Modern Architecture

Tiger Stadium Protesters Seek “More Vision and Less Demolition”

Posted on: June 4th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments


Written by Royce Yeater

June 3, 2009 protest at Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

Save Tiger Stadium! (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

Refrains of “Take me out to the Ball Game” interspersed with chants of “Save Tiger Stadium” rose in the late night air at the corner of Trumbull and Michigan in Detroit last night. About 100 protesters gathered before midnight outside what remains of the famous but long-abandoned historic baseball park. They carried neon-colored handmade posters with the “Save Tiger Stadium” message, along with signs reading “More Vision and Less Demolition” and “This Place Matters.”

The protest was in response to the appearance on the site earlier in the day of demolition equipment poised to do its work. It was apparently ordered into that position by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) after they determined that the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy had failed to meet a $15 million dollar target for fundraising toward their plan to preserve the field itself and the most historic portion of the Stadium (once known as Navin Field) as a venue for youth baseball surrounded by office space.

For nearly 20 years, Tiger Stadium has been the focus of  local and nationwide efforts to preserve it as an icon of baseball, after rumors of intentions to build a new stadium surfaced. We listed Tiger Stadium on our annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1991. After the Tigers relocated to Comerica Park in 1999, the city agreed to continue to maintain the stadium until an appropriate adaptive use of the stadium, or a viable new use for the site, could be identified.

The remaining portion of Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

The remaining portion of Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

Neither of those things happened, in spite of extensive efforts by preservationists to find an adaptive use, and by the city’s economic development staff to find another productive use of the site. In 2008, with funds for maintenance ever-tightening and the Corktown Neighborhood in which the stadium sits asking for some resolution, a compromise was established in a Memorandum of Agreement between the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (a quasi-governmental economic development agency) and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy (a non-profit advocacy and development group organized to save and reuse the stadium). The agreement accepted demolition of the less historic parts of the stadium seating and that work ensued in July, 2008, demolishing all but the infield corner of the stadium seating. The MOA documented an agreement to preserve that element as retail, hospitality, office and community space, and preserve the playing field itself and the lower deck seating as a venue for youth baseball, all at a cost estimated to be about $27M.

June 3, 2009 protest at Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

June 3, 2009 protest at Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

The Conservancy has made great progress, even in these economic times. They have secured significant dollars in private contributions from foundations and individuals and, with the help of Senator Carl Levin, had been granted $3.8M in federal funding to advance the plan. They have confirmed through the State Historic Preservation Office the eligibility of the remaining stadium elements for as much as $18M in state and federal historic tax credits. While they had indeed failed to meet a specific fundraising target by March 1, they were meeting fundraising goals to cover the cost of continued maintenance and security and they felt they were demonstrating sufficient progress to sustain their efforts.

When the DEGC suddenly moved into position to demolish the remaining and most historic parts of the stadium, the Conservancy was shocked -- and issued a statement saying so, stressing the economic benefits of their plan to a city struggling in the face of the current recession and the melt down of the automotive industry.

June 3, 2009 protest at Tiger Stadium. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

More vision, Less demolition. (Photo by Marvin Shaouni)

In contrast, the DEGC and the city have no alternative plan for the site with any real viability, and certainly no developer or use that is at all shovel-ready. So why the sudden rush to spend significant money to tear it all down? Complete demolition at this time will result only in another empty parcel in a city filled with vacant land awaiting new construction.

We believe the city should extend deadlines for the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy and encourage continued progress toward a significant redevelopment of an iconic historic resource that will cost the taxpayers of Detroit little and provide a much needed shot in the arm the cash-strapped city desperately needs in these trying times.

But the city is currently saying no to that logic and demolition could begin next week. The DEGC has indicated only that demolition will begin within the next two weeks. Ironically, demolition is being held up by a film crew shooting a feature length movie in which the stadium will stand in for Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, itself demolished in 1995.

Please check back tomorrow (Friday, June 5, 2009) to learn how to make your voice heard in the fight to save Tiger Stadium.

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Royce A. Yeater, AIA, is the director of the Midwest office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

South Asians: Stewards of America's Roadside Heritage

Posted on: May 19th, 2009 by Guest Writer


The neon sign at the El Don Motel, Albuquerque, NM, during the day.

The neon sign at the El Don Motel, Albuquerque, NM, during the day.

Written by Anne Dodge

Since April of 2008, I have been working on a project called “66 Motels”, a collection of photos and interviews that document the independently owned, historic motels of Route 66 and their owners. I was drawn into this project after studying preservation planning along Route 66 for my master’s thesis. In my research, I discovered that the towns and cities along Route 66 -- and the Route 66 property owners themselves -- view the road and its resources in very different ways, and that preservation can take unexpected turns when what’s being preserved is an idea as well as a concrete series of buildings or places.

From a preservationist’s point of view, the corridor’s most authentic places –- the buildings that spoke most eloquently of the road’s history -– are the motels. Architectural styles range from the beloved wigwam motels of the southwest to the “Giraffe stone” motor courts of the Missouri Ozarks. By their use, siting, and architecture, the motels themselves tell the story of Route 66 –- how for decades, the road served as a major transportation corridor for migrant workers, recreational travelers, families, salesmen, immigrants, and anyone who planned to motor west. Once I began interviewing motel owners, I learned more about the complexities of running and maintaining an older, smaller motel and the forces at work against the preservation of these properties. Most interestingly, I found that more than 30% of the independent motel owners along Route 66 were new Americans, people who had come to the U.S. from India, east Africa, Europe, and other parts of the U.S. to own and manage these businesses.

Rest Haven Court, Springfield MO sign by night.

Rest Haven Court, Springfield MO sign by night.

In addition to documenting the diverse group of owners and properties along Route 66, this project also looks at the power of signage and the history and contemporary practice of labeling a property as "American Owned." I began this research thinking that "American Owned" was a label that was used exclusively by white motel owners to promote their properties to customers who were disinclined to rent a room at an Indian American owned motel. This is, without a doubt, the origin of the "American Owned" sign, and some motel owners today defend this language and signage as a legitimate component of their advertising strategy. But I've learned, thanks to several generous interviewees, that this type of signage is often an accident of history, something that came with a property when purchased, or something that Indian American owners themselves use to make a statement about themselves and their properties.

Nina at the Americana Motel, Tucumcari, NM

Nina at the Americana Motel, Tucumcari, NM.

This project has several goals; one is to start a dialog about the role of Asian Americans and other motel owners in the preservation and development of the emerging Route 66 heritage corridor. This debate is part of a broader conversation about racial and cultural diversity in America’s preservation movement, and ways in which the work of public historians, preservationists, and other interpreters of the past can better represent the narratives of new Americans. In the meantime, the motels tell their own stories, and their new custodians add yet another layer of history to the many layers already evident along the highway. Behind every historic Route 66 motel is a person and a history that enriches the architectural and cultural experience of the whole corridor. And that's the story that I hope the 66 Motels project will tell to others.

Anne Dodge is a writer, researcher, and media producer based in Cambridge, MA, who also works as a circuit rider for Preservation Massachusetts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, providing technical assistance, advocacy, and preservation planning for people and the buildings they love across the Commonwealth. She blogs at

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Video: Saving Architectural Onomatopoeia

Posted on: January 28th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 4 Comments


It's a gray, icy day here in Washington, DC, so I thought it was a good time to share a video of a cheery, bright preservation success story -- a former gas station in North Carolina that is now the home of the northwest regional office of our statewide partner, Preservation North Carolina. This may not sound all that exciting, but it's a gas station that's the building equivalent of onomatopoeia -- a Shell station shaped like a shell. (My officemate, who has been in the preservation game a few years longer than I have, says this is called a "duck" in the architectural world. Is that true?)

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Learn more about preserving Modernism + the Recent Past.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.

Greening Boston City Hall

Posted on: November 19th, 2008 by Barbara Campagna 1 Comment


Beloved & Reviled

Since 2006, the city of Boston has been one of the central venues for the sometimes heated discussion regarding preserving modern heritage, in particular Brutalist-style architecture. And the discussion has gotten even more heated since sustainability has been added to the conversation. Boston City Hall is at the same time one of the most beloved buildings in Boston and one of the most reviled. Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles designed the building and its plaza in 1962 and construction was complete in 1968. Boston City Council’s Special Committee on City Hall held a public hearing Tuesday evening in City Hall to consider the financial and environmental benefits of greening the current City Hall.

Demolish, Move, Keep?

There are several different factions in the city and in city government regarding the disposition of City Hall. One faction believes the building is so ugly and so inefficient that it must be demolished and a new one built in its place. Another faction believes the building is so unfriendly and inefficient that City Hall should move (perhaps to South Boston where the new Convention Center is) and let market forces determine what becomes of the current City Hall building. And yet another faction believes that the building is an icon and like any other building, it can be retrofitted sensitively to achieve everyone’s goals and needs.

The public hearing was well attended by the latter faction including sustainability and modern heritage experts who presented a variety of design ideas and philosophies on how to “green” the site. The hearing was called by Councillor Michael Flaherty who eloquently opened the session by declaring his desire to keep City Hall right where it was. Councillor Flaherty also had a very solid grasp on the environmental benefits of saving existing buildings. Unfortunately he was the only Council member present, so I am not sure if that was an overt signal of the rest of the Council’s opinion on the topic. I certainly hope not.

I think we will continue to hear more and more on this topic and not just in Boston. In Washington, DC next week there is a public hearing to determine the fate of I.M. Pei’s Third Church of Christ, Scientist. This may very well become the defining architectural topic of our time.

Public Testimony

Below is the testimony that I presented at the Boston City Hall public hearing. The testimony was prepared by me and Rebecca Williams, Field Representative at the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:... 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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at

1950/60s Neighborhoods… What to Save and Lose?

Posted on: October 27th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments


The National Preservation Conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has concluded, though staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation are still sending in field reports. Adrian Fine, director of the Northeast Field Office, looks at some of the conflict that surrounds architecture from the recent past.

The 1950s and 60s-era built environment evokes strong reactions… those that really love it and the rest that struggle with places that came at the expense of an earlier era of architecture, that represent something antithetical to smart growth ideals, and architecture that doesn’t always come in first place in a beauty pageant. The National Preservation Conference in Tulsa was a great lab for testing out this ongoing debate.

A home on the Mid-Century Tulsa field session.

One of the homes visited on the Mid-Century Tulsa field session.

The Mid-Century Tulsa field session immersed conference-goers in the city’s Post-War neighborhoods like Lortondale and Ranch Acres, featuring tours of humble ranches to truly one-of-a-kind modernist icons that could easily pass for the I Dream of Jeannie bachelor pad. Deciding what to save and figuring out how to do it was also the theme of the educational session, Teardowns in Suburbia: Preserving 1950/60s Neighborhoods. Postwar residential housing is unfortunately rarely considered historic, much less protected or bestowed with any type of designation; and we’re losing some of the very best examples of our postwar era ranch houses, spilt levels, icons and entire neighborhoods to teardowns and the resulting over-scaled and out-of-character infill homes.

Field session participants enter a Mid-Century home.

Field session participants enter a Mid-Century home.

In an already rabid private property rights environment, it’s a tough sell to put in place local historic or conservation district designation anywhere these days, let alone to do it for a 1950s ranch house neighborhood. A big part of the problem is us and our need to get over ourselves. The idea of saving places which are from the period of our living memory is affected by a number of prejudices, where taste all too often trumps judgment. History didn’t stop in 1945 or in 1975. We cannot pick and choose arbitrarily which era of our past to deem more important. In Tulsa and all over the country, we’re hearing about the need to identify this era’s resources and how to apply criteria to make good decisions about what to save.

Like a lot of others, my family grew up in the 1950s ranch, a 1960s raised ranch and a 1970s French Provincial catalog knock-off. While none of these houses are particularly noteworthy or significant, they represent something important to me. It’s the same for others who are drawn to this era for its design, but also for its story of innovation and experimentation. These places are symbols of a country that was all about growth, breaking down barriers and exploration. It is more than architecture alone but also Civil Rights struggles and advancements, the Sputnik race to space, and the misguided vision for Urban Renewal. Through a radical shift in our focus, we abandoned our cities or “modernized” them beyond recognition, pushed out our development, and defined suburbia as the goal for every American family.

Teardowns in Suburbia

Teardowns in Suburbia(click to enlarge)

History is not always supposed to be pretty or inspirational, but it should be honest. We cannot afford to erase our Post-War past or choose to only save the very best icons as if we’re in an architectural petting zoo. We’ve done that already and now know better. Tulsa is just now starting to have these discussions and, like a lot of places, will likely lose some landmarks before it gets a handle on this issue. A new online resource from the National Trust for Historic Preservation is on its way to help. Teardowns in Suburbia: Tools to Preserve 1950/60s Neighborhoods will soon be launched on PreservationNation. Email to get on the list and be the first to receive this resource.

-- Adrian Scott Fine

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.