University of Minnesota Wants to Lease, Move 1887 Building

Posted on: January 28th, 2008 by Preservation magazine


Music Education Building, U of MOne of the five buildings that comprised the University of Minnesota's original campus in Minneapolis is up for lease, and the school is struggling to find the right tenant.

"We've been struggling to find a use for the building because it's a little small for the university's typical volume of operations," says James Litsheim, senior architect of capital planning for the university. "However, someone else could easily use it for office space, a coffee shop—just about any kind of use you can think of for a smaller space."... Read More →

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Hidden on a Military Base, a Mid-Century Modern Gem May Be Lost

Posted on: January 25th, 2008 by Margaret Foster


Gunner’s Mate SchoolAt 90,000 square feet, a solid, shimmering glass-and-steel cube on the Illinois landscape would seem hard to miss. But few have seen the Gunner's Mate School, designed by the famed firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, since it was built in 1954 on a military base.

Now, because of the federal government's pledge to purge military bases of 50 million unused square feet in the next five years, the mid-century-modern building may be demolished this year. The Department of Defense's edict has put pressure on many of the country's military bases—including the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor—to tear down rather than reuse their historic buildings like the Gunner's Mate School, also known as Building 521, located on Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, Ill.

Despite the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's pro bono study of reuses for Building 521, the Navy is proceeding with plans to demolish the building. A public meeting is scheduled for next week.

"The Navy feels like a wide range of options have been brought up, and none have been shown to be feasible reuses," says Bill Couch, spokesman for the Midwest's Naval Facilities Engineering Command. "None of those ideas are feasible for that building, mostly because of the building's size and because the building is deep inside the base; it's not accessible to the public."

Because the building, located outside of the base's historic district, is eligible for the National Register, the Navy was required to start the Section 106 process before rolling out the bulldozers.

Two years ago, when Landmarks Illinois, a partner in the Section 106 process, contacted Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), even the firm had forgotten about the project. "We had to check to see if we did it," says Jason Stanley, associate director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Chicago office. With a little research, Stanley found that "521" was the office's first "curtain wall" structure. It didn't take much research to confirm that the building was pivotal. "When you walk into that building, you know it's an SOM building."... 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.

Embodied Energy Calculator Goes Live

Posted on: January 25th, 2008 by Patrice Frey 5 Comments


Earlier this week, a group out of Highland Park, Illinois (the May T. Watts Appreciation Society) went live with a fantastic website that provides an embodied energy calculator. Check out the calculator at – and the associated blog.

With minimal information – the size of a building and the building type – users can generate an estimate of the amount of embodied energy in any building, and calculate the total energy wasted by demolishing a building and constructing another structure in its place.

Bravo to the Watts Appreciation Society for taking on this task! This will make it easier for preservationists everywhere to help build a convincing case for the environmental benefits of building reuse.

The work can’t stop here though. Embodied energy only tells us part of the story. While knowing the embodied energy in a building enables us to understand how building construction and demolition compares to other energy intensive activities, such as auto use, it doesn’t help with much else. It doesn’t tell us anything about toxins that are released as a byproducts of extraction, manufacturing, construction and demolition – or the natural resources consumed in the process.

The National Trust is developing a research agenda to help quantifying the other negative environmental impacts associated with building demolition and construction. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) provides a means to do just this. LCA quantifies the energy and materials usage and environmental releases at each stage of a product’s life cycle, including extraction of resources, manufacturing of goods, construction, use and disposal.

LCA is in its infancy – and unfortunately doesn’t lend itself very well to a handy calculator of the variety the Watts Appreciation Society has created. But the Trust is committed to harnessing LCA to help articulate the benefits of building preservation. Stay tuned to the blog for as the details of our research agenda are finalized.

In the meantime – congrats to the folks in Highland Park, and happy embodied energy calculating to the rest of us.

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.


I attended a meeting convened by Councilwoman Stacy Head about a proposed 86-unit residence in the Central Business District that would house renters with incomes at or below 60 percent of the average median income along with the formerly homeless. Most of the group at the meeting was made up of nearby business owners or developers of condo projects in the vicinity.

Several issues arose: the new building as proposed would require the demolition of two 19th century buildings, which have been neglected and altered over the years; the CBD is awash with surface parking lots which could accommodate the structure elsewhere; the businesses and developers didn’t want a facility of this type in their backyards. The councilwoman agreed to reopen the search for a site after developers offered to help provide possible locations which could still make the numbers work.

The city has a chronic shortage of housing and services for the homeless. This project would address only a fraction of the need, but would be the first of its kind in the city. Unity for the Homeless, an umbrella group of service providers, has estimated that the number of homeless people in New Orleans stands at 12,000 -- twice the number pre-Katrina.

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.

Post Office May Sell Historic Washington Branch

Posted on: January 24th, 2008 by Preservation magazine 1 Comment


Port Townsend, Wash.The appearance of the Port Townsend, Wash., Post Office has changed very little since it opened in 1893. While standing in line today, locals still enjoy the unevenly worn marble floors, carved sandstone exterior and an unobstructed view of Port Townsend Bay.

Now the U.S. Postal Service wants to sell the building, a popular gathering place, and buy or build a new facility.

The oldest federally constructed post office in Washington state, and the only example of Richardson Romanesque design in a federal building in Washington, it was constructed as the "Customs House" and intended to monitor shipping traffic. Today, the U.S. Customs Service still maintains an office there, even though the ports of Seattle and Tacoma have long since eclipsed Port Townsend, population 8,500.

The post office has undergone several modifications in its 115 years, but it has never been made accessible to people with disabilities. ... 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.


I appeared along with representatives of the Preservation Resource Center and the Mid-City Neighborhood Association to testify before Councilwoman Stacy Head’s Housing and Human Needs Committee about proposed revisions to the ordinance governing the Housing Conservation District Review Committee (HCDRC)—which is to be rechristened the Neighborhood Conservation District Committee.

This is the committee which must consider demolition applications outside of the local historic districts, but within a portion of the city containing the National Register districts and other older neighborhoods. The ordinance is to be introduced at the January 24 City Council meeting. Several improvements are being made:

  • the number of community representatives is bumped up from two to five, so that each of the council districts can be represented;
  • the department of safety and permits will not sit on the committee, but rather serve as staff assigned to the committee;
  • all National Register districts will be under this committee—including those which could be added in the future;
  • the meetings will move to the City Council chambers allowing the meetings to be seen on cable access;
  • anyone aggrieved by a decision of the committee will now be able to appeal the decision to the City Council (currently, only the applicant may appeal); and
  • the troublesome “70 percent rule” will be eliminated.

... 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.