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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.

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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.

Go a Deeper Shade of Green

Posted on: May 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Priya Chhaya

Change your light bulbs. Recycle. Reuse. Unplug your appliances. Use a clothesline. The path to energy efficiency does start at home and its true—we can all be green.

But what about the next step? For years historic preservationists have been adamant that the greenest building is almost always the one that has been already built; that preserving the past also means protecting the planet. We at the National Trust for Historic Preservation have embraced this belief in every aspect of our work... But did you know that there is a sustainability track at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, the National Main Street Center's latest issue of Main Street News asks "How Green is Your Main Street?" and the latest Forum Journal (one of the perks of Forum membership), takes a look at "Positioning Preservation in a Green World" where one can truly go a deeper shade of green.

But of course that's not all. Preaching to the choir is one thing, but we have to somehow reach the peanut gallery—those individuals who can't see why this all matters, or even what historic preservation has to do with saving the environment. I know that some of us do that well, while others falter when it comes to strategies for communicating this information to our widespread and often not-so-engaged audiences. How do we get them to look past their own homes and lifestyle to seeing the world through a pair of green colored glasses?

I don't have the answer—but maybe you do.

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.

National Trust Supports City of Seattle in Historic Preservation Ordinance Challenge

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

 

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The Satterlee House (Photo: Joe Mabel)

Earlier this month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the City of Seattle’s ongoing defense of the Landmark Preservation Board and its decision to deny an application to build three large houses on the sloping front lawn of a designated, 1906 historic property known as the Satterlee House.

Although unsuccessful in their appeal of the board’s decision to a hearing examiner and at the trial court level, the property owners, William and Marilyn Conner, have continued to press forward in their effort to overturn the Board’s ruling, this time filing an appeal before the Washington Court of Appeals.

The Satterlee House, a three-story “Seattle Classic Box,” sits on the crest of a one-acre lot in West Seattle and faces towards the Puget Sound. The board rejected the Conners’ proposed design of the infill houses, concluding that their size and scale would adversely affect the unique features and characteristics of this landmark house.

With the help of a last minute motion by the Pacific Legal Foundation to participate in the case as an amicus, the Conners maintain that, under Hanna v. City of Chicago, the preservation board violated their rights by applying unconstitutionally vague standards in the review and denial of their application. Specifically, they complain that the city’s standards, as applied to them, were “subjective” rather than “objective” because they did not contain specific, measurable limits on the permissible size of their proposed houses.

In Hanna, the highly-publicized decision from last winter, the Illinois Appellate Court concluded that the criteria for designation of historic resources in Chicago’s ordinance were so vague that a person of common intelligence could not determine from the face of the ordinance whether a building or buildings may be deemed a landmark or historic district.

The National Trust’s brief discusses the widespread and important practice of using contextual -rather than prescriptive - standards in the review of proposed alterations and new construction on historic sites. It also explains why historic preservation does not lend itself to bright-line, formulaic rules, pointing to the 42 court decisions in 24 states and the District of Columbia that, in contrast to Hanna, have upheld preservation standards against vagueness challenges.

The Washington Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on the National Trust’s motion or the Pacific Legal Foundation’s request to participate in the Satterlee House lawsuit. Oral argument before the court is scheduled for June 10. Meanwhile, a petition for review of the Hanna decision, filed by the City of Chicago in March, is currently pending before the Illinois Supreme Court.

>> Read the Amicus Curiae Brief Filed by the National Trust

- Julia Miller

Julia Miller serves as special counsel for 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.

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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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.