Pop Culture

Burlington, Iowa’s Old-School Movie Theater Gets a New Lease on Life

Posted on: September 25th, 2012 by David Robert Weible 1 Comment


Though I’m a child of the '90s, when megaplexes were popping up like Furbies and Pokemon in suburban neighborhoods, my friend Tim and I would spend rainy Saturday afternoons at the 1924 movie house my neighborhood struggled to keep open, watching and re-watching flicks like Men in Black and the Jurassic Park series.

Though they weren’t exactly Gone With the Wind, seeing these movies in a historic setting made an impression on me -- which is why I’m always thrilled to see the restoration of historic theaters across the country, including one of the latest, the Capitol Theater in downtown Burlington, Iowa.

The Art Deco building first opened with the showing of The Prince and the Pauper in 1937 and featured countless classics before closing in 1977 after a final screening of Carrie. Though it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the theater remained shuttered, slowly decaying from neglect, until a friends group was formed in 2003.

Since 2005, the upstart Capitol Theater Foundation worked to restore the marquee and the lobby’s colorful terrazzo floor, uncover and restore original tin ceilings and maple floors, repair the terra cotta exterior, reconstruct the ticket booth and concession counter, repair and replace damaged acoustic tiles, and expand the stage for live performances.

The building reopened after the $3 million restoration as the Capitol Theater and Performing Arts Center on June 1, almost 35 years after it was closed. And while they may not make movies like they used to, at places like the Capitol you can at least watch them like they used to.

For my money, there’s nothing better.

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.

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible

David Robert Weible is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He came to DC from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

Mumford on Main Street: How Music Helped a Community

Posted on: September 17th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Brendan McCormick, Grants & Awards Assistant

As I was driving down Route 26 towards downtown Dixon, Illinois, I got a little worried when one of the first stores I saw off of the highway was a massive Wal-Mart.

However, upon closer inspection, I realized that the parking lot was sparsely populated.  As I got closer to town, and drove through the iconic War Memorial Arch, I quickly realized that Dixon was everything that Mumford &  Sons had built the town up to be as part of its Gentlemen of the Road Tour.

The Dixon Arch, originally built to welcome home WW1 veterans, now welcomes thousands of people into Dixon.

The band described Dixon (about 15,000 people) as the quintessential American small town, and it did not fail to live up to that reputation.  Dixon is full of small-town history, including Ronald Reagan’s high school. But it is Main Street and the people who spend their lives there that make Dixon such an amazing place.

Of the locals that I spoke with, few, if any, of them had ever heard of Mumford & Sons. A cashier at one of the local shops said to me, “Oh, I went and listened to their CD last night for the first time. I didn’t love the music, but if they're bringing all of you folks into Dixon, I’m going to be a big fan.”

The amazing thing was how underplayed this woman’s reaction was to the sudden influx of people. The weekend of the concert, more than 16,000 people arrived in Dixon. Fields were turned into parking lots that stretched on and on, and the camp grounds were overflowing with people.

The Reynoldswood campground was filled with almost 4,000 people who came from all over the country.

When seeing the campground in its full light Saturday morning, I started to think about the 4,000 people in my campground. They couldn’t have possibly all brought all their food in with them. There must have been tens of thousands of dollars in stuff that people bought upon arriving in Dixon. Then I realized that there were three more campsites in Dixon all the same size. That much math and that much money started to hurt my head.

I think the math had the opposite effect on the people of Dixon. I spoke with a man named Martini who told me, “This concert is the biggest thing to come to Dixon since Ronald Reagan was born.  Heck, this is the biggest thing to come to Dixon since John Dixon, the guy who founded the town.”

Martini went on to tell me that people were coming in early on Friday to “pay their respects” to the school that made Reagan. The mass influx of people seeing Dixon's treasures for the first time served as inspiration for many long-time residents to rediscover the history in their own backyard.

Three Iowa State University students salute their favorite president, Ronald Reagan, in front of his high school.

While the concert helped Dixon rediscover its history, it helped to temporarily reinvigorate the Main Street program even more so.  On Friday and Saturday night, the downtown Main Street area was overflowing, blocked off to cars as the streets filled with people from all over the country.  Wandering bands of musicians roamed the streets after the concert playing all sorts of music as thousands of people moved from store to store and from after-show to after-show.

Dixon is a truly amazing community to have accepted so many thousands of people with open arms. I am paraphrasing when I say this, but as Mumford and Sons came back on stage for their encore around 11 p.m., Marcus Mumford said, “Dixon, you guys are absolutely amazing.  And the rest of you who showed up this weekend, you’re pretty great too. Go check out Dixon tonight, it is one of the coolest places we’ve ever toured.

Mumford & Sons take the stage in Dixon.

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.

LA Dispatch: New Exhibition Open at Neutra VDL Research House

Posted on: August 27th, 2012 by Lauren Walser


We’ve already established that I welcome any excuse to tour a cool, old house. So when I found out that there was a new art exhibition opening at the Neutra VDL Research House in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood, I cleared my calendar.

And I was glad I did. Because not only is Richard Neutra’s Modernist complex tricky to tour (tours are typically offered only on Saturdays, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays for larger groups by appointment only), seeing it reinterpreted through the eyes of an artist helped me view the site -- and my city -- in a whole new way.

The exhibition, Architectones, is the creation of French artist Xavier Veilhan. It is the first in a series of installations he is producing for various Modernist landmarks, including Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #21 in Los Angeles, and, further afield, Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille, France, and the Melnikov House in Moscow.

Each installment of Architectones will respond to its environment, and the work Veilhan created for Neutra’s complex managed to highlight some of its most stunning features, while also nodding to the Neutra family, Modernism, and Los Angeles’ place in design history. A mobile of golden orbs on the second floor catches the natural light streaming inside from the wall-to-wall windows; a series of black silhouettes of Neutra capture the architect throughout various stages of his life; and a mirrored silhouette of the Neutra family at the top of a staircase reminds you that while it feels like a museum today, the structure was, in fact, a family home for more than four decades.

There are a number of other silhouettes on the property, plus sculptures of a car, a boat, and a metal flag soaring above the rooftop. A soundtrack created by a member of the French band Air accompanies the exhibition as well.

To produce such an intimate interpretation of the house and its history, Veilhan lived in the VDL House with his family prior to the opening of the exhibition. He cooked dinners in the small kitchen, his children slept in the rooftop solarium, and, I would imagine, the entire family relished every second of living in a house where the indoors and outdoors merge so fluidly in classic Neutra fashion. I admit, I am jealous.

At the exhibition’s opening night, Veilhan shared how much he and his family enjoyed their time in Neutra’s house. It’s no wonder why. Neutra designed his home to be a living and working environment that, despite limited space (the complex was built on a 60-by-70-foot lot), could still offer a tranquil, inhabitable environment that combined high efficiency and good design -- without sacrificing affordability or a sense of privacy.

The result was a stunning prism of wood and glass with gardens, reflecting pools, and patios, plus gorgeous views any way you turn. Neutra named it the VDL Research House after Dutch industrialist Dr. Cornelius H. Van der Leeuw, who provided Neutra a portion of the capital to build his experimental home.

The main house was completed in 1932. (A fire destroyed the original house; Neutra and his son Dion, also an architect, redesigned the structure in 1965, and the Garden House at the back of the lot was built in 1939.) Legions of architects, writers, scholars, and other intellectuals flocked to the complex upon its completion, turning it into a vibrant cultural salon for decades.

Today, after years of neglect, the complex is regaining some of that vibrancy, as a major restoration is underway. Two roofs have been restored, but there’s plenty of work that still needs to be done -- and plenty of funds that need to be raised.

Veilhan will contribute a portion of his sculptures’ sales to the restoration efforts. And in the meantime, VDL House Director Sarah Lorenzen says that events like the Architectones exhibition help attract new audiences to the complex, drawing attention not only to its preservation needs, but also to its importance to the city.

The exhibition is open Thursdays through Sundays and will run through Sunday, Sept. 15. Admission is $10 on Saturdays, and a $10 donation is suggested for other days.

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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

Make Adventure Happen: Our Partnership with Pacifico Beer to Save Historic Places

Posted on: August 3rd, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


The National Trust is participating in the 2012 Pacifico Beer summer promotion, Make Adventure Happen, in which we are competing for a portion of $100,000 going to four worthy pre-selected nonprofits.

Aimed at promoting "the places where adventure happens," this campaign spotlights how preservation is an active and vibrant cause -- one that promotes a better quality of life for the future, richer experiences in the present, and respect for the fabric of our collective past.

And for that, we at the National Trust are really excited.

You can support preservation in this campaign (and help fund our work) by voting daily at www.PacificoAdventure.com. You need a code to vote -- which you can get on specially marked packages of Pacifico beer, in bars and restaurants, or by texting PACIFICO to 23000. You can also get a code online by clicking “GET CODE” on the website. So there’s no purchase necessary, but we were excited to see a cartoon historic building on a six-pack of beer, so it might be worth picking up some just for the thrill.

In addition to voting and telling your friends to vote, you can also read our upcoming blog series Preservation Adventures. Each week for the next five weeks we’ll highlight a different city or town across the country and share the preservation adventure unique to that place.

And remember: vote for preservation at www.PacificoAdventure.com through October 2!

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.

Preservation Round-Up: One-Dollar Movie Theater Edition

Posted on: July 30th, 2012 by David Garber


Why I Restored and Reopened the Closed-Down State Theatre and Started the Traverse City Film Festival -- MichaelMoore.com

"I asked the Rotary group to give me the theater for a dollar, and we eventually settled on a dollar. I set up a community-based non-profit organization that would own the theater. Four others and I donated all the money needed to bring the theater back to life. I promised that we'd complete the entire rebuild in 6 weeks. And we did."

New Park in Downtown Los Angeles Inspires Grand Hopes -- LA Times

"This week, after a $56-million renovation, that 12-acre rectangle from the top of Bunker Hill to the base of City Hall will be christened as L.A.'s Grand Park, providing downtown with its first sizable amount of open space. [...] The park begins along Grand Avenue with a dramatic view of a renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain and the tall white crest of Los Angeles City Hall. Parking ramps that once hid the fountain from pedestrians have been torn down, and the fountain is now programmed to run a colorful light show."

Local Museum Lands Sante Fe Sign -- Chicago Tribune

"The Illinois Railway Museum will take possession of the sign that advertised the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway from the roof of Chicago's Railway Exchange Building at 224 S. Michigan Ave." [...] Volunteers for the nonprofit museum will refurbish the sign, said Dave Diamond, the general manager for facilities. Once ready for display, it will join a collection of other Santa Fe equipment and railroad signs, many with roots in the Chicago area. [...] "It's a unique artifact that's tied to Chicago," Diamond said. "It keeps a piece of that in the area where it's still viewable to folks to understand Chicago's importance as a rail transportation hub."

Pittsburgh City Council Seeks Historic Preservation Limits -- Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit people from seeking city historic status for properties they don't own, a bill that grew out of the yearslong effort to save the old St. Nicholas Church building on the North Side. Mr. Burgess said third parties shouldn't have the right to interfere with owners' property rights. He said the city's historic designation 'should not occur without the landowner's consent.'"

Behind the Scenes: Teddy Roosevelt's House -- Washingtonian

"Ben Barnes has a Washington player’s résumé. He’s a Democratic lobbyist, he’s made a fortune in real estate, and he’s a former lieutenant governor of Texas and speaker of the state’s House. But there’s another side to him: history buff, art collector, preservationist. These are embodied in his building on 19th Street in downtown DC, where he has set up the Ben Barnes Group, a team of six including partners and staff. It’s the former home of Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, who lived there when Roosevelt served on the Civil Service Commission."

When Values Collide: Balancing Green Technology and Historic Buildings -- NRDC Switchboard

"I believe that historic preservation in the right context -- a healthy neighborhood -- can be intrinsically green.  Most historic buildings, at least the ones constructed before the days of freeways and urban flight, are on walkable streets in relatively central locations.  They represent embodied energy and materials that would be consumed if the same amount of space and the same function had to be constructed anew. [...] But, by definition, historic buildings do not have the latest technology unless it is added many years later."

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.