Live Online Now: Plight of Mid-City New Orleans Comes Before LA House Committee

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

 

The Louisiana House of Representatives Appropriations Committee is meeting today to discuss the possible reuse of Charity Hospital as a medical facility. The Foundation for Historical Louisiana and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will present a plan that would transform Charity Hospital into a state-of-the-art medical facility, spare demolition of the historic Mid-City neighborhood, and return medical care to New Orleans more quickly and at less cost less than constructing a new hospital. Visit the Louisiana House website to watch live online. (RealPlayer plugin required.)

If you're not able to tune in, today's New Orleans Times-Picayune has a good article about the hearings: LSU-VA Hospital hearing set today at state Capitol.

Check back later today for a full report later from our New Orleans Field Office staff.

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Learn more about our ongoing efforts to save Mid-City.

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.

Preserving History, Even as it's Being Made

Posted on: January 21st, 2009 by Sarah Heffern

 

I've loved history all my life, and have always had an understanding that it's something that happens every day -- that today's now is the future's "back then." I never quite got it when my classmates would complain about all the memorizing dates and names; to me it was all just stories about people and what happened in their lives. Don't get me wrong -- I certainly learned about all of the major events, but they didn't necessarily grab me in the same way as the day-to-day did.

Every now and again, though, History-with-a-capital-H overtakes smaller moments, both in books and in life -- and yesterday was just such a day. I don't need the historian's backward view to know that, as I stood on the National Mall, I was a tiny piece of a huge, breathtaking moment, and every person there knew the same thing. The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was history being made, in front of a crowd of millions.

Help us take a moment now to preserve that piece of history, by sharing your story or pictures from the day. Did you have a chance to be part of the action here in DC? Or did you gather with friends and family to watch the ceremony and parade on television? We'd like to hear from you. Visit our Inauguration page or click here to add pictures or tell your story.

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.

My Historic Washington: Mt. Vernon Square

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

 

Construction cranes.

"Transitioning neighborhood." I was introduced to that concept six years ago as I sat in my partner's rowhouse in the historic Mount Vernon Square section of Washington, DC. It was a gorgeous and peaceful spring day, so we had the front door open. The sounds of a nearby church's jazz band drifted in and out, in between dog barks and car horns. Then, a sudden loud and crackling rumble. Jerry jumped out of his chair.

"The crackhouse fell down," he said.

My response was simply: "What?" I'd heard his words, but--what?

We ran to the door and saw a rising pillow of dust rolling towards us from the end of the street. What had been an abandoned two-story brick rowhouse in an empty lot was gone. In its place, a pile of bricks and splintered wood at the base of a house seemingly cut in half. Neighbors slowly began to file into the street, calling the police or taking photos on their cellphones. It was so surreal.

"Wow," I said, "The crackhouse really...fell down."

This neighborhood and the areas surrounding it are no strangers to sudden changes. Wedged between Shaw to the north and Chinatown/Penn Quarter to the south, Mount Vernon Square transformed from a mixed working and merchant class commercial district to a solidly middle class African-American residential neighborhood by the middle of the 20th century. In April 1968, the riots that devastated large portions of Washington also severely crippled much of the neighborhood for much of the next 30 years. The crack epidemic of the 1980s did even more damage to the social and economic fabric of an already vulnerable part of the city. But long-time residents persevered, and newer residents moved in or opened businesses.

In my teens and twenties, I had no idea of the history of this place. I came to this part of DC to hang out in the underground punk and gay clubs. Much of the building stock was abandoned or empty, especially at night, and the streets weren't terribly safe. But the scene was unpredictable and cool. What else did a bored suburban kid like myself need?

Scenes, of course, cool down. We grow up. Neighborhoods keep changing. In Mount Vernon Square and Penn Quarter, new subway stops brought new development. The Verizon Center arena opened. A new convention center was built. Highrises and the chain stores popped up one after the other. And Gallery Place gradually became DC's "Times Square."

Honestly, I'm ambivalent about the path this part of DC has taken. It is ironic that I decided to settle down in the very place where I'd misspent so many of my formative years. And we live here now, so it seems a little silly to complain about the streets being too safe or the grocery store being too convenient.

Still, there's a part of me that misses the old 'hood. Ms. Tao, the Chinatown restaurant where I had a first date, is now a CVS. The 930 Club where I'd spent my youth losing my hearing to Fugazi or the Mekons is now a realtor's office. AV Restaurant is gone. The Warehouse Stage looks like it's gone. The DC Eagle may be next. Then what?

Two years after the crackhouse fell down, Jerry and I attended an open house on that exact spot for a row of five, brand new $1 million condominiums. They were beautiful. If we'd had a pile of money, we may have even bought one.

Obviously, neighborhoods aren't the only things that transition.

-- Warren Shaver

Warren Shaver is director of online communications at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This is our final post leading up to the inauguration from National Trust staffers telling their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington. And when you're done, share your photos with 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.

 

Letter from a Birmingham Jail: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms..." [mlkonline]

Guide to Catching the Inauguration from Anywhere: [LifeHacker]

Accidental Maps: [StrangeMaps]

Town Center's Urban Planning Bumps into Wal-Mart: "Eden Prairie envisions a new "town center'' in its future, and Wal-Mart -- to the company's dismay -- has a store right in the middle of it." [Minn-St Paul Star Tribune]

Superb Idea: Bike Lane that Travels With You: "The system projects a virtual bike lane (using lasers!) on the ground around the cyclists, providing drivers with a recognizable boundary they can easily avoid. The idea is to allow riders to take safety into their own hands, rather than leaving it to the city." [Good]

Pneumatic Post in Paris: "Introduced to combat the shortcomings of the telegraphic network in Paris, the subterranean Poste Pneumatique (Pneumatic Post) moved written telegraph messages from 1866 until 1984. The pneumatic tube network relieved the saturated telegraph network, delivering physical messages across the city and to the suburbs faster and more reliably than the telegraph." [active social plastic]

What Will Save the Suburbs?: "The problem now isn’t really how to better design homes and communities, but rather what are we going to do with all the homes and communities we’re left with." [New York Times]

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 Historic Washington: Southwest

Posted on: January 19th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

For some reason, I always knew I wanted to live in Washington, D.C. It was probably my early interest in politics that brought me here or maybe it was a sense of needing to move to a big city that wasn’t too big. Either way, in August of 2003, I found myself renting a house in American University Park, which is located in Northwest near Tenleytown. Its a wonderful neighborhood, designed and developed in the 1920s, with lots of families and beautiful historic houses. It was a great place to start out in Washington because it offered not only the small neighborhood feel I was accustom to but also a great deal of accessibility to other areas of the city via the metro. The Tenleytown Historical Society has an excellent series of photographs and background information on Tenleytown if you’re interested in reading more on this area.

After living in Washington for two years, I knew that I wanted to call this place my home. I still find it hard to describe why I feel at home here, but I do. In 2005 I decided it was time to begin the house hunting process. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best time to be looking for houses since it was the peak of the housing bubble and affordable housing, already limited in D.C., was even harder to find. While I love the more traditional historic districts like Logan Circle and Capitol Hill, I was drawn to Southwest where housing was somewhat more affordable, and to my surprise, the neighborhood was distinctively different.

River Park, Designed by Charles Goodman

River Park, Designed by Charles Goodman (Photo: Ross Bradford)

I’ll never forget the first time my realtor took me to Southwest. I visited a cooperative known as River Park. As we drove through the neighborhood I quickly realized this place was like no other in the city. Filled with an abundance of mid-century architecture, I was quickly captivated by the area. It had a totally different feel from other places, due in part to a radical and controversial urban renewal plan that occurred in the 1950s which brought in architects such as I.M. Pei, Harry Weese, Marcel Breuer, Charles Goodman, and Chloethiel Woodard Smith to design open space areas, federal office buildings, and residential housing complexes.

Southwest’s story doesn’t begin in the 1950s; instead, it begins as early as the late 1700s with one of the city’s oldest sets of buildings, known as Wheat Row, and Fort McNair. The area slowly developed into a thriving residential neighborhood for both African-Americans and European immigrants during the turn of the 20th century. Like other residential areas in the district, Southwest’s streets were lined with rowhouses of varying sizes. Over time, however, overcrowding in the area led to deteriorating housing conditions and the construction of numerous alley dwellings. In the 1950s Congress and city planners decided that Southwest should undergo a huge transformation, which resulted in the eviction of the area’s residents and the demolition of most of the buildings. While the displacement of the area’s residents and the loss of community that occurred in this area was devastating, it’s an important part of my neighborhood’s history that shouldn’t be overlooked or forgotten.

Maine Avenue Fish Market (Photo: Ross Bradford)

Maine Avenue Fish Market (Photo: Ross Bradford)

With the expansive redevelopment underway, only a few historic buildings were saved, these include Wheat Row, the Thomas Law House, Saint Dominic’s Church, and selected row houses on Half Street. The Maine Avenue Fish Market has also survived, in one form or another, since the early 1800s. Aside from these destination points, there are a variety of interesting mid-century housing developments, like Tiber Island and River Park, and the L’Enfant Promenade, which also includes a park dedicated to Benjamin Banneker.

Southwest Waterfront (Photo: Ross Bradford)

Southwest Waterfront (Photo: Ross Bradford)

As the first decade of the 21st century quickly approaches its end, Southwest is again experiencing another renewal with the nearby construction of the National’s baseball stadium and a second redevelopment of the Waterfront area, both are attempts to make this area a destination point for visitors and residents. As these plans move forward, it’s important that that the area’s history is not forgotten, but it’s also equally important that we protect and preserve the community that developed over the last fifty years.

Benjamin Banneker Park (Photo: Ross Bradford)

Benjamin Banneker Park (Photo: Ross Bradford)

I hope you’ll take some time to visit Southwest; it’s included in Cultural Tourism DC’s Neighborhood Heritage Trail system. A map of the trail, which is lined with poster-sized street signs telling the neighborhood’s story is available along with a walking tour brochure.

-- Ross Bradford

Ross Bradford is an Assistant General Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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.