Interviews

 


Front view of the church. The dated stone’s translation reads: “Evangelical Lutheran German and English Church A.D. 1863.”

In June 2009, a small story appeared in Brian Brehmer's church bulletin looking for interested people who wanted to work towards preserving and promoting their historic church -- the Salem Lutheran Landmark Church, the birthplace of the Wisconsin Synod.

Despite his lack of preservation background, Brian was inspired to help the place where he'd been a lifelong congregant, and so joined with other preservation-minded community members to form the Friends of the Landmark Church.

Now, three years later, the Friends group is continuing its work to repair the building and catalog the history of this local treasure. We caught up with Brian to learn what the church means to his community, and how these local preservationists are shaping the future for a historic place.

Describe your personal history with Landmark Church and the community. What does the church mean to you?

I have been a member of [Landmark Church] my entire life (40 years) and am the fifth generation of my family to be a member. I was baptized in the old church and had both my kindergarten and first-grade classes in the adjoining building. I live in the same city (Milwaukee) as my family has since 1858.

The church is important to me both as a reminder of my religious home, but also as a reminder of those people who lived and died before me. It also allows me the opportunity to give something back to those who gave something to me.

Tell me more about the historical significance of the Wisconsin Synod. What is it, why is it important to your community, and how is it tied to the church you’re working to save?

The Landmark Church, built of cream city brick in 1863, served as the home of Salem Lutheran Church's congregation from 1863-1977, before a new church was built to accommodate more members. It is important as it marks the birthplace of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church body (albeit across the street from where the original log cabin church stood).

This church, now a museum for the work of the Wisconsin Synod throughout the last 150 years, reminds not only us but the community as a whole about the importance and continuance of the mission started by a handful of families long ago, a mission we still continue to do. This church is also one of the oldest remaining buildings in the city of Milwaukee and has been recognized as such.


This original altarpiece and the other white chancel furnishings were donated in 1922 (the 75th anniversary of the congregation) by the Ladies Aid.

When you first saw the notice in the church bulletin about helping save the church, what went through your mind? What convinced you to pitch in and help save it?

When I first saw the notice, I saw it as an opportunity to use my education and my history with the church at the same time. I felt that since the Brehmers have been attending the church for 100+ years, I had an obligation to help preserve it and draw attention to the cause at hand. It was an opportunity for me to use my education and to give back in some way to the church that had served my family for so long.

I also could not see another historical building lost as so many have in the city of Milwaukee. Plus I wanted to learn about the history that I myself was not a part of, the history that existed before I was born.

How much preservation experience did you bring to the table at the outset? What have you learned over the course of working with the Friends?

Absolutely none, actually. While one of my degrees is in history (the roots of which were started by my 7th grade teacher at Salem, Mr. Bruce Bintz), and I have a lifelong love of archaeology and the study of the past, I had not been able to actually get my hands dirty in actual work, nor did I know just what went into saving a building and its artifacts.

I have learned that while not easy, working towards a common goal is actually fun and full of personal opportunities. I have also learned the importance of something as simple as a photo that lay in a drawer for years which was able to fill in gaps or answer questions.


This stained glass window depicts Jerusalem -- originally called Salem.

What’s your dream for the church?

My dream for the church is that it continues to serve as a reminder for those who are still living and for those who have not yet been born. I want it to continue to draw people to it and to remind them of the sacrifices that have been made on a private personal level as well as on a more communal level.

I'd also love to see the archives and the stories documented and presented in such a way that others can learn and grow from the work that we have done and will continue to do.

What’s your biggest piece of advice to people in other communities who want to save a place that matters to them?

The biggest piece of advice is to not give up. There will be both highs and lows, but all of them will be learning experiences and will pay off in the long run.

Also, be willing to constantly look for and accept help and input from others. Work is much easier if you have many workers than just a handful of dedicated ones. Plus, you never know what skills or abilities that one may bring to the table.

Lastly, I think that its important to have a clear-cut and constant goal. But don't carve it in stone, [and remember that] just because you have to adjust things doesn't mean you have failed yourselves or your mission.

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.

A Fresh Start for Pittsburgh's Bakery Square

Posted on: September 26th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Bakery Square in Pittsburgh, PA is having a sweet second act. Thanks to a preservation-minded redesign by firm Strada LLC, this former Nabisco factory has traded baked cookies for browser cookies and become the LEED-certified home for several technology tenants, including Google's regional office.

We chatted with John Martine, founding principal and lead design partner at Strada (not to mention a preservationist), about striking the balance between preserving a building's heritage and adapting it for modern use.

The exterior of Bakery Square as it appears today.

Tell me about Bakery Square’s history. What was the building’s former function?

It was built in 1917-1918 as a bakery factory for National Biscuit Company, later known as Nabisco. Crackers and cookies were made at this particular Nabisco plant until it closed in 1998. The building was then purchased by the Atlantic Baking Company in 2001, which continued to operate it as a bakery until 2004. The smell of baking cookies was a sweetly memorable landmark in the East End neighborhoods surrounding the factory for many years.

What is it now?

The building is now the major office building and anchor of a mixed-use complex of offices, retail, hotel and a parking garage known as Bakery Square.

What was your role in transforming Bakery Square into the office and retail hub that it is today?

Strada's primary role has been to transform most of the Nabisco building into office space for a variety of technology companies. Initially, Strada was commissioned by Google to design the two uppermost floors, six and seven (which is partially a mezzanine), into offices for their growing Pittsburgh staff. This effort was quickly followed by Phase 2, with additional designs for Google’s expansion on the fifth floor.

In addition, we are completing interior architecture for other technology tenants including University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Technology Development Center and Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. The building is now 100% leased by technology companies.


The 6th floor of the Nabisco Building before construction.

What were the benefits (and drawbacks) to adapting the cookie factory into spaces for technology companies?

There were many benefits in adapting this factory space for contemporary office use. Users like Google are drawn to the open floor plans, natural light and materials, and aged character of historic structures -- they fell in love with the scratched and worn wood floors that show the patina of 90 years of industrial use.

There is abundant natural light because of the expansive fenestration already in place, which helped to achieve LEED for Interiors Gold certification. And unusually generous floor to ceiling heights allow for a greater feeling of openness and provide ample space for the necessary mechanical systems so they didn’t become a visual distraction. In summary, there were far greater benefits than drawbacks.


The same view of the 6th floor after completion. In the foreground is a cluster of workstations with steel and brick conference towers beyond.

What were the challenges you faced in preserving some of the building’s original features while making the space tech-friendly for its new tenants? How did you overcome any of these challenges?

For the most part, we stripped the building's interior spaces bare of equipment, exposing the bones of the industrial floor plates and the structure. The design team devised a strategy that took full advantage of the existing post-industrial space with its high ceilings, amazing natural light, and quirky features.

The existing 60’ wide x 200’ long x 30’ high open space, with its trussed ceiling, lent itself well to forming the foundation of a one-of-a-kind “wow” factor. The team placed several large architectural elements within the vast space to enhance the visual and spatial experience of it. Elements included a curved lecture hall with viewing gallery, several one- and two-story conference towers, a giant cargo net hammock, and a bamboo forest with 10’-high cascading water walls.


This open-circle seating area on the 5th floor, known as the Think Pit, provides an ideal space for collaboration or relaxation.

However, salvaging all of these elements created obvious challenges -- for example,  auspending a 20’ x 20’ cargo net hammock from an existing concrete truss spanning 60’, and reinforcing 5’-deep beams to support an exterior roof deck.

What will the building’s rebirth mean for the neighborhood and the city today?

The project has been a huge success for the developer with the attraction of immensely desirable tenants like Google, and the building is now fully leased. Bakery Square has also become an important anchor in the revitalization of the East Liberty section of the city that was historically the second largest commercial center in Pittsburgh, but suffered badly from the effects of urban renewal in the 1960’s. It -- and other projects like it throughout the city -- are a testament to the enduring economic, aesthetic, and social value of historic structures.


The flooring material of this 5th floor cafe is made using scraps left over from the furniture industry.

What’s the next chapter in Bakery Square’s story? Has it inspired other preservation or development stories nearby?

As luck would have it, a major development site has come available directly across the street from the Nabisco building in the form of a decommissioned middle school built in the 1970s. The developer of Bakery Square is in the process of acquiring this 13-acre site for the next phase of development, Bakery Square 2.0. Although this will be new construction, it will expand the mixed-use character of Bakery Square by adding residences, as well as new office buildings, to the project. Strada is the master planner and urban designer for this next phase.

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.

[Interview] Morgan Devlin, Preserve Rhode Island: Rhody Rules the Roost

Posted on: September 21st, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Morgan Devlin's favorite new colleague is ... a rooster.

As marketing manager for the Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island, Preserve Rhode Island, Devlin is part of the team behind a colorful, cartoon rooster named Rhody the Rambler, the mascot for the coalition's Rhody Ramble program.


Rhody and a new friend participate in "Learning Colonial Games and Crafts" at Smith-Appleby House in Smithfield, RI.

This new effort, designed to connect families with historic places in Rhode Island, launched over the summer with a coalition of 21 historic sites ranging from working farms to waterfront mansions. The program focused on events for children 5-12 and their families, with activities ranging from concerts to treasure hunts to specialty kids tours. The core concept: create opportunities for families to have quality time together at Rhode Island’s unique places.

Devlin says of Rhody Ramble: "The scope of our project is local, but our goal is to create a program which can have a much broader impact on how historic sites interact with families. Our sites range from small, volunteer-run sites to those with a professional staff. We believe that the chance for wonderful encounters with historic places is possible, no matter the size of your budget."

We caught up with Devlin, a 10-year resident of Rhode Island, recently to see how the families, the sites, and the rooster are faring so far.

What’s your elevator pitch for Rhody Ramble?

The Rhody Ramble is a family adventure to explore Rhode Island’s unique and historic places. It is a great way for kids and parents to interact with local history, even for those who do not consider themselves history lovers. It includes a wide variety of events: concerts, scavenger hunts, festivals and hands-on activities. So there truly is something for everyone.

What burst of insight inspired you to create Rhody the Rambler?

Rhody was a natural ambassador for the program. He was born during a brainstorming session among the staff at Preserve Rhode Island. Once we thought of him, it was clear that he was a perfect representative for our historic sites, as he is a heritage breed Rhode Island Red Rooster.

We also wanted to make sure the graphics spoke to kids and immediately conveyed that this was a program for them. Animals have a universal appeal, so parents connect with him too! We were fortunate to work with talented local graphic designers who brought him to life. At one point, I had several possible Rhodys hanging on my office walls, but he quickly became the favorite.

We are all very fond of Rhody, including our partners who immediately embraced him. We even purchase a stuffed animal rooster to travel around the state to various events and photographed him participating in the activities, as you can see in the photos. Rhody helped us to share the fun nature of the program and the family-friendly side of the historic sites, which can sometimes be a challenge to convey.


Rhody enjoys some traditional RI johnnycakes at Windmill Wednesday at Prescott Farm in Middletown, RI.

How did the Rhody Ramble help existing historic sites show off different sides of themselves?

By bringing together 21 sites under the umbrella of the Rhody Ramble program, we were able to highlight the fact that family programming is an important part of many historic sites. Since people often do not associate historic places with kids’ activities, creating a summer passport filled with events for families was in itself revealing a different side of many places.

In some cases, it inspired the sites to create new programs for families. A couple examples were the Fly a Kite Day at Watson Farm, a property of Historic New England, and the Explore RI History tour at Smith’s Castle.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other organizations who are interested in doing something similar in their communities?

Understand your audience. If you wish to draw families to your historic site, think about what will attract them. Review your current programming and see what may be appropriate for children. If you are creating a new event, understand that it doesn’t need to be complex. An outdoor concert, an open house with kids’ activities, a scavenger hunt or even a story hour could be simple ways to draw in family visitors.

Consider pricing that will make it easy for families to attend such as free admission for kids or a ‘per family’ rate. See if there is an opportunity to partner with other attractions for families nearby and create a half-day or full-day experience in your community.

Also, make sure to communicate with families through channels they use. We were fortunate to work with a local family blogger who featured several of our events. Look for the resources that are being used by families in your area. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask someone with kids for suggestions.


Rhody listens to the band at the Concert Under the Elms at the John Brown House in Providence, RI.

Why is it important to expose kids to history and preservation? How does a program like Rhody Ramble reinforce those lessons?

History is exciting. It is the story of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I love historic places because they embody the lives of people who lived in our towns and cities before we did -- it is the closest we can come to meeting them!

The big misconception is that history is a bunch of dry, dull facts. However, a historic place can bring that history to life with activities like grinding corn, carrying a yoke and buckets, dressing up in costumes or playing traditional games like graces. By introducing children to their history in an engaging way, we can help to build future stewards of our historic places.

I believe the strength of a program like the Rhody Ramble is its ability to reach out to new audiences of families. Many historic sites are run with limited staff and volunteers. Their time is stretched between many different activities. The Rhody Ramble is focused on marketing the great work that they do every day.

If we can help to attract kids and parents to explore a place they have never visited, it may inspire them to return. It may help them to better relate the history they learn in school to their community. It opens the door for many great possibilities!

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.

[Interview] Patrick Baty: Paint Detective

Posted on: September 19th, 2012 by David Garber 1 Comment

 

Patrick Baty is the world's preeminent architectural paint historian and consultant. Based in London, England -- where he runs a second-generation family shop called Papers and Paints -- Baty has consulted on a wide range of archaeological and restoration projects in both the United Kingdom and the United States. We spoke with him to hear more about historic paint colors and their significance.

Why are historic paint colors important?

Paint colors of the past are not important in themselves -- however, when one is faced with the decoration of an historic building a knowledge of what was used is important. Color was frequently used for a particular purpose. There was a strict hierarchy. The purpose of the room and the status of the owner would often be indicated by the paint color that was applied. Much of my work is carried out in buildings that were once lived in by historic figures and are now open to the public.


The interior of the George Frideric Handel house in London.

If one is going to show a house as it was when Benjamin Franklin or Handel, the composer, for example, lived in it, there is a requirement to show how it was decorated at that time. When an historic interior is painted in colors that have a precedent, it begins to make sense and reads well.

Describe a day in the life of a historic paint color consultant.

My days vary -- most of the week has been spent carrying out microscopy, writing reports and answering emails. Yesterday I was climbing a scaffolding on a large 1840s house in St James's Square. Having carried out the analysis of the external paint and supervised the color trials I was asked to check on the preparation of the surfaces. Were they clean enough? Was the right filler being used? And did the contractor seem to know what he was doing?

Today, I was at Hampton Court Palace, where I had to give a presentation to officials from English Heritage explaining how one of the 18th century staircases was to be decorated. Although I hadn't carried out the analysis I was asked to work from a report produced by someone else and to develop a decorative scheme based on it. Work on historic buildings is carefully supervised in the UK and permission must be given before it takes place -- so I frequently have to write a rationale before redecoration is allowed.

What are some of the most fascinating projects you've worked on?

The range of projects that I have carried out is wide, and they each have their fascinations. However, three memorable ones are:


A cross-section of paints applied to the Royal Albert Bridge.

  • Royal Albert Bridge -- This is a major landmark, designed by the famous Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It required me climbing the 172-foot structure in the middle of the night, when the trains were not using the bridge, and taking samples on the end of a rope. The 1850s photographs, which showed it being constructed, were very helpful in my interpretation of the paint evidence.
  • Hampton Court Palace -- One of my most interesting projects here was the recreation of a Tudor garden. My task was to identify the heraldic 'beasts' that King Henry VIII used to indicate his Royal lineage, to establish which colors were applied on which elements and to prepare a technical specification for the painters.

The most high-profile?

It's difficult to say which has been my most high-profile project. I have worked in some very well known buildings. However, I suppose the one that is most recognizable around the world would be Tower Bridge, which in many ways is the symbol of London. Once again a head for heights was required as I had to take samples from all elements of the bridge, which is 213 feet high.


The Tower Bridge.

The documentary research took even longer than the microscopic analysis. The responsibility of getting everything absolutely right on such a high-profile project is immense. You can just imagine that someone somewhere knows quite a lot about the bridge and would be very eager to point out any mistakes, so one's argument has to be water-tight.

Do you have any apprentices training under you?

Over the years I have had a few interns working with me. Several have come from the United States -- including one of the rising stars -- but I have also had a very good intern from Sweden. It is a very demanding pursuit, and I find that few are able to deal with all aspects: being comfortable at heights, able to work in archives and libraries and prepared to spend hours at the microscope, willing to give presentations and lectures -- sometimes to large or very important audiences, and also to have a genuine passion in the subject.

What would you recommend as an introduction to the field of historic paint colors?

An accessible book that introduces the subject of historic paint colors has yet to be written. Dr. Ian Bristow, who has done so much to develop the field in the UK, wrote two magnificent volumes in the 1990s, but they are very dense works and one is now out of print. I began to learn about the subject by studying early house-painting manuals and by reading up about pigments and painting materials in order to find out what was available at a particular time.

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.

 

I enter the [Cooper-Molera] estate and get lost in the archives for what seems to have passed in just a couple of minutes but has elapsed over hours. By midday the sun has evaporated the marine layer and the quaint recreation of a sunny Victorian garden replete with adobe horno and artesian well beckons curious glances from a few lost Japanese tourists. But the house remains locked, and the curious painted plaster volumes of various geometric shapes that together form the homes of three families over three generations remains unseen, untouched, inaccessible. I’m about the only one with a key, alone inside and left to sort through this bric-a-brac. As quiet as a tomb ...

So writes Christian Larsen, a Bard Graduate Center student who worked as the National Trust’s scholar-in-residence this summer through a partnership with the Smithsonian Latino Center (SLC). In particular, he spent time at Cooper-Molera Adobe, a National Trust Historic Site that preserves life from the era when Monterey was part of Mexico to the beginnings of California statehood.

The three-acre site in Monterey, Calif. -- which includes a house built by several generations of the Cooper and Molera families, historic barns, vegetable and flower gardens, and an extensive museum store -- tells the story of ship captain John Rogers Cooper, who immigrated to California in the early 19th century and married into a prominent Mexican family.

But equally important are the stories of his wife Encarnación Vallejo de Cooper; the Diaz family, who owned a portion of the property and had their own home and dry goods store; and the broader hybridization of families, cultures, and styles.


This showpiece saddle from Mexico (c. 1880) is decorated with silver thread embroidery, silver mounts, and intricate stamped leather designs. It was exhibited at the New Orleans World’s Fair (Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition) in 1884-5 and the Paris Exposition Universelle 1889.

Larsen’s assignment at Cooper-Molera was to help catalog the materials that have accumulated since the 1820s when Captain Cooper first moved to the property. He ended up sorting through thousands of articles in the collection. “It was a big puzzle for me to sort out what’s what, from when, and date things, identify the manufacturer, and give them more backstory,” Larsen says.

Before Larsen wrapped up his residency, we sat down with him at National Trust headquarters and asked him about his experiences, discoveries, and hopes for the site.

How did this project come about?

This project comes out of the National Trust’s attempts to uncover stories that have not been told at their sites. They realize that a lot of the sites have had a traditional and/or static story line going on, and that there are sites and objects related to Latino culture they should probably be telling. And the best way to find those story lines is through objects and collections, because they do have intimate connections to Latino story.


These manufacturer markings help identify the saddle.

What did you hope to achieve through the cataloging process?

The National Trust sent me out there to identify what objects in the collection had any relevance -- what was made locally or made in Latin American countries, as well as what materials, craftsmanship, and techniques from those areas might have contributed to the objects and been part of these people’s daily lives.

I wanted to answer: How did the families express their Latino identity through the things they owned? What kinds of things would speak to that relationship of a hybrid family? And you see it in the collection itself -- Victorian-looking East Coast furniture, right next to stuff from China, right next to stuff from Mexico.

It’s a very cosmopolitan, global perspective … and this is in 1820s California. Most Americans think of California at that time as a western backwater, but it wasn’t at all. Even at that time, they were globally connected. This house reflects the glory days of Monterey.

Where do you even start on a project of this scale? Who helped you ‘crack the case,’ so to speak?

I worked with a number of different people, but two groups stand out. I talked to many of the volunteers; they’re the nice little old ladies from the community who sell items at the gift shop. But they have heard many stories over the years and become repositories of the history of the place. Some of it is accurate, some of it is totally mythologized, but it’s interesting to get their perspective, and their thoughts, ideas, and stories gave me leads on where I should be looking.

I also worked with California State Parks, who is the state steward and operator of the site. The rangers have been working with the collection for decades. They don’t necessarily know all the objects’ histories, but they know the conservation history and they have inklings about where to start.


The biombo folding screen is an artistic and decorative form that originated in Japan but took root in Latin America. That the Cooper or Molera families would have such a screen in their collection speaks of continued cultural ties to Mexican traditions and a much more marked taste for oriental wares in California than seen in other regional American households at the time.

You focus mainly on objects and material cultures. How do objects relate to the places they reside?

While we occupy houses, they’re more the repository for our experiences and the things that we live with. But they’re all part and parcel. I don’t distinguish that much between the building and the things in it; I think the building is equally important, and I look at it as a whole, as a complete experience. They all reflect changing tastes and styles change over time.

What do you hope visitors to Cooper-Molera will learn?

I would love visitors to understand the history of 19th century California -- this really crazy time when there are a few different sets of governments, who’s in power, what’s going on, and what daily life was like. It was really different.

You have to make history come alive. You can intellectualize it all you want, but the best way to reach people is through visceral sense. And that’s what sites do for you: You’re in the space, encountering it visually and through all your other senses. How can we give them the smells, the music, the dances? A place should evoke that feeling and give the visitor an intuitive sense of what it was like to live there.

Now the National Trust is re-imagining how to make the site more vibrant and more of a living place with better access to visitors and programming that keeps people coming back. If they can convey a sense of what daily life at that time was like, that would be the biggest takeaway.

Read more about Larsen's work on NBC Latino.


The archeological dig in the Diaz privy/trash pit uncovered shards of this British transfer-printed earthenware. This English Staffordshire ceramic pattern was produced between 1845-51 by Thomas Walker at the Lion Works in Tunstall.

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.