A Preservation Newbie's Walk Through Mid-City New Orleans

Posted on: December 23rd, 2008 by Jason Clement

 

I have a confession to make: I'm a preservation newbie.

That's right; I'm not an architect, an archeologist, an urban planner or a historian. I don't totally understand tax credits (yet!) or Section 106 (workin' on it!). And unless time logged vegging out in front of HGTV counts, I've also never restored original moulding or weatherized a window.

I am, in all honesty, a twenty-six-year-old writer turned web geek who simply tends to follow his heart a lot. Three months ago, it led me to my first day at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and just one week ago, it led me to Palmyra Street in New Orleans.

A Louisiana native, I was home mainly to see family, though I knew I would have a few hours of downtime between eating and eating again (it's what us Cajuns do best). Now, if you've ever been to New Orleans, you know firsthand how a "few hours of downtime" can lead you in so many very interesting directions. I won't elaborate, but let me say that this trip was no exception: I found myself walking the streets of Mid-City, a place that's seemingly worlds away from the French Quarter and a neighborhood that I had previously never been to.

Since starting at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I had heard a lot about Charity Hospital and the surrounding area. I had read reports, looked at photos and worked on projects supporting our work. None of it, however, prepared me for what I felt on foot as my first-timer curiosity slowly turned into unabated anger. I saw Christmas lights, "I'm Home!" signs, toys in yards, fresh paint jobs, and new and ongoing restoration projects. And the more I looked around and saw these things, the more I realized what I was really witnessing: people making the most out of a life in which nonnegotiable decisions about what stays and what goes are ultimately being made in boardrooms.

As a newbie, I still don't completely understand the "how" or the "why" of the Mid-City story. I just know that my heart wants to go back and do more because the people I saw there might be ringing in the new year by watching their homes get torn down. To me, that chilling mental image is stronger than any talking point, any report and any study.

So, at a time when it seems like none of the decision makers are, I want to ask everyone here to please think with your heart. I invite you to follow me on my walking tour of Mid-City and then encourage you to tell a friend about our Mid-City website, send a letter or post a video on Facebook.

We don't have a lot of time, but even a newbie knows that there is still work that can be done - even if it is just with a mouse.

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.

Wal-Mart Superstore Threatens Wilderness Battlefield

Posted on: December 22nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 8 Comments

 

Virginia’s irreplaceable historic landscapes, from the Piedmont to the Tidewater, are at the heart of our national heritage and their preservation is an issue that should concern all Virginians.

So, it is shocking to learn that commercial real estate speculators are now pressuring elected officials in rural Orange County to approve plans for a bland but mammoth 145,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, a sea of parking, and a 900-acre business park and retail center with three more big-box stores. This cookie-cutter behemoth will sit just one-quarter mile from the main entrance to a unique treasure, the Wilderness Battlefield, which honors the sacrifice of the 29,000 Americans who were killed, wounded or captured there in one of the largest and most strategically important battles of the Civil War.

The heart of the battlefield sits within the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, a key destination in the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground,” named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2005, and this year designated a National Heritage Area by Congress. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and a growing coalition led by the Civil War Preservation Trust and Piedmont Environmental Council strongly oppose intensive commercial development at this historic place, the intersection of Route 20 and Route 3.

These incompatible new commercial developments would irreparably harm the battlefield and the National Park – and the bulldozers are poised to start construction.

The so-called “Wilderness Wal-Mart” would severely degrade the wooded setting for the Civil War battlefield, promote commercial sprawl and drastically increase traffic through the heart of the park. Moreover, the resulting big-box traffic congestion is likely to resurrect VDOT’s flawed plan to widen Route 20 from two to four lanes, paving over a swath of the battlefield and the National Park – a fatal mistake strongly opposed by preservationists because the historic Orange Turnpike, now Route 20, was the scene of fierce fighting during the 1864 battle.

Beyond destroying the historic integrity of the area and creating a situation that might call for the destruction of part of the historic battlefield itself, the development also would undermine local efforts to generate much-needed revenue from tourism.

When visitors stand today on Civil War battleground at Gettysburg, Cedar Creek, Antietam, or the Wilderness, and are able to see the same fields and hills that soldiers fought across nearly 150 years ago, their understanding of the history that happened there is greatly enhanced. When those heritage tourists are inspired to extend their visits or return for a future visit to the National Park and Wilderness Battlefield, Orange County’s local businesses benefit economically. Over-sized commercial growth adjacent to a unique and irreplaceable preserved landscape risks the authenticity of the battlefield viewshed and erodes the experience of those visiting the historic site.

Recently, 253 eminent historians – including David McCullough, James McPherson, Edwin Bearss and Ken Burns – joined the chorus of Americans imploring Wal-Mart to abandon its destructive proposal.

To its credit, Orange County’s comprehensive plan embraces the importance of conserving the county’s rural character by limiting sprawling growth and promoting the preservation of historic areas. In fact, in 2007 the comprehensive plan was revised to “discourage development that would necessitate the construction of a four-lane highway over any portion of Route 20 in Orange County.” Accordingly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its allies believe that Orange County’s elected officials should reject current plans for the Wal-Mart and business park at the gateway to the historic battlefield.

Experts agree that the Wilderness Battlefield is one of our nation’s most significant Civil War battlefields. More than 2,700 acres of the battlefield are permanently preserved for the public’s benefit within the boundaries of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. However, it’s up to the leaders and citizens of Orange County and the Commonwealth of Virginia today to conserve the battlefield’s rural setting against ill-conceived growth and transportation planning.

Preservationists certainly are not opposed to commercial growth in Orange County, but we believe the proposed Wal-Mart and 2.6-million-square-foot business park should not be permitted to critically threaten Virginia and our nation’s heritage. There are many potential sites for Wal-Mart, but only one Wilderness Battlefield, the preservation of which is crucial to the understanding of our history and the education of our children in addition to the welfare of local communities.

For more information about the Wilderness Wal-Mart, please visit www.wildernesswalmart.com.

-- Richard Moe

Richard Moe is the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This op-ed article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on December 21, 2008.

Sign Our Petition Against the Wilderness Wal-Mart

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.

Radical Expansion of Limestone Quarry Threatens National Historical Park and Civil War Heritage

Posted on: December 19th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation urges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to closely scrutinize plans for destructive quarry expansion

Over the strong objections of local residents and preservationists, Carmeuse Lime & Stone, a Belgium-based mining conglomerate, plans to radically expand its industrial mining operation on battlefield land and immediately adjacent to the Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park in Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

Although experts agree that the expanded quarry will devastate the historic landscape, Civil War battlefield, National Park, and historic Middletown, the Frederick County (VA) Board of Supervisors voted in May 2008 to rezone the agricultural landscape and double the size of the extractive mining operation. (Frederick County’s historic preservation commission and planning board opposed the quarry expansion.) Carmeuse Lime & Stone is proceeding without protecting its neighbors or historic resources.

The quarry expansion will require approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. On December 18, 2008, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers to:

  • Inform the Army Corps of Engineers that the quarry expansion threatens potential harm the National Park, National Historic Landmark, Civil War battlefield, and historic Middletown -- from intensive visual pollution, blasting, dust, and quarry truck traffic.
  • Warn that 60 percent of the unspoiled agricultural land which Carmeuse Lime & Stone plans to blast and bulldoze actually is “core battlefield” according to the authoritative 1992 National Park Service Study of Civil War Sites in the Shenandoah Valley.
  • Recommend that the Army Corps of Engineers now initiate the mandatory federal review to protect historic resources pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This review and consultation affords the quarry owner, government agencies, concerned members of the public, and the quarry’s embattled neighbors a critical opportunity to find creative ways to avoid or reduce harm to historic resources from the quarry expansion.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation owns Belle Grove Plantation, a National Historical Landmark and the heart of the National Historical Park. U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf and Senator John Warner were early and steady champions for establishment in 2002 of the Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park.

An active coalition of preservation groups continues to fight the unnecessary destruction of historic resources and Civil War battlefield by Carmeuse Lime & Stone, including: Belle Grove, Inc., Preserve Frederick, Civil War Preservation Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, APVA Preservation Virginia, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Shenandoah Valley Network, and National Trust for Historic Preservation.

We remain very grateful for the strong support of the National Park Service, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

-- Robert Nieweg

Robert Nieweg is the Director of the Southern 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.

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.

Spicing Up a Stately Mansion: New Life for a Forgotten Estate

Posted on: December 19th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Photo: Mario Quiroz

Groundbreaking at the mansion. (Photo: Mario Quiroz)

Our colleagues at the National Trust Community Investment Corporation (NTCIC) are celebrating an important milestone in a fantastic project that brings historic preservation, green building and community development together under one roof. For the past years we’ve counseled nonprofit organization CASA de Maryland on how to finance and structure their rehabilitation of a neglected Georgian Revival mansion in Langley Park into a multicultural center for Latino and immigrant populations. Bank of America and Enterprise Community Investment recently closed on a $4 million historic and New Markets Tax Credit equity investment in the project, thanks in large part to the legal and accounting groundwork laid by our tax credit experts.

We have good reason to be a proud partner on this project. Built in 1924, the mansion was originally the centerpiece of a vast estate owned by the family known for McCormick Spices. Decades later, the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion is now at the heart of a bustling community where one hundred languages are spoken at its elementary school and per capita income is just $11,300. CASA de Maryland has already begun work to transform the dilapidated mansion into a vibrant multicultural center that caters to the vast and growing needs of the immigrant and minority communities that surround it.

From its strategic location, CASA will offer skills training, education, and leadership development to increase the self-sufficiency, competency and financial capacity of low-wage Latino and immigrant families locally and statewide. The relocation to the mansion allows CASA to expand its size at a time when demand for its services is at an all-time high. The nonprofit anticipates serving 6,000 to 10,000 individuals and families per year from its new address. The Multicultural Center will also act as an incubator for small nonprofits that support populations not typically served by CASA, including African and Asian immigrants.

We also appreciate CASA’s pursuit of LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Plans include several green roofs, controllable lighting and heating systems, low-emitting materials, water-efficient landscaping and a geothermal HVAC system. CASA plans to expand its community education work to focus on respect for and protection of the environment as well.

Construction is projected to last 12-14 months and CASA anticipates calling the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion home by early 2010.

-- Erica Stewart

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the Community Revitalization department 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.

 

Kevin Krause came to New Orleans as an Americorps volunteer after Hurricane Katrina. He spent a year helping people restore their homes and eventually, he and his wife bought one for themselves. When it comes to the idea of losing his home to the new VA/LSU hospital complex he says, "It's depressing. It's... criminal." Kevin finds particularly unfortunate the government's belief that Mid-City is anything other than blighted buildings -- "they refuse to see the people who live in this neighborhood."

Kevin's video ends with a plea: "We’re sending out an SOS to anyone who can hear us. We need help and we need it now."

You can help --  take action today!

Learn more about our efforts to save Mid-City New Orleans.

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.