Feisty oil heiress and theater star Aline Barnsdall would have been pleased to see the scene that unfolded on her lawn at Hollyhock House last Friday: throngs of people sprawled out on picnic blankets, sipping wine, catching up with friends, and watching the sun set over Los Angeles.

I know I was enjoying the revelries. When I received an email earlier this summer announcing the start of this year’s Friday Night Wine Tastings at Barnsdall Art Park, they had me at “wine tasting.” Imagine sitting with a glass of pinot in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright’s c. 1921 Hollyhock House, built for Barnsdall, who had bohemian tendencies and an affinity for supporting radical causes.

But throw in the opportunity to tour the iconic house, and I was sold. So last Friday, I drove to East Hollywood and hiked up the hill where Hollyhock House stands, overlooking the city.

Before we began sampling the libations, my friend and I lined up for our 7 p.m. tour.  It was quite a treat to be touring the house that night: It has been closed to tour groups since July 20, save for tours given during the Friday Night Wine Tastings, on account of ongoing restoration work at the site. (It is scheduled to reopen to the public in September.)

We were led through a side door and into a small room where we were instructed to put protective booties over our shoes to spare the flawless hardwood floors. Thanks to Wright’s open floor plan, I was able to survey a good portion of the house while waiting for the tour to begin. Sheets of plastic covering the various construction zones blocked some views, but the visible parts were breathtaking. I was excited to begin exploring. ... 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 Historic Hotel Proves a Respite from a Historic Heatwave

Posted on: July 20th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments


Written by Elizabeth McNamara, Preservation Magazine assistant editor

While Washington, D.C. continued to make extreme heat milestones, my husband and I dashed north to Maine, seeking relief from the Beltway’s record-breaking weather. And relief we did get, for two nights at the Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, which was settled in the 1600s as a trading town. Later, the town was well known for its shipyard.

We arrived at the hotel after dark, following a day spent with friends in Boston. The historic hotel is located on Ocean Avenue, where the Kennebunk River opens to the Atlantic Ocean. We couldn’t see the ocean, but we could feel its salty breezes.

Opened in 1914, the Colony Hotel is a family-run hotel that welcomes guests from mid-May through October. It was illuminated by spotlights in the early evening, and the white wooden structure capped with a cupola was a welcoming sight following the hour-and-a-half drive up I-95. Today, the hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A bellhop greeted us at the door to the lobby, which was furnished with clusters of deep leather armchairs, decorated with nautical paintings, and anchored by a large-patterned floral carpet. We took our keys—not key cards!—from the concierge and a guest and her leashed dog trotted by.

“Next time we are bringing the dog,” I told my husband.

Our accommodations were small, but cozy and clean. There was no air-conditioning unit in our room, so we opened the windows, and no television—a welcome reprieve from our iPad-, iPhone-, iEverything-infused lives.

The next morning we skipped the Colony’s complimentary breakfast and hit the road to explore the village of Kennebunkport. The hotel is less than one mile from Dock Square, the town center, so it wasn’t long before we were eating blueberry crepes and drinking freshly brewed coffee. After breakfast, we explored the quaint, historic downtown, peering in the windows of its many storefronts. Then we drove north on Ocean Avenue, bordering the coastline. From the rocky shores we spotted President George H. W. Bush’s summer residence, Walker’s Point, which is less than a mile from The Colony, and then took a long hike near the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

In the late afternoon we headed back to the hotel to sit by the saltwater swimming pool. A waitress from the hotel’s Marine Bar took drink orders and we enjoyed the warm sun and sea views. A group of children putted on the 18-hole putting green while their families looked on from the hotel’s wide, wrap-around porch, which spans 300 feet.

We let the day slip quietly away before enjoying lobsters for dinner. It was the perfect ending to a perfect stay.

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.

The Perfect Summer Vacation

Posted on: July 20th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 3 Comments


We all know how the summer feels. As a child it is blissful and freeing, a removal from the constraints of arithmetic and chalkboards to a time of jaunts at the playground and road trips with the family.  When we are older summer becomes about escape from the rhythm of everyday, a time of relaxation and serenity.

Or at least that's what we aim for. As I write this, I'm on a bus in the middle of a rainstorm on my way up to New York City. My family and I are going to spend a long weekend upstate at Lake George for my mother's birthday (Happy Birthday, Mom!) and I wonder  what the perfect vacation would be.

For me, it would obviously have to have some element of history to it. A former colleague here at the National Trust once told me that whenever he planned a vacation he and his wife would draw up a list of books in preparation. So for instance, if you're going to Paris you would read not just history books or travel guides, but also novels set in Paris, writings about traveling to Paris, reflections about Paris.  Giving you a context and a sense of what a place, a people, have been through before you get there.

But maybe there is some element of joy in the discovery. Of visiting a place and learning from those who know it best. Maybe that is perfection -- learning as we go.  Going in blind, so to speak.

Perhaps it is not the place at all that is the attraction, but the people who surround you, the memories you capture of your own of what you saw, who you talked with, what inspired. It becomes a part of your personal history, your personal photo of album of life that 50 years from now you'll look back and say "remember when..."

Or maybe the best summer vacation is all of the above. One part character and history, folded in with the unexpected and a hint of spontaneity and discovery. Mix in friends, family, and loved ones (or maybe a dash of alone-time) and you have a recipe of possibility teetering on perfection.

Tell us, as we sift through the heat, the storms, finding ourselves almost into the swelter of August -- what is your perfect vacation spot, and why does it matter to you? What makes that place important, what makes it shine?

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.


Allison Wottawa is exactly the kind of person you want telling you about interesting places and the histories and stories that made them that way. She's energetic, smart, and glows on camera. As you'll read in our interview below and see in the below videos, Allison is the creator and host of an online travel series called Ally Quest.

Her show, which is produced to accommodate a future on television but is broken into easily digestible YouTube segments, is described on her website as "the ultimate show for anyone who has ever wanted to travel in time." Which is, for me at least, the ultimate dream. (And probably why I enjoy watching her show so much.)

I had a chance to talk with Allison about her background, her inspiration, and where the show is headed. And judging by her groundedness, passion, and quality of product, it's easy to see that Allison's star is on its way up.

Tell me a little about your background leading up to this series.

My college adviser said to me, "Allison, do you know the secret of happiness?"  Of course, I didn't.

"The secret of happiness," he continued, " is doing what you love and getting someone to pay you for it."  This is how I live my life.

I've been an actor and a producer for as long as I can remember, starting in theatre when I was six, coupled with a tremendous fascination for history.  History is, after all, a story that examines who we are, where we came from, how we got here.

I graduated from The George Washington University with a major in Political Communications and minors in Theatre and History, then followed my passion across the Atlantic and attended graduate school at Drama Studio London, receiving the English equivalent of an MFA.

What inspired you to create this series?

After graduation, I promptly moved to Los Angeles to pursue my career in acting.  Los Angeles is a great city with so much opportunity and fabulous weather.  But I felt that something was lacking.  I wasn't feeling the "passion" and my career seemed somewhat empty.  I couldn't figure out how my career in acting was helping anyone.

I thought of my college adviser.  What do I love?  Easy.  Travel, history, communicating to an audience.  That's when Ally Quest was born.

Allison filming a golf cart driving segment on Catalina Island.

I know this sounds cliche, but I have always wanted to make a difference in a positive way. Of course, I am also completely selfish and want to travel the world.  I have a yearning to learn as much as I can about places and the people that live there.  My natural gift is communication.

So, traveling the world while researching a point in history, and relaying that information through the lens of the camera -- well, that's just me.  If I can do anything in the world, I'm going to do that! My Mom always said, "You can do anything you put your mind to."  And I believe her. ... 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.

[Slideshow] Detroit's Valentine Distilling Co.

Posted on: July 6th, 2012 by David Garber 6 Comments


Last week I spent a few days in the preservationist mecca of Detroit, Michigan. I'll touch on some of my other preservation-related visits on the blog next week, but first -- a photo tour of Valentine Distilling Co., a company we highlighted last year because of owner Rifino Valentine's decision to locate his business in an old building.

The exterior of the Valentine Distilling Co., which has had a number of auto and industrial uses over the past 80 years.

So, like any good reporter, I figured I should stop in for a follow-up -- mostly, I'll admit, because I thought it was a cool company in a cool building, and I wanted to learn more about the distilling process. When I got there, I was greeted by Rifino and his dog, Sherbet, both of whom led me on a tour of the building.

The last user of the c. 1928 one-story brick building was a pool table manufacturing company, so turning it into a distillery was kind of keeping it in the family. And although records of previous tenants are thin, there's evidence that the building was used as an automobile repair shop before that.

The building's industrial feel is carried into the interior decor. Even where walls didn't exist previously, Rifino was careful to use bricks, blocks, and windows salvaged from demolished Detroit buildings.

Check out the above slideshow for more of my tour through Valentine Distilling Co., and if they don't already, ask your local bars to consider stocking the preservation-friendly Valentine Vodka. Remember, preservation is just as much about keeping sustainable uses in old and historic buildings as much as it is the process of saving those places in the first place. Cheers!

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.

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.