DSP Alumni

AmeriCorps Presents Hands-On Preservation Lessons in West Virginia

Posted on: February 3rd, 2011 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Crystal Whiters

Elkins (West Virginia) City Hall

Elkins (West Virginia) City Hall

As I type this blog entry, I am sitting in an office in the penthouse suite of the Elkins City Hall. I know, this makes me sound pretty official, however, this is an unoccupied, dusty office with peeling plaster that looks out into the even more dusty former workout room of the City of Elkins Police Department. In place where windows once hung are pieces of plywood. However, fear not, for myself and three other AmeriCorps members are remedying the situation!

In May of 2010 I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a masters degree in architecture (historic preservation concentration) and a masters degree in urban planning (community development concentration). It seemed like a logical progression to work with my hands for about a year after spending the summer post-graduation surveying historic buildings and historic districts in rural Indiana. So, for the last four months I have been living and working in Elkins, WV as a member of the AmeriCorps program sponsored by the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area. In total, twenty AmeriCorps members serve on three different teams – conservation, heritage development, and historic preservation.

Restoration work at the Collett House in Beverly, WV.

Restoration work at the Collett House in Beverly, WV.

Standing on a ladder and scrapping paint from the exterior clapboard siding of the Collett House in Beverly, WV is how I began the service term with the other historic preservation team members. The site sponsor for the Collett House is the Beverly Heritage Center, under the direction of Chelley Depp. The year 1772 is the earliest year designated as the year of construction for the house. Montgomery “Gum” Hart built the original log fort on which later owners built additions. Andrew J. Collett and family owned the house 1871-1948. The two-story, L-shaped house with a Federal-style entryway served as a hospital during the Civil War. Before the first snow fall, the team reached a good stopping point for scrapping and painting, with nearly all of the exterior clear of the old lead paint and covered with two fresh coats of paint.

Back in Elkins, the team members and I worked with AmeriCorps alum and site supervisor for the rehabilitation of Riverside School, Joe Sabatino, at Riverside School. The community built this historic school to educate the African American population in and around Elkins in two phases: the first story in 1906 for eight grades and the second story in 1925 to expand the school for ten grades. After the school closed in 1954 due to school integration, it passed from several owners until its last incarnation as a mechanic's garage. In preparation for the rehabilitation, we organized the first floor classroom/garage conversion into an organized workshop equipped with lumber, hardware, and tools.

The Riverside School rehabilitation has been a valuable resource for the team to learn about a critical component of historic preservation – the bid process. In preparation for the bid package that contained the scope of work, we learned how to map the areas on each elevation that are in need of re-pointing. Additionally, we surveyed the windows, noting the existing condition of the windows such as missing sashes and muntins. Also, I drew as-built drawings of the school to assist the owners with the rehabilitation and with the space planning process.

Learning historic plaster repair skills.

Learning historic plaster repair skills.

As the mercury began to decline and the snow began to fall, we moved our AmeriCorps operation indoors. After receiving training from fellow team member Joey on window restoration, we began restoring the windows from the fourth floor penthouse of Elkins City Hall, a building that is an interesting case in adaptive reuse. Built in 1917, it was originally home to the Elkins Post Office and Federal Building. Today, it contains city offices and the police station.

In addition to providing hands-on restoration support to four buildings in the area, the preservation team members and I have received training in Elkins and at the Preservation Alliance West Virginia state-wide preservation conference. At the conference we learned from master plasterer Sarel Venter how to repair historic plaster and back in Elkins Joe Sabatino trained us on how to reconstitute deteriorated wood. We have applied this knowledge to our winter indoor project.

The team members and I are making progress on those City Hall windows – yesterday we installed the first beautifully restored window, eight have an “in-progress status,” and about seven remain. I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to experience small town living in the United States while doing work that I set out to do eight years ago when I decided to return to school to study architecture and historic preservation.

Crystal Whiters, a recipient of a 2007 Mildred Colodny Diversity Scholarship for Graduate Study in Historic Preservation, is a member of the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps Program. When she is not restoring windows, she can be found sliding down a hill on an inner tube.

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.

Local Residents Rally Around National Listing for K-Town

Posted on: December 7th, 2010 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Charles Leeks

Long-time K-Town resident Paul Norrington and Mike Jackson of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency proudly display the certificate for K-Town’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places (Photo: Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, 2010).

Even in Chicago, many people don’t know much about K-Town.

K-Town is a collection of north-south streets west of Pulaski Road whose names begin with the letter K. On  Saturday, November 13, the entire country  learned a bit more about the 16 block area in the North Lawndale neighborhood on the near west side of Chicago, which boasts a unique mix of Chicago residential and commercial buildings and a very large concentration of Chicago’s unique Greystones.

Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, community residents, and the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society worked with the Midwest Office of the National Trust and Elizabeth Logman of Midwest Preservation for at least two years on the Trust’s “Cornerstones of Community” initiative that was funded by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. While a purpose of helping those communities not traditionally included in conversations about historic preservation, it is my opinion that this initiative was an overwhelming success. A significant outcome of this effort was that on November 13, Mike Jackson from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency signed a certificate officially recognizing the listing of K-Town on the National Register of Historic Places.

A resident of the K-Town neighborhood, Paul Norrington--who just arrived back from Austin, TX, where he was a diversity scholar at the National Preservation Conference--spoke eloquently about his memories of the area when he was growing up the 1960s and 1970s.

It was particularly gratifying to me to see Paul and so many residents of the area, who remember fondly what the neighborhood was like for them twenty or thirty ago, as they began to learn more about the boarded historical record of the community: Who built the homes? Why did they choose the area? What happened to the communities of folks who moved on to other areas?

We held the signing event at the St. Paul AME Church on West Cermak Road, which is prominently located in the new Historic District. Even though there is beautiful terra cotta above the front door and dates on the sides of the building, Reverend Johnson and the congregation admitted that they did not have a keen sense of the building’s history. The building was built in 1905 as a memorial to the Bohemian free-thinker, John Hus, and it served as a sort of community center for the Czech and Bohemian community that settled and built much of North Lawndale. When St. Paul AME recently replaced its roof, the roofing contractor found a treasure trove of pictures with scenes of the community from the late 1800s, sparking an interest in the congregation to learn more about the history of their building and the neighborhood. The pride exhibited by the congregation and the community residents at the signing event was palpable. They now see how all of the pieces of the built environment, the community stories, and the layers of culture fit together in a narrative that makes their corner of North Lawndale so special.

Paul Norrington wondered in his remarks, “Now that we are a Historic District, what’s next?” At a minimum, there are discussions about “branding” this area with banners and plaques to call attention to its history and its recent designation. And, several homeowners have expressed interest in utilizing the services of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, along with the Greystone Design Guidelines established by the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative, in making some historically sensitive renovations to their homes that will be compatible with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. This will allow these homeowners to take advantage of tax incentives as they preserve the character of the neighborhood.

From where I sit, these benefits to individual homeowners are certainly important, but it is the bigger picture that really resonates with me. Partnerships and collaboration, good ideas, and historic preservation have created a path forward in community development, and in communities that have not traditionally been included in conversations about the benefits of preservation.

Charles Leeks is the Neighborhood Director for the Neighborhood Housing Services North Lawndale Office in Chicago.

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.

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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.

Giving Thanks for the Heroes of Preservation

Posted on: November 25th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by David J. Brown

Villa Finale, the home of Walter Nold Mathis. (Photo: Carol Highsmith)

Villa Finale, the home of Walter Nold Mathis. (Photo: Carol Highsmith)

Thanksgiving is a time of year to reflect on the things that matter to us in life, from friends and family to shelter and health.  This year, I’m also thankful for the people who work tirelessly to protect, revitalize and enhance places that matter – the heroes of preservation.

These are people like Walter Nold Mathis, who in 1967 saw a chance not only to restore an Italianate mansion to call his home, but also the opportunity to spark the revitalization of an entire San Antonio neighborhood.  Although Villa Finale was Mathis’ last personal residence, it wasn’t the last house he owned; he purchased another fourteen houses and invested his own time and money to undertake essential preservation work on them before selling them to individuals who would continue their restoration. Mathis – who passed away in 2005 – is widely recognized as the catalyst for the revitalization of the King William National Historic District. Villa Finale, which I had the honor of helping to open in September as the National Trust’s newest historic site, now shares his story with the public.

Rick Wallace of Lincoln, NE is another preservation hero to celebrate this year.  Rick serves on the Board of Directors for the National Trust’s statewide partner, Heritage Nebraska, but his service to preservation doesn’t end there.  He recently completed a program for the Nebraska Humanities Council called African Americans of Nebraska: 1854-1945, which focuses on the lives of early African-Americans who settled in Hastings, Nebraska. The program also addresses the circumstances faced by the African-American community and Hastings in 1943, when the Navy announced plans to build a munitions plant outside of the town. The impact of this history can still be felt today in Hastings and is only an introduction to a wonderfully rich story.

Art on the Square, in Oskaloosa, Iowa - a Main Street community.

Art on the Square, in Oskaloosa, Iowa - a Main Street community.

It’s not only individuals who are preservation heroes – sometimes entire organizations fit the bill as well.  Since 1986, Main Street Iowa, housed in Iowa’s Department of Economic Development, has worked in 64 cities and towns. These communities have seen almost 8,000 buildings rehabbed, 10,000 jobs created, and $904 million invested in historic preservation.  This success is a testament to Main Street Iowa’s commitment to relationship-building and advocacy. This commitment has forged strong bonds between Main Street and decision makers at all levels, from the US Congress to the state capitol to the bank manager’s office. These relationships, coupled with Main Street Iowa’s formidable advocacy skills, have resulted in the establishment of funding programs that – among other things – keep small businesses thriving, create upper-floor housing, and encourage sustainability projects that make Main Street greener. A preservation powerhouse and a model for other organizations to follow, Main Street Iowa is making a real difference in the economic health and livability of America’s heartland, and I’m thankful for them.

The University Heights Community Center in Seattle. (Photo: Susan Doupe)

The University Heights Community Center in Seattle. (Photo: Susan Doupe)

I’m thankful for Dorothy Lengyel, executive director, and all the staff and friends of the University Heights Community Center in Seattle, WA.  The center, housed in a historic school in Seattle’s University District, was awarded a $60,000 Partners in Preservation (or PiP) grant this year.  The grant supported the rehabilitation of the 1902 University Heights School’s deteriorated historic wood windows.  In all, 351 of 468 window panes were restored.  The PiP project has helped assure the long-term preservation of the historic school, the largest building in Seattle’s University Heights commercial district and a major community landmark that receives more than 5,000 visitors each week.  The center took advantage of the project to educate visitors about window restoration techniques, setting up a display featuring photos and a partially-restored window.  Like the engraving on the walls at the building’s entrance proclaim, “Old Schools still teach.”

Frank Gilbert

Frank Gilbert

Finally, I am very thankful for a person whose contribution to the preservation movement cannot be understated – Frank Gilbert.  Frank will be retiring next month after more than 35 years as a dedicated National Trust employee, and more than 45 years of valuable service to the field of historic preservation.  In 1965, as a young lawyer, he began working for the newly-minted New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Over the next decade – first as the commission’s secretary and later as its executive director – Frank worked to develop a comprehensive system for designation and preservation of historic districts and individual landmarks in New York.  The results of that work became a model for many hundreds of other communities across the country.  However, it also became the subject of a critical legal challenge – the battle over the constitutionality of New York City’s regulation of Grand Central Terminal, which really was a battle over the very concept of local landmarks laws.  The legal fight over Grand Central – the Penn Central case – was waged for much of the time that Frank worked at the commission.

Frank left the commission while the Grand Central case was still in the courts, but luckily for the National Trust he soon became our expert and our advocate.  My colleague and the Trust’s General Counsel Paul Edmondson calls Frank a “preservationist Johnny Appleseed,” as he worked with hundreds of communities in almost every state to help develop strong and effective preservation laws.  He is renowned, respected, and held with great affection by preservationists and municipal officials across the country.  It is no exaggeration to say that his work has resulted in the protection of many thousands of historic places across the United States.  Frank Gilbert is truly a preservation hero.

Who are your preservation heroes?  Please share in the comments below – and have a happy Thanksgiving!

David J. Brown is executive vice president and chief preservation officer at 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.

Preserving a Piece of US Forest Service History

Posted on: September 9th, 2010 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Heather L. Bailey

The Alpine Guard Station site on my first morning of work.

The Alpine Guard Station site on my first morning of work.

As a Tennessee Scholar at the 2009 National Preservation Conference in Nashville, we were encouraged to take our experience and education out into the field and become personally involved in historic preservation.  My graduate work involved education and outreach, and my employment after graduation involved preservation planning.  While that framework certainly ensures that historic preservation is possible, I was eager to find an opportunity to have a direct and immediate involvement with historic preservation.

Shortly after moving to Colorado, I learned about Historicorps, a new initiative that grew out of a collaboration with Colorado Preservation, Inc., Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and the United States Forest Service.  Modeled on community service initiatives like the Civilian Conservation Corps and Americorps, volunteers had the opportunity to work on a number of projects that involved hands-on historic preservation.

An exhausted crew enjoying our pre-dinner cocktail hour (the Wisconsin carpenters came well prepared) while our site manager installs final flashing around the ranger station chimney.

An exhausted crew enjoying our pre-dinner cocktail hour (the Wisconsin carpenters came well prepared) while our site manager installs final flashing around the ranger station chimney.

Never one to take the easy route, I volunteered for the week-long commitment to work at the Alpine Guard Station located 11,600 feet up on a mountain in the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, roughly between Lake City and Powderhorn, CO.  The volunteers brought tents and campers, stayed on site, drew our water from a well, and gathered around a campfire at the end of each work day.

The ranger station (1920) and bunk house (1913) were built a century ago so that rangers could check the permits of the sheepherders (of Basque and Spanish descent) who used US Forest Service land to graze their animals.  While the sheep industry was prominent in the Western Mountain Region in the early twentieth century, this location has remained vacant for decades.  The only residents were an enormous population of rats inside the buildings, and ground squirrels outside.  Our work was to repair and stabilize the buildings, with minimal modifications to allow the cabins to be adaptively used as seasonal rentals.

Staff and volunteers gathered at the end of the week to commemorate our experience with a group picture.

Staff and volunteers gathered at the end of the week to commemorate our experience with a group picture.

Prior to my arrival, the staff and volunteer crews had already completed considerable work on the barn and bunk house (including rat clean up), installed a pit toilet and shed for the solar array accouterments, and installed the new pump well.  The crew of volunteer expert carpenters from Wisconsin took up numerous tasks inside the buildings, and the rest of us took on re-shingling the roof on the ranger station, among other things.

I learned that laying cedar shingles (pre-treated to be fire resistant) is truly an art form and that precision matters (particularly after a helper who showed up for two days quickly laid down a number of rows, bragging about his speed, and leaving us with a few noticeably wavy rows to correct). I also learned that the nail gun (powered by our onsite generator) was a lot more fun when I was seventeen and re-shingling my parents’ roof; thus, I opted to use a regular hammer most of the time.  But, hey, I could claim that I was being authentic in my craftsmanship.  I also realized that the heaviest thing I lifted on a regular basis doing preservation planning was my computer mouse.

The volunteer opportunity with Historicorps was inspirational and invigorating.  It brought full circle my work in the field by doing hands-on preservation rather than just making it possible for others to do preservation.  I’ll always be able to go back to that ranger station and know that this place stands in part because of the physical work we did on this historic treasure.

Heather L. Bailey is a State and National Register Historian for History Colorado.

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.

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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.

Learning – and Preserving – the Lessons of Internment

Posted on: May 5th, 2010 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Hanako Wakatsuki

Chizuye Wakatsuki with her children, Patricia, George, and Woody Jr.  at Manzanar.

Chizuye Wakatsuki with her children, Patricia, George, and Woody Jr. at Manzanar

I knew about camp, but never completely understood what it meant until I attended college. I knew that my family had been interned, but it did not mean much to me at the time because my family rarely spoke about it. I did not realize how much this experience affected my family until I tried asking my paternal grandmother a few times about her experience. In my second year of college, I found out that there was an internment camp, Minidoka, only two hours away from where I live in Boise, Idaho. I was appalled because it was never mentioned when I was a child attending primary or secondary school. Not once. This was when my interest turned into a passion for internment history. I wanted to preserve this time in history and let others know what happened in our backyard not long ago.

I am fifth generation Japanese American. My family emigrated from Japan to the United States in the late 1800s. Back in Japan, my family was a military family. My great-grandfather did not want to be a military man, so he left to start a new life in Hawaii. He eventually moved to the mainland and met my great-grandmother, who was American born. They moved down to Southern California and were in the fishing business prior to World War II.

Woodrow Wakatsuki Sr.

Woodrow Wakatsuki Sr.

After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II. The United States government used fear and hysteria to institutionalize racism in governmental policies. Under the authority of the Executive Order 9066 and the Act of March 21, 1942 the government excluded all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast of the United States.

Japanese American families had to pack up their belongings and uproot themselves in a matter of days. Some people were not given enough notice that they literally only had the clothes on their backs. When the families arrived at one of the ten Relocation Centers, they found themselves stuck in remote, desolate locations strewn across the United States and inadequately furnished. Camp life was devastating to the family unit, undermining the family structure.

My family was uprooted from their Southern California home and was incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Center. My grandparents, Chizuye and Woodrow Wakatsuki, were in their twenties when their young family was incarcerated. My grandfather enlisted into the Army in 1944 at Manzanar and fought on the Pacific front during World War II.

A modern view of one of the gardens at Manzanar. (Photo: National Park Service)

A modern view of one of the gardens at Manzanar. (Photo: National Park Service)

Many men felt that they should prove their loyalty to the US by enlisting and fighting in the war, and many became part of the 442nd battalion, a segregated Japanese American unit, which became the most decorated unit in the US for its size. Others felt that they were being just as patriotic by standing up to the government that was incarcerating them by not fighting in the war abroad but fighting the war for their civil liberties at home.

Over a span of four years, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated. Men, women and children were prisoners of the United States. Many families lost everything they owned. Some families never recuperated from this traumatic event. Others struggled to forget their experiences and tried their best to suppress it from memory and just move on with their lives. They went through extreme hardships and treatment that we as a nation should never impose onto others ever again. We need to preserve and uphold the legacy of those interned and the internment experience and to promote education of this time in history.

Hanako Wakatsuki is an interpretive specialist assistant at the Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site of the Idaho State Historical Society.

Manzanar was an early Save America's Treasures (SAT) grant recipient. Now, SAT and other preservation programs have been cut or underfunded by the proposed federal budget. Learn more about the National Trust's campaign to restore this critical funding, and how SAT has impacted other sites associated with Asian Pacific American heritage.

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.

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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.

 

Written by Isabella Rosete

Pictured from left to right at the Historic Hampton House site: Gordon Loader, Joseph McGill, Isabella Rosete, and Mario Berrios.

Pictured from left to right at the Historic Hampton House site: Gordon Loader, Joseph McGill, Isabella Rosete, and Mario Berrios

In October 2008 when the economic recession started, I decided to reach out to my community. At that time I met Dr. Enid Pinkney, a very well-known community activist and CEO for the Historic Hampton House Community Trust. Hampton House is located in a small neighborhood called Brownsville, which is a few blocks away from my house and a five minute drive from the Miami design district. I mentioned my background in architecture to Dr. Pinkney as well as my willingness to help in any way with the Historic Hampton House restoration. On December 17, 2008 I was nominated to serve as part of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust, Inc.

The Historic Hampton House project has brought me closer to the world of restoration. Today more than ever I realize how fascinated I have always been by old structures, pieces, stories, etc. My association with Hampton House enabled me to participate in the Diversity Scholarship Program at the National Preservation Conference. Being in Nashville at the 2009 conference was a very fulfilling experience. It was an honor to be surrounded by all the knowledgeable attendees and presenters.

When back in Miami at my first Historic Hampton House board meeting, I brought up two main points that became clear to me during the conference. First, turning old structures into museums is not a sustainable option in today’s world for restoration/rehabilitation; alternatives must be studied whenever possible. Second, a building that has suffered substantial damage must be monitored during restoration to comply with the Department of Interior standards in order to be eligible for National Registration of Historic Places. In general, these ideas have been well received. As we continue moving forward with the project, the construction documents are ready for permitting, a construction cost estimate has been prepared by the architects of record and there is a gap in funding. We believe that this can be resolved with Miami-Dade County County’s Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond Program (GOB) funds, grants and other contributions allowing construction to be finalized.

I will continue my efforts with the Hampton House Trust to see the plans realized for an active building at least 50% of which will be self sustained. Other features will include a jazz music education program in partnership with local Universities, museum exhibits of Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali and others to inspire visitors and a café/multipurpose room for entertaining. With the Hampton House project, Brownsville could become the Jazz district of Miami.

Isabella Rosete, an architectural designer based out of Miami, is a 2009 Diversity Scholar. She is a member of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust, Inc.

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.