Sports

Preservation Round-Up: Six Feet Under Edition

Posted on: May 12th, 2011 by David Garber 2 Comments

 

Thursday afternoon. You know the feeling. Kind of has that end of the week air, yet there’s another few hours of slightly-less-ergonomic-than-advertised desk chair-sitting before Friday even begins to glimmer into existence. Weather outside is perfect, and you’ve managed the post-lunch shoe removal beneath your desk to simulate some other (probably more beachy) moment than the one you’re living now. Don’t get me wrong – nothing is abnormally off. Keyboard clicks have officially replaced morning office chatter, sun is streaming through the mini-blinds, and you're already hungry again after your noon fast break to the latest trendy food truck.

Now if you’re me, this is also the moment you begin to pull together the bi-weekly Preservation Round-Up, discover that all of your open tabs have something to do with death, and stare at your empty mug with those "Really, coffee, you're empty just when I need you most?" eyes and proceed to copy and paste links with tip-toe hesitation. Why? Because here at the National Trust, we try to add a sprig of optimism to our communications, and a news round-up completely relating to the grave might typically be described as less than life-affirming.

(Dramatic Pause)

Good afternoon from the online editing room!

The Amityville Horror house today. (Photo: Flickr user JOE MARINARO)

First up is a great slideshow of “murder houses” put together by This Old House (and tweeted out by them as “Murder is bad. Very bad. But, Murder Houses are kind of awesome”). As you can see from their list – which includes such wonderfully quaint-sounding places as “The Villisca Axe Murder House” and the “Hex Murder House” – some of the houses have used their horrific back stories as a way to preserve and maintain the homes (in case you’re interested, an overnight at the Axe Murder House will put you back a cold $400). Others, like the “Amityville Horror House,” where only a year after the grizzly 1970s murders, subsequent owners “reported everything from [the murderer’s] dark shadows and voices, to black slime oozing through keyholes and swarms of flies,” have now returned to residential use by owners “by owners who don't care for thrill-seeking visitors.”

To everyone scrambling through their local library’s microfiche for a murder story to add a few tourist dollars to their own pocket, never fear. The ghosts of literary giants work just as well. The Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Landmarks Haunted by Debt Consult the Spirit World for Help: Ghost Tours Scare Up Cash to Keep Homes of Literary Lions Wharton and Twain Alive,” which is, naturally, about exactly what the title says.

The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn., where Samuel Clemens lived when he wrote "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn," was mired in debt and on the verge of closing three years ago. These days, the house plays host to "Graveyard Shift" tours that combine ghostly stories with historical and literary lore. Price: $18.

"The ghost tours have been a cash cow," says Jeffrey Nichols, the executive director, who says his Twain museum currently breaks even, though it still owes $5 million. "I don't think we are being abusive to [Mark Twain's] legacy at all - so many people come and they get interested in Twain," says Mr. Nichols. "We can't keep operating the way we used to. It won't work."

Scene from inside Bennett Park in Detroit. (Photo: Flickr user doctor_gogol)

There are people ghosts. And then there are ballpark ghosts. Detroit, Michigan is beginning to think more seriously about the latter, but for the same tourism and nostalgia-inspired reasons as the places mentioned above. In the DBusiness magazine article titled “A New ‘Field of Dreams’ for Detroit,” author Jeff Samoray opines about the possibility of rebuilding Bennett Park, the motor city’s first baseball stadium.

In Detroit, what’s old is often considered disposable — it’s the flashy new vehicle that counts, not last year’s model. We all know about the landmarks and historic structures the city has razed or left standing in ruin.

But within this context, Detroit has an extraordinary opportunity to resurrect a piece of its past at a historically significant site. If done right, the project could stand as a progressive model for urban revitalization. It would be an unprecedented example of historic reconstruction never before attempted by a major American city.

No field of dreams would be complete without a little help from one of nature’s most underappreciated gardeners: worms. Yes, those ironically-unearthly squirming spindles of subterranea you find slithering across the sidewalk after a good rain. Masters of decomposition, worms are often associated with death – but in the good, “bringing new life as a result” kind of way. Why is this news? Well, landscapers at our under-restoration Villa Finale historic site in San Antonio’s King William neighborhood have built a special worm composting bin as part of their plan to keep the historic mansion’s grounds alive and healthy.

Now in this next case, worms might not be the answer – but what about a little McDreamy-style defibrillation? Across the country in San Francisco (this is the part where if this round-up were animated you’d see a giant dashed lined trailing a jet-liner across a pastel-colored U.S. map) preservationists are reacting to the city's changing historic preservation policies, and are coming to the same conclusion as Nichols. As in, new means of preservation might be needed for the movement to stay alive.

Fearing that new laws will only increase the number of loopholes that demolition-minded developers jump through to get their projects built, San Francisco Bay Guardian’s Bruce Blog notes that “The problem in San Francisco is not too much historic preservation, it's that we allow too much to get lost.”

But who needs a defibrillator when you’ve got a company like Living Social looking for “a unique building in a hip neighborhood” in which to move their headquarters? The Groupon-esque social-tech company decided against a glass box and instead snagged 918 F Street NW, an 1890 brownstone office building in the heart of Washington, DC’s quite vibrant Penn Quarter neighborhood – an area that just fifteen years ago was given up for dead (zing!).

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He prefers the Econo Lodge to places like the Axe Murder House, but affirms horrific murder ghost tourism as a means of building 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.

Preservation Round-Up: Play Ball Edition

Posted on: March 31st, 2011 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment

 

This is NOT today at Nationals Park, but it feels like it could be.

This is NOT today at Nationals Park, but it feels like it could be.

It's a chilly, misty day here in the nation's capital and there's apparently a nor'easter barreling up the East Coast, so it could hardly feel less like baseball weather - and yet, baseball season is upon us. There are a batch of Opening Day games on the schedule today - including one in Nationals Park across town. I am the literal definition of a "fair-weather fan," in that I only want to watch baseball when it's sunny and/or warm, so I am planning to trade in today's tickets for a game later in the season, but since I have baseball on the brain (well, as much as a dyed in the wool hockey fan can), today's round-up is focused on America's pastime.

I suspect that my colleagues downstairs in the Preservation magazine offices also enjoy baseball, given that they've written quite a few stories about historic stadiums and leagues over the years.  A few of their highlights:

In looking around for historic stadium stories from sources outside the office, I came across an interesting one about Birmingham, Alabama's Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in America where professional baseball is still played. "Wait!" I can hear you saying. "Fenway Park is the oldest!" And you're not wrong - Fenway is the oldest park still being used for a full season of games, but Rickwood Field hosts the AA Birmingham Barons annually for the Rickwood Classic. This year's game is June 11, if you want to be part of history.

On the mainstream media end of the spectrum, I came across a USA Today story from last year, "10 great places for a baseball pilgrimage" that I'm willing to bet are still great places this year, too. And the folks at History.com have a page of full of historic baseball trivia and a great then-and-now slideshow that leads with the aforementioned Polo Grounds in New York.

And with that... PLAY BALL!

Sarah Heffern is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She promises to be a more committed baseball fan once hockey season is over, though she hopes that won't be until June for her Washington Capitals.

 

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.

 

Written by Daniel Kramer

The Salas Brothers perform at Macarthur Park on August 21, 2010.

The Salas Brothers perform at Macarthur Park on August 21, 2010.

The music that wafted through the early-evening air of Macarthur Park on August 21, 2010, came straight out of an “oldies” station. Everyone in the park sang and danced along to the rhythm of the Salas Brothers, a group that had its start as adolescents from East Los Angeles in the 1960s. Though the crowd was mostly Baby Boomers, including my parents, the concert gave this 22 year old a chance to witness firsthand the power of collective memory and history within the Latino community.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain, the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution, and the 40th anniversary of the National Chicano Moratorium - so the Salas Brothers concert provided an important, albeit non-traditional, preface to a month dedicated to Latino heritage.

The Salas Brothers were a part of the East Los Angeles music scene of the 1960s that consisted of young Mexican-American bands developing a unique musical style that combined R&B, rock & roll, soul, salsa, and traditional Mexican music. This style began with the success of Ritchie Valens and later bands such as Cannibal and the Headhunters and Thee Midniters who also received national recognition.

Although this style was popular for only a few years, it left an indelible mark on the Mexican-American youths who grew up listening to this music. It also created an important sense of place at concert venues where this music was heard. As a summer intern for the Los Angeles Conservancy, I have been able to not only research this music from 1960s East LA, but also to learn and rediscover the old concert venues that provided the space to experience this unique method of cultural expression. (See the Google map of the 1960s East LA Music Scene.) The Conservancy sponsored, in cooperation with the Levitt Foundation, the Salas Brothers concert in Macarthur Park in order to celebrate the end of its initiative called “The Sixties Turn 50” which highlighted 1960s architecture in and around Los Angeles.

Many of the concert venues themselves were not hallmarks of 1960s architecture, but their period of significance was primarily the 1960s. Some of the buildings, like the Paramount and Montebello Ballrooms which opened in the 1920s, had originally been Big Band venues. The El Monte American Legion Stadium was home to legendary “oldies but goodies” DJ Art Laboe-sponsored concerts but had been demolished. Some of these sites were also far away from East LA, including Pomona’s demolished Rainbow Gardens and Fullerton’s Rhythm Room. Some venues were simple union halls, like the Big and Little Union Halls and others were schools like the St. Alphonsus School Auditorium.

The former CYO building that is now Self Help Graphics. (Photo: LA Conservancy)

The former CYO building that is now Self Help Graphics. (Photo: LA Conservancy)

The East LA music scene was nurtured by teenage dances, and these took place at almost any available location, even local parks and community centers. One such community center was the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) hall, which presently houses the famous Self Help Graphics and Arts. The Conservancy is seeking to have this building nominated as a historic landmark because of its importance as a space that has historically been used as cultural center and a means for the community to express itself.

Although buildings like the CYO hall may not be architecturally significant or what have been traditionally preserved, they still deserve to be in the discussion. Their significance to the largely Mexican American community of East LA warrants this. The 1960s East LA music scene was an important period of cultural expression for an often underserved community, and the community centers and concert venues that nourished it should be recognized.

Daniel Kramer, a recent graduate of Stanford University, is an intern at the Los Angeles Conservancy.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

How to Turn Young Adults Into Preservationists

Posted on: July 1st, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

The kids are all right … but they’re not becoming preservationists.

Wayne Donaldson, the new chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and current California State Historic Preservation Officer, was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me after his appointment in May to discuss one of his stated goals – attracting young people to preservation.

My ears perked up, so to speak, on reading this in his announcement since one of the Modernism and Recent Past program’s areas of emphasis is also to engage this group. The Trust’s membership remains largely comprised of those over age 40 and the M + RP initiative aims to reach those under.

As the owner of a rare 1960s Futuro home, Donaldson is a friend of our program. So I wanted to know his thoughts on how M + RP resources are particularly suited to appeal to a new generation of preservationists, and what specific messages and practices we should rethink to attract the younger set.

Donaldson said the connection between modern and recent past buildings and young people dawned on him during the National Register nomination process in 2005 for two Eichler neighborhoods – Green Gables and Greenmeadow in Palo Alto. Constructed in the early 1950s, they were the first of the now well-known California mid-century homes to be listed as historic districts on the National Register.

The residents who came to speak at public meetings were in their 30s, and they were passionate about owning a piece of designed architecture. They were in these homes in part because the properties were affordable to young buyers at the time, and in part -- as Donaldson believes -- it’s a return to an identity.

Kids born in the 1980s and 1990s grew up in a “shopping mall culture” where places are indistinguishable and quality architecture for the everyday does not exist. In contrast, Donaldson describes M + RP resources as design – not a style, not a movement – and we, the hip younger set, can get into design.

So how to make the connection between historic preservation and the shopping mall generations? I admit it’s difficult to distract us from our iPhones and coffee. Historic preservation at its core is about possessing the emotional capacity to care about a place. Young people, as a whole, are not interested in preservation because we are mostly numb to the places in which we live. We move all the time, we do all our business online, and we depend on networks that stretch far beyond our immediate neighborhoods. Historic preservation won’t cross most of our minds until we think about “settling down.”

And when we do that, a ranch home in the Midwest (I can see my friends cringing now) may be all we can afford to buy. If we’re lucky, a helpful real estate agent might point out that this neighborhood is one of the state’s best examples of mid-century modernism and that we shouldn’t rip out the pink tile.

Before long, we’re casing flea markets for the right furniture and going to neighborhood association meetings. Now WE are now those people Donaldson noticed at the public hearings. We care because we have a sense of ownership -- and by accident, we’ve become preservationists. Who knows, we may even rally to save that old stadium and the city hall nobody seems to like either.

As Donaldson points out, modern and recent past architecture is the last era of good design to which we can attach emotion and form an identity around. It remains representative of an American lifestyle before everything looked the same.

Many of these buildings are also the backdrop for our childhoods – schools, banks, libraries, even the visitor center in the summer vacation photos at Yosemite. We already have memories of these; therefore we should care. And once we care, we’ll preserve.

Emily Koller is a Community and Regional Planning and Historic Preservation graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is interning as the M + RP’s summer program assistant in the Western Office.

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.

A Civic Discussion in Pittsburgh: Unwinding the Legacy of Urban Renewal

Posted on: May 26th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Christine Madrid French

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Last week, I was invited to serve on a panel of experts (hosted by cityLIVE!) to debate the merits of saving, or not saving, a mid-century stadium located at the edge of downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The panel also included an historian, a community activist, and an architect. About 150 citizens ventured out in the rain to participate and discuss the relative significance of historic resources, both extant and already demolished. As preservationists, we are practiced in deliberating between “build new” and “save” arguments, but here the case is far more complicated.

Few dispute the architectural significance of the building, which was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The 1961 Civic Arena, designed by James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey -- and funded in part by Edgar Kaufmann -- was one of the most successfully engineered feats of its time. The stainless steel dome, divided into eight sections, slid open in just three minutes to reveal an open sky above and a stage and seating area below. A cantilevered arm reaching halfway across the span provided the sole support for the retractable roof, once the largest in the world.

What lies beneath the building is at the heart of the matter. The Lower Hill district was once part of a large farm tract owned by the grandson of William Pitt. In the nineteenth century, the area was subdivided and developed to provide housing for European immigrants. By the 1900s, the neighborhood was predominantly African-American, a place that bore life to artists and musicians, including noted playwright August Wilson. Eventually, the buildings began to fall to ruin and were targeted as part of an urban renewal plan to revive downtown. More than 8,000 Pittsburgh residents lost their homes and watched their neighborhood leveled to the ground in the 1950s, a shocking displacement that still resonates in the city today.

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Pittsburgh's Civic Arena (Photo: Rob Pfaffmann, AIA, AICP)

Despite best intentions, the comprehensive new blueprint for the Lower Hill -- originally conceived as a mixed use area of high-rise housing and an arts district -- was never completed. The plan derailed early on, leaving the arena and one new I.M. Pei-designed apartment building isolated by a sea of surface parking. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins (later owners of the arena) maintain development rights on the site and prefer to clear the area for new structures. The community is divided, with a good number calling for a restoration of the original street grid that was displaced by the arena construction (separating other parts of the Hill from downtown), while other Pittsburgh residents support new construction around the arena and a re-use plan for the building.

Ned Kaufman, in his new book “Place, Race, and Story,” asserts that historic preservation is “not fundamentally a technical discipline,” focused solely on material conservation for instance, but is instead “a social practice, part history and part planning.” What I hear from both sides is a need to repair the community. New development cannot bring back the past, or restore what was lost. Indeed, the continuing presence of the arena ensures that the lost Lower Hill neighborhood maintains its importance as a “story site” or a place where we can convey and relate meaningful memories. Removing this building, and therefore the last physical reminder of “what was” and “what could have been,” will undoubtedly produce more loss rather than a recovery. Continuing the cycle of demolition will erase our collective memories at the site. Ultimately, the next generation will have no physical framework to remind them of their ancestor’s efforts either to save or to build new. Yet, we still have larger issues to address along the way, including the repair of emotional injuries suffered by the community more than 50 years ago.

Our collected group onstage, with helpful input and questions from the audience, did not find an immediate resolution that night. We did feel, however, that we engaged in a meaningful conversation, one that we hope to continue as people and preservationists debate the future of this contested site in Pittsburgh.

Christine Madrid French is the director of the Modernism + Recent Past program at 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.

Can an Arena Help a Neighborhood?

Posted on: October 5th, 2007 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment

 

Businesses along West Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN.I discovered the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday night, when I had the good fortune to get to see the Minnesota Wild play their final pre-season hockey game (which they won -- yeah! -- though that's relevant neither to the story nor the Wild's standings). I didn't know it at the time, but I would be returning to the vicinity of the arena repeatedly, as the adjacent RiverCentre was the conference headquarters. I also hadn't realized that the "From Immigrants to Sports Fans: Transformations in the West Seventh Street Neighborhood" tour for which I was registered was focused on the area immediately surrounding the Xcel Center -- though had the title specified hockey fans, I might have caught on a bit sooner.

I decided to take this particular tour because I wanted to see how St. Paul handled development in the surrounding area. Washington, DC, my home for nearly 10 years, built an arena in Chinatown just before my arrival that inspired a tremendous economic boom, but also caused the flight of the immigrant population who gave the neighborhood its name. With the exception of the arch over H Street and Chinese characters on the signs for chain restaurants and shops, the streets surrounding the Verizon Center could be anywhere. The local character has been erased almost completely. I needed this tour to tell me that other cities find a way to combine growth and development with maintaining the unique flavor of a neighborhood.

... 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.

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.