Interviews

Meeting Lincoln Through the Emancipation Proclamation

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment

 

The historical drama Lincoln, now in theaters, brings the 16th president's fight for the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery to the big screen -- and with it a certain amount of celebrity status for Honest Abe. But is it the full story?

To find out, we turned to President Lincoln's Cottage, one of the National Trust's Historic Sites. The modest home in Washington, DC, served as Lincoln’s family residence for a quarter of his presidency during the summers of 1862, 1863, and 1864 -- and he was living there when he developed his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, an important part of the timeline leading to the 13th Amendment.

Now the Proclamation has come home to roost (in a manner of speaking): The Cottage is the first public venue to display a rare, signed copy of the historic document recently purchased by David Rubenstein. It's on display now through the end of February 2013 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation's signing.

To better understand this exhibit's significance -- and the document's impact on the course of history -- we checked in with Erin Carlson Mast, the director at the Cottage, to ask her some timely questions.... 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.

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.

 

Two weeks ago while in New Orleans, I found myself having a familiar moment at the corner of Tulane Avenue and South Tonti Street, the intersection where one of my favorite buildings in the world -- the old Dixie Brewery -- sits abandoned.

I've made a habit out of checking in on it every time I'm in town, and this visit played out much like my past pilgrimages.

After thumb-typing my way through some requisite Instagramming, Foursquaring, Facebooking, and tweeting, I took off my headphones and sat quietly on the curb, surveying Dixie's bruises and black eyes from my ant's eye view. Unlike the narrow streets of the French Quarter, where the Big Easy high steps by you with the garishness of a Zatarain's commercial, this section of the city can be very quiet -- eerily and somewhat mesmerizingly so.

After at least five minutes of undisturbed building gazing, I was rattled back to reality by the thunderous approach of the 39 bus. As I motioned to the driver that I wasn't actually waiting for a ride, I chuckled to myself about how weird the whole thing must have looked -- just me, the curb, a derelict building, and an empty plastic grocery bag scratching down the street.

After a bit more reflection, though, I think my New Orleans experience is no different than the feeling a lot of preservationists have and are often caught acting on: Sometimes, when you really love a place, you've just got to sit with it for a little bit. You know, take it all in.

It’s the same feeling I got -- or more accurately, that got me -- earlier this year when I walked into Miami Marine Stadium for the first time. Between the awe-inspiring roof (is it modern architecture or alien spacecraft?) and the sensation you get of literally floating on the water, this National Treasure is a wow place in every sense of the word. Just like in New Orleans, the only thing I could do was sit down and take it all in. And unlike Tulane Avenue, the stadium has seats.

Though it has been shuttered since 1992, Miami Marine Stadium is no stranger to folks like me who find themselves needing a moment to absorb what they see. On any given day, its basin is alive with rowers who drift by to marvel at all the interesting shapes, both of the building and the graffiti that covers it.

Photographers are another common sight. Some gain entrance illegally and snap shots when they think no one is looking. Others, like Jay Koenigsberg, ask for permission and get to spend some real quality time with the stadium. The proof is in the pictures.... 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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

[SLIDESHOW] A Fall Walk Through the Village of Zoar

Posted on: November 22nd, 2012 by Jason Clement 2 Comments

 

When I was growing up in Texas, certain things had a habit of eluding me. Like autumn.

Here's how "fall" usually went down in my small corner of the Lone Star State. You would wake up one November morning, waddle outside in flip flops, and swear you were stuck in summer -- 85 with a side of hair-raising humidly. Then, with the forcefulness and commanding presence of a strong Texas woman, an overnight cold front would barrel through town, ushering in seasonal change like a bull in a china shop. The next morning, every still-green leaf would be on the ground and the Fahrenheit would be somewhere in the 40s, where it would fluctuate flirtatiously for a week or two before completely committing to something more winter-ish.

It wasn't until I moved north ten years ago that I realized fall is a process, not an event. It's the slow build to sweater weather. The soft simmer of stews on the stove. The gradual intensification of autumnal hues -- both in the sky and on the trees.

In a word, it's beautiful -- a calm, rewarding transition from color to cold.

Recently, a deck of photos of Ohio's Village of Zoar drifted (note: intentional fall pun) into my inbox at work. They came from Andy Donaldson, an avid shutterbug I met on Flickr who has a well-documented passion for this historic village -- a National Treasure that was listed just this summer as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Andy is an amazingly talented guy, and his photos always make me take a pause. These, however, elicited a different type of response. Before my jaw had even finished dropping, I was forwarding them to friends and family with this message: "These pictures make me want to roll around in leaves, carve pumpkins, and drink Chai until I’m sick!"

Now, depending on where you hang your hat, I realize this may be what your backyard looks like right now. If that's the case, bear with me because I couldn't help but share these photos and the conversation I had with the photographer himself, if only for my fellow Texans who are still in flip flops.


Andy, how long has the Village of Zoar been your muse? What about it speaks to you?

We moved into our house about seven years ago, and that was when I was getting into photography. In the olden days, you know, the 80’s, I was very much into photography, especially black and white. Purchasing my first digital SLR camera, though, really opened up a whole new avenue of creativity for me.

Being that we live so close to Zoar -- literally within walking distance -- going there to capture its beauty has become a habit. The village speaks to me because it’s a reminder of how our country was founded -- people coming together in search of freedom and a chance to live their dreams.

Your portfolio captures Zoar in every season. Tell us: what’s special about fall in the village?

Fall has always been my favorite season. Zoar is a picturesque setting regardless of the time of the year, but with the changing colors in the trees and the lighting typical of this time of the year, it’s just downright magical. I normally only have the chance to get to Zoar in the evening after my day job, which makes it difficult sometimes. However, for these photos, I was able to get out in the middle of the day and first thing in the morning. They perfectly capture the color and light that I love.

Tell us about your typical day photographic the village. Is there a spot that no trip to Zoar is complete without visiting?

To be honest, there’s no typical day when I go shooting in the village. It’s usually a spur of the moment thing, either just to take the dog for a walk or because I glance out the window and see how the light looks with the setting sun.

As someone who goes down there often, it’s the Number One House that draws me in. It stands in the middle of town like a grand castle. But for someone who is visiting for the first time, I highly recommend going to Village Hall. There is a museum dedicated to the history of Zoar and visitors can see old maps, old pictures (my favorite part, of course), and other items from the town’s incredible history.

We often hear stories about people turning to photography -- even as amateurs -- as a way to celebrate places they love. In that regard and given your long history with the village, do you think Zoar has made you a better photographer?

Yes, without a doubt. One thing that digital photography gives you that we didn’t have back in the days of using rolls of film is the chance to try different things with your shots. And also with a digital camera like mine, I can see what my shots look like right then and there without having to go to the lab, have the film developed, and then hope for the best.

I’ve found that having Zoar in my backyard allows me to try things and test new techniques, and if I don’t like it, I can go back and try again. Its buildings, homes, and gardens inspire me. They aren’t going anywhere, right? Let’s hope not.

That’s a good segue for my next question. Looking at the beautiful colors of your fall photos, many people would probably be surprised to learn that the future of Zoar is uncertain. As you know, record flooding in recent years has raised concerns about the integrity of a nearby levee that protects the village. And one alternative under consideration is removing that levee entirely, which could require the relocation or demolition of 80% of this remarkable place. How does that make you feel about your hobby as the unofficial photographer of this 200-year-old village?

Well, thank you for the kind words, but I don’t know if I can be considered the unofficial photographer of the village. However, I am a concerned resident and neighbor of the village -- someone who has fallen in love with the subtle charm of the town and would hate to see the wrong decision made about its future.

At the end of the day, do you think great photography can help save a place?

Definitely. When things started looking bad for Zoar, that’s what sparked my desire to start shooting there more frequently.

I remember Easter morning of 2008 all too well. I was out in the driveway with my dog and noticed several large trucks hauling long trailers into the village. I later found out that the trucks were hauling in stones to fix part of the levee that was failing. It was looking pretty bad and residents were warned to take valuables to the highest level of their homes or to just get out all together. Luckily, the repairs held and the town was safe.

That was when I got more serious about trying to capture how I see the village, and therefore, why I would hate to see it be lost. Like Ansel Adams, whose early work sparked interest in the American west and inspired me to go to Yosemite when I was young, what I am trying to do when I walk around town or tour one of the buildings is capture something that will inspire someone else. And hopefully, because of that inspiration, people will take action to help save this amazing place.

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

[Interview] Merry Powell, Interior Designer: "Preservation is Contagious"

Posted on: October 22nd, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 


Braehead's restored exterior.

How do you balance history and home? That's the question Merry Powell was asking when she signed on to help restore and redesign the Civil War-era Braehead mansion in Fredersickburg, Va. -- and the process she documented on her blog in a series called "Braehead Revisited."

In Powell's words:

Really, most of what we did to Braehead was undo bad stuff that had been done to the house over the years. We got down to the original fabric, and then figured out creative ways to put a modern family, with 4 children, into the house comfortably without sacrificing the house in the process. I think this is an important point as we all look for meaningful ways to actually use old structures. They can’t all be museum houses, but they can be saved and be useful, if enough care and thought is put into them.

We caught up with Powell to ask her more about Braehead and the team of people it took to turn this historic treasure back into a much-loved home.

Tell me about the history of Braehead. What makes this property significant?

Braehead mansion occupies a prominent place in the beautiful Fredericksburg, Va., Battlefield. The home was completed in 1859 by Scottish immigrant, John Howison, for his family of nine. During the Civil War, Braehead provided shelter to both Confederate and Union troops.

General Robert E. Lee reportedly established his headquarters and “took breakfast” at Braehead on the morning of Dec. 13, 1862, the date of the first battle of Fredericksburg. Lee tied his horse, Traveler, to a black walnut tree that still thrives on the property. (It has since been dubbed the “Traveler Tree.”)

In May 1864, Braehead was occupied by Union troops. A Howison family member wrote that the troops “killed the cows, ate the chickens, smashed the china, tore up dress goods, destroyed or stole the family Bible which had in it…three generations [and] threw the dining room chairs through the window glass.” The house was used as a hospital for Union soldiers who scribed graffiti into the woodwork and plaster.


The historic marker (left); the Traveler Tree (right).

What has led to its restoration?

For nearly 150 years, Braehead remained the property of the Howisons and their descendents. In 2006, Braehead went on the market for the first time in its history. Since there had never been any easements or protections of any kind placed on the property, the old house, then in a sad state of disrepair, was in danger of being lost forever.

The Central Virginia Battlefield Trust (CVBT) quickly stepped in and purchased the house and surrounding 18 acres. Based on the historical significance of the property, the CVBT promptly registered it and put into place easements to protect the property.

The CVBT then searched diligently for a proper buyer to rescue the house and restore it to its former glory. A perfect match was found in a Fredericksburg family who fell in love with Braehead and has now made it their home.

What was your mission during the interior restoration project?

Braehead was always intended to be a family home. My mission, and that of architect Sabina Weitzman, and preservationist/builder Jay Holloway, was to preserve Braehead’s 19th century past, while also protecting its future, by making it a comfortable home for a 21st century family. We all understood that working on this project was both a privilege and a responsibility.


Examples of Braehead's previous condition.

What was the house like when you first saw it?

It was pretty bad. Over 6,000 square feet of broken windows, rotting wood, mold and standing water were just a few of the challenges. In a previous attempt to turn Braehead into a bed & breakfast, two horrible kitchens had been added and a row of bathrooms was built in what had been a hallway. (You literally had to step over toilets to access the bedrooms.) A sewer pipe was exposed and ran down one of the walls. No heat, inadequate wiring and plumbing, and adhering to the strict building codes of the Department of Historical Resources were the biggest issues.

But amidst the decay and garbage was a treasure trove of period antiques, many original to Braehead. Furniture, art, books, even a Victorian wedding dress, were still inside the main dwelling and adjacent outbuildings. I was overjoyed to have so much to work with!

We inventoried as best we could to determine what we could use and what was too precious or too far gone. The owners generously offered many pieces to the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, but others were repaired and restored along with the house.


The foyer, or "Grand Hall," before renovation.

What surprised you during this project?

If there is anything I have learned about working on old houses, is that there is no end to the surprises! However, one thing I noticed on this job was how contagious preservation can become. The deeper we dug into the project and the more history that was unearthed, the more committed everyone was to getting it right.

As bad as Braehead had appeared when we started, we found that most of our job was not to “do”, but to “undo.” As the layers of past renovations were peeled away, the old house revealed itself. Everyone who worked on Braehead sensed that we were rescuing the house.

Do you have a background in preservation?

I do not have formal training in preservation. My passion for old houses grew from my background in antiques. My grandparents were antiques dealers in South Carolina. I spent my childhood learning about these treasures and how to care for them.

Eventually, I also went into the antiques business, which led to me purchasing a very large, very old house. From that point on, I was hooked. I’m still living in an old house now in Richmond, Va. It has been a constant educational experience for the last 25 years.


Braehead was full of antiques, including this pianoforte which is now in the restored music parlor.

What did you learn about preservation while working at Braehead?

The owners, architect, and builder for the Braehead project have experience, knowledge and education in the field of historic preservation. The goal was always to do what was best for the house. From them, I learned that preserving the history of an important structure, like Braehead, while accommodating modern day living, can be accomplished. It just takes lots of patience, dedication and resources.

How did you balance modern amenities and tastes against the history of the house?

In my earliest discussions with the owners, we decided that certain rooms -- the “formal rooms” as we called them -- would be designed in a style correct for the period of the house.

The grand hall, dining room, and music parlor would certainly be on tours for historical events and we used them to display some of the treasures found in Braehead. Almost all of the furnishings in these rooms were found in the house. The few pieces that I purchased were 19th century antiques.

The color schemes for these rooms were based on wallpaper fragments found in the house as well as hues that were popular for the time. The beautiful decorative painting on the millwork in these rooms was original to the house and was still in remarkably good shape. Careful cleaning was all that was needed.

I reupholstered the furniture in velvets and tapestry. The window treatments are made of silk. I designed period-style light fixtures, which were handmade by craftsmen in Richmond.


The home office now occupies the original kitchen with its large cooking fireplace.

The family uses these rooms less frequently, though they are not off-limits. The children take piano lessons on the restored pianoforte that was found in the house.

The private rooms of the home -- including the kitchen, family room, and office -- were designed with comfort and functionality in mind. There is sensitivity to the age and style of the house in these rooms, but this is where the family lives so they had to be tough.

The kitchen cabinets, as an example, had to be carefully designed to not encroach on the original mantel or windows. They were custom made by Mill Cabinet Shop, Bridgewater, Va. with a finish that, while certainly not 18th century-like, does relate to the house and the desire of the owner to have cabinets that were kid-proof. We also designed the soapstone backsplash to be boxed around the lower window trim so as to protect, but not damage the old wood.

What did you think when the restoration was complete?

Complete? Who said it was complete?! I don’t know if projects like Braehead are ever complete. But when I visit the house now and see children playing in the yard and toys in the hallway, I feel that John Howison would be pleased to see his beautiful house so full of happiness and love.

The family who now owns Braehead respects and cherishes the old house and considers its preservation a part of their legacy. I am honored and proud to have played a small part in not only saving such a wonderful house, but also making it into a home for a special family.


The renovated kitchen. The cabinets' handcarved detail is by Lee Stover, Mill Cabinet Shop.

What’s next for the property?

The exterior restoration of the structure is nearly complete. The owners have installed beautiful landscaping, with the Traveler Tree being the main feature. Braehead has suffered greatly throughout history, but this chapter of the story is a happy one. We hope that future generations will appreciate the care and hard work which brought Braehead back to life, and will continue to be good stewards for this very special old house.

If you would like to see Braehead firsthand, the house will be featured on the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation’s Candlelight Tour, Dec. 8 - 9, 2012. I will be decorating the formal rooms with greens native to Virginia, as well as thistle and decorative items, which pay homage to the Howison family’s Scottish roots. The kitchen and informal rooms will be decorated with items made by the current owners’ children. The dates of the tour fall on 150 years, almost to the day, since General Robert E. Lee visited Braehead, so it promises to be a very special event.

Merry Powell Interiors is a design firm based in Richmond, Va.  Powell does residential, commercial, and historical interiors. She may be reached through her website, www.merrypowell.com.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

[Interview] Mike Todd, Filmmaker: Documenting Joe Frazier’s Gym

Posted on: October 11th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

UPDATE: The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its preservation partners hosted a film screening of the documentary, “Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears,” at Temple University in fall 2012 that received an overwhelming response from attendees. The film about Frazier’s life that spotlights the importance of saving his gym in Philadelphia resonated with students, faculty, local preservationists and community activists alike.

In an effort to reach a wider audience with the film and raise funds to support preservation of the gym, the National Trust entered into an agreement Kultur International Films LTD., Inc. recently, in which the National Trust receives a portion of the proceeds from sales of the documentary DVD.

The National Trust will receive 40 percent of the discounted sale price ($17.99), or $7.20, on any sale of the DVD. Visit Kultur to watch a clip of the film or purchase a DVD. Enter the unique code “JFNT” to support us in protecting an iconic historic site and receive a discount on purchase of the DVD.

After watching the film, share your stories and thoughts on our Saving Places website.

It’s an old-fashioned story: the local boxing gym that becomes a community hub and plays an important role in its neighborhood. Can such a place still exist in the 21st century? Documentary filmmaker Mike Todd believes it can -- and considers boxing legend Joe Frazier a prime example of how to make it work.

Todd’s latest film, Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears, delves into Frazier’s relationship with his Philadelphia community through the lens of his world-famous gym, which he ran for more than 40 years with his son Marvis. Todd says, “I was interested in what motivated Joe to keep it open. He had devoted his life to it and built up a lot of community goodwill. It was amazing to see him still sitting behind the desk.”

But as often happens with documentary filmmaking, the inspirational story Todd started to tell was soon overtaken by history. As the filmmakers worked to raise funding and interest for their project, the gym was facing its own financial difficulties. Then Frazier passed away in 2011, and the gym closed for good.

Todd remembers, “We could see this important, iconic place slipping away. We as filmmakers wanted to step in. We did outreach to see if someone could take over its administration to help out. Surely someone, somewhere, would step in. Marvis and Joe wanted to keep it going. But that didn’t work.”


Director Mike Todd (l.) jokes around with boxing legend Joe Frazier (r.) at the gym.

The good news is, hope is on the horizon for Joe Frazier’s Gym. Named a National Treasure this year, the National Trust is collaborating with Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia and Temple University’s School of Architecture to designate the modest three-story building as both a local and national landmark. It’s also working to find a preservation-friendly buyer for the property.

On Tuesday, October 16, the National Trust is organizing a screening of the film in Philadelphia with a complementary panel discussion to follow (event details here). In advance of the event, we sat down with Todd to learn more about his filming experience and reflect on what the building -- and Joe Frazier himself -- meant to him.

What went through your mind when you first entered Joe Frazier’s gym?

On one hand, it felt like a really important, iconic place with historic photos everywhere. But on the other hand, it felt like a community center. Kids were running around. It was a safe place where people had respect for each other. Joe’s name was on the door, and people knew they could go there to have space and freedom from the pressures of North Philadelphia (even if they never became famous boxers). You see so many celebrities who associate themselves with charitable work only for public relations value, but Joe did it with no recognition and his own money.

Who did you encounter in the course of filming that had connections to the space?

Oh, there were so many stories. People went to train there. People were mentored there -- not just in boxing, but in other opportunities outside the gym (job training, for example). If you were prepared to work hard and were motivated, and wanted a way out of the circumstances you were given, the gym was there to help you.

One great example is Richard Slone. He’s an artist, originally from England. He wanted to be a boxer, and every week until he turned 16 he would call Marvis and Joe, because his dream was to train with them. Marvis always encouraged and supported him. So when he finally turned 16, Slone came to Philly to train. He had nothing when he arrived, and ended up living in the back of gym. He became like a son to Marvis and Joe, who looked after him for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Slone was sketching pictures there at the gym. Marvis said to him, “You may never be a boxer, but you can be an artist.” Now Slone is one of the most successful sports artists in America.


Joe Frazier and his son Marvis pose at the gym.

What would losing Joe Frazier’s Gym mean to the neighborhood? To the sports community? To the world?

When we were 2.5 years into filming, the gym closed. Renovations weren’t going to solve anything; it was just stalling time. Marvis was still trying to find a benefactor, but with no success. The gym was slipping through the cracks, much like Joe did. When he passed away, the world remembered who he was. It was so clear how iconic he’d been, but in later years was unrecognized. The work the gym did in the community wasn’t recognized either.

You have to look at Joe’s life in a 20th century U.S. context. Joe’s story says something about the United States and its history, but also speaks to an international audience as symbol of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. There’s meaning and investment in the gym -- it was a beacon of hope.

To lose the gym would be a lost opportunity for the city. He’s a truly remarkable figure. Anyone would be proud to say Joe Frazier lived and ran a gym in their city. You can still preserve the legacy of what it meant, and it’s a story that can still inspire people.

If the building can be preserved and help people remember who Joe Frazier was and what he did -- both as a sportsman and a person engaged in community issues where others had turned their backs -- even posthumous recognition would be amazing. We want Joe to get the recognition he deserves.

How can your film help the cause to save the building?

In May 2011, Joe came to the preview cut in New York City. It was great we got to see the film with him. I even did a Q&A session with him. At the end, the audience gave him a standing ovation. In retrospect, it was great he got to see the story our film tells and why he deserves our respect. (He liked it, too!)

Our film can help raise awareness of why what Joe did there is still relevant -- that his life and the history he represents are still relevant. In that respect, it would be a fantastic achievement to keep the gym open as a place that provides a space for the community, as well as a museum about Joe and the civil rights movement of that era. It is a place linked to the most dramatic years of his life; I think it would be a place people would visit.


Quenell Jones films Joe Frazier in action at the gym.

What’s your dream for the future of Joe Frazier’s Gym?

Seeing the gym included on the 11 Most Endangered list this year proved its importance. It captured the public’s imagination. Our film captured those final years, and we captured that history. I just feel there’s a lot more to run with this -- it’s not sunk in how meaningful this issue can be.

My dream is to see the gym as a place where Joe is remembered, to make it a tribute to Joe’s achievements and what he dedicated his life to. If it can still inspire people locally, nationally and even internationally, then it will truly celebrate Joe’s life and capture what the gym represented.

“Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears” is available from FilmBuff on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube Rentals, Cinemanow, Vudu, and XBOX. You can also contribute to the campaign to save Joe Frazier’s Gym at SavingPlaces.org.

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.