Conference Digest: Wrapping Up, Not Winding Down

Posted on: October 24th, 2011 by Guest Writer 1 Comment


Written by Tatum Taylor

Looking through the stained glass at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

My first Preservation Conference ended as breathlessly as it began -- but it isn’t over. I now have a chance to pause and reflect, and I know I will continue to do so in the coming days. The conference was truly a preservation whirlwind, and given all of the educational sessions, field sessions, plenaries, and tours filling over 50 pages of program listings, it is likely that no two preservationists took identical paths through the conference. This array of options allowed us to pursue the individual interests that make up our incredibly multidisciplinary field. Based on my own conference path, here is my conclusion about some of the affinities that we ultimately have in common.

Buildings: Okay, this one is self-evident; let’s admit that we are all possessed with an affection for the built environment that might seem borderline-obsessive to people from outside the field. And this year's Preservation Conference location made our ardor even more apparent: Buffalo has a giant wooly mammal’s share of lovable buildings. More than aesthetic admiration alone, we share a calling to instill new life in buildings, from the Guaranty’s double rehabilitations, which the restoration architect called “making a silk purse out of a silk purse,” to the historic properties of “Sacred Sites Renewed,” which have escaped threat by adapting to new uses like event venues and apartments while retaining religious services.

Stories: At the heart of much of the preservation work discussed at the conference was storytelling. The new interpretation plan at Buffalo’s Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site was based on the premise of visitors’ path through the house following a narrative storyline, with historic figures viewed as characters. The “Beyond Stonewall” panelists pointed out that hundreds of sites already on the National Register could and should be reinterpreted to reflect connected stories of the LGBT community. Sites related to the Underground Railroad in Ontario brought to light the stories of another previously underrepresented group. And all of the educational sessions centered on preservationists’ stories of their experiences in the field.

Food: My sense of the extent of preservationists’ love of food began as I followed #presconf on Twitter while awaiting my delayed flight to Buffalo and saw references to the scent of cinnamon buns floating through the Opening Plenary. I soon discovered the practical applications of our culinary addictions. At the TR Inaugural Site, sound effects of clinking china and coffee smell generators make the dining room come alive for visitors. Another session showed how house museums can be reimagined as sustainable sites, and food is the key. The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, for example, promotes the local food movement through agricultural production at the historic Woodlawn property.

Change: This one might seem contradictory to a certain view of preservation as resisting the effects of time, but that view vastly oversimplifies the goals of our field. Every one of the sessions I attended focused on change as a necessary tool. The TR Site, aiming to create a “transformative experience” for visitors, first enacted transformation in its own interpretation. “Beyond Stonewall” called for change in the degree to which LGBT historic sites are officially recognized. And the sacred sites and sustainable house museums changed the way in which their spaces were used in order to maximize their relevance and contributions to their communities.

One another: I’ve heard it said that preservation is a field full of labors of love. As I interacted with thousands of preservationists this week, I witnessed their undeniable willingness to collaborate and swap ideas out of genuine interest, respect, and perhaps the security of a mutual appreciation for why signage or section drawings or shingles can be so awfully exciting. The Preservation Conference was like a family reunion where you find yourself mingling with the aunts and uncles and third-cousins-once-removed that you didn’t quite realize you had, but you are immediately aware that something at the level of your blood unites you. While I was sorry to see the conference end, I left feeling energized to share the preservation fervor of the conference with the rest of the world, knowing that a slew of amazing comrades, colleagues, and friends are on my side.

Tatum Taylor is a second-year student in the Historic Preservation graduate program at Columbia University. She tweets as @heritagewriter and blogs about preservation and place-based heritage at storybuilding.

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.

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Conference Digest, Day 3: Adaptive Use in Niagara-On-The-Lake

Posted on: October 23rd, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Asuka Ogawa

“We have to think creatively, or we’ll see these buildings die." This was the theme that emerged on our tour of three adaptive use projects in Niagara-on-the-Lake, led by Leah Wallace, Heritage Planner at the town of Niagara-on-the-lake in Ontario, Canada.

The Coach House at the Rand Estate. (Photo: Asuka Ogawa)

After crossing the American – Canadian Border, we first visited The Rand Estate in Randwood, an amazing 13 acres residential estate property that was the summer estate for the Rand family from 1872 to 1971. The site is listed on the town’s Register of Heritage Resources, and has recently been proposed to be reused as a 106-room inn with a restaurant, spa facilities, a conference center, and artists’ studios.

The first public meeting for this adaptive use was held in September; however, there are still a number of issues to be discussed, including the conservation of cultural and archaeological resources, natural landscape protection, and the impact on adjacent heritage properties and the residential community.

The second site, Fort George National Historic Site was an example of adding a contemporary layer to a historic military site. Fort George played a vital role during the war of 1812, serving as the headquarters for the Center Division of the British army. The War of 1812 laid the foundation of today’s Canada, and the site entails multi- layered values identified by different groups including the First Nations, Canadians, Americans, and the British.

The construction of the four season multi-use shelter “Agora” at the site was approved by The Parks Canada in March 2011. While this new addition would provide further opportunities for cultural tourism and education, our guide from The Parks Canada made note that there are still arguments both for and against this new addition.

Students working on window restoration at Willowbank. (Photo: Asuka Ogawa)

The last stop was at Willowbank, an emerging educational institution that hosts academic apprenticeship training in heritage conservation. The school uses Willowbank’s richly layered aboriginal landscape and the Classical revival mansion built for Alexander and Hanna Hamilton in the 1830s as teaching resources as well as the students’ place to study.

Throughout the tour, we encountered numerous issues and challenges in maintaining the intangible and tangible heritage values while dramatically altering the use. What do we want to preserve? For whom? Can a new addition be considered a “contemporary layer?” If yes, how far can we go?

Adaptive reuse is not a simple task. The field trip vividly showed us that our society is made up of many different groups that place value on a place in their own distinctive ways, but also that our society constitutes the environment in which heritage is conceived and managed. These three ongoing projects in Niagara-on-the-lake provided great examples of how we can save underutilized buildings and disappearing landscapes by giving them a new purpose, meaning, and use.

Asuka Ogawa is a second year student in Columbia’s M.S. Historic Preservation Program, has a BA in Anthropology from Waseda University, Tokyo, and worked as a cultural tourism planner in Japan before coming to New York.

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.

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Conference Digest, Day 2: An Evening With Buffalo Modern

Posted on: October 21st, 2011 by Guest Writer


Fellow Columbia University First Year Historic Preservation Students. (Photo: Hilary Grossman)

After a long day of education lectures, walking tours, and networking there was still one more event on Thursday's agenda: Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program and TrustModern's reception and tour at the 1973 Buffalo News Building, designed by Edward Durell Stone.

Historic Printing Press - shown on the tour to show how far printing presses have come. (Photo: Hilary Grossman)

Walking into the solid concrete lobby with blocking detail, we were overwhelmed by the streamline modern theory that was applied to the 150,000 square foot building. After taking the elevator up the top floor we were greeted by two second-years and a 36 square foot garden growing inside the two-story atrium.

The tour was led by one of the managers of the Buffalo News. First stop: a historic newspaper where he explained the background of the company. Following his overall explanation he led us downstairs to take a tour of the editorial room and printing room. He showed us everything from the commercial printers to the printing press. He went over in detail how the press works and how the plates are made -- all highly informative. Concluding the night and tour we saw an actual plate being loaded on the press before it went into action.

I recommend anyone that didn’t go to the event to go see the Buffalo News Building. This modern Buffalo gem is open to the public at anytime.

Hilary Grossman is a Columbia University Historic Preservation First Year Master Student, member of the Social Networking and Historic Preservation Class, and  a graduate of Bachelor of Architecture from The Ohio State University.


Some other news and notes from yesterday's PresConf proceedings: Though we livestreamed Thursday's general session on "Preservation in the Age of Sustainability," we do not have a final recording for the event. Apologies to anyone who wanted to catch it later. The good news is, today's general session on right-sizing was captured just fine  -- we'll be sharing that tomorrow.

For tweets from yesterday's sessions, highlights of the Awards ceremony, and on-the-ground coverage of evening events like Museums by moonlight and the Candlelight House Tour, please check out the #presconf feed.

~Julia Rocchi

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

We've All Gone Local: Conference Digest, Day 1

Posted on: October 20th, 2011 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment


Preservationists gather on the mezzanine level at historic Shea's Performing Arts Center for the National Preservation Conference opening plenary.

You may notice this post is coming to you on Thursday, but don't be fooled -- it's really about Wednesday, the day the 65th annual National Preservation Conference kicked off in Buffalo, NY.

We've been covering Buffalo a lot these past few months, both here on Preservation Nation and through our Buffalo Unscripted web documentary project. But once you arrive, and you're standing in Niagara Square with the newly restored Statler Hotel over one shoulder and the gorgeous Art Deco City Hall over the other, you're struck by the power of being in a place where preservation is not only applauded, but encouraged -- even expected.

This power certainly isn't lost on the record-breaking 2,500 attendees who have trekked from all over the world to learn from this city and its people. Even though the conference didn't officially begin until 4 p.m. this afternoon with the Opening Plenary, everyone fanned out across Buffalo from 8 a.m. onward with their respective tours, affinity sessions, and on-the-ground case studies, eager to begin.

By the time we reconvened for the plenary, everyone was more than ready to settle into Shea's Performing Arts Center -- the largest intact movie house in the world -- to hear what Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, National Trust president Stephanie Meeks, and keynote speaker and author James Howard Kunstler had to share.  (We've linked to their individual speeches, but you can browse the full Ustream channel here.)

Of particular note was Stephanie Meeks' address, in which she outlines the National Trust's new focus on local preservationists. Not sure what we mean by that term? Here are the fast facts:

  • There are roughly 15 million people in the United States who share our values and are already taking action on behalf of preservation.
  • They have been flying under the radar. They rank preservation lower on this list of charitable interests than our preservation "grasstops" leaders -- more like number5 rather than number 1.
  • They also tend to think of preservation in a larger context -- as a subset of their commitment to culture, community, and sustainability.
  • When it comes to how they spend their time, however, local preservationists take almost as many preservation-related actions as leaders do. As Stephanie put it, "they are kindred spirits."
  • Overall, they are younger, more plugged into technology, and more diverse economically, culturally, and in their level of education.

Pretty exciting stuff, and something I anticipate will be discussed in much more detail in coming weeks and months.

The other revelation of the day wasn't in a speech or a session -- it was online. Turns out that the number of actively tweeting preservationists has jumped exponentially since last year's conference. I'm not sure if more folks know about Twitter or simply more people have smartphones, but the #presconf hashtag was off the hook the whole day as people posted photos, shared tips, and debated viewpoints.

Here are some of my favorite tweets from throughout the day:

And my personal favorite ...

Ok, that's it from me for now. Time to dive into day two of the conference. Stay tuned for more posts and vlogs from our team of roving reporters, all the way from Columbia University. It will be PresConf in a whole new light!

Julia Rocchi is on the Digital + New Media team at the National Trust. She is thrilled to be back in the Queen City for now a third season.

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.

Preservation Round-Up: 'Twas The Day Before Conference Edition

Posted on: October 18th, 2011 by David Garber


'Twas the day before Conference, and all through the nation
Pres-fans were buzzing, displaying elation.
Dreaming of places in need of repair,
Knowing the Conference soon would be there.

The Buffalomentum is rising. Thousands will descend on the Nickel City tomorrow. And here's a round-up of articles to help you prepare.

From's article "Buffalo's heritage takes center stage": "Hosting the National Preservation Conference - and the recognition that comes with it - is seen as a sign that Buffalo has arrived as a leading destination for late 19th and early 20th century architecture. "Every city is looking for an edge, for its story to tell, and this is Buffalo's," said Ed Healy, vice president of marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara. "This amazing collection of American architecture is our point of difference."

NBC News 2 spoke with Ed Healy of Visit Buffalo Niagara about the ways to take part in the conference events and festivities. Ed noted that "This is an opportunity to raise awareness about preservation," said Healy. "Preservation is an economic development tool. It's a tool that communities can use to help save and interpret their history." highlights some of the tours taking place this week: "The preservation movement in a lot of people's minds is still about the iconic structures, and we're lucky to have some fantastic ones," said Anthony Armstrong, program officer with Local Initiatives Support Corp. "But more and more nationally, and I think here locally also, people are learning that preservation is as much about preserving the historic context and in many ways the lifestyles of these older neighborhoods."

Buffalo Rising has a piece on Buffalo's tax-credit properties and is excited to show them off to all the preservationists coming to town. "The tax credit- assisted projects have helped save some of Buffalo's landmark properties, leveraging tens of millions of private sector investment while creating hundreds of construction and permanent jobs, thousands of square feet of commercial space and hundreds of apartments.  The polished jewels will proudly be on display for 2,500 preservationists from across the country this week."

In their article "Preservation group to honor Martin House," Buffalo Business First notes that the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Darwin Martin House, now restored, was vacant and in disrepair as recently as the 1990s.

Sure, the conference is centered in and focused on the city of Buffalo. But Niagara Falls is getting a little preservationist love, too.

The Buffalo Lighthouse, the city's oldest continuously-located building, will be open to the public this week. WNED Buffalo Toronto reports that "the area around the lighthouse has been fenced off from the working base and there's a new sidewalk allowing access to the historic structure and providing benches for visitors to view the Waterfront and other historic buildings with maintenance by Erie County."

Did you know we've been making a documentary highlighting Buffalo's passionate local preservationists? Jason Clement, the film's director, wrote for Buffalo Rising about how Buffalo is "a place where, if you're willing to un-tuck your shirt and get really dirty, you can get it done. And by "it," I mean that idea that has always been in the back of your head - a restored home, a better block, your own artwork, a new business." Information on the premiere of Buffalo Unscripted: A City Speaks is on the Buffalo Unscripted blog.

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.