A number of inimitable members of Team Way Outside the Beltwayers can no longer recall when they participated in their first National Preservation Lobby Day, but all admit to becoming instantly hooked on the energy, camaraderie, break-neck pace, feeling of accomplishment and plain old fun that characterizes this annual event. It's the one day each year when preservation enthusiasts from across the nation storm the halls of Congress to not only speak in unison about the benefits of historic preservation, but to seek critical funding and support for national and local preservation programs and incentives.

Well, I remember the day I was officially introduced to this hallowed event as if it were yesterday. It was a dark and rainy December evening in Seattle (go figure) back in 2005 (okay, so it wasn’t all that long ago), a full month before I was slated to officially start my new job with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. On that fateful evening, one of Washington’s most celebrated preservationists asked me to meet over a drink. I thought to myself, "how nice," but no sooner had I removed my soaking raincoat and placed my drink order that a dog-eared folder labeled “Lobby Day” was thrust upon me. And with that, the baton was ceremoniously passed to me and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. I’ll admit I had absolutely no idea what Lobby Day was when I took that first sip, but by the time I was down to my last olive, it was abundantly clear to me that Lobby Day was nothing to be trifled with. Oh, the wisdom contained in that folder.

But enough about me. Fast forward to March 2009. I’m delighted to report that the preservationist who crowned me the unofficial Lobby Day czarina (which is the glorified title for meeting scheduler, team recruiter, travel agent and general organizer, whose name would be worse than mud if she didn’t acknowledge the help of her awesome staff) continues to be the anchor of our team. And with each passing year, we build and strengthen Team Way Outside the Beltwayers by recruiting fresh, new talent to round out our cadre of stellar, seasoned veterans. Indeed, the Washington Trust raises travel scholarship funds to make it possible for the largest contingency of sharp, articulate and persuasive historic preservation enthusiasts to participate in Lobby Day. I especially want to thank Gull Industries for funding our Lobby Day scholarships this year and for supporting our advocacy efforts in D.C. every year since 2003.

For those of you interested in a slightly more detailed description of what Lobby Day is all about, I’ll start by explaining that it’s a bit of a misnomer; the annual Lobby day event organized by Preservation Action, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and the National Trust for Historic Preservation actually spans two days, and what an absolute whirling dervish of a two day period it is.

On day one, we place ourselves in the capable hands of the experts – the real inside the beltway types – to become steeped in the issues that top our national preservation agenda. We get together as a team to strategize for our day of meetings on the Hill. We meet and mingle with wide-eyed first timers and reconnect with colleagues and friends from all across the country. On day two, we race through the halls of Congress to make meetings with all nine members of our Congressional delegation, our two Senators and our governor’s D.C. chief of staff. We articulate to each member or their staff how critically important it is to fund preservation programs (especially our state historic preservation office), improve preservation tax incentives and support local projects. Finally, we end the day by sharing stories from the trenches and raising a celebratory toast to our good work at the historic Willard Hotel, the legendary birthplace of lobbying. And yes, I’ll admit that it’s the martinis at the Willard that keep many of our team members coming back year after year.

But in all seriousness, it’s no secret that the already limited resources available for preservation are tighter than ever, making our collective efforts to foster strong relationships with our elected officials and to keep the benefits of preservation on their minds all the more critical. Team Way Outside the Beltwayers takes this work seriously, but we somehow manage to have a blast along the way.

I hope everyone checking out our adventures this year (we'll be blogging here on this blog and on our page on PreservationNation.org) will find our experiences fun and rewarding enough to consider attending Lobby Day. Come see for yourself what it’s all about and don’t be surprised if you find yourself back at the Capitol every March, racing to meetings armed with your fact sheets, one-sheeters and unbridled enthusiasm for preservation.

- Jennifer Meisner

Jennifer Meisner is the executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. As noted above, she is also the unofficial Lobby Day czarina. Stay tuned to PreservationNation.org and our blog next week as we bring you all the details of her delegation's action-packed trip to D.C. for Preservation Lobby Day.

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.

Protecting What's Deep in the Heart (& Dirt) of Texas

Posted on: March 6th, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

Something

The Wilson-Leonard Site in Williamson County, Texas contained one of the oldest and most complete human burials ever found in North America.

If you've ever been to Texas and driven up I-35 through the Austin-Waco corridor, you know that Williamson County is a beautiful place.

Located just close enough to the Hill Country to get some of the beautiful, rolling landscape, it's a place where you find sleepy small towns, Texas-size blue skies and roadside smokehouses that all sell the "world's best" beef jerky. And, if you're lucky enough to find yourself passing through during the spring, you'll experience the surreal blankets of bluebonnets that so many country singers mention in their songs.

However, aside from boasting a good share of the postcard-perfect images associated with the Lone Star State, Williamson County is also home to a 2.5-acre parcel of land that contains archaeological evidence from every prehistoric time period in Texas. Located in a deeply stratified area in the county's southwestern Brushy Creek Valley, the Wilson-Leonard Site contained one of the oldest and most complete human burials ever found in North America.

If you've never heard of it, think back (or just Google) to the early 1980s when archaeologists from the University of Texas found the remains of an 11,000-year old female who they nicknamed Leanne (or the “Leanderthal Lady” to play off the name of a nearby city, Leander). That all happened at the Wilson-Leonard Site.

Now the place that brought us such fascinating discoveries is at the center of a controversy that could have repercussions for archeological resources across the country.

In 1991, the site was donated to the Archaeological Conservancy by the Wilson Land & Cattle Company and Will R. Wilson, Sr. The donation was subject to a reverter clause that included several conditions requiring the property to be used "predominantly to provide an archaeological laboratory for intermittent research excavations, restoration of Indian artifacts and habitats, exhibition of artifacts and restored habitats to the public, or for any other archaeological purpose."

Fourteen years later, in 2005, much of Williamson County was facing intense pressure from development and skyrocketing land values. The original grantor of the gift, Will R. Wilson, Sr., signed a reverter deed purporting to re-convey the property to his son, claiming that the Archaeological Conservancy had failed to use the property for ongoing active excavation. Though the Archaeological Conservancy filed suit to reestablish its title to the property, a bench trial ruled in favor of Mr. Wilson - a decision which could impact the future conveyance of property for preservation and/or archaeological purposes.

As a result, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with the Society for American Archaeology, the Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and the Archaeological Institute of America, represented pro bono by the law firm of Andrews & Kurth in Austin, stepped in to support an appeal by the Archaeological Conservancy, filing an amicus curiae brief earlier this month. The brief used extensive research to make the case that protection and preservation in place is itself an important “archaeological purpose” – perhaps the most important in the long-run because of the fact that developments in science and technology are continually expanding our ability to interpret archaeological sites and artifacts. Once a site has been excavated, the in-place information it contains is no longer available for on-site study. Deferring excavation for a decade or two will inevitably increase our ability to understand and interpret the archaeological remains and the prehistoric culture they represent.

If the trial court's decision is upheld and the Wilson-Leonard donation is revoked, land donations across the country could be in jeopardy, especially those held by the Archaeological Conservancy. Please stay tuned to PreservationNation.org as we continue to monitor this case and the wounding precedent it could set, both deep in the heart of Texas and beyond.

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Dispatch from South Chicago: A River Runs Through It

Posted on: March 4th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Very little remains of the South Works steel mill in South Chicago. These ore walls serve as a stark suggestion of the mill that used to occupy 500 acres along Lake Michigan.

Very little remains of the South Works steel mill in South Chicago. These ore walls serve as a stark suggestion of the mill that used to occupy 500 acres along Lake Michigan.

I ventured out of the National Main Streets Conference hotel and joined a field session that took me to a part of Chicago few visitors—or even residents—even see, according to Rod Sellers, my tour guide. We traveled south of downtown Chicago approximately 30 minutes to South Chicago—still within city limits—a stretch of the city that clings to the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan near the Indiana border.

The “Southeast Chicago Heritage Tour” brought us far from the Burnham skyscrapers and Beaux-Arts bridges to a landscape dominated by smoke stacks, landfills and the Calumet River—Chicago’s other river (and no, its flow has not been reversed—it still flows naturally like most self-respecting rivers).

The Calumet Region is where railroads and the river itself brought coal, coke, and iron ore to the hulking steel mills at the mouth of the Calumet and along both banks of the river. These mills churned out nails, rails and beams to build the John Hancock Building, the Sears Tower and countless other Chicago landmarks. Unfortunately, very little of this industrial legacy remains visible. We did stop at the sprawling 500+ acre U.S. Steel South Works steel mill site that lines the lakeshore. Though it’s impossible to imagine it now, it employed 20,000 workers at the height of its operations. Shift work kept the plant humming round the clock and waves of immigrants moved to the area for plentiful and well-paying work. Taverns, restaurants, grocery stores and ice cream parlors were abundant. Our tour guide described hard-working and hard-drinking men and his school boy memory of being told to keep his horsing around quiet to avoid disturbing his neighbor s resting up for the 11 p.m. - 7 a.m. night shift.

The South Works mill closed in 1992 and was completely dismantled save three massive ore walls that were built to store the ore when the lake was impassible due to ice. The scale of these concrete structures is hard to convey. Their presence and the enormous task of removing them has impeded redevelopment ideas for the site. There are plans to bring residential, commercial and industrial uses to the property after earlier plans to build an airport—or the Olympics—were shot down by neighbors. Thanks to a citizen-led campaign, this land will not sprout high-rise luxury condos but more affordable, sustainable housing. Just when that might happen remains to be seen. The groundbreaking keeps getting pushed back. With the economy in the shape it is currently, the 2010 start date is likely to be pushed back again.

... 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.

Playing with the Future

Posted on: March 4th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Using Legos to plan regional growth.

I work in the Triangle region of North Carolina, one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, where the dividing lines between Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and the surrounding communities are beginning to fade. The terms smart growth, mixed-use, and transit-oriented development are buzzing in our ears. But, how do we integrate these planning strategies with our plans for the region’s heritage resources? And what does a box of Legos have to do with it?

I and a colleague from Preservation North Carolina (PNC) participated in the Urban Land Institute’s Reality Check, regional planning exercise. As PNC's Partner in the Field focusing on urban preservation issues in Raleigh, the exercise was a unique opportunity for me to look at the Triangle area regionally and see how regional issues affect preservation on the ground in Raleigh.

The event divided the 300 participants into teams of 10, each gathered around a map of the 15-county region. We had a box of Legos representing the new residents and jobs coming our way. Our region is expected to grow to over 3.2 million residents by 2030. We had 90 minutes to put them all somewhere on the map. Our team, like all of them, was pretty diverse, with people from each of the large cities and several of the smaller communities, and we each had our own perspective on growth issues.

Everyone immediately agreed on the need for more transportation options, including mass transit. Turns out that 80% of the teams focused on mass transit. We also wanted to concentrate jobs near residential centers – the creation of mixed-use centers was the second most common theme among the teams. We wound up putting increased residential density in the existing downtowns of most of the region's cities and towns, focusing the most intensity on the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill core.

It became abundantly clear that smart growth, mixed-use, and transit-oriented development are necessary ingredients to planning the future of the Triangle region. But these strategies pose obvious challenges for the preservation community. An extra million people are going to put even more development pressure on our already threatened rural historic sites – we need to work with them now to protect them. While downtown density can be a good thing – we need to design carefully to integrate the new with the existing urban fabric and near-downtown historic neighborhoods.

I am more convinced than ever that the historic buildings in our downtowns represent wonderful opportunities for adaptive use and that the preservation community can play an active role in smart and equitable growth. This is going to be exciting work!

-- Elizabeth Sappenfield

Elizabeth Sappenfield is the director of urban issues at Preservation North Carolina.

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.

If it's Quirky, it's Good

Posted on: March 4th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Watertown, Wisc. is just one of the many Main Street communities in my state that have effectively utilized murals to generate interest in their downtown.

Watertown, Wisc. is just one of the many Main Street communities in my state that have effectively utilized murals to generate interest in their downtown.

Most everyone can recall taking a walking tour in the past. But can you remember where? Could it have been anywhere? Did it display authenticity? Did it encourage you to shop after the tour, have a bite to eat or visit a museum? Anthony Rubano with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency demonstrated how the walking tour has evolved in “Foot Traffic: A Fresh Look at Walking Tours”, a session at the National Main Streets Conference going on now in Chicago.

Probably the most fascinating piece of Anthony’s presentation was the explanation of building styles and the importance of connecting them to our shared history and heritage. When creating tours, yes, identify a style, such as Richardsonian Romanesque, but connect that style to the larger context—in this case, the Holy Roman Empire. You can do this with nearly every architectural style on your Main Street. Another example: if you have a prism glass design in one of your buildings downtown, it may be a Frank Lloyd Wright creation. Find out and if it is, you’ve just greatly increased interest in your itinerary.

Walking tour New Holstein style. This rural Wisconsin community knows where its appeal lies.

Walking tour New Holstein style. This rural Wisconsin community knows where its appeal lies.

And it’s not just your downtown commercial buildings you should be highlighting. Waters towers, gas stations, grain elevators, or a two story outhouse (no kidding) that are sites of interest. “If it is quirky, it is good and should be added to your walking tour.” Even those advertising slogans and murals of decades past that are still clinging to the sides of today’s buildings, called “ghost signs”, also have a nostalgic appeal to residents and visitors alike.

Anthony’s presentation was on his leading walking tours in Springfield, Illinois and a majority of his images were from Illinois communities. But the ideas and program can be used by a Main Street community anywhere. People seek authenticity; you do not find walking tours of big-box stores or a new suburban shopping strip. Those that already have this interest in your downtown and its history will learn more with a successful walking tour, and more importantly will spend more time and money in your downtown.

-- Trent Margrif

Trent Margrif is the director of the Wisconsin Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Stay tuned here and on their official blog as staff attending the 2009 National Main Streets Conference -- which is taking place this week in Chicago -- share what they're learning.

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.