Local Preservationists

[Interview] Dave McNally, Restorer (and Resident) of Smith Point Lighthouse

Posted on: July 19th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Laura Wainman, Preservation Magazine intern

As a young boy, Dave McNally dreamed of living in a lighthouse. He wanted to wake up to the sunrise over the water every morning and watch it set in the evenings from the comfort of his home. And in October 2005, his wish came true, with $185,000 -- and a little help from Google.

After scouring eBay for lighthouses to purchase and coming up empty-handed, McNally Googled "lighthouses for sale."

"Right away, four popped up. They were the first four under the [National Historic Lighthouse] Preservation Act, and I bought mine in an online auction, sight unseen," says McNally.

McNally purchased Smith Point Lighthouse, a 60-foot structure made of cast iron and brick three miles off the Virginia shore on the Chesapeake Bay. Built in 1897, the current caisson structure was preceded by four lighthouses and several floating lightships, dating back to an 1802 version of an iron frame tower.

Though the Coast Guard still maintains access to the lantern room on the fourth floor, McNally was an early pioneer of renovating historic lighthouses and turning them into residential dwellings.

At the time he was one of only a handful people to privately own a lighthouse, and his plan was to turn Smith Point into a family getaway. Smith Point is now a four-bedroom, one-bath home that is currently on the market for $600,000.

We recently caught up with McNally to learn what life at a lighthouse is like, how he went about renovating Smith Point, and why he put his dream house on the market.

What restoration work was needed when you bought Smith Point?

Everything. The entire interior needed to be re-done and everything, except the brick and cast iron casing, on the exterior needed to be replaced.

Was this your first historical restoration?

No. As a contractor in Minnesota, I have restored five or six historical buildings, but this was the first time I worked with the historical preservation folks myself. Usually someone does that for me.

What is the difference between renovating a historical property versus any other building?

On regular projects, there is no one telling me what I can and can't do. I had to submit my plans three times before they were accepted, and I think they were each about 30 pages. It was a process. But I take great pride in restoring old buildings. The first thing I do on any historical project is visit the local preservation society to see if I can get a photo of the original structure. Then I do my best to get it looking like itself again using modern materials.

What were the issues with your proposals?

The windows were the big hold-up. They wanted the originals to be kept, but once I detailed each window they realized that it was impossible. They eventually let me hurricane-proof them. The front door was another gray area, because they thought it was an original and we knew it wasn't. It was just a big, rusty steel door that needed to be replaced. I went all the way to Chicago to make an exact replica of the original, three and half inches thick. It cost me $6,000 just for the front door.

What was the biggest challenge in renovating Smith Point?

It was really just the logistics of getting materials to Virginia when I was in Minnesota. We got out there about five or six times a year, and some days it would just be too rough to do any work. Being a Minnesota boy, the roughest waters I was used to were a little Mississippi River chops, and here I was facing 4-foot swells in the Chesapeake. The worst I dealt with was a 28-foot wave hitting a window on the first floor while I was in the lighthouse. You get braver as time goes on, though.

Why are you selling the lighthouse now?

Grandbabies. My oldest daughter just has her first child, and I'm hoping for more. She notified me that there was no chance she would bring the baby there until he was much older. So I need a family getaway that is safe for my family.

If you had to do the whole thing again, would you?

Absolutely, yes. I had a blast.

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.

 

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.