Theater Gets a New Lease on Life

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by David Robert Weible 1 Comment

 

Though I’m a child of the '90s, when megaplexes were popping up like Furbies and Pokemon in suburban neighborhoods, my friend Tim and I would spend rainy Saturday afternoons at the 1924 movie house my neighborhood struggled to keep open, watching and re-watching flicks like Men in Black and the Jurassic Park series.

Though they weren’t exactly Gone With the Wind, seeing these movies in a historic setting made an impression on me -- which is why I’m always thrilled to see the restoration of historic theaters across the country, including one of the latest, the Capitol Theater in downtown Burlington, Iowa.


The Art Deco building first opened with the showing of The Prince and the Pauper in 1937 and featured countless classics before closing in 1977 after a final screening of Carrie. Though it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the theater remained shuttered, slowly decaying from neglect, until a friends group was formed in 2003.

Since 2005, the upstart Capitol Theater Foundation worked to restore the marquee and the lobby’s colorful terrazzo floor, uncover and restore original tin ceilings and maple floors, repair the terra cotta exterior, reconstruct the ticket booth and concession counter, repair and replace damaged acoustic tiles, and expand the stage for live performances.

The building reopened after the $3 million restoration as the Capitol Theater and Performing Arts Center on June 1, almost 35 years after it was closed. And while they may not make movies like they used to, at places like the Capitol you can at least watch them like they used to.

For my money, there’s nothing better.

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.

[Interview] Morgan Devlin, Preserve Rhode Island: Rhody Rules the Roost

Posted on: September 21st, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Morgan Devlin's favorite new colleague is ... a rooster.

As marketing manager for the Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island, Preserve Rhode Island, Devlin is part of the team behind a colorful, cartoon rooster named Rhody the Rambler, the mascot for the coalition's Rhody Ramble program.


Rhody and a new friend participate in "Learning Colonial Games and Crafts" at Smith-Appleby House in Smithfield, RI.

This new effort, designed to connect families with historic places in Rhode Island, launched over the summer with a coalition of 21 historic sites ranging from working farms to waterfront mansions. The program focused on events for children 5-12 and their families, with activities ranging from concerts to treasure hunts to specialty kids tours. The core concept: create opportunities for families to have quality time together at Rhode Island’s unique places.

Devlin says of Rhody Ramble: "The scope of our project is local, but our goal is to create a program which can have a much broader impact on how historic sites interact with families. Our sites range from small, volunteer-run sites to those with a professional staff. We believe that the chance for wonderful encounters with historic places is possible, no matter the size of your budget."

We caught up with Devlin, a 10-year resident of Rhode Island, recently to see how the families, the sites, and the rooster are faring so far.

What’s your elevator pitch for Rhody Ramble?

The Rhody Ramble is a family adventure to explore Rhode Island’s unique and historic places. It is a great way for kids and parents to interact with local history, even for those who do not consider themselves history lovers. It includes a wide variety of events: concerts, scavenger hunts, festivals and hands-on activities. So there truly is something for everyone.

What burst of insight inspired you to create Rhody the Rambler?

Rhody was a natural ambassador for the program. He was born during a brainstorming session among the staff at Preserve Rhode Island. Once we thought of him, it was clear that he was a perfect representative for our historic sites, as he is a heritage breed Rhode Island Red Rooster.

We also wanted to make sure the graphics spoke to kids and immediately conveyed that this was a program for them. Animals have a universal appeal, so parents connect with him too! We were fortunate to work with talented local graphic designers who brought him to life. At one point, I had several possible Rhodys hanging on my office walls, but he quickly became the favorite.

We are all very fond of Rhody, including our partners who immediately embraced him. We even purchase a stuffed animal rooster to travel around the state to various events and photographed him participating in the activities, as you can see in the photos. Rhody helped us to share the fun nature of the program and the family-friendly side of the historic sites, which can sometimes be a challenge to convey.


Rhody enjoys some traditional RI johnnycakes at Windmill Wednesday at Prescott Farm in Middletown, RI.

How did the Rhody Ramble help existing historic sites show off different sides of themselves?

By bringing together 21 sites under the umbrella of the Rhody Ramble program, we were able to highlight the fact that family programming is an important part of many historic sites. Since people often do not associate historic places with kids’ activities, creating a summer passport filled with events for families was in itself revealing a different side of many places.

In some cases, it inspired the sites to create new programs for families. A couple examples were the Fly a Kite Day at Watson Farm, a property of Historic New England, and the Explore RI History tour at Smith’s Castle.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other organizations who are interested in doing something similar in their communities?

Understand your audience. If you wish to draw families to your historic site, think about what will attract them. Review your current programming and see what may be appropriate for children. If you are creating a new event, understand that it doesn’t need to be complex. An outdoor concert, an open house with kids’ activities, a scavenger hunt or even a story hour could be simple ways to draw in family visitors.

Consider pricing that will make it easy for families to attend such as free admission for kids or a ‘per family’ rate. See if there is an opportunity to partner with other attractions for families nearby and create a half-day or full-day experience in your community.

Also, make sure to communicate with families through channels they use. We were fortunate to work with a local family blogger who featured several of our events. Look for the resources that are being used by families in your area. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask someone with kids for suggestions.


Rhody listens to the band at the Concert Under the Elms at the John Brown House in Providence, RI.

Why is it important to expose kids to history and preservation? How does a program like Rhody Ramble reinforce those lessons?

History is exciting. It is the story of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I love historic places because they embody the lives of people who lived in our towns and cities before we did -- it is the closest we can come to meeting them!

The big misconception is that history is a bunch of dry, dull facts. However, a historic place can bring that history to life with activities like grinding corn, carrying a yoke and buckets, dressing up in costumes or playing traditional games like graces. By introducing children to their history in an engaging way, we can help to build future stewards of our historic places.

I believe the strength of a program like the Rhody Ramble is its ability to reach out to new audiences of families. Many historic sites are run with limited staff and volunteers. Their time is stretched between many different activities. The Rhody Ramble is focused on marketing the great work that they do every day.

If we can help to attract kids and parents to explore a place they have never visited, it may inspire them to return. It may help them to better relate the history they learn in school to their community. It opens the door for many great possibilities!

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.

 

Written by Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB

For more than 30 years, historic preservation tax incentives have been helping architects, builders, and private citizens transform historic buildings for new uses, preserving architectural heritage, and benefiting communities all over the country.  I should know, because using tax credit incentives has been key to my business for just as many years, allowing me and one of my partners Mike Binette to save clients money while restoring more than 150 historic commercial,  industrial, and educational structures -- many of which can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.

We are proud of what we’ve achieved in and around Boston -- an American city rich in history and beautiful old buildings -- but we’re also excited about how these incentives have helped Boston and cities like it all over the country.


Bourne Mill, one of America's oldest cotton gins, in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

The recent debate over historic preservation tax incentives is long on political orthodoxy but short on common sense. The benefits of these tax credits are indisputable. By redeveloping historic buildings, tax credits save our architectural heritage and spur new private investment, create construction jobs, and set the stage for new economic activities, such as tourism.

There’s nothing like a broken window to scare off businesses. Any savvy investor will agree that commercial activity gets a bump when abandoned buildings are brought back to life, or derelict properties are restored to their former grandeur. 

But there’s much more. Many historic buildings serve as the visual gateway to entire towns and neighborhoods. They anchor their communities, and often had a central role in making them happen. Examples are everywhere -- churches, town halls, first settler homesteads, factories, schools, mills, lighthouses, and office and institutional buildings. Our architecture firm has spent four decades restoring and adapting old mills and other historic structures throughout New England and along the East Coast -- each of which has precipitated in some way the rebirth and growth of the community.


St. Aidan's Catholic Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, where John F. Kennedy was baptized.

Why does this matter? First, these landmarks are part of the fabric and collective memory of their communities. Generations of families made their living inside those factories, connecting the old stone walls with their family history. They root us to the place.

More so, these old buildings have great bones and can reinvigorate their neighborhoods once again. Many adapted mills have taken on new lives, such as commercial, hospitality, community centers and a wide array of residential type uses. In this way, these historic structures have brought their towns and neighborhoods back to life.

Preservation is also the greenest thing we can do. For example, in Dorchester, Mass., the 1765 Baker Chocolate Factory grew to employ hundreds. After shuttering in 1969, it sat mute and untended until its conversion to a community of apartments, assisted living, and more. The work took decades to complete and recycled tons of brick, granite block and many hundreds of massive wood beams and deck.

Today, Dorchester Lower Mills not only has hundreds of new residents, it has become a vibrant downtown with cafés, boutiques, and a bustling grocery store. People visit for fun, ambiance -- and history. In this way, historic tax credits create a valuable commodity: hope.


Baker Chocolate Factory (side view) in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Proof of old and historic buildings' attraction and economic value is everywhere. And many of our friends and clients -- mayors, real estate developers, bankers, and residents -- will vouch that the same results never would have been accomplished without historic federal and state tax credits.

Our country’s history deserves better than a wrecking ball. If you believe in America’s past -- and our chances for a better collective future -- historic tax credits are something you can and must believe in, too.

Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB and Michael Binette, AIA, NCARB, are partners at The Architectural Team, Inc., a Boston-based architecture firm specializing in master planning, hospitality, mixed-use, multi-family housing, and historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to raising awareness of the importance of the historic tax credit and advocating for a few strategic improvements that would expand its already impressive track record of saving places, creating jobs and revitalizing communities. You can help! Visit SaveHistoricCredit.org.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Mumford on Main Street: How Music Helped a Community

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

 

Written by Brendan McCormick, Grants & Awards Assistant

As I was driving down Route 26 towards downtown Dixon, Illinois, I got a little worried when one of the first stores I saw off of the highway was a massive Wal-Mart.

However, upon closer inspection, I realized that the parking lot was sparsely populated.  As I got closer to town, and drove through the iconic War Memorial Arch, I quickly realized that Dixon was everything that Mumford &  Sons had built the town up to be as part of its Gentlemen of the Road Tour.


The Dixon Arch, originally built to welcome home WW1 veterans, now welcomes thousands of people into Dixon.

The band described Dixon (about 15,000 people) as the quintessential American small town, and it did not fail to live up to that reputation.  Dixon is full of small-town history, including Ronald Reagan’s high school. But it is Main Street and the people who spend their lives there that make Dixon such an amazing place.

Of the locals that I spoke with, few, if any, of them had ever heard of Mumford & Sons. A cashier at one of the local shops said to me, “Oh, I went and listened to their CD last night for the first time. I didn’t love the music, but if they're bringing all of you folks into Dixon, I’m going to be a big fan.”

The amazing thing was how underplayed this woman’s reaction was to the sudden influx of people. The weekend of the concert, more than 16,000 people arrived in Dixon. Fields were turned into parking lots that stretched on and on, and the camp grounds were overflowing with people.


The Reynoldswood campground was filled with almost 4,000 people who came from all over the country.

When seeing the campground in its full light Saturday morning, I started to think about the 4,000 people in my campground. They couldn’t have possibly all brought all their food in with them. There must have been tens of thousands of dollars in stuff that people bought upon arriving in Dixon. Then I realized that there were three more campsites in Dixon all the same size. That much math and that much money started to hurt my head.

I think the math had the opposite effect on the people of Dixon. I spoke with a man named Martini who told me, “This concert is the biggest thing to come to Dixon since Ronald Reagan was born.  Heck, this is the biggest thing to come to Dixon since John Dixon, the guy who founded the town.”

Martini went on to tell me that people were coming in early on Friday to “pay their respects” to the school that made Reagan. The mass influx of people seeing Dixon's treasures for the first time served as inspiration for many long-time residents to rediscover the history in their own backyard.


Three Iowa State University students salute their favorite president, Ronald Reagan, in front of his high school.

While the concert helped Dixon rediscover its history, it helped to temporarily reinvigorate the Main Street program even more so.  On Friday and Saturday night, the downtown Main Street area was overflowing, blocked off to cars as the streets filled with people from all over the country.  Wandering bands of musicians roamed the streets after the concert playing all sorts of music as thousands of people moved from store to store and from after-show to after-show.

Dixon is a truly amazing community to have accepted so many thousands of people with open arms. I am paraphrasing when I say this, but as Mumford and Sons came back on stage for their encore around 11 p.m., Marcus Mumford said, “Dixon, you guys are absolutely amazing.  And the rest of you who showed up this weekend, you’re pretty great too. Go check out Dixon tonight, it is one of the coolest places we’ve ever toured.


Mumford & Sons take the stage in Dixon.

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.

 

When I think about the Motor City area, I think rolled-up shirt sleeves, firm handshakes, and American-made. So, when two native sons told me over beers on a recent Saturday afternoon that greater Detroit’s most iconic auto repair garage had been converted into a popular new restaurant, I assumed the city had lost something special.

Turns out, I was wrong.


The electric fuel pumps out front are used frequently by customers and symbolize the progress of the Motor City.

Vinsetta Garage was built in 1919 and was believed to be the longest-operating repair shop east of the Mississippi until it closed in 2010 when longtime owner Jack Marwil decided to shift gears and attend law school.

Built on Woodward Avenue in Berkley, Michigan, just 10 minutes outside the city limits, where old-timers and youngsters alike still pull up fold-out chairs on Friday nights to watch people slowly cruise their classic Fords, Chevys, and Dodges, it was considered the best garage in greater Detroit (which is saying something), and was a monument to the identity of Detroiters and their love affair with cars -- so popular, in fact, that Marwil had to turn business away.

“If you lived in Detroit long enough, [the garage] was a landmark, and being a customer was a point of pride,” says Carol Banas, a patron of the garage for more than 25 years. “Pride. It’s what the city is all about and that building and the business summed it all up.”


“We didn’t want to strip the whole thing and then say ‘Hey, let’s start from scratch,’” says Stevenson of the interior.

Given the community’s attachment, when new owners Ann Stevenson, Curt Catallo, KC Crain, and Ashley Crain decided to turn the space into a restaurant serving revamped American comfort food, they were careful to maintain the sentimental value of the building.

“My whole stance from the first time I saw the building throughout the whole process was ‘preserve what’s here,’” says Stevenson. “So much of it was honoring the building and finding the balance between what existed there and what we needed to add in for its new usage.”

To meet health codes, a cleanable ceiling was installed above the kitchen, but as a nod to the past, Stevenson framed it with the semi-opaque security glass from the skylights. She also found a way to repurpose the double-faucet sink the repairmen had used; going so far as to completely rework the design of what is now the unisex washroom just to include it.

Stevenson told me what she strived hardest to preserve were the layers of paint on the walls that dated back decades and had built up an incredible history of the building.


Even small items, like the picture (l.), were kept. And the walls (r.) certainly still have the personality of a classic auto repair garage.

But despite these and other preservation efforts, the restaurant, which opened this past May, isn’t a static relic of Detroit’s past. Stevenson says that since 2008, the city has developed both a sense of optimism and a movement to celebrate what it’s becoming. The garage, now fixed with two frequently used electric car charging stations out front, is emblematic of that.

“You’re in this garage that’s iconic and old and has existed forever, yet it’s sort of about the future. It’s not just decorative, it’s utilized,” says Stevenson.

“If it were in Canton or Scranton or Toledo or Tulsa, I’m sure it would still be an incredibly beautiful building, but the fact that we are the Motor City and it served its purpose for what the city does so well, I think it’s very symbolic.”

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.