Written by Nancy Finegood

America the beautiful, or America the throw away society?

Here in our country, there is very little that we value enough not to throw away. This value system extends from our consumer goods to our families to our very livelihoods. When you think about it, our current economic crisis is in part caused by our willingness to throw any and everything away. We have outsourced the manufacturing of all kinds of goods, as well as the creation of innovative new technologies. We have convinced ourselves that only “new, better, improved” are the labels that will lead us to a healthier, more energy efficient future. We have also convinced ourselves that getting it cheaper is more important than having vibrant economic communities based on self sufficiency and sound conservation principles.

Photo: Dominick Gladstone, Act Naturally Studios

Photo: Dominick Gladstone, Act Naturally Studios

To do its part in reversing wasteful trends in a throw-away-and-buy-it-new world, and to reinforce the values of skilled workmanship, self sufficiency, and creating opportunities for economic development in the local economy, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, partnering with the City of Kalamazoo, offered a first-of-its-kind course on the rehabilitation of historic windows. More than 20% of the housing stock in the U.S. was built before the 1950's. Many of these homes have features which cannot be easily duplicated. In fact, the next time you walk by a large Queen Ann with a wrap-around porch or look at a building with a protruding bay with rounded windows, be aware that the we have basically lost the expertise to manufacture curved glass for these housing applications.

Photo: Dominick Gladstone, Act Naturally Studios

Photo: Dominick Gladstone, Act Naturally Studios

The intensive, two-week historic windows rehabilitation course that we developed trained 12 individuals from diverse backgrounds (age, race, gender and Michigan geography) in skills which can provide them with a good source of income. In fact, unlike most businesses, a window rehabber can start a business with a minimal investment. What most individuals don’t realize is that old windows in good repair combined with storm windows are as energy efficient as any newer window product. Additionally, rehabilitation of an older window minimizes the amount of material that goes into a landfill by keeping the original window in place. Preservation work helps the environment and the local economy, all while maintaining our connections with the past.

Our students are enthusiastic about the skills they learned and will work as preservation and rehabilitation ambassadors. We must now create enthusiasm for local solutions to our local issues. I think the place to start is with our value system. We’ve thrown enough away. We still believe in miracles –  just ask Gregory Perry, the youngest student in the program at 18 years old. It’s now time for rebuilding, rehabilitating and preserving what is valuable within ourselves and our communities.


Nancy Finegood is the executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

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.

Saving South Pasadena: Conversation with a Front Lines Freeway Fighter

Posted on: July 20th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment



Interview by Jason Clement

Ten years ago this month, a court-ordered injunction halted the reckless extension of Route 710 through the middle of historic South Pasadena, Pasadena and El Sereno. As a result, 1,000 homes and 6,000 trees were saved in a six-mile corridor that is home to a handful of National Register historic districts.

Though it never came to holding hands in front of a wrecking ball, the decades-long fight to save these neighborhoods is a fine case study in what we do every day as preservationists – come together to save places that matter.

On the eve of the official anniversary (it was this past Sunday), I had the great honor of reliving the fight against the freeway through the words and stories of Joanne Nuckols, one of an army of South Pasadena residents who stood up against 710.

Why did you decide to become a freeway fighter and when did you first get involved?

Well, I didn’t decide – it just naturally happened to me. My family moved into our South Pasadena home in 1967, and we were across the street and down a few from two very active freeway fighters. We were all raising our kids here and knew about the freeway. Everyone in town did. There were a lot of interesting things going on even back then, and it would have been hard to find someone who wasn’t following the issues and going to the public hearings and meetings.

You could say that my participation with the fighters heated up around the same time that the big 710 issues really started bubbling over. In 1987, I was appointed to our city’s transportation commission, which gave me a front row seat for the many important events that happened in 1989. That year, we had a march that got us a lot of national attention, we hired an attorney to officially represent our case, and we were named – for the first of five times – on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual listing of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. It was a watershed year when the tide really turned in our direction.

El Sereno Family

This 1920s Spanish Revival home of the Granados family in El Sereno was slated for demolition to make way for the 710 freeway. This house is located in a locally significant district indentified by the City of Los Angeles, but which the California Department of Transportation refused to consider.

It starts as your hobby, but from there it easily becomes your life. In fact, some people even moved away to escape the fight because it really can become all consuming. However, regardless of how big of a monster it becomes in your daily life and how much of your schedule it eats up, it is something that simply has to be done. People realizing this and still choosing to dedicate their time to speak up is what helped us ward off the 710 extension for this long. And let me tell you, it has been a long time. The first time a line was thoughtlessly drawn down the middle of South Pasadena was in 1947. That’s over 60 years ago…and counting.

Over all the years and milestones, what is your fondest memory of the fight against 710?

The big rally and march in October of 1989 really stands out in my mind. We had about 1,000 people show up – remember we’re a small town – and we walked the route of the proposed highway extension with our megaphones and our homemade signs. There were cheerleaders from the local high school, kids on bikes with balloons, and even a mariachi band. Needless to say, we got a lot of attention, and I will always remember those moments.

However, warm fuzzies aside, the absolute best thing about that event is the fact that the whole idea for it came from a California Department of Transportation employee! It’s so ironic. They were the ones who planted the seed for this fight in the 1940’s, and now they were giving us tips for what proved to be our best public relations event.

Also, I’ll say that I will always remember the people who were involved in the fight, not just from South Pasadena, but from around the country. The legal teams, the preservationists, the environmentalists, the architects – those people were simply amazing, and they gave some much-needed weight to what we all knew was the right thing to do.

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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.

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.

Notes from New Orleans: Citizens Sue Mayor in VA Hospital Case

Posted on: July 17th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


This week, four New Orleans residents, representing the many citizens who have been frustrated by the city administration’s lack of responsiveness to their concerns about the plans for a new VA hospital in the Lower Mid City neighborhood, took their grievances into the local civil district court.

In their suit, the residents contend that Mayor Nagin disregarded multiple provisions of the City Charter as well as applicable state law, when he entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in November 2007. This is the agreement which Lower Mid City residents awoke to that fall, when they opened their newspapers and learned the mayor had committed the city to seizing and clearing 34 acres of the Mid City National Register District, closing the city streets, ripping out old infrastructure and installing new, and presenting VA with a “construction ready” site for a new medical center. In addition, the Mayor agreed to bind the city to paying as much as $5 million in damages if there is any breach in the city’s obligations—again, all of this committed without benefit of public notice, City Council or City Planning Commission action, appropriation of funds, or certification by the city’s director of finance.

In a series of fourteen counts, the plaintiffs’ attorneys lay out a string of violations which, they say, “transcend the facts of this case and raise significant issues of great importance to all residents, homeowners and business owners of the City of New Orleans regarding the Charter and whether the Mayor has the legal authority under the Charter to unilaterally authorize the taking of private property of homeowners and business owners without public hearings and without prior approval of the City Council and the City Planning Commission.” Two of the attorneys in the case served in previous New Orleans administrations as city attorneys.

So many of us have been pleading for the last two years to bring the planning of the LSU and VA hospitals into the light of day. We have asked the City Council and City Planning Commission to hold public hearings. We have asked that the plans be made a part of the master planning process currently underway. Nevertheless, the go-it-alone style of this administration has prevailed. The City Charter is the city’s legally binding operating manual on how things are supposed to be done in city government. It’s easy to follow, and not difficult at all to understand. Fundamentally, this case is saying the mayor chose not to follow the rules. Perhaps a date in court will provide a long-overdue course for this mayor in how to properly operate city government.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is not a party to this suit, but clearly the case supports points we have been making for quite some time.

Walter W. Gallas, AICP, is the director of the New Orleans Field Office of 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.

Field Work in a Digital World

Posted on: July 17th, 2009 by Guest Writer


Written by Kevin Johnson
Introduced by Priya Chhaya

A recent discussion on Forum-L (one of the benefits of Forum membership) investigated the various ways that preservationists in the field have been using digital and wireless technology to collect stories and data. Some described using their PDAs, while others use similar handheld devices to collect GPS coordinates, a digital photo, and a survey form. In the post below Kevin Johnson, from the Design & Historic Preservation Section for the City of Pasadena, outlines his experience with digital technology. Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

Author’s Note: An initial version of this post appeared in the January-February 2008 issue of The Alliance Review.

The Liang House by Harwell Hamilton Harris.

The Liang House by Harwell Hamilton Harris.

For generations, preservationists conducting research and historic resources surveys have employed data collection methods using such tools as handwritten notes, traced maps, film negatives and typed forms with pasted photos. As technology has improved, use of digital cameras and word processing and spreadsheet programs have become more widely utilized but technological advancement has seemed to bypass the process of collecting data in historic resources surveys. However, in the current age of mp3 players and smart phones, more advanced technology that can be applied to historic preservation and historic resources surveys is available.

Significant advances that have improved workflows include Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the use of databases and handheld digital technology. The City of Pasadena used all of these technologies in a recent historical resources survey of mid-twentieth-century buildings. Before beginning the survey, the city acquired a new historical resources database (known as the California Historical Resources Inventory Database, or CHRID) that was developed by the California cities of Ontario and Sacramento using Certified Local Government funding and designed by CF Webtools, Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska. In a nutshell, the database, which has a web-based interface, allows users to record relevant data about historic properties including construction dates, architects, builders, type of resource, type of designation, photographs, etc. as well as design review cases, tax reductions and much more. The software has a public website where anyone can look up properties and view this information from any computer with internet access. In addition, the data in the system can be placed into the state-required documentation format with a few simple mouse clicks. The database is free for download from the web and can be hosted by the developer for a nominal annual fee. Pasadena’s component of the CHRID (as well as a tutorial explaining how to use it) can be accessed at www.cityofpasadena.net/chrid.

To begin the survey, we used GIS to identify and map those properties with construction dates from the period of study—1935 through 1965. After several field visits to view these areas, we created a new GIS layer representing the boundaries of 21 separate study areas. We then used GIS to extract existing data about the properties in these areas from the city’s property information database (e.g., parcel number, address, construction date, zoning, etc.). Concurrently, we asked our department’s Information Technology staff to create a form with check-boxes and pull-down menus that could be used for recording data in the field with a touch-screen handheld device. although no longer available, we used a simple, off-the-shelf Palm Z22, with a cost of $99, and software by Pendragon called Forms 5.1. Newer handheld devices and smart phones can also utilize this software. The property data from GIS was uploaded to the handheld device and field work began.

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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.

Good Advice on Going Green at Home

Posted on: July 17th, 2009 by Patrice Frey 1 Comment


Try these low-tech tips for keeping your home cool during the hot months.

Much of this advice from Treehugger.com will look familiar if you've seen our materials on greening historic homes -- but a few are new, like a reminder to refrain from cooking hot things at home during the warm months.   I'm not sure about their recommendation to grow vines on your home... that can create deterioration problems.    White roofs might be a problem depending on your neighborhood and home, but is an option worth considering for some homeowners.


This Popular Science guide for Greening your Home is a great interactive resource that provides some common and not so common sense advice when it comes to making your home more energy efficient.  Some of the common sense tips include closing your blinds or windows on the southern side of your house to reduce heat gain, while some on the not-so-common tips include turning down the temperature on your water heater from 140 degrees to 120 to save some money.  This guide is great for historic and recently constructed houses alike and provides illustrates these techniques using a 3D model.

Patrice Frey is the director of sustainability research for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Nakita Johnson, a graduate intern in the public policy office, contributed to this 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.