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. - http://www.atlantatelephonehistory.info/offices_atlanta.html

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.

HistPres.com, 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.