Notes from New Orleans: Preparing for Gustav

Posted on: August 30th, 2008 by Walter Gallas 4 Comments

 

Friday morning on Royal Street in the French Quarter

Friday morning on Royal Street in the French Quarter

With Gustav churning just outside the Gulf, New Orleans made preparations even as citizens also did what they could to focus on commemorations of the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the region on August 29, 2005.

On Friday, Kevin Mercadel and I spent part of the Katrina anniversary at one our HOME AGAIN! New Orleans projects, the home of Mrs. Imelda Skidmore, in Holy Cross, making sure that the building was stable and secure. Workmen nailed cross-pieces and enclosed the newly-framed rear addition, while Kevin and I worked to dismantle the remnants of a large above-ground swimming pool in the back yard.

Preparations in Holy Cross.

Staff members of our partner, the Preservation Resource Center, spent Friday securing their headquarters, warehouse and the building projects of Operation Comeback and Rebuilding Together, and working out communications and computer issues.  AmeriCorps staff working with Rebuilding Together's director Kristen Palmer has been trained to assist with the evacuation of citizens from the Union Passenger Terminal, where those without personal transportation are placed on trains or buses for trips to shelters in North Louisiana and in Memphis. There are no shelters provided in the city. The AmeriCorps members will remain until eight hours before landfall and then caravan by cars to Atlanta.

Projections of the hurricane's general direction at this writing peg its landfall west of New Orleans. Leaders of all surrounding parishes have called for mandatory evacuations, and Mayor Nagin has said citizens should evacuate now as well. Hotels are evicting tourists--many of them who came here for the Labor Day's large gay celebration Southern Decadence. The airport closes for commercial traffic Sunday at 6 p.m. A call for mandatory evacuation from New Orleans is likely tomorrow.

Getting Ready for Gustav.

Getting Ready for Gustav.

I anticipate leaving New Orleans early Sunday morning and driving north on I-55. It's tough making plans, not knowing what will really happen in the city, but I prefer to be conservative and cautious. Kevin's and our new staff member Stacey Danner's plans were to head up toward Baton Rouge.

Landfall, wherever it is, will be very early on Tuesday. Later that day, we all plan to convene by phone with National Trust for Historic Preservation headquarters and Southern office staff to assess where things are and how we will move forward.

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.

Chili Dogs and Historic Neighborhoods

Posted on: August 26th, 2008 by Matt Ringelstetter 2 Comments

 

Is there anything better than taking an extended lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon? There is if that extended lunch includes a chili dog block party. Celebrating their 50th year (50 years!) in operation, DC institution Ben's Chili Bowl threw a party for the U Street neighborhood this past Friday.

Ben and Virginia Ali opened their small restaurant in the renovated Minnehaha Theatre in August of 1958. The theater was originally constructed in 1910 and had hosted silent movies prior to becoming a pool hall. Situated along the U Street corridor Ben's has been a staple within the neighborhood that has long been the center of Washington, D.C. music and culture. Historic Jazz clubs like the Howard Theatre, the Bohemian Caverns, and the Lincoln Theatre hosted performers such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, creating a scene that was referred to as "Black Broadway," well before the rise of Black Harlem. "The Bowl" has hosted its share of celebrities, serving its delicious chili and half-smoke sausages to the likes of Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory and even Martin Luther King Jr. Ben's most dedicated customer, Bill Cosby, even courted his wife, Camille, here in the early 1960's.

Ben's has been witness to decades of history and neighborhood regeneration, and if the crowd that turned out Friday for lunch is any indication, it will continue to do so for years to come. The line to get a half-smoke on Friday extended well out the door, into the street, wrapping around the Green Line Metro station. In the end, as you can plainly see, the wait was worth it.

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.

 

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, designed by Green & Wicks and Gordon Bunshaft/SOM

Puppies, National Historic Landmarks and Living the Green Life in Buffalo? Believe it or not there is a theme here. I find myself in Buffalo again for the second time this summer. Originally intending to just come for 2 days for a board meeting, I decided instead to stay for a week (which morphed into 10 days), so I could sit quietly in my sister’s backyard and actually get some work done. When Joanne discovered that I would be here for that length of time, it motivated her to buy that rare Barbet puppy she’d be thinking about. So my first day here we drove up to Kitchener, Ontario and came back with our new little immigrant, Finley. Now I would suggest that there are very few places in America where you can walk out the front door and take your puppy for a walk by National Historic Landmarks built by Sullivan, Richardson, Wright, Gordon Bunshaft, McKim Mead & White and Saarinen, without ever getting in a car (let alone a plane!).

A Sustainably Built Urban Fabric

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

Kleinhan’s Music Hall, Buffalo, a National Historic Landmark modernist masterpiece designed by Saarinen

If you’ve never been to Buffalo for the architecture, you’re missing one of the greatest architectural experiences ever. Really, no kidding. I grew up here and went to architecture school here and I can think of almost no other place that can give you such a perfect living laboratory for what’s great about architecture. (It is also a living laboratory for what can go so wrong with cities, but that’s a topic for another blog.) With a streetscape and park system inspired by L’Enfant and then expanded by Olmsted & Vaux, Richardson’s first use of the “Richardsonian Romanesque’, Sullivan’s first skyscraper and Wright’s best Prairie House peppering neighborhoods whose background buildings surpass landmarks found in any other city, Buffalo is a tapestry of the innovative, the beautiful and the best. And much of it remains intact because the economy is one of the worst in New York State and has been for a very long time. When there’s no development pressure, there’s no need (or less need) to tear down the bungalows for the McMansions. Of course there are the heartbreaking losses like the demolition of Wright’s seminal Larkin Building, whose site 30 years later, remains a parking lot. But stories such as that are rare compared to what is still here. So, in some respects, in a place like Buffalo, we have preservation and sustainability by neglect.

The Richardson Complex and Early passive climate control

H.H. Richardson’s largest building is in Buffalo – the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, and has been vacant and deteriorating on and off for 40 years. New York State assigned $70 million to a new nonprofit board created in 2005 to oversee the development of the site. A portion of that is dedicated to creating an Architecture Center as one use in the complex. I wrote my first architectural history paper in college on the complex and continued to be involved in saving the site since 1980, including writing my master’s thesis on a reuse for the site. I was appointed to the Richardson Architecture Center Board in 2007 – so I always tell my students and interns to choose a topic for your thesis that you love because if you are as fortunate as I’ve been, you may find it carrying you through your career.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

Building 10 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, designed in 1872 by Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux.

The complex was designed by Richardson with Olmsted & Vaux using the Kirkbride Plan which promoted the use of architecture and landscape as key to the actual treatment of mental illness. Here was an incredibly sustainable approach to architecture and living. The buildings were placed to gather the best possible southern light, used 15 foot high ceilings with cross ventilating windows and transoms and took advantage of 2 foot thick sandstone bearing walls. When I designed the adaptive use of one of the ward buildings into an office in the late 1980s, we went back to incorporating this smart, passive climate management system into the "new" building, and successfully opened the office using no air conditioning. No one complained, and in fact there was a wait list for offices in the building. But then unfortunately, just a few years later in the mid 1990s, a new director at the Psychiatric Center decided he didn’t want to be in the historic buildings at all, despite the rehabbed one confirming that it could be done. The complex was vacant yet again. So, with a dedicated board and some decent seed money, one can hope that this National Historic Landmark (only one of 7 in Buffalo) will find a way to become a vibrant center to Buffalo’s primary cultural neighborhood – the Elmwood Village and Buffalo’s West Side. And that we can remember the inherent sustainable design aspects of the original design.

Living Locally, Living Green

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

A local arts festival in Buffalo, the Elmwood Arts Festival, that focuses on selling and buying from local businesses.

I don’t know about where you grew up or you live now, but our new green world is encouraging the growth of local businesses in every urban environment around the country. I did my best on this trip to go everywhere on my bike or walking. I rode my bike to the Richardson complex to check out its latest condition, spent an afternoon photographing Buffalo’s astonishing modern heritage on my bike, and walked to the farmers market and the Art Festival that only had local artisans and a whole area called “Environmental Row”. Every meal we cooked was filled with fresh vegetables and pastries from local businesses. Sometimes I worry that this new focus on local will make us all too insular, but I hope that after so many decades of global blandness, it will just help to balance our lives instead. So, as I get ready to drive back the 435 miles to DC and contribute heavily to global warming, I hope also that my carbon offsets, support of local businesses wherever I am, and walking as much as I can with our new puppy, will offset my job-induced carbon guzzling.

And mark October 2011 in your calendar – that’s when the National Preservation Conference comes to my hometown of Buffalo, one of the most perfect centers of American architecture!

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.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

Notes from New Orleans: New Hope for Charity Hospital

Posted on: August 23rd, 2008 by Walter Gallas

 

Rendering of the proposed main entrance. (Click to enlarge.)

Rendering of the proposed main entrance. (Click to enlarge.)

This week the architectural firm of RMJM Hillier released its report on the condition of the Charity Hospital building in New Orleans. The firm had been engaged by the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, a National Trust statewide partner, to assess the building's structural condition and its potential to return to use as a modern hospital. Hillier's response is unequivocal: "We believe that this venerable landmark can have a great future as a world class medical facility that will symbolize the rebirth of New Orleans." Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed Charity Hospital and the adjacent neighborhood on its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Rendering of the proposed Tulane Avenue side.

Rendering of the proposed Tulane Avenue side. (Click to enlarge.)

The report states that the cost to create a 21st-century hospital within this 1938 Art Deco structure would be $484 million. To acquire property and construct a comparable facility from the ground up would cost $620 million, according to figures provided by VJ Associates, an experienced estimator of hospital and historic preservation projects. In addition, the work to reopen Charity Hospital could be completed in three years versus five years for new construction.

This documentation and analysis will play an important role in the on-going discussions about what medical care in New Orleans will look like and how historic buildings and neighborhoods will be impacted.

To see the RMJM Hillier executive summary along with more images and a video of the proposed hospital make-over, visit www.fhl.org and www.hillier.com.

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.

Repair, Not Replacement, for the Tomb of the Unknowns

Posted on: August 20th, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

Preservationists took heart this week when Federal officials released a long-awaited report to Congress on the future of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Bowing to public outcry, the Department of the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Arlington National Cemetery have done an “about face” and have informed Congress that the Cemetery now will conduct much-needed repairs to the 1932 Tomb Monument.

While this is an important victory for preservationists, the report to Congress makes it very clear that replacement of the authentic monument still is seriously being explored as an option. The Cemetery’s stubborn fixation on replacement has amazed some observers, especially in light of the fact that officials now concede that replacing the 48-ton marble block would “diminish the integrity” of historic Arlington National Cemetery and cost taxpayers substantially more -- an estimated $2.2 million to construct a replica monument compared to only $65,000 to properly repair the original Tomb.

The National Trust and our allies in this fight will continue to closely monitor the Cemetery’s treatment of the Tomb Monument.

Many thanks to so many Members and friends who contacted Cemetery Superintendent John Metzler and Members of Congress about the historic Tomb Monument – your support was critical in this important victory. Visit www.preservationnation.org/tomb to read a copy of the report or to find out how you can help.

-– Robert Nieweg

Robert Nieweg is the director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Southern Field Office.

Updated 8/21/2008 to correct the size of the Tomb (48 tons).

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.