Revitalization

Theaster Gates' Art & Revival on Chicago's Dorchester Avenue

Posted on: March 21st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 1 Comment

 

The 6900 block of Dorchester Avenue in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood easily could have been another casualty of the economic downturn, or another tale of a blighted neighborhood lost to neglect. But when Theaster Gates, Jr. rehabilitated an abandoned house there in 2006, he had a vision.

"I thought if I could just take care of my little house on the block, there might be some residual effect," says Gates, an artist, and urban and cultural planner. "I could share my lawnmower with my neighbors and help create a better place just by being present."


A night of jazz on the Dorchester Projects' reclaimed deck. (Photo: reallyboring on Flickr)

Two years later, as the economy and housing market took a nosedive, he watched one family after another vacate their homes. So he began purchasing and rehabilitating a few of them, slowly transforming his neighborhood into a vibrant cultural haven.

He started with the house next door. After restoring it, using original materials when possible, along with salvaged or recycled materials, he filled it with 14,000 art and architecture books from a shuttered local bookstore, as well as a collection of 60,000 images donated by the University of Chicago art history department’s lantern slide archive.


Theaster Gates inside the house on Dorchester Avenue. (Photo: Lloyd Degrane )

Down the street, Gates restored another home, creating what he calls his Black Cinema House. His own residence, now filled with thousands of LPs from a local record store that went out of business, doubles as the Listening House. A fourth house in his collection will eventually become an ad hoc soul food joint, a noncommercial space where Gates will host communal meals as a way to encourage conversations about art and culture. ... Read More →

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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Block Club Revitalization in Chicago's K-Town Neighborhood

Posted on: February 28th, 2012 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Paul Norrington

K-Town - so named because of a 1913 street-naming plan in which all north-south streets were named alphabetically in one-mile groups, starting at the Indiana border - is tucked in the far southwest corner of Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. K-Town was built by Czechoslovakian immigrants in the late 1890s and early 1900s, and was home to many employees of the nearby Western Electric Plant. (Tragically, many of those original residents died while on a company-sponsored yearly outing on the SS Eastland, a passenger ship that capsized in the Chicago River, killing 844 passengers and members of the crew.)


K-Town's greystone homes. (Photo: Paul Norrington)

In the late 1950s and early 60s, many working and middle-class blacks bought homes in K-Town and immediately formed block clubs. These block clubs not only stabilized the community, but also improved it while maintaining its character. However, with a limited availability of credit and insurance during this time, reinvestment in the neighborhood declined. Many middle-class black families and businesses moved out of North Lawndale, leaving only a few low-paying jobs for those who remained in the community. All this, plus poor urban planning practices, increased drug activity, and under-performing schools caused a shift in economic demographics, threatening the integrity of the neighborhood.... Read More →

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.

An Unexpected Find Along a Well-Worn Route

Posted on: February 24th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 4 Comments

 

Yesterday morning I walked to the office along a well-worn route. It's a route I've taken many times before, each building and curb and patio duly noted a hundred times before. When I lived further away, this was the path I would take when I stayed with a friend in the city, but since moving closer in, it’s been less frequently trod.


The grand and very well-preserved Heurich House. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

One of the reasons I chose this particular path (aside from distance and directness) was that it ends near the Heurich House, a Victorian home once owned by Christian Heurich, a Washington, DC, brew master. The interior is opulent, boasting a variety of technological marvels, and there is a gated garden in the back that is open for visitors on beautiful spring days. On this particular day, I had just enough time to smile at the building before barreling past.

It was then that I was struck speechless by a sudden jolt of creative happiness, because sometime in the last six months a commissioned mural had gone up across the street.

The colors are vivid, with bright emotion pulling passersby out of whatever day dream in which they're absorbed.  You stop, stare. Shift your position to pull you closer to the fence, and stare again.


Peeking through to the mural. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

It’s a relatively simple tableau - a toy theater set with a view of two of the first mansions built in the surrounding historic district. Commissioned by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and designed and painted by Peter Waddell and a group of aspiring artists, the mural is an unexpected burst of joy.

Seeing this, however, made me think: What else do I not see amidst the familiar, the well worn, and the everyday?  What exactly is it about the built environment that gives me (and I know others feel the same way) that rush of euphoria much like seeing the sun after days of rain?


The full Toy Theatre mural, in all it's vibrant glory. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Over the long weekend my sisters and I talked about place and happiness - about how much where we live and the particular spaces we inhabit affect our moods and contentment. Since we were in New York City, we discussed how for some people the city spurs on creativity and provides excitement, while for others it is often filled with loneliness and a lifestyle that is so fast it’s hard to catch your breath.

We talked about Frank Lloyd Wright and his use of using space to push where we lived out into nature, to have his homes be more organic, or as is the case with Taliesin West, mimic the flow of music - each detail meant to connect, to settle, and to allow us to thrive.

Place is just as important as the people you're with or the job you work in. So next time you’re walking along your well worn route, look to the left instead of the right or look up when you usually stare at the ground. Step over to another side of the street for a new perspective. You might just see something to remind you why this place, this city, this town is a part of your heart.

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

Interview: Sam & Chris of Raleigh's Videri Chocolate Factory

Posted on: February 17th, 2012 by David Garber 2 Comments

 


Owners Sam Ratto and Chris Heavener inside the factory. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

Preservation is often defined as an action with an end date: the act of saving - through advocacy; policy; or blood, sweat, and tears restoration - places for future use, memory, and appreciation. But regardless of how it's typically regarded, a more holistic "preservation" doesn't end when the paint dries. It's just as much about moving into and using those old places as it is about saving or restoring them.

Enter Sam Ratto and Chris Heavener: two friends who decided to follow a dream and open Videri Chocolate Factory in a c. 1912 railroad depot in Raleigh's warehouse district. They're preservationists because they connected with the warmth of an old building in a changing neighborhood and decided to move in. Here's their story.


The exterior of Videri's space in the historic Depot building. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

How did you two meet and what inspired you to start an organic chocolate factory?

Chris: I’ve been publishing a literary and arts magazine for about five years now, but before that I worked at a wakeboarding magazine, which is where I met Sam. He worked for a shoe company that catered to the same industry. Whenever he would come to town for trade shows and events we’d always hang out. We shared a dissatisfaction for the limitations and ethos of the industry so we both got out of it around the same time.

Sam: When I moved to Raleigh in 2009 with my then-fiancée (now wife) Starr, we got jobs through a friend at a bean-to-bar chocolate factory here in town. Something lit up in my brain when I sat in front of a pile of beans that needed to be sorted. I began to do tons of research and applied that to making their chocolate taste better. I brought a lot of ideas to them about moving towards organic and fair trade chocolate, but they didn't want to focus energy on that, so I left, looking to do something else. Chris came to me in February of 2011 and said, "You’re good at making chocolate and I think we can make a great, sustainable business."


Sam sorting beans at the Videri factory. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

What is your favorite part of the chocolate making process?

Sam: My favorite part of chocolate making is the artistry you have to weave into the pure science of chocolate making - putting together a wonderful puzzle of flavor and consistency.

Chris: Eating it is obviously number one. But other than that I just like the opportunity to work at Sam’s side and help him out in the factory. It’s given me an appreciation of the artistry required to make great tasting chocolate.


Freshly-made chocolate. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

What businesses did you look to for inspiration when you were starting Videri?

Chris: There’s a great – and very successful - chocolate company out of Seattle called Theo that makes fantastic chocolate in an ethically responsible way. Sam and I both read Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s book Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman – his is a good example of a company that makes quality products customers want while attempting to look out for the environment and their employees.


The logo, the building, and the beans. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

When you were choosing where to locate the chocolate factory, what type of space were you looking for?

Sam: When we were looking at spaces to start and grow our chocolate factory, we wanted a warehouse space that could accommodate the daily production of chocolate, but also have a warm, welcoming feel. When we saw the Depot building, it seemed to be a perfect combination.

Chris: We wanted a place customers and employees alike would want to spend time in. We looked at a few properties but nothing came close to the natural character and warmth of the Depot building.


Chris taking care of the scraps. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

Why was it important to be in that kind of space?

Sam: It is important to be in a warehouse-type building because it evokes craft and proper building techniques. This building was completed in 1912 and is still standing strong on its original foundation.

Chris: People who come into the space are much more than customers, they’re members of our community. We want to respect and honor that by providing a place to bring the family, a place to bring a date, a place to throw a party, a place where basically everyone is welcome. There’s something stale and subtly hostile about most modern utilitarian business buildings. The industrial era style of the Depot cultivated this feeling of possibility and imagination that’s hard to replicate.


Another view of the integrated signage. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

What does your space say about you, the company, and the chocolate?

Sam: This space says that we care about hard work and dedication to our beliefs of being a sustainable company. This space is welcoming and comforting, two very important things when it comes to chocolate.

Chris: It reflects our attention to detail, our respect for the processes that shaped the industry and our commitment to look to a future of conducting business in a manner healthy for the community and for the environment. The space suggests we’re making every effort to produce the best tasting chocolate in a responsible fashion.


The finished products. (Photo: Chase Heavener)

How do you hope to shape and be shaped by the area around you?

Chris: I hope the community embraces us as much as we’re attempting to embrace them. I’d love the company to be shaped by the needs and desires of the community. I’d love to be part of a discussion that makes us as beneficial to the Raleigh area as possible.

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He is eagerly awaiting his first shipment of Videri chocolate. Solely for research purposes, of course.

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 Diary: Gutting and Exposing the Upstairs

Posted on: February 15th, 2012 by David Garber 3 Comments

 

Gutting. It's kind of a bad word in some preservation circles. But in the case of Lionel Lofts, most of the interior walls and surfaces weren't original to the building: drywall, dropped ceilings, and carpet that would make me fear for my life if I walked on it barefoot.

As you can see ... EXPOSED BRICK! Although in most cases exposed brick was never intended to be exposed, it's a trend that adds warmth and character to building interiors and isn't likely to go away any time soon. For capital H historic buildings, keep the plaster. For lofts in a cool-and-old-but-not-necessarily-historic-building on a hot restaurant corridor, exposing brick isn't exactly a deal breaker.

Removing the plaster also exposed some 10-Commandments-shaped brick details in the walls (above). Anyone have an explanation for these? They don't tie into anything on the inside, but don't look like they were windows, either.

Demolition is a dusty job. But someone's gotta do it. While wearing air purifying masks.

During an intensive demo such as this, spraying a mist of water over the debris is an effective way to minimize airborne particulate matter, AKA all the stuff I was breathing in since I wasn't wearing a mask.

Goodbye, old pipes.

At this point you're probably wondering: "Are they saving anything??" Yes, but not much. The floor joists, elaborate radiators, and things like cool old cast iron sinks are being salvaged. But otherwise, the interiors will be pretty much brand new. Inside the old exterior, of course.

Mid-way through demo on the second floor...

And almost done with demo on the second floor. Notice a difference in ceiling height?

I thought this was a neat juxtaposition of places where the exterior has been opened and closed over time. From left to right: original window, new(ish ... very much ish) air conditioner unit, and old doorway, now bricked up.

As you can see above, the garage space is currently being used to sort and store demolition debris. Although the demo to this point has taken place only on the top two levels, hammers will hit the first floor retail space starting later this week.

David Garber is the blog editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. More information on this development project can be found on the Lionel Lofts 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.