Trust News

South Asians: Stewards of America's Roadside Heritage

Posted on: May 19th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

The neon sign at the El Don Motel, Albuquerque, NM, during the day.

The neon sign at the El Don Motel, Albuquerque, NM, during the day.

Written by Anne Dodge

Since April of 2008, I have been working on a project called “66 Motels”, a collection of photos and interviews that document the independently owned, historic motels of Route 66 and their owners. I was drawn into this project after studying preservation planning along Route 66 for my master’s thesis. In my research, I discovered that the towns and cities along Route 66 -- and the Route 66 property owners themselves -- view the road and its resources in very different ways, and that preservation can take unexpected turns when what’s being preserved is an idea as well as a concrete series of buildings or places.

From a preservationist’s point of view, the corridor’s most authentic places –- the buildings that spoke most eloquently of the road’s history -– are the motels. Architectural styles range from the beloved wigwam motels of the southwest to the “Giraffe stone” motor courts of the Missouri Ozarks. By their use, siting, and architecture, the motels themselves tell the story of Route 66 –- how for decades, the road served as a major transportation corridor for migrant workers, recreational travelers, families, salesmen, immigrants, and anyone who planned to motor west. Once I began interviewing motel owners, I learned more about the complexities of running and maintaining an older, smaller motel and the forces at work against the preservation of these properties. Most interestingly, I found that more than 30% of the independent motel owners along Route 66 were new Americans, people who had come to the U.S. from India, east Africa, Europe, and other parts of the U.S. to own and manage these businesses.

Rest Haven Court, Springfield MO sign by night.

Rest Haven Court, Springfield MO sign by night.

In addition to documenting the diverse group of owners and properties along Route 66, this project also looks at the power of signage and the history and contemporary practice of labeling a property as "American Owned." I began this research thinking that "American Owned" was a label that was used exclusively by white motel owners to promote their properties to customers who were disinclined to rent a room at an Indian American owned motel. This is, without a doubt, the origin of the "American Owned" sign, and some motel owners today defend this language and signage as a legitimate component of their advertising strategy. But I've learned, thanks to several generous interviewees, that this type of signage is often an accident of history, something that came with a property when purchased, or something that Indian American owners themselves use to make a statement about themselves and their properties.

Nina at the Americana Motel, Tucumcari, NM

Nina at the Americana Motel, Tucumcari, NM.

This project has several goals; one is to start a dialog about the role of Asian Americans and other motel owners in the preservation and development of the emerging Route 66 heritage corridor. This debate is part of a broader conversation about racial and cultural diversity in America’s preservation movement, and ways in which the work of public historians, preservationists, and other interpreters of the past can better represent the narratives of new Americans. In the meantime, the motels tell their own stories, and their new custodians add yet another layer of history to the many layers already evident along the highway. Behind every historic Route 66 motel is a person and a history that enriches the architectural and cultural experience of the whole corridor. And that's the story that I hope the 66 Motels project will tell to others.

Anne Dodge is a writer, researcher, and media producer based in Cambridge, MA, who also works as a circuit rider for Preservation Massachusetts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, providing technical assistance, advocacy, and preservation planning for people and the buildings they love across the Commonwealth. She blogs at www.annedodge.com.

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Guest Writer

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Preservation Fund Grants Aid Endangered Sites

Posted on: May 19th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment

 

Vizcaya’s Central Pool and South Façade, 2005.  Image of the central pool in Vizcaya’s center garden, with the south façade of the main house in the background. (Photograph by Bill Sumner)

Vizcaya’s Central Pool and South Façade, 2005. Image of the central pool in Vizcaya’s center garden, with the south façade of the main house in the background. (Photograph by Bill Sumner)

Two sites with a connection to our 11 Most Endangered List have been selected to receive grants from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation. This program, one of our Preservation Funds, provides nonprofit organizations and public agencies grants for projects that contribute to the preservation or the recapture of an authentic sense of place.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation – like one of our 2009 11 Most Endangered sites, the Manhattan Project's Enola Gay Hangar – has been listed by the Department of Energy as a Manhattan Project Signature Facility. The foundation received its grant to conduct a workshop focused on preserving and interpreting the Oak Ridge K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Built in 1943, the K-25 Plant was a major supplier of highly enriched uranium used to fuel the United States' Cold War nuclear defense systems. The planned workshop will focus on how to best preserve and tell the story of the plant and its workers as well as further the discussion on how to present the ethical, historical, technical, and political aspects of the Manhattan project.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, listed in 2008, received its grant to produce a cultural landscape report that will guide the preservation stewardship, rehabilitation and management of Vizcaya's gardens. Vizcaya was built between 1914 and 1917 by Chicagoan James Deering to serve as his winter residence. The historic gardens were oriented away from downtown Miami to afford guests a serene escape from the growing city.

These sites are but two of the 28 selected to receive either Favrot funds, or grants from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors. Grants from the two funds, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, are awarded annually and must be matched dollar for dollar by public or private funds.

Learn more about:

This year’s Favrot/Mitchell Fund recipients
Preservation Fund annual report
the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list

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.

Washington Post Sees the Larger Purpose of our 11 Most List

Posted on: May 18th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Caroline Barker

Every year we get a lot of coverage from our announcement of America's 11 Most Endangered Places. You might have read about it in an earlier blog post or on our Preservation in the News roundup. It is not often, however, that we get the kind of coverage that shows such a deep understanding of the larger purpose of the list, which, in addition to galvanizing support for specific landmarks across the nation, raises awareness about the array of issues that the preservation movement is working hard to address on an on-going basis. Philip Kennicott's article in Sunday 's Washington Post does just that, all the while relating the issues presented by this year's list to local DC sites that have been in the news recently. In case you missed it, you can check it out here.

Caroline Barker is a communications coordinator 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.

 

This past week we submitted comments on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the four latest design schemes for the proposed VA medical center in New Orleans. If plans do not change, this medical center is to be built on 30 acres of land (10 square blocks) cleared of 123 historic houses, within the Mid-City National Register District. Next to this hospital, Louisiana State University plans to build its new academic medical center after clearing even more land -- another 39 acres.

We have repeatedly asked early in the historic preservation and environmental review processes why either institution needed so much land. We were told by the VA that the size of its site was mandated by federal setback requirements after the bombing in Oklahoma City and the 9/11 attacks. In the case of the VA designs, we learned this week that it is possible to "harden" a structure as another means of meeting the setback requirement, raising yet another question about why so much unnecessary land is being taken and so many extra homes needlessly bulldozed.

Learn More

The four proposed designs (PDFs)

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.

Senior Citizens in Scrabble, VA Are Going Back To School

Posted on: May 6th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Crista Gibbons

Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Last Saturday, rather than tend to my normal “mommy” weekend duties, I left the kids with my husband and went to work. But it was no typical day at work -- it turned out to be one of the most beautiful and moving memories I have of my nine years at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

I drove two hours to Rappahannock County in rural Virginia to attend the re-dedication ceremony of the Scrabble School. It is a former Rosenwald School that has been restored and reopened as a senior center thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers and support from private and public organizations such as Lowe’s and the National Trust.

The celebration opened with a prayer, followed by the Color Guard (local Boy Scout troop 36) unfurling the flag for Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Nanette sang with such emotion that the entire crowd joined in. It was a beautiful moment that moved many of use to tears.

The Scrabble School, before its renovation.

The Scrabble School, before its renovation.

The Scrabble School is a wonderful preservation success story. Just a few years ago, area residents facetiously nicknamed it the “Scrabble Mall,” a reference to the dumpster divers drawn to the school each Saturday when the County dumped new loads of rubbish in the two dumpsters in front of the school. In addition to the trash in the front, the building itself was in disrepair and being overtaken by brush.

Today, the building is fully restored and open for business as the new Rappahannock Senior Center. And bringing this story full-circle is the fact that many of the seniors that will use the center and benefit from it today are among the alumni of the Scrabble School. The building stands strong and offers a beacon of hope to so many other Rosenwald Schools that are endangered across the South. So many, are in fact at risk of being lost forever that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rosenwald Schools to their “11 Most Endangered” list in 2002.

Scrabble school alumni say "This Place Matters!"

Scrabble school alumni say "This Place Matters!"

After the ceremony, I was able to sit down and interview many of the alumni. As they spoke fondly of their years as students in the small, two room schoolhouse, I listened to countless memories that flooded through their minds. They talked about their walks to school, vocabulary lessons, spelling bees, theatrical plays, feeding the stoves, crushes on boys, and so much more. Almost all of them mentioned “Soup Day,” a special day once a week when a mother brought in warm soup for all of the children. The rest of the time  they packed cold lunches and sandwiches, as there was no stove for warm meals.

Lowe's employee Judi Vigay and her aunt, Scrabble School alumna Laurie Noakes Jackson.

Lowe's employee Judi Vigay and her aunt, Scrabble School alumna Laurie Noakes Jackson.

Judi Vigay had both a professional and personal connection to the school, representing not only the local Lowe’s store, but also sharing the moment with her aunt, Laurie Noakes Jackson, a 1924 alumna of the Scrabble School.

The day was full of these poignant examples of the personal impact of preservation. In the coming weeks, excerpts from my conversations with the alums will be posted on PreservationNation, and I encourage you to tune in.

Learn more about:

Click here to read The Rappahannock Voice story about the event.

Crista Gibbons is the assistant director of the Business Development office 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.