Is this St. Elizabeths Hospital’s Last Hour?

Posted on: January 8th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation



Today, the National Capital Planning Commission could decide the fate of the National Historic Landmark St. Elizabeths Hospital, an irreplaceable collection of historic brick buildings and designed landscapes with spectacular views of downtown Washington, D.C.

In 2002, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed St. Elizabeths Hospital as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in an effort to raise awareness about the vacant and decaying site. The National Trust and others have endorsed the Urban Land Institute’s recommendation for mixed-use, public-private development at St. Elizabeths that would benefit - not detract from - the surrounding community (full report).

Now, St. Elizabeths Hospital faces a potentially devastating threat if the National Historic Landmark is re-developed as the new consolidated headquarters of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

For three years, the General Services Administration (GSA) has pushed an oversized, six-million-gross-square-foot redevelopment of St. Elizabeths over the objections of preservationists and other advocates for sustainable urban development. The National Park Service has criticized GSA's plan as "wholly incompatible" with preservation of the National Historic Landmark (full report), while the Brookings Institution has called the proposal a “lost opportunity” for Washington that would offer little or no benefit to the surrounding neighborhood (full report).

To its credit, GSA has improved the current master plan for the DHS headquarters based on comments from the coalition of preservationists dedicated to preserving the National Historic Landmark campus. However, we do not yet know what the Obama Administration's priorities are for DHS. The National Trust and others are urging President-Elect Barack Obama to reconsider this devastating proposal in favor of a solution that will preserve St. Elizabeths Hospital and bring greater benefit to the local community.

Read the online version of an op-ed by National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe that appeared in today's Washington Post.

- Nell Ziehl

Nell Ziehl is a program officer for 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.

My Historic Washington: Brookland

Posted on: January 7th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 5 Comments


A small town in a big city, Brookland is a place where people still wave, which is perfect for a big city guy with small town tendencies.

Brookland's charming 12th Street, where mom and pop shops still rule.

I’m a big city guy with small town tendencies. Sounds strange I know, but that’s the only way I can describe it.

I grew up in a speck on the Louisiana map called Sulphur, a two-exit town I spent many years trying to escape for bigger and brighter lights, but now appreciate because of its warmth and simplicity.

It’s the kind of place where people swing on their porches every evening when it’s warm enough (which is most evenings when you live on a swamp) and wave to friends and total strangers. Houses are referred to by family names (“Across the way are the Thibodeauxs and next to them are the Bergerons.”), and plates of food covered in tin foil pass between neighbors after dinner, sometimes as nice gestures but usually just because there are leftovers. Come Sunday, the streets are dotted with ladies in big heels (and sometimes big hats) leaving church, tripping occasionally on sidewalks that have been rendered into jagged glaciers by roots that dig deep and spread wide.

These days I call the District of Columbia home, a place that Google says is 1,278 miles away (literally and figuratively) from what I was used to growing up, but that I’ve really come to enjoy. After years of pumping ourselves up by watching the DIY Network, my partner and I finally decided to buy our first house in the area in 2007. We ultimately settled on a neighborhood called Brookland, partly because the price was right and partly because - even from the window of our realtor’s SUV - we could tell that there was something different about it.

Much like Sulphur, Brookland is the kind of place where people still wave and the center of afternoon social activity is still the front porch. Our signature bungalow houses are detached (an anomaly in Washington), the yards are generously portioned, and our small streets are lined with towering trees. We have a fledgling Main Street anchored by a hardware store that I swear might have beat George Washington here, and during the winter when all the leaves are gone, the bells of the nearby National Basilica echo peacefully through the neighborhood.

My fondest memory so far was actually hand delivered to me by my mailman on one of our first Saturday afternoons in our house. Instead of quickly depositing our mail in our mailbox that day, he knocked on our front door. I answered not knowing what to expect, and boy was I right. In addition to my T-Mobile bill and the newest issue of Rachael Ray’s magazine (a guilty pleasure), I was handed a warm plate of sweet potato pie wrapped in tin foil. He explained that it was from Mrs. Dixon, an elderly woman who lives alone across the street. Earlier that week, she had seen my partner and I hauling tools and construction materials into our house for a big bathroom remodel. She called us over to her porch and asked if we could help her with a few odd jobs around her house. We did, and the homemade pie was our thank you.

For this reason and so many more, historic Brookland is my Washington. If you make your way to D.C. for the inauguration, I invite you to come explore why it's the best of both worlds for this big city guy with small town tendencies.

-Jason Clement

Jason Clement is an online content provider for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Check out his Brookland photo album for more neighborhood pictures, and stay tuned over the weeks leading up to the inauguration as more 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.

Notes from the Field: New Orleans Loses a Valued Leader

Posted on: January 6th, 2009 by Walter Gallas


Rev. Marshall Truehill, a staunch ally in our battle over the demolition of the New Orleans public housing developments, and more recently, the return of Charity Hospital, died unexpectedly on Christmas Day of heart failure. He was 60 years old. Saturday I, and hundreds of others, attended his funeral.

The sudden death of Marshall Truehill is incredibly sad, and a great loss to the community.

I first met Rev. Truehill as a fellow student at the University of New Orleans’ College of Urban and Public Affairs about 15 years ago. I had recently arrived in New Orleans to pursue a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Marshall was working on his Ph.D. in Urban Studies—the degree, I understand, he finally attained just days before his death.

I followed his career in public service including his tenure on the City Planning Commission, but it was during the battle of the proposed demolitions of the "Big Four" public housing developments in the last few years that I really got to know him better. Marshall was able to eloquently express the plight of the public housing residents—whose voices were stilled or ignored by city and federal officials. We attended editorial board meetings together, spoke at public meetings and City Council hearings, and huddled with other community activists to plot strategies. His manner was usually cool, calm and collected, but when he was provoked, an angry and defiant edge would creep into his voice, and those in the room would stop, look up, and listen to the words of this confident preacher.

As the representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in New Orleans, I struggled constantly to articulate a message that the public housing debate was more than about saving and re-using old buildings, that it was really about whether housing policies for the poor in our community are humane, inclusive and sustainable. Marshall managed much better than I to get the message across, and maybe he pricked the consciences of some of our local leaders. Alas, they chose not to heed his admonitions, and we are seeing the fulfillment of his forecasts that the City of New Orleans, HANO and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development were pursuing a dangerous and wrong-headed housing redevelopment strategy that essentially locks out the vast majority of the poor.

I will miss Marshall a lot. I hope that we can use him as a constant touchstone against which to check our assumptions, weigh our positions, confront our prejudices, and perhaps eventually reach some of the goals he sought with so much determination to achieve.

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.

Meet This Week's Faces in Preservation

Posted on: January 6th, 2009 by Jason Clement


This week, Faces in Preservation is back with a look at preservation movers and shakers who are leading by example through innovative stewardship and funding programs.

Jerome “PopAgee” Johnson
He's a self-professed "soldier of jazz," and he's leading a movement to restore the New Orleans landmarks where Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong got their start. His name is Jerome "PopAgee" Johnson, and with the help of Save America's Treasures, he is going save America's music. >> Read More

Noël Strattan & Ira Beckerman
Noël Strattan and Ira Beckerman are two archaeologists whose mission to change the way Pennsylvania catalogues its historic and cultural resources has evolved into an innovative national model for Section 106 done right. >> Read More

Intended to supplement our policy platform for President-Elect Barack Obama, Faces in Preservation is a weekly showcase of preservationists who are amazing examples of the kind of work we are hoping to see more of in the future. Stay tuned as we continue to explore new fields and new faces in the days leading up to the Inauguration.

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.


President Lincoln's Cottage in Winter, Photo by Jessica King.

President Lincoln's Cottage in Winter, Photo by Jessica King

Lists and Resolutions Abound: Here's 20 things that Place Economics learned about Historic Preservation while blogging on the subject over the past year. [PlaceEconomics]

2008: A Year of Resilience: Historic Sites Weblog looks at the weather-related calamities of the past year and what can be done to prepare for the future. [Nation Trust Historic Sites]

Coastal Engineering in the Netherlands: The situation in the Low-Countries can often be seen as resembling threats that continue to face our own Gulf Coast regions like New Orleans and Galveston. "More than half of the Netherlands sits below sea level, and if a megastorm were to break through these not-so-formidable dunes, the water could inundate Rotterdam and surrounding cities within 24 hours, flooding thousands of square miles, paralyzing the nation's economy, and devastating an area inhabited by more than 2 million people." [Wired]

Is the Dubaian Dream Dead in 2009?: With falling oil prices and an unstable global economy, the Dubai-building boom may be on the way to bust. Tree Hugger has followed the "sometimes 'green'" development in the emirate over the course of 2008. [Tree Hugger]

Fortifications Tour: It may have been canceled for 2009, but it sounded extremely cool. "We will study the architectural responses to conflict; their continuing evolution and adaptation to new technology, tactics and politics; as well as their impact on the national, urban and individual scale in the built environment and landscape..." [BLDGBLOG]

Historic Site Tourism: Tiger Style: In order to help make ancient Buddhist temple tourism more profitable, the town of Guandu has done what any village in time of need would do; turn to the local Shaolin masters. "Guandu officials say they will get no money from the deal, but they hope the Shaolin mystique will pull in the kind of crowds that have turned the flagship monastery, in Henan Province, into one of China’s most popular tourist destinations. Mr. Dou said the government would save the $88,000 once spent on temple maintenance each year. They are also counting on the tax revenue from a vast new mall that is nearing completion next to the temple complex." (Meth and Ghostface could not be reached for comment.) [New York Times: Asia/Pacific]

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.