Thoughts from the Summit at Green Mountain Lookout

Posted on: August 10th, 2012 by Brian Turner 5 Comments


Upon first gaping at the precarious perch of the historic fire lookout on the summit of Green Mountain, my backpacking companion captured the sentiment exactly:

“Yep, those old timers were crazy.”

The precarious perch of the lookout above a steep ledge.

The Green Mountain lookout stands on the crest of a volcanic ridgeline more than seven grueling miles and 5,000 feet higher than its nearest trailhead in the Cascades of Washington State. It was built in 1933 by a hardy work crew from the Civilian Conservation Corps who first carted its heavy wood windows, planks, and support beams on the steep climb up the mountain. Today, it remains a marvel of human ingenuity and backcountry engineering.

Since a federal court ordered the lookout removed from the mountaintop last April (background on the situation here), its future has been in limbo. Legislation was recently introduced to save it from demolition, but its passage is far from certain. So I decided to set out to see the site in its original setting, to see if the debate -- whether all traces of human influence should be removed from designated wilderness areas -- held up.

I began in Darrington, an old logging town two hours northeast of Seattle. Scott Morris, a volunteer with the local Darrington Historical Society, graciously offered to accompany me. It was not an easy hike. Road closures have made what was once a popular day trip to the lookout now require at least one night of camping on the journey.



We began on an old, unmaintained path at the confluence of the Suiattle River and Downey Creek and scrambled for three hours with our backpacks over downed logs, frequently losing and re-finding the trail. By early afternoon we reached the maintained trail that leads to the summit of the mountain with another 4+ miles of uphill ahead.

As we climbed higher, the rewards were tremendous. Near the wilderness boundary we spotted a black bear foraging on young huckleberries. A golden eagle sailed the ridge, hunting for unsuspecting marmots sun-bathing on the rocks. Fields of brilliant wildflowers greeted us in the high country, freshly emerged from the melting snow drifts.



At the summit of Green Mountain, we were in a cloud, the surrounding world barely visible. We found the lookout in its winter dormancy; the heavy wooden shutters that protected its paned glass windows were strapped down with an oversized belt. We opened them to the elements -- a seasonal ritual -- propping up the shutters with iron bars and inspecting damage to the catwalk caused by heavy snow loads. After setting up camp inside, we ate a warm meal and tried to forget about how terrifyingly close to the ledge we actually were.

Tufts of wildflowers and Glacier Peak visible from the lookout entrance.

By dawn the clouds had sunk below us and the tops of the high peaks of the Cascades appeared as islands in the sky. By the time we closed the lookout, the clouds had dispersed entirely, revealing expansive forests in every direction. During the entire trip we saw not another soul. I found it no wonder that some of America’s most influential environmental thinkers were inspired by their solitary summers in the lookouts of the Northwest: Ed Abbey, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac, to name a few.


In some cases, a competing public policy may offer a compelling reason against keeping a historic place in wilderness -- when a historic dam threatens a rare species, for example. But the only thing at risk with the Green Mountain Lookout is an ideology, the mistaken notion the land must be clear cut of any tangible remain of human influence, regardless of how small of an impact it has on natural values.

In contrast, the relatively small amount of historic sites in our America’s wilderness are irreplaceable assets with potential to foster even greater environmental awareness -- to appreciate how land was used (and misused) over time. While some may see these places as an expression of ego, others are likely to be humbled by how small mankind really is in comparison to the vastness of the wilderness beyond.

In a mere flash of geologic time, natural forces will erode the Green Mountain Lookout from its perch, as they have already for many of its kind. Until then, it is a great privilege (for those who can bear the hike) to see those forces in action. In my view, keeping the lookout intact and accessible not only honors the hardy individuals who labored for it, but sustains a popular part of the American identity that takes pride in the careful stewardship of the spectacular land we inherit.

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.

Brian Turner

Brian Turner

Brian Turner is an attorney in the National Trust's San Francisco Field Office. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of the nation's cultural and natural heritage.

My American Road Trip, Part 8: Last Stop

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Lauren Walser 5 Comments


Two weeks and about 4,500 miles later, Blaise and I have limped across the finish line to Los Angeles, exhausted and glad to be home. But in between Portland and here, we made one final stop: Blaise’s hometown of Davis, California.

The Davis Amtrak station, built in 1913.

After two weeks of exploring brand-new places together, it felt nice to be back in familiar territory. While we spent a good deal of time recovering from our drive (there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal and a place to wash your clothes), we also spent some time downtown. And as we were walking around, Blaise, inspired by our two weeks of exploring historic sites, pointed out some of the older buildings in his own turf -- buildings I’ve walked by many times before, but never really studied. ... 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.

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.

A Holiday in New York's Thousand Islands

Posted on: July 5th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya


Ahh, vacation. It’s a lovely word. It is a time where you kick off your shoes and stop thinking about anything related to work. Unless, for example, you love history and you’re vacationing along the St. Lawrence River at the Thousand Islands in upstate New York -- where I was last week.

Being there reminded me of a college seminar that took me along the James River in Virginia to look at plantation houses. The houses were built in such a way that visitors coming by boat would be treated to the homes' best faces as they floated by.  At the time (and really, even now) I secretly wanted to live by a river -- not only because it seemed incredibly decadent, but also because the views epitomized inspiration.

I experienced this firsthand with my trip to Thousand Islands, where I stayed in a 1890s cottage in Thousand Islands Park just steps away from the river.  Even when the temperatures soared you could cool down by standing outside and letting the breeze off the water wash over you. Perfection may be too strong of a word, but it was definitely close. ... 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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.


After a 9-hour slog through western Montana, Idaho, and central Washington -- during which we stretched our legs and did some minor sightseeing in Spokane, home of this year's upcoming National Preservation Conference -- we arrived at the beautiful Mayflower Park Hotel, part of the Trust's Historic Hotels of America program, in downtown Seattle.

Originally called the Bergonian, the hotel's original ground floor amenities were a coffee shop, a drug store, a smoke shop, and a barbershop -- but no restaurant or bar space with alcohol service, as it was built during Prohibition.

The interior of the Mayflower Park Hotel in Seattle.

The hotel changed ownership a number of times until one of its owners declared bankruptcy, and it sat deteriorating for years. It found new life in 1974, when an intrepid couple purchased the hotel and turned it into the beauty it is today, with crystal chandeliers in the lobby, stately Queen Anne furniture in the rooms, and coziness to spare.

Now on the ground level, there’s a popular Mediterranean restaurant, Andaluca, and yes, a swanky bar called Oliver’s Lounge, which was the perfect place for two weary travelers to relax after a long day of driving.
Waiting for the Monorail.

Our room had a view of the Space Needle, but we wanted to see it up close. So the next morning, Blaise and I rode the Monorail, which was built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. It shuttles passengers from downtown to another world’s fair site, Seattle Center, a sprawling outdoor campus with museums, fountains, performance venues, and, of course, the Space Needle. The line to go inside was too long for us, but just standing below and looking up at it was amazing.

Seattle didn’t live up to its rainy reputation while we were there. The weather was absolutely perfect for roaming around neighborhoods like Capitol Hill -- an area I’ve been eager to explore since Preservation magazine featured an article about the revitalization of its Pike/Pine corridor.

Inside the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Once the city’s “auto row,” Pike/Pine has seen many of its old warehouses, car dealerships, and showrooms transformed into cafes, bars, boutiques, and apartments throughout the past several years. I bought a book at Elliott Bay Book Company, housed in a former Ford Truck Service Center, and was tempted by the smell of coffee wafting from Caffe Vita, tucked inside the former 1905 Anderson Tool Supply building. ... 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.

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.

First-Person Preservation: A West Side Story

Posted on: June 28th, 2012 by David Robert Weible 5 Comments


At age 14, I took a summer job working behind the counter of a butcher stand at Cleveland’s West Side Market. If I’m honest, I dreaded going to work. At that age, I had difficulty seeing the twelve-hour Saturday shifts as anything but one less day at the beach with friends. In typical Midwest fashion, my father told me to stop complaining; I’d learn something from it.

The market got its start in the 1840s when two local landowners donated a tract just to the west of downtown Cleveland and the Cuyahoga River with the caveat that it permanently serve as a community marketplace. In 1912, a yellow-brick neo-classical and Byzantine structure designed by Benjamin Hubbel and W. Dominick Benes was built. It celebrates its centennial this summer.

A byproduct of its longevity, the market is equal parts ethnographic log and cultural guidebook of the immigrant-rich city -- a tangible place where abstractions such as Cleveland’s multifaceted identity manifest themselves. Just one shopping trip offers a world of possibilities: butcher stalls and distinct meats of Germans, Hungarians, Slovenians, and Slovaks; the artisanal bakeries and goods of French and Italians; and the fresh produce stands of Lebanese and Syrians. Anything from Polish pierogis or Cambodian pad thai to authentic Mexican empanadas can be found there -- not to mention Amish cheeses, Indian spices, and fresh local seafood (no joke, just check a map).

The nearly 100 stalls of the interior concourse are composed of glass deli cases and filled to the brim with summer sausages and fresh-caught walleye that create a sweet raw scent and mosaic of color that automatically trigger hunger. Strands of orange product stickers hang on rolls behind counters among local sports paraphernalia and obscure the timeworn but smiling faces of owners hard at work. Everything is wrapped in crisp white paper and priced with the swipe of a pen. The yells of price-haggling in Ukrainian are accented by chiming cash registers that look nearly as old as the building.

Given this cultural significance, aesthetic beauty, and of course, fresh local ingredients, it’s no wonder that the market has also become a hub for the masterminds of Cleveland’s progressive food scene: Iron Chef Michael Symon; renowned food author and charcuterie expert Michael Ruhlman; and one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2010, Jonathon Sawyer.

[Ed. note: We took out a photo here -- different West Side Market!]

Their success has brought national attention to the market, creating an emotional conflict for locals who are eager to refute Cleveland’s reputation as a dead city, but whose upbringing there instills a dogmatic disregard for outside commentary. Willingly or not, the market is a symbol of the embracive, yet tough-as-nails and independent ideology of the city for the rest of the country to see.

So as it turns out, my father was right. More than the different cuts of steak or common phrases in Ukrainian, I learned something from my four short months at the market. I learned how a building can transcend the physical and elevate itself as a portrait of the community around it, and how preservation often isn’t as much about saving a building from destruction, as it is about enriching our own existence.

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.