Wednesday, December 11, 2013

East Tennessee, Virginia, & Georgia Freight Depot

Architect Unknown

"The Peters Street Freight Depot was originally a 2-story structure with twin turrets in a modified Italianate Style. It was built to serve Atlanta's 'produce row," as well as other shipping needs of a growing city. Raley Brothers, Inc., Wholesale Grocers, have leased this building for the past sixty years, and have made extensive changes and repairs. 

The second story was removed in the late 1940s because the roof was badly deteriorated and the present tenant did not need the space. A new entrance was made in the side of the building because the railroad needed more space to accommodate automobile carriers. This change cut off access to the old rear entrance.

According to railroad records, the annual report for July 1, 1885 to June 30, 1886 shows an Atlanta freight house 50x400 feet contracted for; records for fiscal year ending June 30, 1887, show the new freight depot at Atlanta was completed. The depot was used by the railroad until about 1915. It was then leased for use as a pickle factory for a short time. Raley Brothers moved into the building in 1917-18, and has occupied
it continuously since that time."

What was left of the depot finally succumbed to a fire in 1992. Today the site is a dog park, and probably waiting to be redeveloped (into apartments no doubt). The blog Return to Atlanta posted about the building (and the Atlanta Historic Resources Workbook) and has a couple old birdseye view maps of the depot (check out that Mansard roof!). The rest of the blog is worth a look too, though the author doesn't appear to be actively posting anymore.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Atlanta Coca·Cola Bottling Company

George Harwell Bond, Architect

"The Coca-Cola Bottling Company moved to its present location in 1939. The plant was constructed on the site of one of the ramparts dug by General Sherman. 

A rectangular two-story structure, the building is given a vertical emphasis by its two-story entrance and by pilasters dividing the rows of factory windows. Constructed of brick and limestone, the building exhibits elements associated with the Art Deco style. The stepped-back facade features an outstanding entrance. Framing the doors are two-story ribbed shafts and a lintel with a pair of concentric squares and the name "Coca-Cola" carved on it. Above the double doors with their stylized grillwork is a bas-relief sculpture by the noted Atlanta artist Julian Harris. It features a Coca-Cola bottle superimposed on a sunburst surrounded by signs of the zodiac.

The Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company, owned for many years by the Montgomery family, was acquired by the CocaCola Company in 1979."

It appears that the building was demolished in the mid to late 1980s. The site is currently surface parking (an all-too-common end use for historic places). The current bottling facilities are located near Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

Views of the exterior of the Coca-Cola Company Bottling plant located on 864 Spring Street in AtlantaGeorgia, c. 1950. Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Burns Cottage

Thomas H. Morgan, Architect

"Burns Cottage, clubhouse for the Burns Club of Atlanta, is the only replica in the world of Robert Burns' birthplace. The Burns Club, a social, literary and memorial society, was organized in 1896. After meeting for 14 years in members' homes, they contracted with Thomas H. Morgan, club member and prominent local architect, to plan a replica of the poet's birthplace in Ayr, Scotland. Except for the additions at the rear, the Atlanta cottage is an exact duplicate of the Ayr cottage. Construction materials differ. The Ayr cottage is built of rubble stone with clay-and-grass mortar and thatched roof; the Atlanta cottage is Georgia granite with an asbestos shingle roof.

The cottage is curved just as Burns' birthplace was curved to conform with the curving road it fronted. Windows are very small because in Burns' day Scots were taxed according to number and size of windows and panes. 

The public is invited to visit. Caretakers living on the premises conduct tours."

The Burns Cottage is relatively unchanged since 1981, though it appears that it is no longer open to the public. It was listed on the National Register in 1983 and is not locally designated.

The Atlanta Historic Resources Workbook

In the late 1970s, just over a decade from the passing of the National Historic Preservation Act and just prior to the tax acts that created the historic preservation tax credit, the Atlanta Urban Design Commission  (AUDC) began a survey of Atlanta's historic resources. In 1981, with the help of a grant from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), the survey was greatly expanded and culminated in the Atlanta Historic Resources Workbook. This nearly 300-page publication represents the first, and perhaps the last time, the City of Atlanta has comprehensively surveyed their domain to determine the existence and condition of its historic resources.

In many ways the Workbook was forward thinking: the inclusion of just a few buildings not quite 50 years (e.g. the Academy of Medicine building), recognition of the value of embodied energy (though that term had not yet been coined), and the suggestion that "conservation" is a more appropriate term than "preservation" to represent all that we do in the field of the historic built environment. The authors of the workbook recognized that Atlanta was lagging behind other cities in their efforts to identify and protect its historic resources. Their efforts did much to catch the city up. However, after nearly three decades, many of the historic resources identified as being important to Atlanta's legacy are gone, and of the nearly 248 sites and 27 districts identified in the Workbook, only 58 sites and 17 districts receive formal protection (and even these are sometimes lost). 

Over the next few months Rag and Bone will be revisiting these sites to see just how far we have come.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea and is Unwelcome in Spring Grove Cemetery?

In 1844, the Cincinnati Horticultural Society formed a cemetery association with the purpose of founding a picturesque cemetery in their city that would provide a stark contrast to the grim churchyards, which were quickly overcrowding after recurrent cholera epidemics.  They were part of a grand tradition of the stately burial ground, the rural cemetery, which began outside Boston with Mount Auburn in 1832 and echoed similar funerary landscapes across the pond in Europe.  

Rural Cemeteries were romantic landscapes, designed to create seemingly natural settings, rich with lush and diverse vegetation, rolling hills, ponds and streams, and narrow, curvilinear paths and roads that would slow processions and visitors alike to a "stately pace."  Mount Auburn was the prototype and remains the standard bearer to this day.  The rural cemetery began a transformation of the graveyard to a place that was as much for the enjoyment of the living as a resting place for the dead. As our interests and needs have continued to evolve with each generation, the cemetery and funerary industry have quickly followed suit, leading to numerous forms of landscapes, including the lawn-type and, more recently, the green cemetery. 

c.1880 Rendering of Spring Grove Cemetery (Courtesy of Ohio Memory)
In 1845, Spring Grove Cemetery opened for business ~ and it remains active to this day.  Horticultural societies would often play an important role in the founding of cemeteries of this type, as they were always intended to become some of the largest and most impressive parks in their cities. Spring Grove was unique in that it was used as an arboretum for the study of plants, with ornamental plant varieties in excess of 4,300 by 1850 (and 11,300 nursery plants).  The marriage of romantic architecture, landscape design, and ornamental horticulture, made these sites breathtaking places for contemplation, memory, and for an afternoon stroll or picnic. 

Designed cemeteries like these were typically characterized by particular architectural forms. Ornate gravestones, elaborately-carved tablets (often uniform markers for a family plot), large pedestals, obelisks, a mixture of simpler, traditional forms with breathtaking statuary, family vaults and crypts.  The architectural diversity that exploded in America's cemeteries at this time was revolutionary, to put it mildly.  But certain architectural forms had always been associated with certain landscape types, prior to the rural type and ever since.  Churchyard cemeteries were typically known for having tall and thin tablets, interspersed with the occasional ledger or box tomb.  The lawn-type, pioneered by Spring Grove's own Adolph Strauch, featured mostly low-lying and flush markers that would not obstruct the park-like appearance of the grassy lawn. National Cemeteries were designed to evoke a sense of solidarity and equality; bleached white marble tablets standing in rank. Heritage Conservationists that manage active cemeteries face a challenge of maintaining the integrity of these sites ~ that is preserving the historic design and setting ~ without impeding the ability for plot-holders to express themselves in the commemoration of their loved ones.  It is a fine line with dire consequences for those who cross in either direction.

Walker's Monument (AP)
When 28 year old, Army Sgt. Kimberly Walker was strangled to death in a Colorado hotel room by her boyfriend on Valentines Day of this year, her family found a very personal tribute to mark her grave.   It seems, there was little question as to what Kimberly loved ~ a strange little filter-feeder with square pants, a talent for fast-food grilling, and a mentally-handicapped starfish that lives under a rock for a best friend.  Her family commissioned a 7-foot granite SpongeBob, donning a military uniform with Walker's name and rank.  A second, matching SpongeBob was also made for Walker's twin sister, Kara, who is still alive;  Kimberly's grave would be the first in a pre-purchased family plot.

The family apparently made the arrangements through Spring Grove and with the cemetery's approval, the monuments were placed on October 10th.  The next day, Spring Grove's management contacted the family to notify them that the monuments would need to be taken down.  A public statement from Spring Grove President and CEO, Gary Freytag, explained:
...the family chose a design with the guidance of a Spring Grove employee who unfortunately made an error in judgement. The monument does not fit within the Spring Grove Cemetery guidelines, was not approved by senior management and cannot remain here. As an historic cemetery, we must constantly balance the needs of families who have just suffered a loss with the thousands of families who have entrusted us in the past. We are working with the Walker family and are committed to design a solution, at our expense, that will properly memorialize Kimberly within the context of Spring Grove's historic landscape and guidelines. 
Is this right?  There is no easy answer to that question.  If you have one, then you probably haven't given the matter sufficient thought. Between throwing an employee under the bus (or the media in this instance) and patting his team on the back for working on a solution (since SpongeBob "cannot remain" there), Freytag makes an important point: Spring Grove's management has a responsibility to balance the wishes of current customers with those from the previous 160+ years.   

Heritage Conservationists and preservation enthusiasts alike, frequently preach the perspective of the building ~ that is, that visitors, owners, and even entire generations are merely one phase in the life of a building.  This perspective is more common in Europe and farther reaches of the globe, where buildings have survived in use for five or six centuries, or more;  but in the States, it is only associated with what we consider to be properties of exceptional age or importance.  You just don't buy a 200 year old plantation house to gut the interior and strip it to the studs so that you can make it as "energy efficient" and comfortable as any McMansion.  That's asinine, right?  The proper way to live in one of these homes is to seek a compromise between modern comfort, the architect's vision, and often the wishes of previous owners.  We are caretakers or stewards, nothing more.  There is no place where this balance is more critical than an historic cemetery, especially one that is still active.  Cemetery caretakers have to balance the wishes and aesthetic tastes of each generation to bury within their boundaries with the original vision for the cemetery and each generation that left a loved one in the ground and a fingerprint above it.  At least, that is, in the historic section.

Spring Grove is a National Historic Landmark (NHL), an honor reserved for the most significant of historic properties in this country. Spring Grove was bestowed with this honor in 2007 primarily as the birthplace of the lawn-type design movement, which was developed by Adolph Strauch during his tenure as superintendent from 1855 to 1883.  Strauch didn't display the sort of reverence for the past expressed above, rather he set about creating a new vision for the cemetery; one that would become the defining principles of his signature movement: no fences or hedges around plots permitted (existing ones could not be repaired or replaced in the future); one monument per plot surrounded by flush markers; and all designs would be approved by senior administrators.  Where the rural cemetery was a marriage of romantic ideals of architecture and landscape design, the lawn-type cemetery was a divorce of the architecture and the landscape got to keep the house.  Over time, the cemetery would appear less-crowded, particularly in what would have been the newer sections at that time. In Strauch's time, the cemetery grew another 200 acres and it would continue to grow throughout the following century. 

The NHL boundary for Spring Grove encompasses 345 acres with the road that terminates at the historic northern gate as it's northern limit.  It is within this area of the cemetery, that Spring Grove's management has to practice the utmost caution and consideration in the treatment of existing markers and the placement of any new ones.  The areas within the cemetery that reside beyond this boundary would have been excluded because they were developed after the period of significance (defined as 1845-1925), and as such, do not reflect the architectural traditions and ideals that have made this place significant.  

Spring Grove's Map. Walker's grave is in the highlighted section (above), while the approximate northern limit of the NHL boundary is shown in orange (below). The oldest sections of the cemetery are not shown. 

Kimberly Walker was buried in Section 144, which is near the northernmost limits of the active cemetery, making it among the most recent to be developed.  According to the site map available on their website, there are some 300 acres north of this that have been set aside for future use.  For the casual viewer, this would seem to be pretty far from the older sections of the cemetery; and in this instance, the casual viewer would be right.  As a Heritage Conservation professional, I can say that what happens in Section 144 would have no impact on the historic integrity of the NHL (or the historic cemetery, in general), so long as you limit any monuments to one story in height and don't build any towers.  So, this is not an issue of historic integrity.  It is about appearances ~ conflicting aesthetics in a modern cemetery. 

So, how does one resolve this conflict?  The obvious solution is to return the SpongeBob twins to the Walker Family plot, where they were originally installed.  Are they unusual for the setting?  Sure ~ but they give character to an otherwise typical burial section and, more importantly, the markers were approved.  Cemetery administrators decided after the fact that the SpongeBobs conflict with the aesthetic they want for their cemetery; this sort of issue is nothing new.  But rather than learn from what they perceive to be a mistake and try to avoid this scenario in the future, they have chosen to undo it at considerable cost to themselves and the emotional expense of a bereaved family.  That is their prerogative ~ if they want to weather the negative publicity, let them;  however, do not justify that action with a responsibility to the past.  There is a world of difference between the goal of design guidelines for an historic district and design guidelines for, lets say, a new urbanist retirement community in suburban Orlando, Florida, dating to the 1990s.  The former is like preserving a finished painting, while the latter is about actively painting by numbers to realize some vision for the finished product.  The caretakers of Spring Grove Cemetery have the difficult, but not unusual, responsibility of doing both concurrently; but they do a disservice to the preservation community when they blend these roles to justify an unpopular decision that essentially has nothing to do with their responsibility as stewards of an historic property.  It undermines the work of other preservationists trying to make similar cases for more context-sensitive additions in their historic properties.  So, Spring Grove... return the Bobs.  

(Courtesy of Timeline Cover Banners & Nickelodeon)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Little Background on a Few of Atlanta's Abandoned Buildings

Curbed Atlanta is running a piece on Atlanta's "most annoyingly vacant" buildings, many of which are historic. Here is a little more background on a few of those...

The Atlanta Life Insurance Buildings

Adjoining empty buildings at 142 Auburn Ave. downtown. Courtesy of Curbed Atlanta
The core of the building on the right was originally built sometime prior to 1892; the neoclassical facade added in 1927. Originally a residence, this structure housed the Atlanta Life Insurance Company from 1920-1980. The annex, the building on the left, was built in 1936. Alonzo Herndon, founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company was a former slave who became one of the richest African-Americans of the time.

Undated postcard courtesy of the Atlanta Time Machine

The Medical Arts Building

Medical Arts Building: 384 Peachtree St. Courtesy of Curbed Atlanta.
The Medical Arts Building was built in 1927 by Lloyd Preacher, the same architect behind Atlanta's City Hall. At the time of construction, it was the most advanced medical facility in the country. After a fire in 1995, the building has sat vacant. Efforts to save the building by the Atlanta Preservation Center, Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, and Keep Atlanta Beautiful  have failed.

Atlanta City Hall, Built 1930 by Lloyd Preacher.
The Atlanta Constitution Building

This architecturally significant building at the corner of Alabama and Forsyth streets has long been abandoned. Courtesy of Curbed Atlanta.
The Art Moderne Atlanta Constitution Building was constructed in 1947 and designed by Robert and Company. The building housed the headquarters of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper until its consolidation with the Atlanta Journal. The newspaper subsequently outgrew its building and moved in 1953. Georgia Power moved into the building in 1955 until 1960. The Atlanta Constitution Building has been vacant since 1972. It is currently owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation and is slated for rehabilitation after two decades of uncertainty over its structural integrity.

Atlanta Constitution Building, 1947
The Ivy-Walnut Building

Faded paint proclaiming a Mexican restaurant, 25 Auburn Ave. Courtesy of Curbed Atlanta.
In 1920, Southern Bell opened a new building at 25 Auburn Avenue. The building was initially referred to as the Ivy-Walnut Building. Around 1968, Trust Company Bank made an agreement with Southern Bell to purchase the land at this site in exchange for the property at the corner of Courtland Street and Auburn Avenue. Southern Bell then leased the 25 Auburn Avenue property back from Trust Company, with the intention of moving out of the building. Southern Bell stayed in the building for about 10 more years and the building has sat vacant since. -

The Rufus M. Rose House

This very old house: 537 Peachtree St. Courtesy of Curbed Atlanta.

The Queen Anne Style Rufus M. Rose House, built by a liquor purveyor in 1901, is now one of Peachtree Street’s last remaining private homes. For many years it was home to the eclectic (and now defunct) Atlanta Museum. It has been vacant since 2001, when the Atlanta Preservation Center moved out.

There are countless more vacant and abandoned historic buildings in Atlanta. There are also, we can be quite sure, interesting histories behind nearly every one of the buildings and sites listed in the Curbed Atlanta article. For sure, this has been an exercise in armchair advocacy, and so we don't have the story behind the Sophie Mae Candy Company Building on North Avenue, or the dozen or so other vacant buildings on Auburn, Broad, and Peachtree. There are, however, two more vacant and abandoned buildings we'd like to add to this list:

The Craigie House/ DAR Headquarters

The Craigie House, which sits across the street from Piedmont Park, was built in 1911 as a headquarters for Georgia’s first chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The building was used by the DAR until 1985 when it was damaged by a fallen tree. Inman Park Properties (the notorious 'developer' and ruiner of many of Atlanta's historic properties, and who we have mentioned before) purchased the property in 2001 and subsequently went bankrupt. The building has sat vacant since.

Pratt-Pullman Yard

The Pratt Engineering/Pullman Company property is a historic industrial complex located in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta. Construction of the first buildings began in 1904, followed by a second building campaign when the Pullman Company bought the property in 1926. The site is currently owned by the state of Georgia and has been abandoned since 1996.

Perhaps, the lesson to be learned from these stories, is that a city needs to identify its historic resources long before they become threatened. Owning a historic building then becomes an honor and a responsibility, but not one the building owners must bear on their own (because that, of course, would cause many to shy away from owning a historic building). Training, assistance with a long-term management and dispossession plan, and public funds for maintenance and disaster response should be earmarked for these cultural resources. And, when it comes to abandonment within the city limits, there should be a process by which the city can confiscate the property and auction it off to a willing and able public, with covenant protections for its continued conservation.

Know of another vacant and abandoned historic property in Atlanta? Tell us about it here in the comments and then head over to Curbed Atlanta and do the same.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Heritage Conservation: Becoming (and Being) a Professional

In an earlier post we had emphasized the necessity of explaining to the public and to other built environment professionals what a Heritage Conservationist is and why we are important - as part of a yet-to-be-started public relations campaign to promote Heritage Conservation and to dispel misconceptions about the field. Defining and 'placing' Heritage Conservation also serves to solidify a movement to re-professionalize the field, set objectives in education and qualifications, and match Heritage Conservation to actual built-environment activities - a re-branding appropriate for the name change from Historic Preservation.

Rather than rehash a dictionary definition for Heritage Conservation (or, more likely, a definition of Historic Preservation), we took a pseudo-scientific look at what kinds of jobs actually exist (technically, what kinds of jobs are being offered) to create a basic understanding of what a Heritage Conservationist is. We sourced this data from the ever-popular PreserveNet's job posting board, with job postings going back to 2009 - about 1,100 in total.

A word cloud of job titles from PreserveNet's jobs board. Word clouds are a graphic representation of word counts for any given inputted text.

Excluding positions that are clearly within another field (Archaeologist, Architect, Engineer, etc.; about 90 posts); and positions that are clerical or supportive in nature (administrative assistant, IT, intern; about 80 posts ); We've compiled the following (representing a little over 900 posts), grouped by similar words/phrases:
  • Director - 203
  • Architectural Historian/Historian - 146
  • various "manager"/"supervisor"/"administrator"- 83
  • Historic Preservation Specialist - 59
  • various "coordinator" - 55
  • Conservator/Restoration Specialist - 50
  • Project/Program Manager/Coordinator - 45
  • Cultural Resource Manager/Specialist/Coordinator - 43
  • Professor/Dean/Chair/Faculty - 41
  • various "historic preservation" or "preservation" personnel - 37
  • Historic Preservation Planner - 33
  • National Register Specialist/Surveyor - 24
  • Administrator - 20
  • various "specialist" - 20
  • Historic Preservation Officer/SHPO/THPO - 16
  • Preservationist - 16
  • various "planner" - 13
We can break these down into several specialties:

Administrative and Management (director, manager, coordinator, supervisor, administrator)

These positions are largely within the not-for-profit realm and generally require several years of experience with management, fundraising, public relations, and fiscal responsibilities. Jobs might be site-based (Executive Director of a historic site), program-based (public outreach coordinator), or hierarchical (president of historic preservation foundation). A Heritage Conservation background is not often necessary.

Conservator (conservator, restoration specialist, materials specialist)

This field has some crossover with other fields; curation and material conservation on one side and Architecture and Engineering on the other. Conservators are often specialists in one area (e.g. wood, metal, masonry, sculpture, exteriors, interiors, etc.) and are sometimes also involved in the building trades (carpenter, mason, etc.). Most employment comes from the private sector (cultural resources or specialty design and architecture firms), though contracts may come from both public and private sources, or from academia/museums.

Academic (professor, dean, chair)

Employed by universities and colleges, these positions usually require ample professional experience and a proven academic background. Academic jobs in Heritage Conservation may also include temporary research projects and academic grants in policy, planning, or conservation science.

Policy and Planning (architectural historian, historian, specialist, planner, preservationist)

Heritage Conservationists working in policy and planning, sometimes called subject matter experts (SMEs), are experts in the historic built environment and Heritage Conservation policy. They are employed by both the private and public sector and are often involved in compliance, planning, policy, and research. SHPOs, local and state agencies, not-for-profits, and consultants are the primary employers. A Master's degree and/or a couple years of experience are usually required.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 60% of "Historians" work in government - "historian" is the most similar job title to Heritage Conservationist found in the BLS data. Federal agencies, or agencies that receive federal funds and/or permits, employ or contract SMEs to undertake their legal responsibilities regarding historic places (Section 106, 4(f), NEPA, state laws, etc.). This includes surveys, National Register evaluations, project effects assessments, and mitigation work. Local and state agencies and SHPOs employ SMEs in federal compliance review, land use planning, local zoning and code compliance, design review, National Register research, and administration of preservation programs.

Heritage Conservationists working for not-for-profits that are not site or subject specific (preservation trusts, associations, and societies) are often broadly engaged in Heritage Conservation policy, advocacy, and education. Site or subject specific not-for-profits employ Heritage Conservationists for research, property management, and program management, as well as advocacy and educational programming. These positions tend to favor additional relevant experience on top of a Heritage Conservation background - especially not-for-profit management and fundraising experience.

Private sector consultants use Heritage Conservationists for all of the above, but generally do most of their work in federal and state compliance. Consultants may also take on in-depth historical research, writing and developing publications, rehabilitation project management, architectural design work, preparation of National Register and tax credit applications, development of preservation plans, and lots more.

A recent study by the Savannah College of Art and Design took similar data and illustrated some trends in the field of Architectural History over time. I think they failed to parse out management jobs from non-management jobs, but the results may be useful to current job-seekers - showing salary ranges, required experience and job duties for their five "categories of employment", regional jobs distribution trends, and overall employment posting trends.

The Real World Versus Academia

As you can see from the above, most Heritage Conservation jobs fall into three categories: administrative, policy and planning, or materials-based. In academia, focus area within Master's programs, tend to be more idealistic. That said, the alma mater of one-half of Rag and Bone, the University of Pennsylvania, breaks down their Master's of Science in Historic Preservation program into five "areas of emphasis" that somewhat parallel real world applications.

Penn's program establishes a Heritage Conservation foundation and then builds a student's expertise in one of the above areas of emphasis. For student's interested in Site Management or Design, professional opportunities in these areas often require a background that goes beyond what is offered in Heritage Conservation courses. Site Management positions often require a background in management, fundraising, and public relations, and Preservation Design positions often require a degree in architecture, landscape architecture, or land-use planning., relating data they presented at the National Trust's conference in October of 2011, notes that "the most sought after skill by employers based on job descriptions is Management/Administration and Education/Interpretation... Be aware that schools are not necessarily teaching what is requested".

The challenge facing budding Heritage Conservation professionals is identifying graduate programs that offer professionally-grounded curricula (without sacrificing the benefits of courses in theory and perspectives) housed in colleges and universities with diverse professional and academic programs in architecture, design, management, and education.  Rag and Bone's other-half's alma mater, Cornell University, offers all of these, but many courses in other programs are unavailable or otherwise inaccessible. This is where the graduate faculty advisers and curriculum designers need to step in and make those connections with other programs at their schools in order to provide students the tools they need to be successful in this field, based on the current (or future) demands of this profession.  A successful graduate school experience requires concurrent preparation on behalf of the student going into graduate school and the school itself.

As time passes, it seems the term Historic Preservation is becoming amorphous and unmanageable, encompassing anything at all to do with historic resources, whether in a professional context or not. As a general field, there is nothing wrong with this, until a qualified professional steps forward and identifies themselves using a term that has little professional connotation associated with it anymore. Hence, Heritage Conservation. We can all be preservationists; the Heritage Conservationist, however, is a professional with the training and skills to be able to identify, define, and evaluate the significance of heritage resources (both tangible and immaterial) in a timely and defensible manner, and then take the steps necessary to actively (or through advisement) stabilize, protect, and utilize (or otherwise, conserve) those resources in a manner that is sensitive and appropriate for the particular environment to which they belong.

The enduring challenge is that this profession, like any other, is always evolving. We, as a community of professionals, need to be better organized in order to understand professional trends and with each graduating class, rear qualified professionals equipped not just with a foundation of the ideals of our chosen field, but of the current skills and experiences of our profession.

In part two of this post, we'll explore the flip-side of this conversation: how the built-environment professions can better incorporate Heritage Conservationist (hint: it has everything to do with the fact that there are, less and less, no blank slates left upon which to build or plan and, increasingly, this is a world of multiple, competing values).

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

I am not going to the 2013 National Trust Conference in Indianapolis

The National Trust for Historic Preservation hosts the National Preservation Conference and each year more than 2,000 attendees participate in a series of field sessions, education workshops, and tours that showcase local examples of architecture, historic preservation and community revitalization. The Trust's mission is to provide "leadership, education and advocacy to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize our communities."

The conferences are solidly branded and marketed to a wide range of preservation professionals and enthusiasts alike. This year, the conference is held in Indianapolis and has been given the tag line "Preservation at the Crossroads", alluding to Indianapolis' convenient location at the center of several major roadways - but also to provide a dramatic theme to an otherwise directionless event. Staffers and speakers promise engaging sessions where topics of national concern and interest are discussed. There are workshops, training sessions, field trips, and lots of flowery rhetoric - yet, somehow, very little substance for the preservation professional.

Of course there is the congratulatory back-slapping, the awards ceremonies, the sponsor exhibits, and speeches thanking participants, advocates, and the tireless work of preservationists everywhere. That is to be expected. I am sure that the National Convention of Sandwich Bread Bakers has its fair share of felicitous speeches too. And it would be remiss of the Trust to not offer plenty of opportunities for socializing - the free booze is one of the few real perks of these things. Its not all bad.

But, after the already prohibitive registration fee, the cost of a flight, hotel room, meals, and incidentals, my expectations for content are quite high. Free booze and some kind words get me out of the house - to get me to Indianapolis, there has got to be a lot more.

Last year, I went to the Spokane conference on my company's dime. I attended sessions titled "Know Your Strengths: GIS in Historic Resource Surveys and Predictive Modeling", "Rightsizing and Preservation: Continuing the Conversation", "When Demolition Is the Only Option", "Mitigation Matters: Getting Creative", and "Federally Speaking—the History and Future of Our Most Important Historic Preservation Laws". Catchy headlines and confident intros brought me into the session rooms of the convention center. Reluctance to stand up in the middle of someone's talk and walk out kept me there.

Each time, I went in to a session with expectations that I would be learning something new and profound. And each time, I left feeling disappointed. Chances to engage the speaker in deeper and more poignant conversation were upstaged by thoroughly clueless participants asking questions Google could answer better. Superficiality trumped depth, novelty trumped experience, and anecdote trumped scientifically proven practice. Sessions were led by panelists eager to get through their slide show and into an after-session-martini as soon as possible. Or maybe that was just me, eager to be somewhere else, enjoying something more refined and satisfying.

I don't mean to be rude. Some of the presenters and moderators are my friends. I am sure they did the best they could. Its not them, its the conference. Maybe, again, its all conferences. I don't attend the National Convention of Sandwich Bread Bakers, so I really can't compare. I only know what my expectations are and what I actually received. My company paid for a nutritious dinner and I walked out of there with a Hot Pocket. I'm sure I could once again borrow the convincing language of conference promoters to justify another Trust conference to my company, but its starting to feel dishonest. How can I say "The conference provides valuable professional training and timely information that is critical for my job responsibilities" when, at most, I'm coming back to the office with a half-page of notes, a dozen business cards from people who have jobs only tangentially related to what I do, and a binder full of receipts?

I might stop here and just blame the lack of meaningful content on a systemic failure of the national convention concept. But, the disregard for professional preservationists is endemic to the Trust.

The Trust has been spending a lot of air time over the last few years on issues that don't really connect with professionals. Last year, in fact, the Trust made all preservation professionals question their very expensive Master's degrees by declaring that everyone is a preservationist. Yes, all it takes to be a Preservationist, according to the Trust, is to do one thing over the span of several years in support of a historic place. Don't get me wrong; the more people out there that support old buildings the better, but you don't hear the AMA telling their membership that everyone who supports medicine is a doctor, do you?

But maybe this is what the Trust does. Maybe their role, today, is less about "leadership and education" and more about "advocacy". And, if that is the case, they are doing a stellar job. Membership is up, good-feelings are spread around, success stories are touted, and sponsors are lining up at the door. But without professional content, its just facadism.

Here is an example of the issue: At several locations, in the brochures, schedules, and in the convention center, there is information on how you can get educational credits for certain courses - that is, if you are a member of the American Planning Association (APA), the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), or the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Preservationists don't have an association or institute or society. We don't get credit. These conferences represent the largest gathering of preservation professionals annually, and not one preservationist is expected or offered the opportunity to earn educational credits. Maybe that's because we aren't really expected to learn anything at these things.

More evidence of the Trust's lack of interest in the preservation professional, the ones with degrees, can be found just about everywhere you look. With the exception of the Forum Journal (which is composed of voluntary contributions from preservation's best and brightest), the Trust's focus is on membership drives, heritage tourism, advocacy, and self-promotion. Though there are other organizations that may offer, or are equipped to offer, in-depth training and continuing education, advocacy for the professional, or meaningful research, groups like the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology (which is part of the National Park Service), the American Cultural Resources Association (heavy on the archaeology side and with a focus on industry trends), or the Association for Preservation Technology (focuses on ~ you guessed it ~ preservation technology), the Trust is uniquely positioned to provide a meaningful context within which preservation professionals can organize, share research, and establish credibility among other professions.

Historic Preservation is a diverse sport. We have in our ranks planners, architects, contractors, and landscape architects. Preservationists deal in legal compliance, planning, building trades, advocacy, not-for-profit management, conservation, and architectural history. And though we don't all play the same position, we are all on the same team. It's about time the National Trust takes us out of the minors and into a professional arena. Until then, I am not going to the National Trust Conference.

Here are ten suggestions I offer to the Trust, to convince me, and many others, to go to the National Preservation Conference:
  1. Establish or endorse an organization that registers professionals and tracks continuing education. 
  2. Spin off the Forum, give it more independence from the the 'regular' Trust activities, and open it up to serious member contribution (blogs and list-serves aren't enough).
  3. Establish a better criteria to rank conference sessions based on level of expertise. Vet everything through a more critical process.
  4. Enough with the Power Point. Set up sessions like classrooms and workshops. Establish a curriculum and encourage attendees to get on board months in advance in order to be better prepared for discussions. 
  5. Build a digital library of resources, research, and professional contacts, larger than just what is published in the Forum Journal, and open it up to membership.
  6. Stop having conferences in non-historic, urban renewal-esque, monolithic convention centers.
  7. Stop up-charging for tours and special sessions. Seriously, we are preservationists, not bankers.
  8. Promote the preservation professional to the public and to other built-environment professionals; make clear what we do and why we are important.
  9. Lobby for changes to 36 CFR 61 to include historic preservation as a distinct specialty and make the benchmark of professionalism a bit higher than a "master's degree or bachelor's degree and two years of related experience".
  10. Adopt the change in name from Historic Preservation to Heritage Conservation.

I Think the Trust is Reading This Blog

Okay, maybe not, but coincidentally, shortly after publishing this post, the Trust's Preservation Leadership Forum Blog (and in an email to membership) announced the 2013 conference "Conversation Starters" a series of focus sessions where members are asked "several important and complex questions" relevant to Heritage Conservation. 

The first of several of these sessions is titled, Diversity in Preservation: Rethinking Standards and Practices. "At this session, we want to revisit and discuss prevailing notions of significance, standards, integrity, and criteria." I'm not too clear on what that means, but there is a reading list of Forum articles, blog posts, and NPS papers on the subjects of diversity and Heritage Conservation that would probably enlighten me on the subject... if I cared enough about this subject to read them. The sub-theme of bringing more diversity to Heritage Conservation is a long running one and parallels the Trust's membership drive efforts over the last several years. It is a start in the right direction, though I am still holding my ground on asking for deeper and more meaningful content for the preservation professional.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Heritage "In Bloom": the Case of Cobain's Home

Cobain's Aberdeen home (AP)
A recent headline for many news outlets caught my eye. The mother of the late Kurt Cobain (of Nirvana fame) is selling his childhood home for a hefty sum, in hopes of seeing the modest residence turned into a museum to her son. Behold the quandary of recent heritage.  The significance of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to the evolution of popular music and culture at the end of the 20th century cannot be overstated. Personally, I think it warrants formal recognition (and not just because I'm a fan).  But is this the place and the way to do it?  Or is the story better represented in exhibits, like this one at EMP in Seattle.

Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses exhibit gallery at EMP
(Photo by Christopher Nelson)
By setting the asking price for this simple house in Aberdeen at half-a-million dollars, the family is clearly hoping to cash in on Cobain's celebrity ~ no judgment here, because really, why wouldn't they if they intend to sell it anyway?  But I have to wonder what this house museum would be like. In 30 more years, would his childhood home be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places? Typically, early homes are not considered eligible, because in most instances they were not where the individual lived a the height of their achievements. From this perspective, some burnt out tiny apartment in Seattle, where the members of Nirvana lived in squalor during the recording of Nevermind would have a better chance at being listed in the National Register.

But really, how important were any of these places to artists like Cobain, who were essentially nomads? Even the home he shared with his wife, Courtney Love, and the site of his death in Seattle would not satisfy National Register Criteria. The couple only acquired the residence a few months before Cobain's death. The first step in evaluating a property for National Register eligibility is to determine whether the place is historic, which is defined as achieving significance no less than 50 years ago. Cobain was born in 1967, so that eliminates any site associated with him, right? Not necessarily. The National Register includes exceptions, referred to as Criteria Considerations, to permit the inclusion of places that meet the Criteria, but would be disqualified for other reasons. Criteria Consideration G permits the inclusion of properties that achieved significance in less than 50 years, if it is of "exceptional importance."   Even if National Register listing is not a goal, most local programs to provide protection and funding are based on National Register Criteria. 

This small outbuilding, the site of Cobain's suicide, has since been razed.
(Photo by Mike Urban, Courtesy of MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection)

Cobain recorded 8-track demos in his homes ~ but were the buildings themselves any more important to his life and work than the hotel rooms and tour buses where he so often lived, worked, and slept?  And does it really matter? In terms of National Register eligibility, yes; but in terms of preservation potential, no.  It only matters to the people who consider it important.  It's the "walk in the footsteps of Jesus" mentality that drives these kinds of preservation efforts.  People want to occupy the same space as their idols ~ to stand where they stood and see what they saw. Whether or not the places Cobain bedded down mattered to him, they matter greatly to his admirers. When a couple learned the home they purchased for just over $42,000 in Montesano, Washington, belonged to Cobain's father and that the artist lived there for a few years in his early teens, they sold it for five times the value they paid. 

Elvis Presley at Graceland in 1957 (AP)
In some forums, the marketing of Cobain's home has been discussed as the start of a new trend in acquiring and preserving celebrity homes, but really, it's the same as it ever was. This is just another verse in a very old song; there are countless examples of similar cases in the past and there will be countless more in the future. What about Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch? The late Jackson was a peculiar fellow to say the least, but his contributions to popular music place him among the likes of Elvis and Dylan in importance. Is it too soon to consider his home, arguably a greater reflection of himself than any of his music, an historic landmark?  

The iconic Graceland was purchased by Elvis Presley in the late 1950s. It was his home for 20 years and the site of his death. It was also listed on the National Register in 1991, when the association with Elvis (what we call the period of significance) was just over 30 years old; however, there was a loophole, in that the house was originally built in 1939. But there is no question, it only became important after 1957, when Presley acquired it and began a series of unmistakably Elvis renovations. But the significance of the building to Presley's active life is unmistakable.  It is now a National Historic Landmark.

John Coltrane's Long Island Home
(Courtesy of The Coltrane Home)
The great John Coltrane has two residences on the National Register: one in Philadelphia (now a National Historic Landmark), where he lived from 1952 to 1958, and a second on Long Island, where he spent the last three years of his life. His Long Island home was saved from the wrecking ball in recent years and listed on the National Register in 2007, when the association with Coltrane was straddling the 50 year mark.

These are examples of proactive preservation and the recognition of important people and places in recent history.  Potential resources of this nature are frequently overlooked.  

The National Register's definition of historic may seem arbitrary (and to an extant, it is) but that 50 year cutoff is intended to provide enough distance between these historic persons, events, or places, and ourselves to ensure objective evaluation based on a proper, historical perspective.  Has enough time passed to gauge the historical import of Kurt Cobain and Michael Jackson objectively? 

The Big House (Courtesy of  The Big House Museum)
Perhaps, I'm putting too much emphasis on the National Register. Let's look at the bigger picture. Historic preservation serves many purposes, depending on who you are talking to and why. In my humble opinion, the goal of this field is to retain the historic fabric of our communities in order to foster continuity with the past and communal identity.  When looking at the recent past, the challenge is often to identify places that have potential historic value (and I'm not talking about monetarily).  By and large, the general population will not recognize these places as historic or important.  The role of the preservationist in this scenario is to ensure these places survive intact, long enough for the rest of us to catch up and to objectively evaluate their importance.  So, these grassroots efforts led by local groups and property owners are critical and they often face the steepest of uphill battles that often end in disappointment, as was the case of Jimi Hendrix's childhood home. But sometimes, they succeed. The Big House Museum in Macon, Georgia, was essentially home of the Allman Brothers Band from 1970 to 1973. While not individually-listed on the National Register, the property is managed by a non-profit as a museum that offers event space and educational programming.

As a skinny wallflower that grew up in the 1990s, Nirvana was a fundamental part of my upbringing. Their music influenced how I perceived the world around me, in the same way that Elvis and Coltrane did for their respective generations. But Cobain ended his life only 19 years ago this past April.  My uncle always said no one would be listening to Nirvana in 10 years... let me pause to high-five my twelve year old self in victory (slap!). History has already proven him wrong.  But the question remains: in 30 years, will his contribution to popular music and culture be recognized as ardently as it is today?  Only time can tell. In the meantime, let us hope that preservation-minded individuals continue to take an interest in these potential resources. Regardless, I suspect Cobain's mother will have no trouble selling the house, even at that price. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where were you when...?

I remember as a kid, people from my parents’ generation and earlier having the “where were you the day they shot Kennedy?” talk.  In its time, it was the proverbial shot heard round the world.  As shocking and tragic as that day was, a far darker day was in store for my generation, which would lead to similar discussions for decades to come. 

On September 11, 2001, I was sitting drowsily in a photography class at Santa Fe Community College in my hometown of Gainesville, Florida, when someone walked in and interrupted our instructor to say a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.  The instructor made a slightly inappropriate joke about one of his favorite stories of a B52 bomber that once crashed into the Empire State Building in the 1950s.  We all just chalked it up to another crazy, random event and went back to discussing an upcoming assignment.  Little time passed, then another student entered to share that a second plane just flew into the towers.  Our stunned instructor apologized for his previous comments and dismissed any who would like to see what was happening.  It wasn't long before TV's were wheeled out into the halls, where crowds of students watched in horror as people jumped and fell to their deaths from the upper stories of the smoldering twin towers ~ each crowd uttering similar gasps of terror as the towers collapsed. 

Santa Fe Community College in 2004 (courtesy of Google Earth)

It is one of only a few moments in my life, when I witnessed a turning point in history; in this instance, one that would resonate through our society and culture in such a way that it fundamentally altered the way we view ourselves and the rest of the world.  For the first time that I can recall, the veil of safety was pulled back to reveal the worst and most frightening face of humanity; our world would never be the same again.  I remember running the grand tour of all my friends that day, commiserating in mutual disgust and anger.  The radio seemed to play Five for Fighting’s until-then, underrated tune on an endless loop and the news provided 24 hour continuous footage of the horrors that befell the citizens of New York that day, much to the detriment of our emotional stability; it wasn't healthy, but we all watched ~ nothing else mattered. 

In the first episode of The Daily Show following the attacks, Jon Stewart struggled to maintain his composure as he discussed having to witness that day’s events from his home, within full view of the twin towers.  That day and the events that followed would change the trajectory of his show, and give his comedy purpose.  Stewart was among many personalities that would rise from this tragedy and go on to influence diverging perspectives on our country and the world. 

September 11 was a rare moment of American solidarity ~ we stood unified in horror and anger.  What happened next is history, but these events continue to unfold.  American solidarity is a contradiction in terms these days, except when describing the reverence we share for those first responders, the heroes in the buildings and on the street (many surviving to suffer debilitating medical conditions that will be with them the rest of their lives), and the countless others we lost that day. 

New York's "Tribute in Light" (Associated Press)
Over the course of our daily lives, we passively bear witness as history is born, frequently oblivious to the events that will define our past and shape the future.  Maybe once in a generation or so, it seems, lightning strikes and something happens that is so exceptional (or terrible, as in this case) that we collectively come to a sudden stop and watch history in the making.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reviving the Clermont

Poncey-Highland's historic Clermont Hotel has been in the news recently, as the Atlanta City Council approved a rezoning proposal that would convert the Clermont and two neighboring parcels along Bonaventure Avenue to mixed residential commercial, making it possible to move forward with plans to redevelop the old hotel.

Recent Photo of the Clermont Hotel (courtesy of Bita Honarvar, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
The Clermont was built in the 1920s as an apartment building and converted into a hotel in the 1940s. The building is best known for the Clermont Lounge, a bar and strip club that operated in the basement since the late 1960s. Having never been there myself, I hesitate to attempt any description, except to say, based on the many accounts I have heard and read, it sounds a bit like a working class Studio 54, except 1984 began a long, long time ago, and neither changed, nor ended. My favorite sound-byte on this colorful Atlanta institution is that it is "less a dive than a complete submersion." The building and lounge were closed by health officials in 2009.

1960s Advertisement (courtesy of Atlanta Time Machine)
AM 1690's Sidewalk Radio did a wonderful story on the Clermont Hotel that includes glimpses of its history and discussions with Boyd Coons of the Atlanta Preservation Center, and Mike Gamble, of G + G Architects of Atlanta, in addition to DJ, a long-time bouncer, and Blondie, who's name is synonymous with the Lounge.

Aerial View of the Clermont Hotel in 1968, the year the Clermont Lounge Opened,
viewed from south (courtesy of

Birds Eye View of Clermont Hotel, from north (

The building was acquired in January 2013 by Clermont Hotel Partners LLC, a company led by Philip Welker and Ethan Orley, principals of BNA Associates LLC. Welker and Orley are real estate professionals that specialize in mixed-use redevelopment projects. The design concept provided to the zoning commission was drafted by G + G, who won the 2009 Clermont Design Competition sponsored by then-owner Gene Kansas. Their winning design included a rooftop bar, complete with reflecting pool and eerie bunny sculpture, and an ultra-modern lobby with a "flirt bar" that would extend the entrance from the facade to Ponce, all enclosed in luminous poly-carbonate walls (in what would undoubtedly be both the coolest and hottest lobby in Atlanta).

Lobby Concept from the 2009 Competition Winning Design (courtesy of G + G Architects)

G + G's design was an attempt to acknowledge the history of the building without over-celebrating or reproducing it. Theirs is a common perspective, by which one might argue that the continuity of history ~ that is, the ongoing use of and building onto the historic properties ~ is more appropriate than the elevation of the past that is fundamental to early (and ongoing) preservation efforts, which are usually more interested in returning buildings to an appearance from some specific point in their past. Neither approach is fundamentally right nor wrong, they merely represent different philosophies in preservation. That said, balance is the important factor, regardless of which philosophy you follow; and G + G has some experience of the modernist consumption of historic buildings (for example). 

This excerpt from the design concept highlights the proposed parking structure (in blue), repaving of
the hotel plaza along Ponce (in red),  and the entry extended to the sidewalk along Ponce (in green). 

The zoning proposal included a concept produced by G + G, which includes the construction of a parking structure to the south of the hotel; repaving of the front plaza along Ponce; and plans for landscaping and the renovation of the residence at 673 Bonaventure Avenue, which will become a separate guest lodge. The City Council set forth a series of conditions that the owners will have to satisfy in their redevelopment. The design for the parking structure must be compatible with the original architectural character of the Clermont Hotel building and landscaping plans must be created and then approved by the Office of Planning and the City Arborist prior to implementation. The asphalt pavement along Ponce, in front of the building, will be removed and replaced with decorative pavers or scored concrete. There are additional restrictions set on lighting, which is to be directed away from residential areas, and sound, and most of these (there are eight conditions, in total) require approval by various authorities. The most interesting condition is number eight, which stipulates that following the redevelopment of this property, the owner will be responsible for nominating the Clermont Hotel building as a local Landmark. 

The design includes an extension from the front door to Ponce; it is unclear whether or not this is a carryover from G + G's 2009 design or if this is merely a more traditional awning to provide a place for easy check-in, before driving around to the parking deck in back.  

Welker and Orley bring a vision of a boutique hotel to this project. There has been no public discussion of the degree of work required and the level of impact anticipated to the historic fabric of this building. BNA's website features two examples of redevelopment projects involving historic properties; these are the Clarkesville High School in Clarkesville, TN (known now as the Penn Warren Apartment Building), and the Oliver Hotel of Nashville. Their role in these projects is not well-defined in either instance, so it is difficult to gauge the quality of their work; however, photos of the interiors of both buildings suggest the work was somewhat typical of redevelopment projects involving historic properties, in that the exteriors were essentially preserved, while the interiors resemble new constructions.  It's easy to glance at a few photos and shout Facadism!, but that would be foolish as we simply do not have a full picture of either project. While the exterior of the Clermont is essentially intact and appears to be in good condition, the state of the interior is infamous. At the time of its closing there were accounts of roach infested rooms, black water running from the faucets, and worse. It is likely that much of the interior walls will be gutted to upgrade piping, wiring, and install central heating and air; but what of the flooring, the doors and windows, lighting fixtures, etc.? 

This is an exciting time for this area with the ongoing rehabilitation of the old Sears Building and now the Clermont. As I'm sure many are, I am very much looking forward to learning more about the plans for this building. Stay tuned to RNB for more on this project ~ I'll keep my ear to the web and be sure to share any updates as this unfolds.