My Historic Washington: Alexandria

Posted on: January 14th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Alexandria's George Washington Masonic Temple

Alexandria's George Washington Masonic National Memorial, home to my most cherished memory in the D.C. area.

I have always been one to push the boundaries, and now I'm glad.

I knew from move-in day of my freshman year in college that Washington would be my home. And while I may not be exactly where I envisioned that day, I love the twists and turns that make the story of my life - and have allowed me to make this my home. That day, my life was in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood where George Washington University is located. Today, my husband and I call Alexandria, Virginia home. And it's so much more than the shopping and foodie destination you might know it for.

How can I claim to still live in Washington, you might ask, when Alexandria is located across the river in the Commonwealth of Virginia? By sleight of history's hand. In 1789, Alexandria and a portion of two neighboring counties were ceded to become part of the newly created 10-square-mile District of Columbia. Formally accepted by Congress in 1801, Alexandria remained under the control of the newly established federal government until it was retroceded to Virginia in 1847. You can still visit 14 boundary stones of the District of Columbia located in the Commonwealth of Virginia today.

Now, if you know me, you know that there are a few quirks to my personality. And I want to take three of those - the historic, the monumental and the military - to explain my love for this place.

The Historic: Nearly 50 years older than the city of Washington, Alexandria is one of America's most historic communities. It began its historic preservation and urban renewal projects in the 1960s, achieved through the cooperation of citizen activists and the local government. Gadsby's Tavern Museum, on North Royal Street, was a central part of the social, economic, political and educational life of the city of Alexandria. Today, it's where the 18th century comes to life, from guided tours to tavern balls. It's also where I've attended Jane Austen birthday balls to honor my favorite authoress.

The Monumental: One mile from the riverfront, the 333-foot George Washington Masonic National Memorial is the prominent point of Alexandria's skyline. Dedicated in 1932 to the memory of George Washington - patriot, president and Mason - it serves as a built expression of the Masonic fraternity's faith in the principles of civil and religious liberty and orderly government. Touring it with my grandfather, a Mason, is one of my most cherished memories. It's also the local landmark that welcomes me home each time I land at Reagan National Airport.

The Military: From their earliest days, Alexandrians have known war. As the wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece and cousin of military members, the same is true for me. The Torpedo Factory was built during World War I and was used as a munitions factory in World War II. Prior to its 1970-1980 renovation, the ten heavy industrial buildings dominated Alexandria's waterfront. Today, it is an award-winning example of adaptive reuse, serving as working studios for over 160 professional artists. Perhaps best of all, it's the centerpiece of a lively waterfront that includes a marina, shops, public parks and walkways, restaurants, residences, and offices. It was where my college roommate made her wedding vows - and hosted a fabulous reception!

But it really comes down to the fact that this is my community now - my Saturday farmers' market on Market Square, one of the oldest continuously operated market places in the country; my restaurant where we celebrated our wedding rehearsal dinner; my spot on the street for our many hometown holiday parades.

It is, in short, one of the best words there is: home. I hope you'll come visit.

– Susan Neumann 

Susan Neumann is the director of member engagement for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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 Leadership Training: Blogging from a Birmingham Tale

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Industrial Revolution Birmingham

Birmingham was born after the Civil War, so it was a steel, boom town, another “magic city” about which I have come to learn is often referred to as “the Pittsburgh of the South”. This excites me because I am from Pittsburgh and I see so many commonalities between these two cities. I am very happy to be here. What a tremendous learning experience! Let the tour begin!

These are the “big gun” engines of the 19th Century Sloss Furnaces in Downtown Birmingham. Only 20 people loss their lives in 20 years working at this Furnace and we were all astounded by what our great tour guide described as a wanton disregard for energy conservation. Americans were willing to make them as big, as bold and as bad as anything needed to be in order to get us where we wanted to go. Preservation helps to teach us how to correct our lens and learn from our past mistakes.

Civil Rights District

I had to run through this Walking Tour in order to get all of the shots I needed and even then, I was the last person on the bus every time. Capturing history takes time. But I look at this horrific view of police brutality and injustice from the 50’s; and I can’t help but to think about the senseless murder of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California just days ago. Look at how the crystal blue sky shines brightly against the backdrop of such ugliness. It symbolizes the potential for us to improve our sense of humanity and reminds me of why it is so important to preserve the history of the people who encouraged us to follow “higher laws”, in order to move America past its inhuman treatment of its citizens. Preservation captures the best and the worst of who we are and encourages us to do better.... 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.

My Historic Washington: Mt. Pleasant

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Mt. Pleasant: Home to cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

Mt. Pleasant: Home to rich cultural diversity and the best Peruvian chicken in town.

One thing you should know about me is that I was born and raised in D.C, which The New York Times recently called “the last colony." Voting rights or not, it's my hometown and I love it.

I grew up in Barnaby Woods, but I’ve lived in Mt. Pleasant since December 2001. Mt. P (as locals call it) is one of those neighborhoods area realtors describe as “transitional.” Property values have definitely gone up over the years, but we’re not quite what some folks would consider “gentrified.” Personally, I hope we never are.

We have our own little shopping district on Mt. Pleasant Street. I make it a point to check out the latest outrageous outfits displayed in the El West window on my way to picking up the best Peruvian chicken in the city at El Pollo Sabroso. But Mt. P is nothing compared to what has been going on just two blocks to the east in a neighborhood called Columbia Heights, which The Washington Post believes is thriving at the expense of Mt. P.

Since I moved here, the gang activity in Columbia Heights has been pushed to neighborhoods to the north and south, there is a brand new middle school building, and the area around the metro station has been transformed by luxury apartments and a shopping mall complete with a Target. When I walk home from the gym or the shiny new grocery store, there are people on the street everywhere, no matter the time of day. I admit that I love the new shops - even if most are national chains - and the new locally-owned restaurants, mainly because I can walk there instead of driving out to the burbs.

But all of this convenience comes at a price, and it’s a loss of diversity.

For decades, Mt. P and Columbia Heights were home to immigrants from South and Central America. Spanish was the dominant language on the streets, and the shops and take-out joints catered to Latino tastes. Now, low-rent housing and empty lots are being converted into condos that are priced out of reach for many that call these areas home. When the customers leave, the businesses will leave too, and Mt. P will lose it’s flavor. Columbia Heights already has.

It’s selfish, but I’m not sorry that the five-lanes of 16th Street have so far insulated Mt. P from what is happening in Columbia Heights. Because of this, my neighborhood is still "in transition," though it is not clear what we are transitioning from or to.

I, for one, hope we stay in transition for a long time.

– Alison Hinchman

Alison Hinchman is the technology manager for PreservationNation.org. Stay tuned leading up to the inauguration as more National Trust staffers share their stories about the greater D.C. area. Coming to town for the historic event? Be sure to visit our new Preservationist’s Guide to Washington.

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.

2009's Dozen Distinctive Destinations

Posted on: January 13th, 2009 by Matt Ringelstetter 1 Comment

 

City Hall, Buffalo, NY

It may be a bit early to start thinking about summer travel plans, but if you like to plan ahead or are just looking for a weekend getaway, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has got you covered. With the announcement of this year's Dozen Distinctive Destinations, it's easy to find an interesting and unique location that's not too far from home.

East Coaster? How about checking out the art and architecture of downtown Buffalo, New York? Or maybe the small-town Moravian flavor of Lititz, Pennsylvania would be more to your liking. There's also the quintessential New England waterfront town of Bristol, Rhode Island situated between New York and Boston.

Out West, the list includes ocean-side Santa Barbara, California, Santa Fe, New Mexico's old-world charm and the Comstock Lode-era mining town of Virginia City, Nevada. Planning a visit to Mount Rushmore? How about checking out Hot Springs, South Dakota--the "Cultural Capital of the Black Hills"--while you're there.

Lake Geneva, WI

The upper Midwest is represented this year by two lakeside destinations that are sure to keep you cool in the summer along with providing unique downtown experiences year-round. The "Art Coast of Michigan" can be found in the neighboring resort towns of Saugatuck-Douglas, an area known for its artistic heritage in addition to its waterfront location. Well-preserved architecture abounds in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin--a longtime vacation spot of nearby Chicagoland and Milwaukee. This small town boasts outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, water-skiing, golfing and of course, lying on the beach.

For those in the Southern United States, this year's list includes a vibrant main street located close to several Tennessee Civil War sites, the classic college town of Athens, Georgia and a city in Texas known for "Cowboys and Culture."

So be sure to check out our Distinctive Destinations for 2009. We're sure you'll find something that appeals to any travel plans--both in interest, and proximity.

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.

Preservation Leadership Training: Birmingham, Alabama

Posted on: January 12th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

“...I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.“

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963

This weekend, I and two other staff members of the Center for Preservation Leadership for the National Trust for Historic Preservation welcomed 35 individuals from 16 states to Preservation Leadership Training (PLT) in Birmingham, Alabama. This is my first real visit to Birmingham, and I marveled how I now stood in a place of change, a a place of bravery and a place of critical importance to the history of the United States.

Temple Emanu-El

I think this moment was most poignant along Freedom Walk in Kelly Ingram Park. Two walls close in with vicious snarling dogs inches from my face—representations of the dogs Bull Connor released upon protesters in 1963. A short short walk away two children, defiant proclaim “I ain't afraid of your jail.” Overlooking the park is the 16th Street Baptist Church, a solid structure that has seen so much and watched so many stand for justice and truth in the fight for civil rights.

Highland Methodist Church

This week the participants will experience PLT in this city with its rich historical tapestry. This is most evident in the Five Point's South neighborhood (where PLT is taking place) which has an enormous collection of historical buildings built between 1890s and 1930. Take a look at Temple Emanu-El, by architectural master William Weston, the Highland Methodist Church which holds a prominent place at the confluence of Five Points, the detailing on the LaSalle Apartment building which dates from 1926, or the South Highland Presbyterian Church and its Victorian Gothic architecture.

South Highland Presbyterian Church

In particular I wanted to note that our group, consisting of individuals from Alabama, California, Indiana, Louisiana and more will explore the Prince Hall Grand Lodge-- a masonic temple deep in the heart of the 4th Avenue Historical District, steps away from the 16th Street Baptist Church. This building is a challenge, in scope and use. However, in the spirit of Martin Luther King's “network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” this group is here to embrace Birmingham and produce proposals for a building that played its own role within the Civil Rights Movement.

LaSalle Apartment Building

If you are in Birmingham on Friday, January 17, 2009 please attend the public presentations which will take place at 5:30 at the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama. Click here to view the flier. For more information on PLT visit our website.

-Priya Chhaya

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.