I sat down with Dennis Hockman, the new Editor in Chief of Preservation -- the National Trust's quarterly magazine and one of our favorite membership benefits -- to chat about the magazine's new look. Since coming on, Dennis and his team have been working hard to reshape and redesign Preservation to better fit who you all are: people saving places, whether through general interest, advocacy, or hammer-and-nail construction. See what he had to say.

Where are you from, where do you live now, and what made the preservation cause resonate with you?

I've lived in lots of different places. I was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and have lived in the Midwest, the Mountain West, and Maryland. I’ve spent more time in Baltimore than anywhere else, where I live now in a historic center hall colonial -- a restoration work in progress.

As for preservation, I guess taking care of old things is something I’ve always thought was important. Having lived all over the country, what I appreciate most about each region is its uniqueness and personality, that combination of geography and when and why each area was originally developed -- during colonial times, westward expansion, etc.

I’ve also always liked stories. Old objects and buildings harbor the stories of how people used them and who lived or worked in them -- sometimes for generations. Those are the stories that have always intrigued me, and somehow I feel like a big part of that story is lost if we don’t preserve the physical manifestation.

I was also raised to be very practical. My grandparents were all products of the Great Depression, and my parents were raised to appreciate Yankee thrift, a value that passed along to me. I’ve never understood why people feel they constantly need new things when there are so many old things that are still perfectly useful.

How has taking the helm at Preservation magazine changed the way you see the places around you?

I’ve always been intrigued by historic places. My wife will attest that "I brake for historical markers." I am infinitely curious about the places around me -- the older the better.

Years ago, I was backcountry camping with friends in Montana and we stumbled upon an old fallen down miners cabin . On a furious pace to reach the campsite before sundown, my friends kept going, but I couldn’t help stopping to dig through the rubble to see if I could learn anything about the people that stayed there. How long ago? Were the abandoned mines close by? Were there other cabins? The rest of the trip is a haze, but those moments I spent in the cabin are still crystal clear.

If anything has changed since coming on board with Preservation, I guess I’ve started thinking not just about what a place was, but what it can be. ... 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.

Catching Up with Ron Tanner of Renovation "Love Story"

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 by Christine Driscoll


After reviewing From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story, I thought it would be fun to go to author Ron Tanner’s reading at One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia, as he began his book tour. But Google maps had given me the run around, and I was lost in a neighborhood instead. As I walked past bungalows in search of a book store, I saw a turquoise work van slow down to ask another pedestrian for directions. As it turned around on another street and slowed to look at house numbers, I guessed this was probably Ron himself and flagged him down.

“Are you Ron Tanner?” I asked, and before I even explained who I was he was opening the door to the van to let me in. Meeting Ron like this, it’s easy to see how he’s the kind of person who would jump feet first into an enormous restoration project, the subject of Animal House. The van was in the process of becoming more like an RV, and the interior -- where a sink is currently mid-installation -- gave me a good idea of how immersed in some kind of DIY project Ron is at all times.

Ron will be on tour in a variety of cities (with the aforementioned van), and while I can’t guarantee you can get a ride with him, I suggest you check out the event when he comes to you.

After the program, I chatted with Ron about the decision to go into full-on restoration, what makes a house a home, and general relationship advice (naturally). ... 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.

Interview: Talking Shop with Actor/Home Renovator Bronson Pinchot

Posted on: March 23rd, 2012 by Gwendolyn Purdom 1 Comment


Long before he started turning up as memorable Hollywood characters like Serge in Beverly Hills Cop, or Balki Bartokomous on the 80s sitcom Perfect Strangers, actor Bronson Pinchot was honing a very different kind of craft: historic restoration. As a child, Pinchot fixed up an old shed behind his 1920s house in South Pasadena, California.

Bronson Pinchot working to restore a bust inside one of his Hartford, Penn. projects. (Photo: DIY Network)

“I remember being eight and looking at worn surfaces and things that weren’t plumb and level and thinking how wonderful a secret they were and how it was a secret between them and me that they had survived and I was going to leave them the way they were,” Pinchot says.

This year Pinchot was cast in the role he says he was born to play in DIY Network’s The Bronson Pinchot Project, which follows the actor and his loyal team of craftsmen as they refurbish historic properties in rural Harford, Pennsylvania. The show’s first season wraps up March 31st.

We caught up with Pinchot while he was making one of his frequent trips to the salvage yard. ... 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.

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.

Preservation Superhero: Becky Anderson of Burlington, Iowa

Posted on: January 27th, 2012 by David Garber 2 Comments


If there's such a thing as a preservation superhero, I think we just found one.

Becky Anderson bought and restored her first old house in Burlington, Iowa, in 1994. Then, in 1998, she bought and restored the house next door. In 2000, she tried to buy another house, but lost it in a bidding war. In 2001, she saw a for-sale sign at a ramshackle hilltop Italianate, crawled through a broken bay window to check it out, and proceeded to buy, completely renovate and restore it, and move in.

City Councilmember and developer Becky Anderson in her element (left); and looking over the city of Burlington from her restored Italianate home (right). (Photos: Steve Frevert and Becky Anderson)

Recognize her story? I know I do. Preservation can be an addicting hobby. Fix up one place and pretty soon you want to fix up another. For Becky Anderson, the hobby didn’t stop with houses. In 2008, her daughter, a local real estate agent, told her about the Hedge Building, a Victorian Gothic main street commercial building built in the 1880s that was on the market. Anderson remembers, "The amount of original woodwork and detail in the building was amazing. I was thinking, ‘could I take this on?'"

With the help of Federal and State Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and a tenant (her own financial services company) ready and willing to take office space on the first floor, pieces started to fall in place. "We moved into our new offices in February 2009, with the front of the building still not completed. The building had been a men’s clothing store and the storefront had been drastically altered in the 1940s. It took another eight months to recreate a limestone storefront similar to the original."

Installing the recreated limestone storefront at the Hedge Building. (Photos: Steve Frevert)

Remember: preservation superhero. Always moving, always saving. Since 2005, Becky Anderson has also been president of the Capitol Theater Foundation, a group formed to save and rehab the 1937 Art Deco jewel in downtown Burlington. In 2010 the group was awarded at $1 million grant from I-JOBS, an Iowa state initiative to fund local infrastructure projects. But Anderson is quick to take a back seat: "I have just been one of many who have worked on this project." The Capitol Theater is expected to open in May.

Meanwhile, she was elected to the Burlington City Council last fall and is currently working on another historic building restoration downtown. After hearing about the projects she’s worked on, I knew I needed to raise the bat signal and talk to her in person.... 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.