Individual Stories, Shared Histories

Posted on: May 22nd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Priya Chhaya

I am not an ABCD—an American-Born Confused Desi—someone who doesn’t know where they stand, who struggles with being an American while being surrounded by cultural touch points of desh or the homeland (the moniker Desi refers to individuals of the South Asian diaspora).

I wear many hats. I am at once a historian, a preservationist, an American, and a South Asian. I love reading about the framers, the founders, the fathers, and the farmers—of seeing the history of this country through the tangible buildings, objects, and ideas that surround us every day. At the same time, despite spending my formative years learning about Early America, I can at once love the words of Mahatma Gandhi and his legacy and be proud of the role his beliefs and ideas had on Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. I am a South Asian American.

This is why I think historic preservation is so important. We all share at once a collective history—those broader strokes that give us the outline of our past, a frame on a grand painting of many colors. Individually, our unique stories provide the content: the figures, the shadow, and the shade that fill out the grand narrative of our identity.

To put it less metaphorically—without the “stuff” of history—those landscapes, buildings and ideas we fight to preserve every day, all we would have are the broad strokes where individuals don’t matter; where we don’t matter.

So as we go through celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month along with the various other affinity months we should remember that we‘re all connected. What we do saves my past, and our future.

Priya Chhaya is the program assistant in the office of Training and Online Information Services 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.

"Wilderness Wal-Mart" Update: It's an Uphill Battle in Orange County, Virginia

Posted on: May 22nd, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Robert Nieweg

Last night more than 200 people attended a public hearing of the Orange County Planning Commission regarding Wal-Mart's proposal to construct 240,000 square feet of large-scale commercial development within the boundaries of the historic Wilderness Battlefield and immediately adjacent to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The May 21, 2009, public hearing began with a packed house at 7:15 pm and ended with an exhausted Planning Commission at 11:15 pm. To its credit, the Planning Commission conducted a civil public hearing and appeared to listen closely to all who testified.

Seventy-three members of the public spoke to the Commission, with opponents of the destructive proposal outnumbering supporters two-to-one. One observer noted that 48 speakers said they were residents of Orange County, with 30 local residents speaking against the project and 18 speaking in favor. After closing the public hearing, the Planning Commission agreed to meet again June 11 to vote on this controversial issue. The commission's vote is purely advisory. A final decision by the Board of Supervisors is expected later in June.

Local members of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Wilderness Battlefield Coalition were out in force, with testimony from the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Field Office, Civil War Preservation Trust, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, National Parks Conservation Association, and Preservation Virginia. We are grateful that the National Park Service and Virginia Department of Historic Resources sent senior level staffers who provided informative testimony. Perhaps the most evocative testimony was provided late last night by Alexander Hays IV, a descendant of Union General Alexander Hays, who was killed during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. A former elected official himself, Mr. Hays said he traveled from Canton, Ohio, to strongly urge the commissioners to think long and hard before making this critical decision.

Proponents of Wal-Mart said they want convenient shopping, jobs for Orange County residents, and tax revenue -- all reasonable requests. Preservationists don't oppose commercial development in Orange County, but have asked Wal-Mart to relocate its store to another site in Orange County away from the battlefield and National Park. Clearly, there's room for compromise. That's why in January 2009 the National Trust and its allies in the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition offered to fund a land-use planning process to envision a better balance of historic preservation and sustainable economic growth at this highly vulnerable historic place. Orange County officials -- necessary partners in the proposed planning process -- have twice dismissed the offer of technical assistance.

Surprisingly, three of the five members of the elected Board of Supervisors have taken the unusual step of publicly expressing their support for the Wal-Mart project -- long before Wal-Mart's permit application was finalized or the first public hearing was held.

Controversy continues to swirl around the historic significance of the 52-acre site of the proposed Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart's site stands within the historic boundaries of the battlefield, according to the congressionally authorized Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, National Park Service, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition. Unfortunately, the staff report to the Planning Commission from Orange County's Department of Community Development incorrectly says that the Wal-Mart site is only "in the near vicinity" of the battlefield. To correct the May 6, 2009, staff report, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources wrote the Planning Commission on May 20, 2009, that the "proposed Wal-Mart site is located entirely within the boundaries of the Wilderness Battlefield," that Wilderness Battlefield possesses the "highest level of historical significance and merits the highest priority for preservation," and that, in the Department's judgment, the proposed development would "have a serious adverse effect both on the Wilderness Battlefield and on the National Park."

For its part, Wal-Mart apparently continues to believe that "its store isn't on the battlefield and won't harm the nearby national park," according to the May 21, 2009, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Preservationists have gone to great lengths to correct Wal-Mart's misconception. Indeed, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has met at the battlefield with Wal-Mart representatives to provide a detailed briefing on the unique and irreplaceable nature of the battlefield site and the irrevocable harm that Wal-Mart's project would cause. Our analysis shows that the 240,000 square feet of commercial development proposed by Wal-Mart would be plainly visible from the battlefield and National Park, and would foreclose any opportunity to alter the existing tree coverage and restore the open vistas of the 1864 battlefield -- as the National Park Service and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield intend -- for the benefit of the American public.

If you would like to help save Wilderness Battlefield, the National Trust recommends that you should write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Help the National Trust for Historic Preservation to raise the alarm.

Robert Nieweg is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Southern Field 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.

 

Nashville's 2nd Avenue by night.

Nashville's 2nd Avenue by night.

Despite a long-simmering crush on Johnny Cash (that I’ll have you know existed long, long before he was portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line…  not that there was anything wrong with THAT), I vehemently deny any affection for country music. And, for that reason, Nashville has never been high on my list of Cities I Must Visit. So when the time came to go to Nashville for the conference department’s annual site visit, when we “dry run” all the field sessions, I looked forward to the barbecue more than anything else.

Friends, I was WRONG, so very, very, wrong.

Over the next few months, the staff of the National Preservation Conference will be blogging about our experiences during this trip in Nashville. What we found was a city rich in history, yet amazingly hip. That music industry -- the one I thought of as Hee-Haw writ large -- transcends genres and displays infinitely more talent than you’ll find in the Billboard Top 40. The neighborhoods are charming, and tell stories of decline and revitalization, of visionaries who fought for a diverse and vibrant urban fabric. Civil War history is thick there -- The Battle of Nashville and the Battle of Franklin await discovery only miles from Lower Broad, where honky-tonks offer live music all day long and Hatch Show Print sells vintage letterpress posters alongside those for the hottest shows currently on tour. Fisk University helps tell the story of the civil rights movement and the important strides that were made in Nashville. The compact downtown includes icons such as the Ryman Auditorium, churches where Presidents worshiped, live music, residential lofts, the Tennessee State Capitol, live music, a state of the art symphony center, several historic hotels, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and live music. And preserving all of this -- the buildings, the history, the culture, the landscapes -- is a priority to the city and to the residents. This is a town of proud and extremely hospitable people, who made us feel welcome everywhere we went.

So, to prepare for Nashville, I recommend that you go get yourself some Jack Daniels and read our blog as we’ll be periodically filling you in on special Nashville places and stories. You can then make your own lists of “must-sees,” and “can’t misses” (because those are the only categories I came up with after two weeks in town).

And I wasn’t wrong about the barbecue. There is plenty of good ‘cue in Nashville, too.

Lori Feinman is the associate director for conferences and training in the Center for Preservation Leadership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The 2009 National Preservation Conference will take place October 13-19 in Nashville. Registration opens on June 1.

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.

 

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Written by Jeff Eichenfield

KoreaTown-Northgate is a lively but long-neglected commercial corridor along Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, California that is seeing a lot of positive change these days due to efforts of a group of property owners who have banded together to revitalize the district under the multi-culti tagline “Oakland’s Got Seoul.”

The idea to form a “Koreatown” in Oakland has been kicking around for more than 10 years because there are a large number of Korean-American businesses and service groups along Telegraph Avenue. But it wasn’t until 2007 that property owners voted to create a property-based business improvement district that raises more than $250,000 annually to organize the effort.

Telegraph Lofts involved the conversion of the old Sears Roebuck building at 2633 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland's Koreatown into 54 live/work units, 11,000 square feet of retail space and 28,000 square feet of self-storage.  A new penthouse level and an open-air atrium are key components of this successful adaptive use.

Telegraph Lofts involved the conversion of the old Sears Roebuck building at 2633 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland's Koreatown into 54 live/work units, 11,000 square feet of retail space and 28,000 square feet of self-storage. A new penthouse level and an open-air atrium are key components of this successful adaptive use.

Darlene Drapkin of Urban Transformation and I were hired last August as contract staff. We are long time Main Street program devotees, having managed local Main Street programs and having worked with the National Main Street Center as consultants on numerous occasions. It’s been very helpful, and natural, for us to organize our efforts in Koreatown-Northgate using the Four Point Main Street Approach to Revitalization.

One of the most interesting aspects of the program is that the district is not all Korean… far from it. There are African-American, West African, Muslim, Arab, and Caucasian owned businesses as well. Our challenge is work with all these cultural groups on a common vision… one that respects the current cultural mix but recognizes the value of attracting more Korean investors in order to carve out a unique identity that will make the district stand out in the marketplace and bring in more income for all.

Our first order of business has been to make sure the district is clean and orderly, so we hired a sidewalk maintenance service and a street ambassador who walks the area every day, meeting and greeting business owners and looking for graffiti, illegal dumping, drug dealing, and other problems. We also instituted a program that removes graffiti from private property at no charge. And we have been meeting regularly with the Oakland Police Department to increase patrols and address security concerns.

Oakland's Got Seoul banners.

Oakland's Got Seoul banners.

Our second order of business has been to brand the district and enhance its visual appeal. Our Design Committee just installed beautiful “Oakland’s Got Seoul” street banners. Their unveiling ceremony attracted over 150 individuals, including many from the Korean press and the Korean Consul General’s office. Other projects being discussed include gateway treatments and murals involving local artists and youth.

With the district looking and feeling good, our Promotions Committee is planning our first annual Koreatown-Northgate Festival to be held this September 19, 2009. The festival will showcase the diverse cultures and business opportunities in the district. And a multi-cultural BBQ contest will be part of the fun!

Learn more:

Jeff Eichenfield is the executive director of the KoreaTown-Northgate Community Benefit District. Contact him by email at jeff[at]KoreatownNorthgate[dot]org (replace the words in brackets with the customary symbols), by phone at 510-343-5439 (ext.3), or online at www.revitalized-downtowns.com.

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.

As the Yukon Floods, Residents of Eagle, Alaska Scramble to Save Their History

Posted on: May 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Gas pumps at Eagle Trading - Monday(NPS Photo - Carl Stapler)

Gas pumps at Eagle Trading - Monday (NPS Photo - Carl Stapler)

Written by Brian Turner

In early May, the small town of Eagle, Alaska was inundated with the worst flood in its recorded history causing unprecedented damage to the town’s infrastructure and cherished historic buildings. The disaster occurred after an unusually warm stretch of spring weather caused upstream snow and ice in the Yukon River to melt and back up behind masses of downstream ice, a phenomenon commonly known as an “ice dam.” But when the rapidly rising water threatened a key link to the town’s past, residents sprang to action.

The flooding posed an imminent risk to the century-old historic customs house, the site of the town’s museum housing an impressive collection of frontier-era artifacts. Residents worried that the modest, wood-framed structure could be swept downriver at any moment and rushed to save its collection. They broke a back window as the house filled with water and carefully passed out artifacts one-by-one. Some did so while their own homes and possessions floated away.

Front Street with Customs House on right - Monday (NPS Photo - Carl Stapler)

Front Street looking upriver (NPS Photo - Carl Stapler)

Six miles west of the Canadian border in central Alaska, Eagle was the site of a U.S. Army establishment at Fort Egbert in the years following the 1898 Klondike gold rush. Originally occupied by the Han, a Northern Athabascan group, Eagle’s population is now a mere 200. Items rescued from the customs house are testament to the town’s colorful history -- a ledger signed by Jack London, ice skates used to travel from Yukon to Nome during the gold rush, a hand-made antler chair, a wedding dress, china dolls, toys, and other artifacts of life on the frontier. Eagle’s character is richly described in John McPhee’s Coming Into the Country. The title of the book is derived from “clannish sense of place” that McPhee found to define the people of the upper Yukon.

Today Eagle is a National Historic Landmark. Because of its relative inaccessibility, the town’s historic fabric has remained essentially intact. The National Trust for Historic Preservation funded a preservation plan for the town in 1975 and Eagle later received a Save America’s Treasures grant. The Eagle Historical Society has demonstrated enduring dedication to the town’s history. National Park Service employee Steve Peterson recalls that the commitment to preservation in Eagle is unmatched in small town Alaska.

... 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.

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.