Local Preservationists

 

Allison Wottawa is exactly the kind of person you want telling you about interesting places and the histories and stories that made them that way. She's energetic, smart, and glows on camera. As you'll read in our interview below and see in the below videos, Allison is the creator and host of an online travel series called Ally Quest.

Her show, which is produced to accommodate a future on television but is broken into easily digestible YouTube segments, is described on her website as "the ultimate show for anyone who has ever wanted to travel in time." Which is, for me at least, the ultimate dream. (And probably why I enjoy watching her show so much.)

I had a chance to talk with Allison about her background, her inspiration, and where the show is headed. And judging by her groundedness, passion, and quality of product, it's easy to see that Allison's star is on its way up.

Tell me a little about your background leading up to this series.

My college adviser said to me, "Allison, do you know the secret of happiness?"  Of course, I didn't.

"The secret of happiness," he continued, " is doing what you love and getting someone to pay you for it."  This is how I live my life.

I've been an actor and a producer for as long as I can remember, starting in theatre when I was six, coupled with a tremendous fascination for history.  History is, after all, a story that examines who we are, where we came from, how we got here.

I graduated from The George Washington University with a major in Political Communications and minors in Theatre and History, then followed my passion across the Atlantic and attended graduate school at Drama Studio London, receiving the English equivalent of an MFA.

What inspired you to create this series?

After graduation, I promptly moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in acting.  Los Angeles is a great city with so much opportunity and fabulous weather.  But I felt that something was lacking.  I wasn't feeling the "passion" and my career seemed somewhat empty.  I couldn't figure out how my career in acting was helping anyone.

I thought of my college adviser.  What do I love?  Easy.  Travel, history, communicating to an audience.  That's when Ally Quest was born.


Allison filming a golf cart driving segment on Catalina Island.

I know this sounds cliche, but I have always wanted to make a difference in a positive way. Of course, I am also completely selfish and want to travel the world.  I have a yearning to learn as much as I can about places and the people that live there.  My natural gift is communication.

So, traveling the world while researching a point in history, and relaying that information through the lens of the camera -- well, that's just me.  If I can do anything in the world, I'm going to do that! My Mom always said, "You can do anything you put your mind to."  And I believe her. ... 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.

 

You might be asking yourself, "What does a Chinese boat have to do with historic preservation in America?" It's a valid question. But at some point along the way, many of us came to America from someplace else, and this story is about the boat that brought San Francisco native Dione Chen's father here from Taiwan in 1955.

Truth be told, Dione Chen wasn't really even thinking in "preservation" terms when she started advocating to save the Free China, the Chinese "junk"-style boat that her late father sailed on in 1955 with a Chinese and American crew participating in a yacht race across the Pacific. She initially wanted to save the boat mostly because it reminded her of her dad, his interests, and his resourceful idea to participate in the race as a means to a more prosperous future in a new country -- and didn't want the story of his trip to be forgotten. Her resolve only deepened upon discovering that it was one of, if not the, last remaining junks of its kind in the world.


Toasting the Free China's future. From left: John Muir (from the National Park Service and an advisor to Chinese Junk Preservation), Paul Chow (Free China crew member), Calvin Mehlert (Free China crew member), Vera Chow, Iris Chen (widow of crew member Reno Chen), Dione Chen (daughter of crew member Reno Chen and founder of Chinese Junk Preservation), Nguyet Mehlert, and Byron Chung (son of the late crew member Marco Chung).

Dione's journey to save the junk began in September 2007 after visiting the yard where it was being stored -- and seeing its dwindling condition -- with her family after her father's death. In 2008, she launched a nonprofit, Chinese Junk Preservation, recruited advisory council members, and applied for financial support from the National Park Service, the National Trust, and the Chinese Historical Society of America.

After a couple of years trying to woo someone in San Francisco -- or even elsewhere in the United States -- to restore and display the junk, she reached out to entities in Taiwan, where the junk originated, and where a maritime museum in the city of Keelung finally offered assistance. On April 30, 2012, the junk was hoisted onto a massive cargo ship to Keelung, where it arrived yesterday.

I had the chance to talk with Dione about her story, her introduction to preservation, and her advice to people interested saving something or someplace that's important to them.

Have you always been fascinated with the history and future of the junk?

Growing up, I took the junk and its history for granted.  It was "old history." So, no, I can't honestly say I was "fascinated" by the junk. Proud of my dad's story and his pursuit of the "American dream" -- yes. But no, I never had dreams of saving it before my dad died.

I'm sure my dad was disappointed that I didn't ask him more about his life and the junk when he was alive. This is something I regret.  I've been asked what my dad would think about my efforts to save the junk.  I believe that he would have been surprised and proud.  Surprised because he was resigned that no one was interested enough in the junk to save it.  Proud that so many people want to see the Free China junk saved.

I suspect it's often the case that one doesn't fully realize what is "history" worth saving, because we're so busy living in the present.


The Free China on its original journey to the United States in 1955.

Would you consider yourself a preservationist? Why or why not?

I am not familiar with the term "preservationist" as a vocation/calling, so would not consider myself one.  If anything, I am an "accidental preservationist" -- I am well aware that I lack formal training or experience in preservation.

I realized that the junk -- something of historical importance -- should be saved, hopefully could be saved but was in fact destined for destruction. And I thought that I should and could do something to save it because no one else was going to do it.  In hindsight -- with the past 4 years of experience behind me -- I would say that I am someone who has come to realize the important role that each of us can play in preserving history.

Ideally, everyone would consider it their privilege and responsibility to preserve the places, stories, and things that are part of our individual and collective history. Each of has a role in determining what values, stories, and lessons are passed on to future generations. You don't have to be a "professional" historian or archaeologist to step up. ... 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: 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.