Revitalization

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.

Discovering Philadelphia's Favorite Places

Posted on: June 27th, 2012 by David Garber

 

If you haven't heard of them already, there's a great organization called Hidden City Philadelphia. Their goal is to highlight the city's unique and under-known special places by connecting them with resources in order to activate them in new and interesting ways.

As self-described on their site, "Hidden City is about transforming that innate, childlike sense of wonder that we all have into inspiration, ideas, and social action around place, making our urban environment a more vibrant, productive, and desirable place to live, work, and play."

This idea is translatable across all cities and towns -- and as much as I could write about all sorts of great things that Hidden City is putting on and getting together (hmm ... sounds like a great idea for an interview), I wanted to call attention to a series of videos they're creating called "My Favorite Place." Check out a couple of the videos below, or click through to see the entire set.

What are your favorite places in the city, town, or countryside that you call home? Are there places out there that people don't know enough about now that could use some creative marketing? Let us know in the comments!

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.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Prairie House in Need of Assistance

Posted on: May 31st, 2012 by David Robert Weible

 

From a building preservation standpoint, the B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee, Illinois, would seem to have it easy. The first of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style houses, it was most recently purchased by the Wright In Kankakee organization in order to establish an arts and education center and house museum that would be open to the public. With a mortgage financed by the previous owners who had fully restored the house, preservation work isn’t what the organization is worried about. Their biggest job is fundraising to pay back the loan.

This July, Elisabeth Dunbar, executive director and curator of the house, and her team of 55 volunteers will launch a capital campaign to meet their goal of raising the $1.6 million needed in the next eight years to fully finance the house. "People perceive that there is no urgency because there is no immediate physical threat to the home," Dunbar told me, "but now we’re going to be threatened if we can’t pay off the debt."

One major challenge to the fundraising effort is location. Though Bradley House is just an hour from downtown Chicago, it’s south of I-80, a cultural dividing line between the city and the rest of the state, Dunbar says, which keeps it relatively off the radar of Wright fans from up north.

Another fundraising challenge is that Kankakee itself is still recovering from the recession. Though locals provide plenty of moral support, donations are difficult to come by. "If we don’t succeed, my greatest fear is that it will be turned back into a restaurant and the historic fabric of the house will be lost," says Dunbar, who notes that the house is in great physical shape, but there’s simply no market for a seven-bedroom house in Kankakee.

Though the house, now an integral part of the community, hosts classes, poetry readings, and even operas to help sustain it, its need is still great. You can help by donating on the organization’s homepage or by attending one of the many planned events at the house like the juried art show on July 21st and 22nd where entry fees and portions of all art sales go to the foundation.

Interested in reading more about Frank Lloyd Wright? Check out our Spring issue of Preservation magazine.

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.