The Stage is Set for Oakland's Fox Theater to be a Huge Hit

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

This former vaudeville theatre re-opens tonight after $70 million rehabilitation, which followed a prolonged period of vacancy and decay. (Photo: © 2009 Nathanael Bennett)

This former vaudeville theatre re-opens tonight after $70 million rehabilitation, which followed a prolonged period of vacancy and decay. (Photo: © 2009 Nathanael Bennett)

If I could somehow pry myself loose from the crush of my current workload and from the marvelous entanglements presented at home by my two small children, I would be on my way from DC to Oakland, California right now. Why? No, not because flying to Oakland is a cheaper way to get to San Francisco. I mean I wish I was in Oakland. At 1807 Telegraph, to be exact. Tonight the Fox Theatre is opening its doors for the first time in forty years. Thanks to a whole lot of dough (including $11.4 million in tax credit equity from our very own National Trust Community Investment Corporation) and a whole lot of courage from a lot of stubborn and resourceful people, this beloved landmark that had been essentially left for dead is no longer playing to a house full of fungi. (I’m not exaggerating: back in the 90s, when the place was long abandoned, the leaky roof let mushrooms take root. Pretty sure they didn’t pay admission.)

Tonight, the Fox will host a grand opening gala event with a program of top-notch performers to celebrate this $70 million achievement. But it’s not the entertainment that has me mentally tallying my frequent flier miles and considering my post-pregnancy wardrobe (neither is very inspiring). It’s the theatre itself, of course. Tonight’s lucky attendees will behold its mystical golden deities, its Art Deco ticket booth (painstakingly restored thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Trust’s joint program with American Express, Partners in Preservation), its opulent dome -- all looking as resplendent as they did on opening night in 1928. This vaudeville theatre defined the glamour of uptown Oakland, where sweethearts could spend a magical evening, where families relaxed together, dazzled by an interior so fine the theatre was originally to be named the Bagdad [sic] — so think Baghdad circa 800 A.D., not 2003. And today’s Fox Oakland is certainly befitting of its glorious past. In addition to becoming a world-class performing arts center, it also now houses a tuition-free public charter school for the arts. So as grand as the Fox was back in 1928, I believe it is even better today.

In its heyday, the theatre drew crowds with it Mighty Wurlitzer organ, live shows and “talkies,” those novel moving pictures with sound. Like most downtown theatres, its demise was hastened by the television and the advent of suburban multiplexes. The theater’s descent was mercilessly slow: it stopped showing first-run films in 1962, briefly dabbled in softcore porn films, was hit by an arsonist in 1973, was threatened with demolition to make way for a parking lot in 1975 -- and of course there was that indignity with the mushrooms.

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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.

Major Win: Obama Administration Scraps Controversial Utah Lease Sales

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

Interior Secretary Ken Sa

President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. (Photo: AP)

"I believe, as President Obama does, that we need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way."

Those are the words of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar given yesterday in a statement that was heard around the preservation world.

In what will likely be the first of many high-profile reversals of the Bush administration's approach to energy exploration, the government is scrapping the issuance of 77 lease parcels on federal land for oil and gas drilling in Utah's red rock country. The announcement is a major win for Nine Mile Canyon and the thousands of Native American rock art images that cover the canyon’s wall.

"In the last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases near some of our nation's most precious landscapes in Utah," Salazar said. "We will take time and a fresh look at these 77 parcels to see if they are appropriate for oil and gas development."

Since December 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been a voice in a coalition of conservation and preservation organizations fighting leases - which are valued at $6 million - on more than 110,000 acres of Utah public land. On January 17, the group received its first major victory in the new year when Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Bureau of Land Management from moving forward with the leases.

Nine Mile Canyon contains the nation's greatest density of ancient rock art, which is threatened by clouds of dust and corrosive chemicals created by the heavy industrial truck traffic associated with oil and gas development.

"Secretary Salazar’s decision sends a strong message about the Obama administration’s approach to preserving America’s public lands," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a press release put out yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Today’s action ensures that the damage being inflicted on cultural resources near Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon - often called the ‘world’s longest art gallery’ because of the density of ancient rock art panels there - will not be exacerbated by additional oil and gas leases. This is a great decision, and indicates that Secretary Salazar and President Obama take very seriously their responsibility as stewards of our public lands."

Learn more about the National Trust’s efforts to protect Nine Mile Canyon, and check out the full text of an excellent article in today’s Washington Post.

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.

Columnist Takes on Illinois Appellate Court Decision

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by Sarah Heffern

 

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin has taken on the Illinois Appellate Court ruling that threatens the thousands of buildings now protected by Chicago’s landmarks law – and could set a dangerous precedent for landmarks laws nationwide.

The ruling… takes direct aim at the seven standards by which Chicago decides whether a building or district can be safeguarded from demolition or defacement—association with a significant historic event, evidence of important architecture and so on. A site must satisfy at least two of the seven standards to become a landmark.

While these criteria are expressed in common, easily understood language, that is not sufficient for the judges, who seem to yearn for hairsplitting, legalistic exactitude. "We believe," they write, "that the terms 'value,' 'important,' 'significant,' and 'unique' are vague, ambiguous, and overly broad."

Kamin takes the judges to task, asking if they reviewed any similar laws, featuring the same sort of terminology, in other cities, including New York, Boston, and Houston.

Take a moment to click through and read the full article. It’s a great take, and breaks down what could be a complex legal argument into an easily-understandable story.

Also... stop by our website to read Preservation magazine's Story of the Day on the issue by Margaret Foster.

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.

St. Elizabeths Hospital: A Q&A on Section 4(f)

Posted on: February 5th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently submitted comments to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regarding its Section 4(f) evaluation of the proposed redevelopment of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act is the strongest federal preservation law available because it prohibits federal approval of or funding for transportation projects that "use" any historic site, public park, recreation area or wildlife refuge unless there is "no feasible and prudent alternative" to the use of the site and the project includes "all possible planning to minimize harm."

The following Q&A is meant to shed light on both our ongoing work to protect St. Elizabeths Hospital, as well as some of the lingering questions and controversies surrounding its proposed redevelopment as the new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Question: What does the development of St. Elizabeths have to do with the FHWA?

Shepherd Parkway

Shepherd Parkway (Click Image for Full View)

The scale of the development at St. Elizabeths (and the decision to relocate 14,000 employees to the proposed Homeland Security headquarters there) would require expanded access to I-295 in order to avoid gridlock. Any interchange construction or expansion connecting to an interstate highway requires approval by FHWA, regardless of whether or not the road construction will be paid for with federal transportation dollars. That FHWA approval triggers the need for a Section 4(f) evaluation.

The current plans for St. Elizabeths include a major expansion of an existing interchange on I-295, the installation of massive retaining walls (up to 57 feet high) along steep slopes, and the construction and widening of additional access roads. This proposed access road has the potential to impose substantial adverse impacts on a large swath of land owned by the National Park Service (NPS) known as Shepherd Parkway.

Question: Why is this decision so crucial?

All federal agencies involved in the Homeland Security headquarters project – including the General Services Administration (GSA), the Department of Homeland Security and the National Capital Planning Commission – have adopted an explicit condition that the project will not go forward unless and until an access road through Shepherd Parkway is approved. Even construction of the Coast Guard Headquarters building, which is currently being designed as the first new building on the campus, cannot begin without approval of the new access road. Meanwhile, as the owner of Shepherd Parkway, NPS has refused to allow its land to be paved over to facilitate a project that would destroy public parkland and irreparably damage a National Historic Landmark. Thus, if NPS refuses to transfer its land and/or FHWA concludes that the stringent legal requirements of Section 4(f) have not been satisfied, GSA will be forced to develop a different and less harmful plan for St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Question: Why was the Section 4(f) evaluation completed after GSA's decision to develop the Homeland Security headquarters at St. Elizabeths?

Section 4(f) evaluations typically occur during the early development phase of a project, and are performed contemporaneously with a National Environmental Policy Act evaluation and a Section 106 evaluation. These evaluations are published in a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is circulated for comment by the public. Federal agencies use this document to assess a wide range of possible alternatives before undertaking work on a particular project. By conducting Section 4(f) evaluations early in the process, federal agencies have a greater opportunity to evaluate all the possible ways a project can be designed to avoid or minimize harm.

This, however, was not the case for St. Elizabeths, since the Section 4(f) evaluation occurred after GSA’s final EIS was issued. By this point in the process, GSA had already determined the course of action it would take, which severely narrowed and foreclosed the range of alternatives to avoid and minimize harm that FHWA considered in its own evaluation.

Click here for the full text of the National Trust's comments on the Environmental Impact Statement.

Question: What points were made in the National Trust’s comments?

Our comments on the Section 4(f) evaluation of St. Elizabeths focus on numerous flaws in FHWA’s analysis. In particular, FHWA made several false assumptions and omissions in its limited evaluation, failing to fully examine the project’s entire transportation management plan. FHWA also neglected to consider the long-running objections by the Department of the Interior and NPS to the use of Shepherd Parkway. FHWA’s failure to consider these objections directly conflicts with its own Section 4(f) policy. All of these flaws led to a blatantly deficient analysis of the project, which the National Trust and NPS believe is not legally sufficient to satisfy Section 4(f)’s requirements (i.e. there is “no feasible and prudent alternative” to the use of a protected site and the project includes “all possible planning to minimize harm”).

The full text of the National Trust’s comments is available here. In addition to our comments, other comments objecting to the 4(f) evaluation were submitted by the Department of the Interior/National Park Service and the Maryland Native Plant Society, Inc.

Learn more about St. Elizabeths Hospital, which was listed in 2002 as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Places, and visit the project's online document center for more information.

 - Ross Bradford

Ross Bradford is an assistant general 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.

Why (Teaching) Preservation is Cool

Posted on: February 4th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

Something

Our roving reporter in action.

As preservationists, we all have our short list of what makes us tick. It’s the historic home we live in, or that old drug store around the corner, or those stunning petroglyphs in Utah, or the newly-conserved Star-Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian, or…

You get the point, but what about younger generations? What about “those kids today?” Is appreciating the past cool enough to cut through all the clutter and distractions hurled at them by MTV, MySpace and their Nintendo Wiis?

Well, according to the seniors in Paul LaRue’s Research History class, the answer is a resounding yes. To prove it, student Tyler K. set off as our roving reporter today, asking his classmates what they really think about their many preservation-focused class projects. Not only are they doing field work in Good Hope Cemetery (which we'll be documenting here all semester), they're also transcribing the stories of veterans who severed in all of our country's wars through the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.

(And for the record, “Lash” is their nickname for their esteemed teacher, Mr. LaRue. If you’re suddenly reminded of old western movies, you’re dead on.)

Dennis A. – "Through the Vietnam transcripts that I’ve worked on, I’ve become accustomed to preserving the stories of those people who risked their lives for our freedom. Listening to stories about the era during which my father risked his life has given me a new outlook on life. It has also introduced me to some wonderful people in the process."

Jeremy M. – "Preserving things today is cool because I’m not only benefiting my generation’s education and knowledge, I’m benefiting all the generations to come after me."

Alyssa D. – "Preservation is good because it saves the valuable history of our town. I have the opportunity to write an article about a Civil War veteran in Fayette County. I also enjoy typing up all the transcripts that my fellow classmates work on."

Shannon M. – "Through our class, my respect for veterans has grown. I have enjoyed listening to their honest, first-person accounts of what they experienced. Each day, I am surprised at how much more I learn through the projects we work on, whether it’s researching and writing articles – like how Thomas Edison might have worked in our own town – or listening to transcripts. I’m definitely going to miss this class and listening to the amusing discussions the freshman have with Lash over economics."

Jon A. – "Listening and writing down transcripts is a major part of my day. It has been very interesting hearing first-hand experiences from World War II veterans. It has been especially rewarding since I had the chance to transcribe my own grandfather’s tape."

Matt M. – "Preservation is important because you have a chance to not only save something forever, but to learn about the stories that you are making immortal. When you research, you obtain information from primary sources that will not only live with you forever, but with all of those who wish to see your preserved work."

Jackie P. – "Preservation gives you an opportunity to get your nose of out the textbooks and into the past. You gain knowledge from first-hand accounts of historic events that happened in the world, your country and even your hometown. Preservation gives you the ability to capture a moment in history instead of reading someone else’s efforts to describe those events."

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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.