Travel

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.

Pacifico Preservation Adventure: Los Angeles, CA

Posted on: September 11th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

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 based on the number of votes we receive (voting instructions at the end of the post).

To raise awareness for the contest, we've partnered with five preservation fans to highlight "Preservation Adventures" in cities and states across America. This week's guest blogger is Lynn Garrett from Los Angeles, California. Lynn is the founder of Hidden Los Angeles, a group that uncovers and promotes the lesser-known history and culture of Los Angeles.

My great-great-grandfather came to Los Angeles in about 1905 or so. A lot of people don’t realize that not everyone in Los Angeles moved here to party like Lindsay Lohan or fulfill any of the other stereotypes. Sure, some of them did -- and you can spot them from a mile away -- but many average American Angelenos live here because it is their home, their heritage, and where their roots are.

There’s also a common misconception that Los Angeles has no important history other than the entertainment business, but the real truth is that Angelenos and tourists drive past incredible American history every day without realizing the treasures that surround them.

Part of the challenge is that our city covers a lot of ground. When something seems overwhelming, it’s just easier to discount it than try to really understand it. But L.A. is more than the entertainment business. It's where the French Dip sandwich and the laser were invented. It's where Julia Child and James Ellroy were born. It's where people still spend their lives trying to figure out how to land on Mars.

There's a lot to love about this city, and always something new to discover. That’s why Hidden Los Angeles caught on so fast with viewers on Facebook. While some large cities are like boutique stores where everything it offers is sitting in the window, Los Angeles is more like a big hot mess of a TJ Maxx.

To the unsuspecting eye, it’s a big place with a lot of cars and people and stuff strewn around -- but if you stop and walk down an aisle and really look, you might find the most amazing thing you never expected to exist, and your life is instantly richer for knowing about it.

The Villages of Los Angeles

It always makes me cringe when I hear of tourists jumping to book a hotel by the airport, driving to the Hollywood and Highland mall, taking a bus tour of the stars’ homes, and then leaving town telling everyone who will listen, “I’ve been to Los Angeles. It was everything I expected. I hate it.”

That's the same thing as booking a hotel room by JFK Airport, taking a cab to Times Square, and going home with the belief that you understand what New York is all about. Los Angeles is a big place (LA County is over 4,000 square miles!), and to understand it you have to look at it a little differently.

L.A. haters will often complain that it makes no sense, that there’s no center, that it’s impossible to walk here, that it’s too spread out and doesn’t have a heart or history. What they don’t realize is that L.A. is actually not a “city” the way other cities are; it’s more like a country with many many different very walkable villages, and each enclave has its own appeal, its own personality, its own history (that you might just not know about), and attracts a certain type of person.

They key to living (or visiting) here happily is figuring out which village to call home or visit, because you’ll likely never be able to see all of them. I'll say it again: Los Angeles County is over 4,000 square miles (with the city itself clocking in at around 468 square miles).

If you want sea air, you can hang out in Santa Monica or one of the other beach cities. If you want to experience more edgy and eclectic versions of local culture that typical tourists don’t, you can empower your inner hipster and wander the villages of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park, or Highland Park. There are also some amazing cultural experiences and food to be found in our international neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, Little India, Chinatown, Little Brazil, Thai Town, Little Armenia, and more.

And if you want to see a side of Los Angeles that feels more like Mayberry, you can travel to villages like Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel Foothills or Downtown El Segundo where the Richmond Grill still makes fresh potato chips at their lunch counter and the Old Town Music Hall still plays silent films on the weekends.

And by the way, don’t worry about Los Angeles’ villages being unsafe to explore: Los Angeles’ crime rate is the lowest it's been since Eisenhower was President.

On a side note to the people who say Downtown L.A. is too remote and has no reason to be where it is, actually there’s an incredibly valid historical reason: The original 1871 pueblo of Los Angeles had to abide by the 1573 Law of the Indies, which stated that all New World construction had to be at least 20 miles from the sea (to avoid pirates), next to a source of fresh water (the flowing 51-mile Los Angeles River), and near a native encampment (so they could put them to work). Believe it or not, if you look at Los Angeles closer and with an open mind, it actually does make sense!

Franklin Canyon

Few people (even native Angelenos) realize that there’s an idyllic hidden lake situated in the canyon just three miles North of Beverly Hills. Not only is this lake the geographic center of Los Angeles, it may also seem incredibly familiar to anyone who sees it.

That’s right. Not only was it the fishing hole for Andy and Opie, Franklin Canyon also doubled as Lake Tahoe in Bonanza and was “The Lagoon” in Creature of the Black Lagoon. Finding the lake is a little tricky, but once you’re there you would never realize you were in Los Angeles. There are hiking trails along the hillsides, pathways to walk, the Sooky Goldman Nature Center, and even a duck pond built by local Boy Scouts.

Note: Be sure to stop at all stop signs in the park, they have been known to give camera tickets!

Pierce Bros Westwood Village Memorial Park

Everyone comes to Los Angeles expecting to hang out with celebrities, but truth be told there is no place in Los Angeles where you can stand feet away from more world-famous iconic superstars than by exploring the local cemeteries.

Morbid? Nahhhh. In the turn of the 20th century, eternal optimist Dr. Hubert Eaton revolutionized the funeral industry by deeming that cemeteries should be joyous places for the living to visit and recreate. So, he took over Tropico Cemetery in Glendale (where my previously mentioned great-great-grandfather is buried), rechristened it as Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and deemed it to be as unlike other cemeteries “as sunlight is unlike darkness, as eternal life is unlike death.”

Similarly, Pierce Bros Westwood Cemetery is also called a "Memorial Park," albeit a far smaller park and mausoleum than Forest Lawn that is unexpectedly hidden at the end of a driveway behind towering Westwood highrises. While indisputably petite in comparison, Pierce Bros is the final resting place for a laundry list of America’s most beloved heartbeat-challenged celebrities… from Marilyn Monroe to Don Knotts to Truman Capote to Frank Zappa (Zappa’s grave is unmarked). Check out the full list of residents here.

If you’d like to be ahead of the game just print out or copy this map link to your phone. Although that map hasn’t been updated to include some of its newer residents, it will give you a head start to finding many of your favorite stars' eternal resting spots.

Farmers Market

I live in Carthay Square, which is an amazing central walking area near Miracle Mile and the Fairfax District (I spent so much time booking visitors into hotels in this area I realized I wanted to live here myself!). Within blocks there’s an incredible amount of culture: LA County Museum of Art, La Brea Tar Pits, Petersen Automotive Museum, Craft and Folk Art Museum, and more.

For a rooftop cocktail overlooking the city, I like to go to The Roof on Wilshire. And if I feel like hanging out in a pub I have my choice between the old Hollywood of Tom Bergin’s House of Irish Coffee (once a favorite of Bing Crosby), Molly Malone’s (a favorite place for local bands to play), or Sheddy’s (a cozy little bar).

All of the delicious cuisine choices my heart could possibly desire can be found by walking up and down 3rd street between La Cienega and Fairfax or up Fairfax towards Canters (one of the most beloved old Jewish delis in town).

But  when I can’t decide what to eat and don’t want to wander the street … all the choices I could imagine are in one place at the historic Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax. My grandmother used to take me here when I was little, and it will always be a sentimental favorite of mine. It's home to me.

In the late 19th century, the corner of 3rd and Fairfax was a dairy farm owned by A.F. Gilmore and partners, up until 1905 when they struck oil there while drilling for water and Gillmore Oil Company was born. In 1934, farmers began to rent space to park their trucks on the dirt lot to sell their produce, and Farmers Market grew into a community center over the decades from there, at one point including a ball field, racetrack, antique mall, an orchard, and nursery.

Nowadays the inside of Farmers Market continues to look much the same as it did when I was a kid (with some new restaurant additions amidst the old standbys). And while many of the old surrounding buildings no longer exist, after you’re done exploring Farmers Market you can stop by The Grove (a modern shopping center built next door in 2002) to see a movie or pick up a new outfit at Banana Republic. (By the way, The Grove and Farmers Market can sometimes be a good place to see celebrities … I saw Gordon Ramsey there just a few weeks ago and feel like every time I go in the Apple Store I see someone famous shopping for a new iPhone.)

American Cinematheque

After successfully opening the grand Million Dollar Theater in 1918 (still located on Broadway, Downtown, along with other surviving movie palaces), eccentric showman Sid Grauman spearheaded the building of The Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard to capitalize on the world’s raging obsession with "all things Egypt," thanks to Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

Even though it was 1922, the theater cost $800,000 to build and took eighteen months to construct, and it’s said that for extra dramatic effect he even hired men in Egyptian guard outfits to patrol the perimeter of the roof during special events as flames rose from torches around them.

The Egyptian was the home of the very first Hollywood movie premiere, and a few years later Grauman followed its success by building the neighboring (and equally ornately themed) Chinese and El Capitan Theaters. (The Chinese became more famous in later years than any of the others due to the addition of celebrity footprints in its forecourt cement.)

Nowadays the Egyptian Theater is the home of American Cinematheque, an independent nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and public presentation of the moving image and its history. In other words, instead of seeing yet another Seth Rogen buddy film in a multiplex, American Cinematheque constantly offers chances to see incredibly cool and historic films on the big screen in an old-school Hollywood movie palace, and often presents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the cast on stage as they talk about the production.

Many of the theater's offerings are indisputably some of the best films ever made. Case in point: As I write this I’m realizing that they’re showing North By Northwest tonight and I really should go. Cary Grant? Yes please!

You can support our preservation work by voting daily at www.PacificoAdventure.com. A contest code is required to vote -- codes are available on specially marked packages of Pacifico beer, in bars and restaurants, by texting 23000, or by clicking “GET CODE" online.

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.

 


Alcatraz's main cellblock at night.

I admit, I hesitated before boarding the ferry to spend the night in a prison cell on “the Rock.” Over the summer, the volunteers restoring the Gardens of Alcatraz (partially funded, incidentally, by a National Trust grant) were offered the chance to sleep over on the island as a “thank you” for their hard work. Being the “history guy” and all, I was invited as the guest of a gardener friend.

It didn’t exactly sound like a relaxing Saturday night. But when another friend looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You can’t not do this,” I decided to hop on the boat.

Alcatraz is a four-acre sandstone island, jutting 130 feet out of San Francisco Bay. First fortified by the military to defend California’s gold rush riches, it became the nation’s most feared and secretive federal penitentiary from 1934 until it closed in 1963. With no media permitted, it was a place of great fascination to the American public. And with approximately 1.5 million visitors each year to the island, now managed by the National Park Service, it still is.


National Park Service staff lead a night tour.

At Alcatraz, the human imagination is forced into gear as soon as one steps off the boat. Its architecture and design was devoted to maximize the government’s control over some of the most dangerous felons. The visitor must ask: how would I fare if confined to the narrow walls, iron bars, extensive fencing, and 24/7 surveillance with hundreds of other inmates who have done things far outside of acceptable moral standards?

And, as you might imagine, Alcatraz after dark provides even more fodder for the mind. On the night tour offered to the public that evening, we heard stories of attempted escapes, notorious prison personalities, and the monotony of daily life behind bars. You know, kind of like the ghost stories at summer camp -- except real.

After the public left on the last ferry, we overnight guests were free to choose our accommodations. I inspected, but opted against, the solitary confinement cells in the D block. Instead, I chose to sleep in the cell of Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”


Then and now (r. to l.): a historic photo of Stroud in his cell, and the cell as it looks today (with the addition of Brian's sleeping bag).

Stroud kept birds while in the pen in Leavenworth, but he was prohibited from keeping them after he was transferred to the Rock. Because of his “unpredictable and violent outbursts,” Stroud spent six years in solitary, and the remaining eleven of his life isolated in the hospital wing cell where I stayed. Despite his antisocial behavior, he published two landmark books on bird illness while in jail.

I rolled out my sleeping bag on the cold, concrete floor and stared at an old picture of Stroud during his incarceration in the same room. That's when history started coming alive. Unsuspecting heritage travelers, take note: August on the San Francisco Bay is brutally cold. That night, while the rest of the country sweltered under heat, Alcatraz had whipping winds driving a dense fog. Old, creaky pipes rattled incessantly. The wind tunneled through the corridors that seemed to be almost deliberately designed to accentuate its howls.

When the lights shut off, Alcatraz’s isolation was fully apparent. I glimpsed the deep loneliness the prisoners must have felt. There was no way out. The waters are not only frigid and constantly turbulent, but guards also convinced prisoners that sharks circled the island. (They don’t, but it helped thwart any notion that escape was possible.)


Camping out in Alcatraz's operating room.

At 5:30 a.m., proud to have made it through the night, I woke up my friend who chose to sleep in the prison’s operating room. Yes, the operating room -- in which the main object is a lone surgical table. We put on warm layers and went to take photographs and watch the dawn break. At the top of the island’s lighthouse we gazed upon the sensitively-installed 1,300 solar panels recently installed on the cell house roof.


A view of the solar panels (minus the sun) atop the main cellblock.

After returning home the next day I read about the lesser-known inmates of Alcatraz, the stories that challenge its infamous reputation. There were those who are redeemable in history’s eyes: a conscientious objector to the First World War, and a group of Hopi Indians who refused to send their children to government boarding schools. Other inmates defied the violent stereotypes; they tended gardens and even babysat the children of guards.

So, even though I left knowing that the conventional image of Alcatraz is sensationalized, I was still quite glad to have an escape.

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.

"Tellin We Story": Preserving the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

Posted on: September 5th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Laura Wainman, Editorial Intern

My first foray into historic preservation came, albeit begrudgingly, at the age of 10. We were on a family vacation out West, mainly visiting the Grand Canyon, but stopping at what felt like every historic landmark known to man along the way. My dad was a huge fan of any site that boasted the words “oldest”, “largest”, or “historic” on its highway signs, and we inevitably made detours anytime one popped up.

What I couldn’t see at the time was that my dad was instilling in me an appreciation for the historic sites that weave together to form the tapestry of our nation. Flash forward fourteen years, and I have been reading about preservation project undertaken by the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission involving highway signs and heritage centers; I was reminded of my dad’s love of historic sites, and was hooked to learn more.


Historian James Bullock (in period clothing) presents oral history at Fort Mose about the Gullah/Geechee people (2010).

Earlier this summer, the commission released a 294-page preservation plan aimed at increasing public recognition of the culture and history of the Gullah/Geechee people. According to the NPS Special Resource Study, today’s Gullah/Geechee people are “descendants of enslaved Africans … [who were] forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.”

They are the ancestors of those who helped make the Southern colonies one of the wealthier regions. The geographical isolation of this coastal community actually aided in preserving Gullah/Geechee heritage, such as the people’s own language and traditions like basket-weaving and storytelling.

The Gullah/Geechee plan highlights three pillars that form the basis for the commission’s 10-year management proposal, including education, economic development, and documentation/preservation. Efforts would include implementing a signage system to brand the corridor and point out major historic sites, and developing at least one heritage center in each of the four states.

The management plan would mainly act as a preservation tool to ensure that future generations are aware of the contributions made to the country by the Gullah/Geechee people and to protect the corridor against coastal development that could wipe out the heritage of these people.

The plan has been a long time in the making, starting in 2000 with Congressman Jim Clyburn calling for a study of Gullah resources after fearing the possibility of modernization of historical sites. The National Trust got involved in 2004 when it placed the Gullah/Geechee coast on its 11 Most Endangered list. These efforts led to Congress approving the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor in 2006, and the creation of the only National Heritage Area dedicated to preserving African-American culture.

Perhaps, thanks to today’s preservation efforts of a little-known society, one day I will be able to share the Gullah/Geechee culture with my future children. I’m sure my dad would be more than happy to visit right alongside us.

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.

Destination-Worthy Tax Credit Projects Around the Country

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

 

Written by Erica Stewart, Public Affairs

With Labor Day upon us, let's take a quick look at some of our nation’s historic travel destinations -- particularly ones that are what they are today because of the federal historic tax credit.

The Belton Chalet in Montana, for example, was the first of six hotels that were built by the Great Northern Railway in the early 20th century and marked the beginning of tourism in Glacier National Park. Thanks to a historic tax credit-enabled upgrade, today it offers visitors an authentic way to experience the park with all the modern comforts of a top-notch hotel.

To the south, witness the Fontainebleau Hotel. It was considered the most luxurious hotel on Miami Beach when it opened in 1954. Many famous Hollywood film and television shows have been filmed here, featuring the likes of Al Pacino, Frank Sinatra, and Sean Connery. The resort underwent a two-year renovation in 2006, financed in part by historic tax credits, and is now dazzling a new generation of travelers with its blend of mid-century modernism and contemporary comfort.

And looking westward, behold the Ferry Building and its iconic 245-foot tall clock tower. It was built in 1898 to serve the ferries that traveled San Francisco Bay. A major renovation using historic tax credits in 2002 added new uses to the building, including a marketplace, restaurants, and offices. Thanks to its careful makeover, the Ferry Building is again a vibrant, thriving hub of activity for visitors and residents alike.

We at the National Trust are engaged in an effort to raise awareness of the impact of the federal historic tax credit, a program that is now threatened by proposed deficit reduction measures on Capitol Hill. This credit has helped save 38,000 historic places, create 2.2 million jobs, and attract more than $100 billion in private investment. Find out how you can help save it at www.SaveHistoricCredit.org.

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.