Portland: Achieving Sustainability One Demolition at a Time?

Posted on: April 29th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Written by Val Ballestrem

It’s no secret that Portland, Oregon has long prided itself as a forward-thinking city in terms of the environment, and maybe that’s deservedly so, at least in some respects. But there is one aspect of the sustainability equation that the city fails to address effectively: demolitions. Sure, from time to time we see great press coverage about some building or house that is being deconstructed. Even a few notables, like the Ladd Carriage House and the Simon Benson House, have been moved, and some fantastic buildings have been adaptively re-used. But for every building in Portland that is deconstructed, moved, or re-used, untold numbers are simply smashed to bits.

For the most part, demolitions face little review or public scrutiny in Portland. In fact, the City’s Bureau of Development Services is not even required to notify residents of impending demolitions, unless the building is on the National Register of Historic Places or is a locally designated landmark. Even then, most buildings can still be torn down after a demolition delay period. This means that the average homes and buildings that make up the fabric of our older neighborhoods can be taken down with zero public input or notification. Compounding the problem are the state’s owner consent laws, making it nearly impossible to halt demolitions, especially when the endangered building does not have officially recognized historic significance. The problem then is twofold. Without notification it is nearly impossible to save something that no one knows is endangered. Second, even if one knew of a pending demolition there is in most instances no legal mechanism to keep it from happening. The net result is that one day you might be walking by a house in your neighborhood, the next you might find it ripped to shreds. It is frustrating and sad to see this happen, and seems especially disingenuous when supported by public policy and a city that espouses its intentions to be the “most sustainable” in the world.

Case in point, just the other day I was walking to work and came across a house in mid-demolition phase. It was not even 9 a.m. and the contractor had already chewed up (literally) more than half of a modest, circa 1890, house in southeast Portland, just across the street and outside the borders of one of the city’s most notable historic districts – Ladd’s Addition. The huge pile of debris that was once someone’s home certainly didn’t fit my idea of recycling in any realistic way. In the rubble were windows, doors, trim, interior moldings, bricks from the foundation, etc… much of which was (prior to demolition) in usable condition. At the very least I thought the property owner was short-sighted for not recognizing that the house could have been renovated. But what really raised my blood-pressure was finding out later that this perfectly solid home was torn down – in order to simply build another single family residence. Where is the sustainability in demolishing one residence to simply construct another? I understand some houses need rehabilitation, but a city that supports a “demolish first” mindset is also supporting an enormous waste of resources, energy, and further contributes to global warming.

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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.

11 Most Endangered List Featured on NBC Nightly News

Posted on: April 29th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern 1 Comment

 

I'm sure there are some people who are jaded about seeing their organization on the evening news, but I am not one of them. It might be a little geeky to admit, but I always get excited that that people all over the country are getting to hear about the good work that happens here at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Last night, though, I missed the story about our 11 Most Endangered list due to the NHL playoffs (the Washington Capitals advanced to the next round -- yippee!), but due to the wonders of the internet, I was able to catch the story when I got home from the game. In case you were also at the playoffs -- or doing something else that prevented you from watching the NBC Nightly News, here's the clip:



NBC wasn't the only news outlet that shared the story of the 11 Most Endangered yesterday -- the New York Times, Washington Post, and Time magazine were among a large group talking about our list.

If you missed the announcement altogether, this year's list can be found on the 11 Most Endgangered 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.

Announcing America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, 2009 Edition

Posted on: April 28th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

There are certain things that pretty much everyone who works here at the National Trust for Historic Preservation has on their calendar: the National Preservation Conference, Preservation Month, and, of course, today’s biggie, the announcement of our annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Diane Keaton, an Academy Award-winning actress and one of our trustees, will be presenting the list in Los Angeles in a few hours, so it feels almost like we’re giving a sneak-peek here on the East Coast.

Their official designation of 2009’s sites will be made adjacent to Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel, which is included on this year’s list. Slated to be razed to accommodate two 600-foot-tall “environmentally sensitive” towers, the threat to the Century Plaza highlights sustainability -- the idea that we need to recycle existing infrastructure, rather than throw it away. The hotel, designed by Minoru Yamasaki (designer of the World Trade Center’s twin towers), also exemplifies the threat to modernist architecture nationally.

The full list of sites, with a tidbit of information on each, is below (after the jump, if you’re coming from the blog’s home page or an RSS reader). I encourage you to skip that, though, and instead head right over to the 11 Most Endangered section of PreservationNation.org. It’s where we’re keeping the good stuff: pictures, video and action items. Take a moment to check it out.

Oh, and if you happen to be a fan of Twitter, today's a great day to start following us. We're @PresNation and we're going to be tweeting about the 11 Most all day. Look for the #11Most tag to find out the latest.

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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.

Volunteers Help at Gettysburg's Spangler Farm

Posted on: April 27th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Bobbie Greene McCarthy

Bobbie Greene McCarthy, director of Save America's Treasures at the National Trust and Debbie Maier of MailPound in New Jersey, pose in front of the summer kitchen they helped rehab as part of the Tourism Cares for America weekend at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Bobbie Greene McCarthy, director of Save America's Treasures at the National Trust and Debbie Maier of MailPound in New Jersey, pose in front of the summer kitchen they helped rehab as part of the Tourism Cares for America weekend at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Last week, my colleague, Fiona Lawless, and I joined more than 300 volunteers at Gettysburg National Military Park for the seventh annual "Tourism Cares for America" weekend. Begun in 2001 as the tourism industry reeled in the wake of 9/11, this education/philanthropic association of the country's large tourism organizations has logged countless people hours in an effort to preserve and protect some of our country's most treasured historic sites, including Ellis Island, Mount Vernon, New Orleans (twice!), the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina, and Virginia City, Nevada. The National Trust for Historic Preservation's Save America's Treasures program has had a long and productive partnership with Tourism Cares and the tourism industry, and we count ourselves among their faithful volunteers.

Participants flocked to Gettysburg from across the US and some even as far as British Columbia to help the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation clear and clean the 80-acre Spangler Farm recently purchased from the family that owned it for many generations. Once restored, it will be used for the Park's educational programs and outreach activities. The farm was the logistical center of the Union battle line and served as a field hospital for more than 1,700 wounded and dying soldiers during three horrific days in July 1863 that made Gettysburg world-famous and changed the course of the Civil War. It is best known as the place where Confederate General Lewis Armistead died after he was wounded in Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle.

(If the name sounds familiar to you, it's because the Armistead family name is woven through American history. Of special note, Lewis' uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Major George Armistead, commanded Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, defending Baltimore against the British during the attack that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words to the Star Spangled Banner. In fact, George Armistead was given the Star Spangled Banner after the battle and it remained in his family for generations.)

Most of the Tourism Cares volunteers cleared countless tons of heavy brush and debris from the land but others cleaned the barn and farmhouse. I focused my efforts largely on hauling, shoveling and, finally, sweeping the summer kitchen, where a bronze plaque says it is the actual place where General Armistead died. For a group of desk-jockeys and tour guides with a sense of history but unaccustomed to hard physical labor, it was an exhausting but exhilarating experience. Tourism Cares did -- as it always does -- a magnificent job of organizing this complex event with its countless moving parts and made sure that the labor was preceded and followed by interesting and enjoyable activities -- including LOTS of food and plenty to drink.

The group was treated to a lively tour of the battlefield, and a special viewing of the newly-restored Cyclorama painting (conserved thanks in part to a $200,000 challenge grant from Save America's Treasures). There also was a special screening of a new video produced by the History Channel about the Battle at Gettysburg. In a final generous gesture, Tourism Cares and Trip Mate Insurance announced a surprise $10,000 grant to the Gettysburg Foundation for further rehabilitation of Spangler Farm.

If you'd like to know more and see pictures from the weekend, visit the Tourism Cares website, and more on Gettysburg National Military Park can be found on their website.

Bobbie Greene McCarthy is the director of the Save America's Treasures program 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.

Preservation Roundup: Retrofitting NYC, Silo Living, Villa Finale

Posted on: April 27th, 2009 by Matt Ringelstetter

 

Greening the NYC Skyline: "From solar panels to LED Christmas lights, Rockefeller Center is at the forefront of making old buildings new through sustainable technology." On Earth Day, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans for measures such as retrofitting older buildings in order to reduce NYC's carbon footprint by 30 percent over the next twenty years. [Architects Newspaper]

More from Earth Day NYC: Mindful Walker compares Earth Day 1970 to 2009. [Mindful Walker]

Villa Finale, A National Trust Historic Site: Villa Finale, one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's newest historic sites is blogging. [VillaFinale]

Paddington Reservoir Adaptive Reuse: A mid-nineteenth century Sydney reservoir converted into an urban park. "The park sits within the ruins of the western chamber and uses the intact interior of the eastern basin as a large column-filled multipurpose space. Where possible, the ironbark columns and cast iron beams have been kept and maintained with new concrete and steel arches, beams and columns inserted within where necessary. Vaulted aluminium sun shading sits perched above the park, signalling the submerged park to Oxford Street above and providing some contrast to the otherwise robust detailing." [Super Colossal]

1940's Grain Silo Converted to Boutique Texas Inn: 'Cause really, what else would it be converted into? "In 2007, Gruene Homestead Inn purchased the 1940s grain silo and remodeled the interior and exterior.  The result is authentic and incredible.  Can you imagine chilling on that front porch, enjoying a little Texas summer?" [Jetson Green]

Infrastructure Disaster: Myth or Reality?: Is our nation's infrastructure really as "deficient and functionally obsolete" as it has been made out to be? Before you go tearing down that historic bridge, consider the differences between "strcutural deficiencies" and "functional obsolescence." [Slate]

Redbud Midcentury: Some very cool photos of a mid-century home in Tulsa that is for sale. From our friends at ModernTulsa. [ModernTulsa]

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.