Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 10th, 2007 by Walter Gallas


I attended along with a number of other PRC staffers the official public unveiling of housing designs for Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” project in the Lower 9th Ward. Thirteen architectural firms from around the world submitted designs, from which a homeowner can choose. The plan is to build at least 150 new houses for the owners of houses lost nearest the levee breach, to raise money internationally to fill the owner’s financial gap, to begin construction in the spring, and to have some houses built by next summer. For a look at the designs, and to learn more, go to

The media attention was phenomenal, not just because of Pitt’s drawing power, but also because of how the project was tied in with an outdoor art installation of 150 full-size house forms covered in hot pink fabric scattered about the site of the future new houses. This installation is illuminated at night and is open as a drive-through tour through January 7.

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Notes from the Field: New Orleans

Posted on: December 7th, 2007 by Walter Gallas


I spoke at a very poorly-run public meeting hosted by the state on its plans for a new medical center in downtown New Orleans. We were allowed to make comments and pose questions after the various presentations, but we were told that no questions would be responded to at the meeting! When someone asked if the answers would be posted on a web site, the answer was again no.

Nevertheless the consultants insisted they were there for “public input.” It was a frustrating meeting to say the least, and it only added to the public’s anger and suspicions that this was a done deal. The plans come out of classic 1960’s urban renewal models—clear-cut 37 acres of the National Register Mid-City neighborhood, displace homeowners and businesses and then build a new facility on the land. Any pretense that there would be serious consideration of alternatives was lost, when the consultant from U.S. Risk Management systematically eliminated all but the urban renewal alternative in her presentation.

While the state officials tried to keep the discussion separate from the plans of the Veterans Administration on another 34 acres in Mid-City adjoining the state site, they were unsuccessful. This week it was reported that the Mayor and the VA have signed an agreement whereby the city agrees to assemble the land for the VA hospital and present it to the VA in a “construction-ready state.” FEMA’s Public Assistance Officer was one of the presenters. He was so careful to talk around FEMA’s role in this (or not), that his comments were incomprehensible. And when an audience member asked a question about Section 106, the consultation process for historic properties, no one answered it (in accordance with the ground rules of the meeting!).

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Oregon Railroad Tries to Get Back on Track

Posted on: December 7th, 2007 by Preservation magazine


Mt. Hood RailroadFor a century, the sturdy little Mount Hood Railroad carried lumber, fruit, and passengers through Oregon's Hood River valley, 60 miles east of Portland. But a year ago, disaster struck. November rainfall, surpassing 15 inches, broke records. Part of Mount Hood's Eliot Glacier broke away, releasing torrents that poured off the mountain and damaged local trails, roads, and bridges—and the railroad. The force of the floodwaters literally changed the course of the Hood River at milepost 15, leaving 150 feet of track hanging in the air.

"The track is in place, but there's no land under it. It looks like a suspension bridge," says the railroad's general manager Michelle Marquart. For the past year, the railroad company has been working with an engineering firm to get planning and permitting in place to restore the tracks. "We have a very solid plan, but it is a very expensive plan," says Marquart.... Read More →

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The third and fourth days of the International Conference of National Trusts in New Delhi both began with field trips out into the city. On Tuesday I had signed up for a visit to the historic Red Fort and St. James Church, although when I heard of the trip to the President's Palace I felt I missed a real opportunity. Unfortunately due to security issues one had to be pre-registered so I joined my original tour.

Both of these sites were interesting, but I have to say that after seeing Agra Fort - which has so much more remaining historic material - Delhi's Red Fort was something of a disappointment. From a historical perspective, this is a very special place to the city and nation, and INTACH used the famous towers as the logo for the 12th ICNT. Built in the 17th century, its most famous modern connection is the August 15, 1947 speech by Prime Minister Nehru on the day India achieved Independence from the British. The original speech was entitled "A Tryst With Destiny" and every August 15th the Prime Minister recreates that special event when he or she ascends the wall near the front gate and speaks to the tens of thousands of people who fill the grounds below. The emotional impact of the place on Indians was very real, especially when described by our young INTACH "Heritage Walker" - an energetic "paid volunteer" who leads walking tours through the city (photo above).

... Read More →

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When is Demolition Justified?

Posted on: December 5th, 2007 by Barbara Campagna


The Jesse Baltimore House, Washington, DC demolishedThere was an article on today that really got me thinking about when demolition is appropriate. Entitled “The District Shows Some Spine”, the columnist applauded DC’s Historic Preservation Office for standing up to some local preservationists in the Palisades neighborhood and refusing to landmark a deteriorating Sears-kit house.

I had seen the many articles about the house over the past few months in my local Upper Northwest newspaper, and without thinking too much about it, just assumed, “Why of course it should be saved.” But we can’t and we shouldn’t save everything, and instead I found myself this morning admiring the journalist for his views and the DC Preservation Office for their gumption.

But, beyond cultural value, demolition of buildings takes on a new urgency in these days of climate change and disposable living. A report from the Brookings Institution projects that by 2030 we will have demolished and replaced 82 billion square feet of our current building stock. In other words, over the next 23 years, we anticipate demolishing nearly 1/3 of our existing buildings. Where will we put it all? Other than the whole embodied energy/embodied effects discussion, which is worthy of a separate posting, what does this say about our respect for our planet? In many ways, we are all struggling with the disposable lives that we have found so easy to live thanks to the industrialization and technological advances of the past century. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer – if I did, I’d probably win the next Nobel Peace Prize. These statistics keep me up at night and as much as I personally try to do my bit at recycling, I know I could do much better. But does it mean retreating back to pre-history? Never tearing down or replacing another building, regardless of their significance or durability? I’d like to think (at least I hope!) that the intellects on our planet will come up with a way to continue advancing technologically, live comfortable lives AND stop the rapid climate change. Call me an optimist…

So the article on the demolished Sears house finished with a call to DC’s preservationists to The Richardson Towers at the Buffalo Psychiatric Centertransfer their energy for a house like this one to standing up to the federal government for its plans for St. Elizabeths Hospital (a National Historic Landmark psychiatric facility). This has been an ongoing battle to find the appropriate use for a site of national significance. It’s a massive institutional complex significant for social history, architecture, landscape architecture, hospital planning, and our historic approach to serving the mentally ill. There are a variety of complexes like this around the country and most of them have not fared well. But there are some success stories, including the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, which I’ve been involved with for more than 20 years and is the only building I would chain myself to, to keep it from being demolished.

The National Trust has been involved with both complexes over the years, and while I agree with the journalist’s call somewhat, it does concern me that his implication was that St. Es is more worthwhile to save because it’s of national significance, whereas the Sears house was only possibly of community interest. One of the beauties of the National Register process has always been to me that it doesn’t rank the significance of sites – all sites listed are important as contributors to the story of America – and no story is any more important than another.

You can see I’ve been all over the place with my thoughts regarding the demolition of the Sears house in the Palisades. No, not everything can or should be saved. Yes, community landmarks are as important to the story of America as National Historic Landmarks. Yes, our landfills are too full as it is and losing embodied energy is never a good thing in how it affects climate change. We can’t build our way out of climate change, but we also can’t freeze our way out of it either. The answer will be much more complicated and require preservation when it makes sense, and sound green building when that makes sense. We can’t save them all but we can be wise about what we save and what we build.

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

Ohio Roller Coaster Going Down?

Posted on: December 5th, 2007 by Margaret Foster


Big DipperThe past two months have been, well, a roller coaster ride for the 1925 Big Dipper at Ohio’s Geauga Lake amusement park, which has been in operation since 1888.

The last of 13 wood roller coasters designed by John Miller, the ride is for sale, along with two other wood coasters and the entire 500-acre site in Aurora, Ohio. With no buyers, its future looks bleak. In September, its owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, announced its plans to turn the park into a water park and sell its 40 rides in time for opening day in May 2008.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has asked Cedar Fair to reconsider its plans. “Ideally, keeping the Big Dipper in its Aurora, Ohio, home would be preferable—perhaps by including the coaster as part of a mixed-use retail and amusement complex or as part of a classic amusement park museum,” Brown wrote in a letter to Cedar Fair officials last month. “As Cedar Fair makes final decisions on the future of the Dipper, I strongly urge against destroying or scrapping this unique piece of Buckeye State history.”... 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.