Revitalization

 

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.

Where Are They Now? Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center

Posted on: August 8th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 


An example of the kind of urban industrial buildings that still line many of Brooklyn's neighborhood streets, and that manufacturer entrepreneurs are moving back into.

We cover a lot of different buildings and stories here at the National Trust, and it gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling whenever we can report back on a successful project. Today's example comes straight from the New York Times, with a shout-out to an old Brooklyn industrial building that now houses Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center.

Preservation magazine first covered Greenpoint in the March/April 2011 issue, which shared the story behind the company's efforts to keep industry in Brooklyn. Then yesterday we opened the Times to find a report on how the niche factory trend is continuing apace.

Turns out more and more manufacturing enterprises and small businesses are launching every day that need access to Manhattan’s many museums, magazines, advertising firms, and artists to thrive, and Brooklyn is the reported popular place to do it -- in large part because of its available building stock.

It’s great to see that Greenpoint continues to thrive and that the neighborhood of East Williamsburg is able to preserve its manufacturing identity. As Greenpoint's chief executive Brian T. Coleman said to the Times, "We think this is the future of urban manufacturing." Places from the past playing a functional role in the cities of the future? That's a vision we're behind 100%.

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.

Main Streets Make for the Best Small Towns in America

Posted on: August 3rd, 2012 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment

 


Bardstown, Kentucky -- the newly crowned most beautiful small town in America.

Those of us who are fans of historic preservation know that one of the things that make small towns great are the Main Streets that provide a vibrant -- and often historic -- backdrop for all manner of community activities.

This summer, participants in the Best of the Road contest learned that firsthand as they crisscrossed the United States visiting small towns to determine which were the best-of-the-best in five categories: friendliest, most patriotic, best for food, most beautiful, and most fun.

Coming as no surprise to us, three towns with active Main Street programs -- Murray, Kentucky (friendliest); Gainesville, Texas (most patriotic); and Bardstown, Kentucky (most beautiful) -- took away top honors.

If you're wondering just what it takes to be the friendliest small town in America, well ... let the citizens of Murray show you:

More videos of the winning communities can be found on the Best of the Road website.

Main Street communities also figured heavily among the finalists, including:

Friendliest:

  • San Luis Obispo, California

Most Patriotic:

  •  Deland, Florida

Best for Food:

  • Bloomington, Indiana
  • Walla Walla, Washington

Most Beautiful:

  • Baker City, Oregon
  • Danville, Kentucky
  • Sedona, Arizona
  • Tybee Island, Georgia

Most Fun:

  • Denton, Texas

Congratulations to the winners and the finalists in our Main Street family! (By the way -- you can read more about these great communities on our Main Street website.)

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.

 

"People need spaces. People need spaces that are well-intentioned and designed, and that think about people and how they interact in them. And I feel like as long as we do that on the inside of the space, people will need to keep coming back." -- Sam Strand, co-founder, Starline Social Club

 
The Starline Social Club -- which began about a year ago in Oakland, California's Uptown neighborhood in a dusty old c. 1893 building  that once housed an Oddfellows Hall, Social Club for the Deaf, and the old Starline janitorial supply store -- has become a meeting point for creative people doing creative things across their neighborhood and city: musicians looking for a space to perform; artists looking for a place to exhibit; chefs looking for a place to host meals (like the French Caribbean community meal shown in the slideshow above); and performers, entrepreneurs, and even yogis looking for a place to learn, teach, and collaborate.

Video credit: Irene Florez, Oakland Local

As you can see in the above video (filmed late last year), the Starline building is still a work in progress. Although there are plans drawn up for a full-scale restoration of both the exterior and interior, money is still being raised, and the club is happily using the building while making small improvements -- both artistic and structural -- around the premises.

Are there similar social clubs in your city or town, or places where you think this idea could work? If so, let us know in the comments! We're always on the lookout for great ideas that involve great old buildings.

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.

[Slideshow] Detroit's Valentine Distilling Co.

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by David Garber 6 Comments

 

Last week I spent a few days in the preservationist mecca of Detroit, Michigan. I'll touch on some of my other preservation-related visits on the blog next week, but first -- a photo tour of Valentine Distilling Co., a company we highlighted last year because of owner Rifino Valentine's decision to locate his business in an old building.


The exterior of the Valentine Distilling Co., which has had a number of auto and industrial uses over the past 80 years.

So, like any good reporter, I figured I should stop in for a follow-up -- mostly, I'll admit, because I thought it was a cool company in a cool building, and I wanted to learn more about the distilling process. When I got there, I was greeted by Rifino and his dog, Sherbet, both of whom led me on a tour of the building.

The last user of the c. 1928 one-story brick building was a pool table manufacturing company, so turning it into a distillery was kind of keeping it in the family. And although records of previous tenants are thin, there's evidence that the building was used as an automobile repair shop before that.

 
The building's industrial feel is carried into the interior decor. Even where walls didn't exist previously, Rifino was careful to use bricks, blocks, and windows salvaged from demolished Detroit buildings.

Check out the above slideshow for more of my tour through Valentine Distilling Co., and if they don't already, ask your local bars to consider stocking the preservation-friendly Valentine Vodka. Remember, preservation is just as much about keeping sustainable uses in old and historic buildings as much as it is the process of saving those places in the first place. Cheers!

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.