DSP Alumni

Block Club Revitalization in Chicago's K-Town Neighborhood

Posted on: February 28th, 2012 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Paul Norrington

K-Town - so named because of a 1913 street-naming plan in which all north-south streets were named alphabetically in one-mile groups, starting at the Indiana border - is tucked in the far southwest corner of Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. K-Town was built by Czechoslovakian immigrants in the late 1890s and early 1900s, and was home to many employees of the nearby Western Electric Plant. (Tragically, many of those original residents died while on a company-sponsored yearly outing on the SS Eastland, a passenger ship that capsized in the Chicago River, killing 844 passengers and members of the crew.)


K-Town's greystone homes. (Photo: Paul Norrington)

In the late 1950s and early 60s, many working and middle-class blacks bought homes in K-Town and immediately formed block clubs. These block clubs not only stabilized the community, but also improved it while maintaining its character. However, with a limited availability of credit and insurance during this time, reinvestment in the neighborhood declined. Many middle-class black families and businesses moved out of North Lawndale, leaving only a few low-paying jobs for those who remained in the community. All this, plus poor urban planning practices, increased drug activity, and under-performing schools caused a shift in economic demographics, threatening the integrity of the neighborhood.... 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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

A Reflection on Heritage and the Hamilton Colored School

Posted on: January 4th, 2012 by Guest Writer 6 Comments

 

Written by Carol Jones Shields

As a child growing up between Virginia and North Carolina, I was often told of my Native American ancestry from my mother’s side of the family. Interestingly enough, I recently found out that I may also have similar roots on my father’s side. For the most part, the concrete evidence of my cultural heritage came from my mother’s account, my good fortune to inherit a skin-type which was very tolerate of the sun, and my almond shaped brown eyes - a trait I shared with many of my maternal cousins. Beyond these simple markers, the link to my past has been a bit of a mystery. I recognize that for some of us the limited cultural resources of our heritage present a challenge in our quest to discover our true essence and origin. From this very personal viewpoint, I have evolved into an inspired preservationist who believes our various cultural perspectives and places should all be valued pieces of our collective American story.


The Hamilton Colored School as it appeared in 2006. (Photo: The Enterprise)

Over the past few years I have been working with Roanoke River Partners, a regionally-based grassroots organization, to preserve the story and artifacts of the Hamilton Colored School in Hamilton, North Carolina. This historic school, located just off the bank of the Roanoke River, is one of the nationally celebrated Rosenwald Schools – the thousands of schools built mostly for African Americans with supplemental funding provided by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company, in partnership with Booker T. Washington. I am interested in this mostly African American and Jewish heritage story as someone whose own cultural and family history has always been a bit ambiguous.


The Hamilton Colored School as it appears today, currently under construction for use as the Rosenwald River Center. (Photo: Carl Galie)

Since 2007, Roanoke River Partners has acquired grant funding to purchase this historic property, obtain architectural guidance, complete external repairs and renovation (thanks to a Lowe’s Foundation grant) for new use as the Rosenwald River Center, and to engage the community in the recovery of surviving artifacts and the oral and written history associated with this site. In addition to advocacy and grant writing, I have been the researcher and historian for this project, and have compiled a summary of our findings in a book entitled, Hamilton Rosenwald School Preservation Story: Preserving the memories, the faces and the place. My involvement in this preservation effort has provided me with a welcome opportunity to work closely with an under-served community of color to preserve their built legacy.

I feel most fortunate to have had the chance to further explore my own diversity, as well as that of others, as one of the 49 Diversity Scholars at the 2011 National Preservation Conference in Buffalo. As a result of my participation, I returned home with a full heart, re-energized and committed to the preservation of a diverse palette of regional culture and heritage. I eagerly anticipate future communications and collaborations with the National Trust and I am deeply grateful to those whose contributions helped to make this one my most culturally enriching experiences.

Carol Jones Shields is currently the researcher/historian of the Hamilton Rosenwald School and an executive board member with Roanoke River Partners. Carol was a first time Diversity Scholar at the 2011 National Preservation Conference and she will present her Rosenwald research at the 2012 National Rosenwald Schools Conference in Tuskegee, Alabama, from June 14-16. She can be reached at cjshields@touchnc.net.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Conference Gives Diversity Scholar New Vision and “Home”

Posted on: November 15th, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Nancy J. Dawson

During the Underground Railroad field session tour, Nancy Dawson stands on a bridge similar to the one abolitionist Harriet Tubman led enslaved Africans to freedom in Canada. (Photo: Nancy Dawson)

“Is it real?” I asked myself, as I stood paralyzed listening to the raging waters--all while one foot was planted in Canada and other in the United States. As I looked over the rails of the walkway, I couldn’t help but wonder how Harriet Tubman, one of America’s most noted abolitionists, felt when she ventured across a suspension bridge in Niagara Falls, New York, nearly 150 years ago bringing enslaved Africans to freedom.

Although our guide was determined that our group forge on so that we complete our tour on schedule - for me, the hands of time had stopped. Even though I have a disdain for heights, it didn’t matter. Tubman and I were one for a moment as I felt the fears, anxiety, desperation, and anticipation of her passengers.

How serendipitous, that I (a descendant of runaway enslaved Africans from Quindaro, Kansas), was tracing Tubman’s trail during a field experience at the National Preservation Conference. This was one of several fantastic experiences that I was privileged to take part in as a conference Diversity Scholar.

After returning home, the networking and information that I gained at this year’s conference set me ablaze. Although, I have worked to preserve African American history and culture for decades, the conference gave me a special edge and helped me define myself as a true historic preservationist. I am eager to apply the knowledge gained to my work in Western Kentucky where I help to preserve Cherokee State Historic Park, a once segregated facility, which operated between 1951 and 1964. Today, Cherokee Park is one of only three known state-owned formerly segregated parks in the United States. Furthermore, I have no doubt that my conference experience will enhance my collaboration efforts with several organizations to support my research about African American Civil War soldiers and their families living along the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Already, partnerships with Fort Donelson National Battlefield, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and the New Orleans National Jazz Historical Park have led to development of a theatrical production entitled Stories from da Dirt, the creation of a quilt featuring runaway slave ads, and a two volume CD entitled Songs of the Lower Mississippi Delta.

All my projects were elevated by resources offered at the conference. The meeting also reinforced for me that the road I am on as a preservationist and the partnerships that I have developed are in harmony with many of the goals and objectives of the National Trust. I think my return flight home from the conference best sums up my new relationship with the National Trust. I was showing a picture of my (historic) home to a woman at the airport. A gentleman, sitting near us, chuckled and said, “while most people share photos of their children, National Trust people share photos of their homes and historic projects.” I smiled and said, “I guess that is why I feel so at home.”

Nancy J. Dawson, a former university professor, playwright and textile artist, has been working to preserve historic sites in Kentucky and Tennessee as well as in her hometown of Quindaro, Kansas. Nancy was a first time Diversity Scholar at the 2011 National Preservation Conference. She may be reached at efuanjd@yahoo.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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Nos Vemos en la Placita: The Historic Los Angeles Plaza

Posted on: October 25th, 2011 by Guest Writer 3 Comments

 


The Plaza as it appeared in 1890. (Photo: Los Angeles Public Library)

Written by Edgar Garcia

After rushing out of the Sunday evening service and hurrying past the crowds to avoid lines at the Luz del Dia restaurant, we would finish eating and run over to the Plaza to the memorial plaque that served as home base. My brother and I along with other children would play games, running in circles around the center bandstand. The space behind the statues, plaques, and trees made perfect hiding places—hiding behind the perimeter of the Plaza was considered cheating. All this running and jumping was a welcome reward for sitting still during mass at the Plaza Church across the street. When my parents weren’t watching, we’d ignore the No Pase sign on the bandstand entrance and step onto the stage, hitting the floor with child-size boots to hear the sound ricochet. In the modesty of these surroundings and the poverty we wore and felt, none of us were aware that as we tapped the flooring of the bandstand’s very center, we were standing above the literal heart and birthplace of a city, the historic Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

Current view of the historic Plaza in Los Angeles. (Photo: Office of Historic Resources, City of Los Angeles)

As children of Mexican immigrants in the early 1980’s, where the very legality of our presence was a bit murky and mostly unspoken of in our family, the Plaza was one of the few public spaces in Los Angeles where we didn’t feel that peculiar anxiety that marked a good part of our childhood. Our self-imposed geography was dictated by our sense of safety and familiarity and mostly limited to our neighborhood just over the LA River and the Plaza itself. The LA of skyscrapers was intimidating but in the Plaza and the surrounding district, in its layout and scale, a distinct familiarity of surrounding resonated for us, back to the plazas and squares of my parents’ ancestral towns in Jalisco and Zacatecas—even back to the mother of all plazas, the Zocalo in Mexico City.
The City of Los Angeles’ formal name for the district is El Pueblo de Los Angeles; but for most Angelinos of Mexican and Latino descent this space - the church, the plaza, Olvera Street with its shops and vendors - is and always has been la Placita. It’s hard to really express the love and warmth poured into adding the diminutive ending of “ita” to the word Plaza, but like so much in Mexican Spanish, it’s been wrapped with a diminutive to make both the word and the actual place accessible. Los Angeles as a city came into being by the very act of laying out the Plaza, born as El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles in 1781. Settling in a region called Yaa by the native Tongva people, eleven families from northern Mexico of mixed Native American, Spanish, and African descent immigrated and populated what slowly became a small frontier town on the periphery of the Spanish empire, serving the surrounding ranchos. (I’m still struck that for all the weight attached to the name, Los Angeles is still just a small town name, the simple name of a village you’ll run into in any provincial part of Latin America).

Shoeshine boys in the old Plaza, 1930s. (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

Despite wars and treaties that caused multiple flags to fly over the Plaza, the pueblo continued to slowly grow and prosper. While Los Angeles continued on its march to become the metropolis it is today, it grew in all directions except the Plaza. By a mixture of neglect and luck, the Plaza area survived miraculously intact into the early 20th century. In a somewhat dilapidated state, it nonetheless remained the heart of the always present Latino population while sharing space with the Chinese, French, and Italian community. By the 1920s, the Plaza area missed complete annihilation by grand Beaux-Arts city planning and red-tagging by city officials through activist efforts fueled by romantic and idealized notions of early California history. Largely through the work of one woman, Christine Sterling, the Plaza in 1930 was saved and reinvented as an “Old Spanish” themed tourist attraction, complete with shops, restaurants, and vendors along adjacent Olvera Street.... 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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

A Witness to Some of Oregon City's Unsavory History

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Written by Anjuli Grantham

The McLoughlin House was the home to Dr. John McLoughlin, Father of Oregon. After the McLoughlin family sold the home, it became the Phoenix Hotel, a boarding house with a rough reputation. Photo: Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, National Park Service)

“It is at the Phoenix Hotel/ that the bugs and the roaches do dwell.”

This couplet re-focused my wondering mind as I rummaged through vertical files at a family research library in Oregon City, Oregon. I was looking into the history of the McLouglin House, built in 1846 and currently managed by the National Park Service, when I came across anecdotes related to Dr. John McLoughlin and the McLoughlin Memorial Association. Dr. McLoughlin was Chief Factor of the Columbia Fur District of Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver and is recognized as the "Father of Oregon." After all, it was his letters extolling the fertility of the region that tempted the initial settlers who traveled west on what became the Oregon Trail. At the beginning of the 20th century, the McLoughlin Memorial Association formed to save the McLoughlin House and in doing so became the Pacific Northwest's first preservation organization.

I sensed that this little ditty about insect infestations held some promise in illuminating a poorly documented period in the house's history. In the years after McLoughlin's heirs had sold it, the house was a hotel, boarding house, and reputedly a brothel known as the Phoenix Hotel. But trying to find out more than these basic facts was proving illusive. I eagerly read on, and discovered that according to the reciter of the poem, the Phoenix Hotel was considered dirty due to its association with Chinese laborers. Chinese laborers? In Oregon City? I then came across a photocopy of an old newspaper, bearing the title "Why No Chinatown in Oregon City." Now this was getting interesting.

Anti-Chinese violence reverberated across the Pacific Northwest. This contemporaneous depiction published in West Shore magazine in 1886 depicts the violence in Seattle.

After more research, I discovered that in the 1880s, Portland had one of the largest Chinese populations in the nation. Dozens of Chinese laborers worked across the street from the Phoenix Hotel at the woolen mill in Oregon City, just downriver from Portland. The 1880s were a tumultuous time in the Northwest. An economic recession hit the region. The hundreds of unemployed, unskilled, and wandering white men who had moved west, envisioning the promises of Manifest Destiny, discovered towns with no jobs. A handful of demagogues blamed their unemployment on Chinese immigrants, asserting that Chinese "coolies" were taking what were rightfully white men's jobs. By 1886 Anti-Coolie Leagues organized in neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the Pacific Northwest with the expressed purpose of expelling the Chinese immigrants from their jobs and from the Northwest.

In the winter of 1886, Oregon City citizens approached the managers of the woolen mill and demanded that the mill fire the Chinese operators and replace them with white workers. The managers obliged, but not at the rate that the Anti-Coolie League and local Knights of Labor demanded. As a result, in February a handful of men gathered at the Phoenix Hotel. There they decided to rid Oregon City of the remaining Chinese workers. Under the cover of darkness they walked from the hotel to a boarding house nearby where the mill workers slept. The mob wrestled the approximately 30 Chinese workers from their bed, marched them to the pier, and shoved them aboard a steamship headed to Portland. The next day only a few Chinese residents remained in Oregon City. Similar expulsions happened throughout the region that same year, with the most dramatic occurring in Tacoma, Washington, where in one night hundreds of Chinese residents were forcefully removed from town. The wave of anti-Chinese violence crested in the late winter and early spring of 1886.

When the McLoughlin Memorial Association fought to preserve the McLoughlin House more than twenty years after Anti-Coolie League members gathered within it, they likely were not keen to recall the less than heroic incidents which the house had surely witnessed. And here we have one of the values of historic preservation. It protects the tangible resources that connect us to our intangible, sometimes forgotten, past. Take the McLoughlin House as an example. In this one house we can bear witness to the grand narrative of the American West which encapsulates our nation’s proudest and most shameful moments.

Anjuli Grantham researched the McLouglin House while working as an intern at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. She recently accepted a postion as curator of the Baranov Museum in Kodiak, Alaska. Anjuli attended the 2010 National Preservation Conference as a Diversity Scholar.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.