Revitalization

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.

A Double Dose of Southern Comfort

Posted on: August 27th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 6 Comments

 

By Susannah Ware

“Darlin, have you ever been here before?” the Bristol Campground manager asked in his sweet country drawl.

“No sir, I haven’t,” I replied, smiling through the phone and instinctually reverting to the Southern politeness I had grown up with.

“Well, we’ve got 1,300 acres and y’all are welcome to sleep wherever you like when you get here.”

This was our first introduction to Bristol’s laidback charm as I planned the trip for my boyfriend Jacob and me to attend Mumford & Sons’s Gentlemen of the Road (GOTR) concert. I had been particularly concerned that the campground, usually used for NASCAR races, would kick us off our site if we hadn’t filled out the online form properly. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

The campground and what seemed like the whole Bristol community were expecting us, as well as the other visitors from across the map. We were outsiders, but welcome to join in and poke our heads around to see if we liked what we saw.

What we saw were streets lined with flags, storefronts welcoming fans with mustachioed signs, and restaurants serving up local burgers, bar-b-q, and brews. We took an instant liking to it, much like Mumford and Sons had the year before.

When the band originally visited Bristol, they were passing through from Nashville to New York between shows. They spoke with a few locals about the possibility of the town as a concert venue and visited their hoped-for site. Even then, they envisioned the concert on the lot in front of the illuminated historic train station, which was renovated to become an event/meeting facility after passenger service ended. Recounting the visit to the audience during the concert, they had met with what they felt were kindred spirits in a place rich with music history. (Congress’ HR 214 named Bristol the “Birthplace of Country Music,” as it was home to the first recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.) The historic site added great ambiance to already great music.

But music was only part of the experience—most of the morning and for a few afternoon strolls, we were drawn down Bristol’s central artery. State Street, which is bisected by the Virginia/Tennessee state line, offers two doses of Southern hospitality. (Jacob and I had started our relationship long-distance, so we found this walk-able dividing line a novelty for the day.)

We had four main takeaways from Bristol’s Main Street community, which undoubtedly contributed to Jacob’s frequent announcements of, “I like this place. I’d live here.”

- Happy Hosts: Regardless of long lines at restaurants with expanded storefronts spilling into the street, servers were courteous, kind, and curious towards the concertgoers. No doubt businesses were getting quite a boost from the event, but they were taking on the strain in stride. While waiting at one local watering hole, we even got to partake in a new Bristol cocktail -- homemade lemonade with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey, which Jacob dubbed “lemonade with confidence.” (I hope the lemonade was made in Virginia for a true VA/TN Bristol combo).

- “Come On In” Community: Finding a solid community seems like a given in such a small town but we city folk, who interact with neighbors at best with a smile and a nod, were impressed by the closeness. At one restaurant, a younger woman headed to the concert stopped to speak with the manager, who was swiftly emptying overloading trash bags and refilling drinks. We overheard him ask her to work at the next event from 10 a.m. – 1 a.m. As our eyes widened at the shift length, her chipper response was instead, “Sure, sounds great! How many more will you need me to bring? My sister might want to help.” Seemed like everyone was ready to jump in to show off Bristol.

- Local Lovers: While this was a massive event with people pouring in from all over the South and Mid-Atlantic, Bristol took advantage of showcasing their local beer, local grass-fed beef, and local music. (Our favorite brew was the Honey Cream Ale from Wolf Hills Brewery.)


The historic Burger Bar (rumored to be the place of Hank Williams' last meal) slings grass-fed beef burgers in their iconic 1940s-era building.

- Music Metropolis: To close out the concert, Mumford and Sons pulled the other GOTR artists on stage for “Wagon Wheel,” a rousing cover that left the place echoing with one last love song to the South. But the show didn’t end there—after-parties thumped into nearby venues and local musicians dotted State Street serenading fans on their retreat. For those eager for more al fresco entertainment, Americana band The Black Lillies jammed with Bristol's Country Music Mural as their backdrop.

As State Street finally grew quiet, we begrudgingly headed back to our temporary camp, but we were left wanting more. More music. More local food and drink. More welcoming folks. More Bristol.

So now, the next time we're meandering along the state line, and someone asks me, “Darlin', have you ever been here before?” I can say, “Well, yes, I have. And I can't wait to get back.”

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.

Preservation in Action: North Amherst Residents Aim for Local Historic Designation

Posted on: August 24th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Laura Wainman, Editorial Intern


North Congregational Church in North Amherst, Mass.

Here at the National Trust, we spend our days championing preservation movements and ensuring that the public is aware of historic places in need of saving. And across the country groups of dedicated citizens, like the people of North Amherst, Mass., are preserving their own heritage places proactively by establishing local historic districts.

But what exactly does it take? In North Amherst's case, it's requiring local leadership, teamwork, and a lot of patience.

Led by resident Louis Greenbaum, locals aim to protect North Amherst Village from future threats by designating it a local historic district. This would ensure that changes to the exterior features of homes and barns in the selected area must be approved by the District Commission. Currently, there is no immediate danger to the area, as the annual town meeting rejected rezoning efforts and mixed-use development plans for a second time.

“The [Historical] Commission had already been discussing whether it should pursue historic district designation for North Amherst when residents officially brought it to the commission. There is a strong possibility that the commission will move this forward,” says Nathaniel Malloy, associate planner for the town of Amherst.

Moving the proposal forward would mean appointing a study committee to determine the boundaries of the district, the significance of local homes, any unifying themes of the area, and the unique characteristics that make preservation necessary.

“Many public forums will be held and surveys conducted to gauge the opinion of the residents. There can be some confusion that designation would require residents to significantly change their homes to make them look historic, but that isn’t the case. It just means major changes need to be reviewed first,” Malloy says.

On average, this study takes a year to complete, but the only other local historic district in Amherst, the Dickinson Local Historic District, took more than two years to finish and that designation has still not gone into effect. In other words, citizens shouldn’t expect overnight results. Once approved, a District Commission is appointed to review any major future changes or removals to buildings within the district.

“We hope that these designations become a self-policing tool, in some respect, as the citizens take pride in the stabilization of their neighborhood,” Malloy says.

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 Bastrop Historic High School Apartments

For nearly a dozen years -- ever since the Bastrop, Louisiana became a Main Street community in 2000 -- the goal of finding a new use for the one-time Bastrop High School building loomed. The 1927 building had seen its last students in 1998, but its location a couple of blocks from downtown made it a key target for revitalization.

It took 10 years and 12 kinds of funding to get the project underway, but the grand opening of the  Bastrop Historic High School Apartments -- a state-of-the-art senior community -- at the end of 2011 made it all worthwhile.

With many former students now as residents, the developers went out of their way to make the building new, but also familiar:

"Tenants who walk down the corridors, which were kept at the original dimensions -- 12 feet wide by 15 feet tall -- can see the old lockers they used to keep their books in. With the original doors intact, every classroom has been converted into an apartment unit, and each contains a section of the original chalkboard so residents can scribble notes to themselves. The aforementioned gym, in its unique central position in the building, has retained the stage and one side of its bleachers."

In addition to maintaining many of the historic attributes, there was also a goal of modernizing the building's systems:

"They installed the largest residential solar system in all of Louisiana on the building’s spacious roof -- 430 solar panels that generate up to 106 kilowatts of power daily.

When asked why the team decided to put in the new technology, [developer Tom] Crumley replied, 'I loved the idea of combining modern technology with a historic property. Back in the twenties when this building was built, it was state-of-the-art, and now what’s state-of-the-art is this kind of stuff.'"

Read more about this amazing transformation in the Main Street Story of the Week, Hope Rewarded in Bastrop, Louisiana.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.