Trust News

September 11th and the Preservation of Memory

Posted on: September 11th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter


Today marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and while the National Trust for Historic Preservation works hard to preserve buildings, landscapes and neighborhoods, it is important to note that one of our fundamental goals is the preservation of memory through the use of these tangible remainders. Place and memory are concepts that oftentimes interact, with places acting as containers for the collective memories of a particular society or group. From these collective memories, a sense of identity can be derived. Without the buildings, objects, and places that preservationists are concerned with saving, we as a society run the risk of losing the physical pieces that help tie us to a collective identity--whether it be regional, national, or even global.

Two years ago—as we do every spring—the National Trust for Historic Preservation unveiled its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. One of these places was the World Trade Center’s Vesey Street Staircase. Known as the “Survivors’ Stairway,” due to the hundreds of people who used it to evacuate the towers during the attacks, the staircase was the last remaining above-ground feature of the World Trade Center, it was also in danger of being lost forever. Construction and development of a memorial site around the area where the Towers once stood threatened the stairs with demolition. This drew the attention of preservationists and everyday citizens alike to the question of how to most appropriately save this important reminder of the attacks and of those who were directly affected by them. Unquestionable for its historic value, the preservation of this 175 ton piece of concrete and steel is more important for the symbolic nature of what it represents. These were the stairs that people who survived the chaos of that morning used to exit the building, they were also used as the entrance for rescue workers to enter the building in order to help those still inside. In addition, the Survivors Stairway is a tangible piece of the September 11th attacks that itself survived, and holds the memory of all those who did not.

Saving the stairway took the efforts of numerous organizations combined with public support via letters to important decision-makers. Groups such as the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, the Preservation League of New York State, the World Monuments Fund, the Municipal Art Society, and the New York Landmarks Conservancy all aided in the process and in March of this year, the stairway was moved out of the path of construction and to a temporary location. In July, the stairs were placed within the foundations of the Memorial where visitors will eventually be able to view them next to the functional staircase as they use them to descend into the museum and experience the site at bedrock level.

The memorial itself is estimated for completion in 2011, and is titled Reflecting Absence, a reference to its attempt to incite thinking on two buildings long-associated with the New York skyline which have been lost forever. In a September 16, 2001 New York Times article, Michael J. Lewis stated that:

"In their absence, the World Trade Center towers are more a monument than ever. The physical void they leave is itself a poignant memorial, an aching emptiness that is the architectural counterpart to human loss."

Besides rows of trees and two waterfall-fed pools representing the areas where the buildings once stood, the memorial will include the names of victims from both towers, the Pentagon and the four flights which crashed in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on September 11th, 2001. The Pentagon opened its memorial this morning, and one planned for the Pennsylvania crash site is due to be finished in 2011.

The addition of a tangible, lasting piece of the buildings that did make it through the attacks is interesting when compared to the overall World Trade Center memorial itself, which focuses upon absence, emptiness and the recollection of things that are missing. The inclusion of the appropriately titled Survivors Stairway reminds us that some things did survive the catastrophe—both those who made it out, along with the memories of those who did not—and that we are still here as a nation and global community, whether it be one year after the attack or seven.

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.


The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

Puppies, National Historic Landmarks and Living the Green Life in Buffalo? Believe it or not there is a theme here. I find myself in Buffalo again for the second time this summer. Originally intending to just come for 2 days for a board meeting, I decided instead to stay for a week (which morphed into 10 days), so I could sit quietly in my sister’s backyard and actually get some work done. When Joanne discovered that I would be here for that length of time, it motivated her to buy that rare Barbet puppy she’d be thinking about. So my first day here we drove up to Kitchener, Ontario and came back with our new little immigrant, Finley. Now I would suggest that there are very few places in America where you can walk out the front door and take your puppy for a walk by National Historic Landmarks built by Sullivan, Richardson, Wright, Gordon Bunshaft, McKim Mead & White and Saarinen, without ever getting in a car (let alone a plane!).

A Sustainably Built Urban Fabric

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

If you’ve never been to Buffalo for the architecture, you’re missing one of the greatest architectural experiences ever. Really, no kidding. I grew up here and went to architecture school here and I can think of almost no other place that can give you such a perfect living laboratory for what’s great about architecture. (It is also a living laboratory for what can go so wrong with cities, but that’s a topic for another blog.) With a streetscape and park system inspired by L’Enfant and then expanded by Olmsted & Vaux, Richardson’s first use of the “Richardsonian Romanesque’, Sullivan’s first skyscraper and Wright’s best Prairie House peppering neighborhoods whose background buildings surpass landmarks found in any other city, Buffalo is a tapestry of the innovative, the beautiful and the best. And much of it remains intact because the economy is one of the worst in New York State and has been for a very long time. When there’s no development pressure, there’s no need (or less need) to tear down the bungalows for the McMansions. Of course there are the heartbreaking losses like the demolition of Wright’s seminal Larkin Building, whose site 30 years later, remains a parking lot. But stories such as that are rare compared to what is still here. So, in some respects, in a place like Buffalo, we have preservation and sustainability by neglect.

The Richardson Complex and Early passive climate control

H.H. Richardson’s largest building is in Buffalo – the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, and has been vacant and deteriorating on and off for 40 years. New York State assigned $70 million to a new nonprofit board created in 2005 to oversee the development of the site. A portion of that is dedicated to creating an Architecture Center as one use in the complex. I wrote my first architectural history paper in college on the complex and continued to be involved in saving the site since 1980, including writing my master’s thesis on a reuse for the site. I was appointed to the Richardson Architecture Center Board in 2007 – so I always tell my students and interns to choose a topic for your thesis that you love because if you are as fortunate as I’ve been, you may find it carrying you through your career.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

The complex was designed by Richardson with Olmsted & Vaux using the Kirkbride Plan which promoted the use of architecture and landscape as key to the actual treatment of mental illness. Here was an incredibly sustainable approach to architecture and living. The buildings were placed to gather the best possible southern light, used 15 foot high ceilings with cross ventilating windows and transoms and took advantage of 2 foot thick sandstone bearing walls. When I designed the adaptive use of one of the ward buildings into an office in the late 1980s, we went back to incorporating this smart, passive climate management system into the "new" building, and successfully opened the office using no air conditioning. No one complained, and in fact there was a wait list for offices in the building. But then unfortunately, just a few years later in the mid 1990s, a new director at the Psychiatric Center decided he didn’t want to be in the historic buildings at all, despite the rehabbed one confirming that it could be done. The complex was vacant yet again. So, with a dedicated board and some decent seed money, one can hope that this National Historic Landmark (only one of 7 in Buffalo) will find a way to become a vibrant center to Buffalo’s primary cultural neighborhood – the Elmwood Village and Buffalo’s West Side. And that we can remember the inherent sustainable design aspects of the original design.

Living Locally, Living Green

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

I don’t know about where you grew up or you live now, but our new green world is encouraging the growth of local businesses in every urban environment around the country. I did my best on this trip to go everywhere on my bike or walking. I rode my bike to the Richardson complex to check out its latest condition, spent an afternoon photographing Buffalo’s astonishing modern heritage on my bike, and walked to the farmers market and the Art Festival that only had local artisans and a whole area called “Environmental Row”. Every meal we cooked was filled with fresh vegetables and pastries from local businesses. Sometimes I worry that this new focus on local will make us all too insular, but I hope that after so many decades of global blandness, it will just help to balance our lives instead. So, as I get ready to drive back the 435 miles to DC and contribute heavily to global warming, I hope also that my carbon offsets, support of local businesses wherever I am, and walking as much as I can with our new puppy, will offset my job-induced carbon guzzling.

And mark October 2011 in your calendar – that’s when the National Preservation Conference comes to my hometown of Buffalo, one of the most perfect centers of American architecture!

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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at

Notes from New Orleans: New Hope for Charity Hospital

Posted on: August 23rd, 2008 by Walter Gallas


Rendering of the proposed main entrance. (Click to enlarge.)

Rendering of the proposed main entrance. (Click to enlarge.)

This week the architectural firm of RMJM Hillier released its report on the condition of the Charity Hospital building in New Orleans. The firm had been engaged by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, a National Trust statewide partner, to assess the building's structural condition and its potential to return to use as a modern hospital. Hillier's response is unequivocal: "We believe that this venerable landmark can have a great future as a world class medical facility that will symbolize the rebirth of New Orleans." Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Charity Hospital and the adjacent neighborhood on its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Rendering of the proposed Tulane Avenue side.

Rendering of the proposed Tulane Avenue side. (Click to enlarge.)

The report states that the cost to create a 21st-century hospital within this 1938 Art Deco structure would be $484 million. To acquire property and construct a comparable facility from the ground up would cost $620 million, according to figures provided by VJ Associates, an experienced estimator of hospital and historic preservation projects. In addition, the work to reopen Charity Hospital could be completed in three years versus five years for new construction.

This documentation and analysis will play an important role in the on-going discussions about what medical care in New Orleans will look like and how historic buildings and neighborhoods will be impacted.

To see the RMJM Hillier executive summary along with more images and a video of the proposed hospital make-over, visit and

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.

It’s Rally Cap Time for Tiger Stadium

Posted on: July 11th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter


Tiger StadiumWednesday marked a sad day for a two-time member of the National Trust’s List of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Although demolition began in June, the most significant damage to Detroit’s Tiger Stadium began this week to the park that legends like Ty Cobb, Willie Horton, and Hank Greenberg once called home field. The stadium opened in 1912 and owed its unique design to the corner location on Michigan Avenue and Trumball Boulevard. In addition to its corner design, Tiger Stadium featured a signature 125 foot tall flagpole to the left of center field and an upper deck that overhung right field by ten feet.

The Stadium has played host to some of the most fabled moments of America’s sport, such as Babe Ruth’s 700th home run in 1934, the voluntary end of Lou Gehrig’s 2,130 consecutive game streak, and what is considered to be the longest confirmed home run in the history of the game—a shot by Ruth that traveled close to 600 feet on the fly.

Is there any hope for the ballpark? Or will it meet the same demise as Ebbetts, Comiskey, and Forbes? The Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, a Corktown based non-profit, is trying to prevent just that, and is raising money to help save part of the historic stadium for use as a banquet hall, museum and office space. Time is running out, but the efforts of the Conservancy and others are in the right direction, and need all the help they can get.

Read Preservation Magazine's February article on "Detroit's Field of Dreams."

Hearts Break as Tiger Stadium Falls [Detroit News]

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.

Notes from New Orleans: Charity Hospital Update

Posted on: July 1st, 2008 by Walter Gallas


Contractors examine the limestone cladding of Charity Hospital.The structural assessment of the Charity Hospital building is proceeding at a steady pace. The study, supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and under the direction of the Foundation for Historic Louisiana, is a response to the call from Louisiana legislators in a resolution passed in 2006. The mandate was unfunded, and the Foundation has been raising the money to ensure that the effort produces an independent report on the condition of this 1939 Art Deco landmark. I had the opportunity last week to visit the hospital site on Thursday. Sandra Stokes of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and I were able to go up in the lift with one of the contractors to see how the exterior limestone cladding is attached to the building frame. Final results of the study are scheduled for release on August 21.

Contractors examine the limestone cladding of Charity Hospital.

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.

2008's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places Announced

Posted on: May 20th, 2008 by Sarah Heffern


Not surprisingly, we spend a lot of time here at the National Trust for Historic Preservation thinking about threatened sites and how we can play a role in saving them – especially at this time of year, when we announce our annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Budget cuts, deferred maintenance, road construction, and development are among the dangers faced by sites on 2008’s list, which includes California’s State Parks, Charity Hospital and adjacent neighborhood in New Orleans, and New York’s Lower East Side.

The History Channel has prepared a great video, posted below, that describes the places listed this year, and why these places matter. You can also learn more -- and take action -- at the special 2008 11 Most Endangered section of our website.

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.