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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peacock Room, Washington, DC

The Peacock Room has to be among my favorite full room installations in any museum anywhere. This room was originally the dining room in the London home of Frederick Richards Leyland. He was a wealthy shipowner from Liverpool, England, and one of James McNeill Whistler's leading patrons. The room was designed by architect Thomas Jeckyll and constructed with intricate shelving to house Leyland's collection of Chinese porcelain.

When Jeckyll fell ill, James McNeil Whistler, who had been decorating the entrance hall of the same house, volunteered to finish work on the dining room. Whistler took some liberties with the original design, covering the ceiling with squares of dutch metal imitating gold leaf and a lush pattern of peacock feathers. He gilded the shelving and painted stunning peacocks inside of the shutters.

The Peacock Room at F.R. Leyland's house, 49 Prince's Gate, London, in 1892, photographed by Bedford Lemere.

As word of the decoration got out, Whistler began entertaining guests and members of the press in Leyland's house. This and a dispute over compensation caused a falling out. He covered the wall opposite the one holding his painting The Princess with a pair of fighting peacocks. Some say the bird to the right was given silver throat feathers reminiscent of the white ruffled shirts that Whistler wore. While the peacock to the left had a white lock rising ahove its forehead like Whistler's own white lock of hair.

The room remained intact and furnished with porcelain until Leyland's death in 1892. Twelve years later it was sold to the collector Charles Lang Freer who had purchased Whistler's Princess the year before. The room was dismantled in 1904, shipped, and re-installed in Freer's home in Detroit. There Freer displayed his collection of ceramics. After Freer's death in 1919, the Peacock Room was uninstalled and reinstalled again in the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which was opened to the public in 1923.

Detroit based architect Douglas McIntosh considered creating a replica of the Peacock Room in the building that briefly housed it in Detroit and which is still standing. The project was estimated to cost $1 million at the time. His untimely death in 2006 cut short this visionary project.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Is St. Paul's School in Garden City Nearing its FINAL HOUR?

For the past 17 years community leaders and residents have maintained and sought to go about preserving the St. Paul's School in a responsible manner. Various proposals for senior housing, high-end residential, and a community center have been proposed though have failed to elicit the necessary community support to proceed. Now up to $5 million in public funds are being considered to demolish the building and leave an empty field, or "open space" as local boosters like to put it.

The Main Building was built in 1883 and commissioned by A.T. Stewart’s wife, Cornelia Stewart, in memory of her husband. A.T. Stewart was of course the leading dry goods merchant of his time, amassing a chain of successful stores and a fortune in the process. The Garden City entry in the AIA Architectural Guide to Nassau and Suffolk Counties (MacKay 1992:13) describes the Main Building as follows:
St. Paul’s School was from the outset an extraordinary structure. Designed by Edward H. Harris in the Ruskinian Gothic Style, a mode rarely encountered outside of an urban context, the huge mansard-roofed brick building, with its ornate 300-foot facade, 500 rooms and fenestration comprised of 642 windows, was, on its completion, Long Island’s largest structure other than a resort hotel. Polychromatic voussoir-arched windows, elaborate castiron balustrades and Dorchester stone trim were some of the elements that combined to make St. Paul’s such a successful exercise in Victorian exuberance.
This and a companion building, the Cathedral of the Incarnation were commissioned as a memorial and mausoleum for A.T. Stewart in 1876. The school and cathedral serve as bookends, demonstrating the deep commitment the Stewart family had to religion and education, or more simply put faith and knowledge. These values passed on from generation to generation through people who visited and used these facilities, and contributed greatly to the strong social fabric in Garden City today. It is difficult if not impossible to imagine one standing in Garden City without the other.

Some statements from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement are telling about what Garden City stands to lose if demolition proceeds:

The removal of this centrally located historic resource would adversely impact the historic character of the Village. (Executive Summary, S-4)

The St. Paul’s School Main Building is an iconic aesthetic resource in the Village, due to its striking Gothic architecture and visibility on Stewart Avenue and adjacent open spaces. As such, the demolition of the Main Building would constitute a significant adverse impact on the visual character and aesthetic resources of the Village. (Executive Summary, S-5)

A photo essay in the Huffington Post captured well what the community of Garden City once had in terms of historic resources, but also what it is threatened to lose if demolition proceeds.

A fairly remarkable video is available featuring among other people actress Susan Lucci, Roberta Lane from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and numerous other influential people, all advocating for preservation.

Save St Pauls from Blue Boat Productions on Vimeo.

A community group, the Committee to Save St. Paul's has been formed to advocate for preservation. This group recently received their 501(c)3 status as a charitable organization. A proposal has also emerged to use the school for community uses. This deserves to be explored further.

Resources to assist them include preservation tax credits at the state and federal levels totalling 40% of certified rehabilitation costs, grants from government and private sources including the Preserve America grant which can be used for pre-development activities, and which other communities on Long Island have successfully applied for and received.

It is also worth noting the building bears some similarities to the:
A dangerous game of brinksmanship is being played today with the St. Paul's School. Village leaders likely throwing up their hands with the inability to find a solution see demolition as the only option. The terrible image and consequences they must be prepared for if they proceed with this option, is the slow dismantling of this building likely spanning several months. As truckload after truckload is carried away to some inauspicious fate in a distant landfill, this will be a severe blow to the civic pride not just of this community but of people throughout Long Island who will be deprived one of their greatest and finest historic buildings. With some work and effort, alternatives are still available, even though it appears to be the final hour right now. Could we call A.T. Stewart to action, he'd likely be one of the first to roll up his sleeves and find a solution to this problem. Instead it is the role and responsibility of this generation to perpetuate his legacy as expressed through this iconic building, and in so doing provide future generations with the example and inspiration this building has always and will hopefully continue to provide.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flushing Freedom Trail, Flushing, New York

Some time in the last two decades of the 20th century, the Flushing Freedom Trail was established to guide people to historic sites and attractions in the Flushing area. A red line was painted along the sidewalk and signs were placed along the route. This earlier route received an update in the 1990s when the "Flushing Freedom Mile" was launched. Two trails are provided - the Green Trail and the Orange Trail.

A description of the Green Trail from one of the signs follows: "The Green Trail takes you through an area where some of the most important events in Flushing's history took place. You'll see Bowne House and George Fox Stone, testaments to religious freedom. You'll learn how the Macedonia A.M.E. Church and the Flushing Female Association School served Flushing's African-American community. You'll also pass the former Parsons Nursery, where Samuel Bowne Parsons introduced the Weeping Beech, to America."

Green Trail Historic Sites

Bowne House

Bowne House: This house, built by John Bowne in 1661, featured prominently in the early struggle for religious freedom in America. It was the first place of worship for Flushing's Quakers, who were forbidden by Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant to practice their religion. Bowne was arrested in 1662 for allowing Quaker services in his home, and was then banished to the Netherlands. During his exile he was granted a meeting with Dutch leaders in Amsterdam. He described Stuyvesant's persecution of the Quakers and argued for their right to worship freely. The Dutch responded by reprimanding Stuyvesant and declaring, "The conscience of men ought to remain free and unshackeld. Let every one remain free." In 1664 Bowne returned to his house, where Quaker meetings were held for another 30 years, until the Friends Meeting House was built.

Margaret Carman Green: Flushing is considered to be the "Birthplace of Horticulture" in the New World. The first tree nursery in America was established in Flushing by William Prince in 1937 (sic). Others soon followed. These nurseries were widely known for their beauty. It was said that British General William Howe, whose troops occupied Flushing during the Revolution, so admired William Prince's nursery and gardens that he ordered guards to protect them from damage. Remnants from these nurseries can be seen in Flushing today, including exotic trees such as Bald Cypresses, and Golden Larch. Street names also echo Flushing's horticultural past: Prince Street and Parsons Boulevard, Maple, Ash, Beech, and Cherry Avenues. This park named after Flushing historian Margaret Carman, stands on land that was part of Parsons Nursery, once one of the most renowned nurseries in the country.

Kingsland Homestead

Kingsland Homestead: This house is the only surviving example of 18th century architecture in Flushing. It was built ca. 1785 by Charles Doughty, a Quaker farmer, and was named "Kingsland" by his son-in-law, Joseph King. King was an English sea captain who bought the house in 1801. Kingsland has been relocated twice since it was built. Originally located at 155th Street, the house was first moved to allow for the building of an apartment house in 1923. It was moved to a nearby site where Captain King once owned a stables. When the house faced demolition again in 1968, it was moved here, to Weeping Beech Park, once part of the Parsons Nursery. Landmarked in 1965, Kingsland was the first building in Queens to be declared a New York City landmark. Kingsland Homestead is now home to the Queens Historical Society.

Site of Weeping Birch Tree

Site of Weeping Beech Tree: The Weeping Beech Tree that once stood in this park was the first of its species to grow in this country. It was planted in 1847 by Samuel Bowne Parsons, a Flushing nursery owner. Parsons, who provided Manhattan's Central Park with many of its original trees, brought the Weeping Beech cultivar to America from Belgium. The tree was given landmark status in 1966, and was the first living landmark in New York City. Although it died in 1998, its offspring can be found in Flushing and throughout the country; all Weeping Beech trees in the United States are said to be descended from this one tree. This site was originally part of the Parsons Nursery owned by Samuel and his brother Robert Bowne Parsons. Also known for their humanitarian works, the brothers were active in the Underground Railroad.

Site of Aspinwall House

Fox Stone

Macedonia AME Church

Site of Flushing Female Association School

Former RKO Keith's Theatre

Orange Trail Historic Sites
Flushing High School
Lewis Latimer House
Flushing Town Hall
Daniel Carter Beard Square
Former RKO Keith's Theatre
Friends Meeting House
State Armory
St. George's Church

Interpretive Sign from Green Trail

"Queens Locator Map" from Interpretive Sign

Other Sources

Sunday, March 28, 2010

DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass)

View towards the DUMBO neighborhood from underneath the Manhattan Bridge from which the neighborhood gets part of its name.

DUMBO is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. During the 1970s as many manufacturing operations closed, this area saw itself become a haven for artists. The area between John Street, York Street, Main Street, and Bridge Street was named a historic district by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on December 18, 2007.

The gate blocking this vaulted arch supporting the Manhattan Bridge was recently removed, and a dramatic pedestrian walkway connects the DUMBO neighborhood with Vinegar Hill to the east. According to the website of the Dumbo Business Improvement District that was partly responsible for the conversion project, approximately $200,000 of in-kind donations were received from Pearly Realty, Two Trees Management, and Sciame Construction. Roger Marvel Architects and Jim Conti Lighting Design created a beautifully lit space.

This tiny structure at 190 Water Street, has a wonderfully whimsical door covered in bumper stickers and outdoor sculpture. Such details help to reaffirm the identity of DUMBO as an important district for the arts and artists. Photos of sculpture taken from this area follow.

At first this appears to be construction debris, though on closer inspection the concrete casts from planters of varying sizes may be discerned.

View of the Empire Fulton Ferry State Park. The terraced seating leading to the water helps to improve public access to the waterfront and allows for a natural shoreline that is better for the health of the river.

Pedro's Spanish American Restaurant with its vivid colors, murals, and gritty feel, anchors a corner of Jay and Front Street in DUMBO. Even simple buildings without much architectural character can be transformed with creativity. The low overhead then allows for this to serve as an affordable neighborhood eatery and gathering place.

Across the street from Pedro's is this massive brick warehouse building. Retail uses predominate on the ground floor, while upper floors house galleries, artist studios, and loft apartments. Among the many notable firms that call this place home, includes StudioEIS, makers of surprisingly lifelike bronze sculptures of historical figures.

Units are being subdivided on the ground floor of the Front Street building, to provide for multiple tenants. The transparency provided by window walls throughout, creates visual interest and makes individual spaces to feel less box-like.

A.I.R. Gallery was founded in 1972, as the first artist-run not-for-profit gallery for women artists in the U.S. On the second floor of the Front Street building, an artist in residence program shows the work of women artists on the 2nd floor.

Dewey's Candy at 141 Front Street opened in early 2010. The whimsical window display with larger-than-life candy sculpture fits in with the artsy character of the district.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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Harpers Ferry is an area visited by founders and presidents including George Washington who surveyed the area at the age of 17, and Thomas Jefferson who also visited. Lewis and Clarke started their expedition from this spot. This was also site of the first crossing of the Potomac by railroad on the first structural steel bridge in the world. This was also the site of the John Brown raid which precipitated the civil war.

The Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation is a non-profit leading preservation and beautification efforts in Harpers Ferry. The Foundation works with local government, the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and businesses and individuals. This volunteer-led organization has taken on responsibility for preservation of historic structures, streetscape beautification, support to business, and education and promotion of Harpers Ferry. In many respects the Foundation operates as a Main Street program, albeit with an executive director or by formally endorsing the four point approach.

In the last 990 available for fiscal year 2008 ending December 31, 2008, the Foundation reported total revenue of $42,691 and total expenses of $33,649. In the statement of program service accomplishments the following activities were reported: "State guide for visitors to Harpers Ferry was produce and tourist kiosks bought", "Tour of historic harpers ferry houses with programs", and "Brochures and rack cards of historic Harpers Ferry" (were produced). Total program service expenses were reported as $14,907.

The Walking Guide to Upper Town Harpers Ferry is an excellent publication for other communities to follow. The guide is published by the Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation with financial assistance from The West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Walking Guide documents ten buildings dating from the 1830s to present. The heritage of the communities is divided into an "Industry" period from 1800-1861. This period was when Harper's Ferry was centered around the U.S. Armory, mills, and factories in Lower Town, while Upper Town was built to house workers and their families. Armory dwellings and boarding houses were the primary housing stock until the 1850's when private homes started to be built.

The Civil War marked a period of great displacement for Harper's Ferry. Nearly every structure in Upper Town was destroyed as this are continuously was reoccupied by the North and the South. Some houses were confiscated for headquarters, and the military used many Camp Hill homes, churches, and businesses as hospitals. Other houses were destroyed for firewood.

The last 35 years of the 19th century was a time of reconstruction and gradual growth for the town. In 1865 Storer Normal School was established on Camp Hill to teach former slaves, and grew to become Storer College. New Victorian houses were constructed in Upper Town, some as summer houses. From this time forward people sought out Harpers Ferry for entertainment, recreation, and Civil War history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation forming Harpers Ferry National Monument on June 29, 1944. This was established to commemorated significant historical events occurring here prior to, during and shortly following the Civil War. This is accomplished through on-site exhibits, museums, ranger-led interpretive programs and self-guided tours. The historic lower town represents a 19th century commercial district developed around water powered industry. Numerous other neighborhoods and geographic areas are recognized for their historic, natural, and scenic qualities.

Preservation Napa Valley, Napa Valley, California

At a time when Napa Valley is facing major challenges with limited consumer demand, and some wineries considering to sell their grapes outright, skipping a vintage, or simply leaving them on the vine, it is interesting to reflect on the preservation heritage of Napa Valley and the forces that brought this present-day situation about.

A New York Times article from February 16, 2010, stated that sales of wines priced at $25 and above have dropped 30 percent nation wide. While global wine sales increased, California wine shipments fell for the first time in 16 years. One response to these changing conditions has beenn to sign up new customers through social media, rather than waiting for people to drive to the wineries. Increasing pressure is also being placed on public officials to allow wineries to make direct sales out of state, rather than having to go through distributors.

Preservation Napa Valley was founded in 2008 by now present director Wendy Ward as a 501(c)(3) organization. Ward also serves as Vice Chair of the Cultural Heritage Commission for the City of Napa, a board member for the Napa County Historical Society, and a board member of Butte Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization. She also is a member of Napa County Landmarks, the California Preservation Foundation, the Association for Preservation Technology, the Vernacular Architecture Forum, and American Archeology.

Their stated mission of Preservation Napa Valley is as follows: "While embracing the past and looking toward the future, to preserve, protect and build awareness for Napa county's architectural and cultural resources through education and advocacy."

Among their programs are a "Preservation and a Pint" panel discussion on the Valley's agricultural future. These events feature speakers and are free and open to the public. The goal of the event expressed by Wendy Ward is "to have a convivial, casual and fun setting to bring together speakers and audiences to talk about things that need to be talked about."

While this approach to regional discussions is refreshing, there are real threats to Napa Valley in the form of development pressure, and bungled cooperation among all levels of government including with the federal government on a recently proposed "wine train."

The City of Napa Planning Commission recently was asked to weigh in on placement of a high-end St. Regis resort among the vineyards of Stanly Ranch. Commissioners endorsed the proposal 4-1, saying it would benefit the city economically and not hamper downtown revitalization efforts. Others felt this set a poor precedent for future projects as they came up.

Previous approvals had been provided for a Ritz-Carlton that would be a greater benefit for the downtown, though this is still awaiting financing. Getting this financing might be much harder with the St. Regis approval.

If the project goes ahead as plan 42 acres of vines will be retained on a 93 acre site "creating a wine country ambiance for guests" according to the Napa Valley Register.

Either Napa Valley is a wine country or not. Preservation Napa Valley has an excellent opportunity to burnish the valley's already strong reputation, and make sure that is passed on to future generations through preservation, preventing over-development, rebuilding traditional downtown areas, and protecting open spaces. Much like wineries who are being forced to find new ways to sell their product, Preservation Napa Valley has an opportunity to find new ways to sell the region and especially its image, historic buildings, and iconic landscapes in meaningful and authentic ways.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Preserve America and Save America's Treasures Threatened

Much discussion has surrounded the recent White House budget that provides zero funding for the Preserve America and Save America's Treasures program, to keep State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers funding level, and to cut the National Heritage Area program by half.

A White House blog post titled "Tough Choices" on January 30, 2010, cited Preserve America and Save America's Treasures as two programs to be cut. The rationale provided was "Save America’s Treasures program was started to mark the millennium and was supposed to last for two years. Both programs lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear."

A quick response was provided by Donovan Rypkema in his PlaceEconomics Blog:
Between 1999 and 2009, the Save America's Treasures program allocated around $220 million dollars for the restoration of nearly 900 historic structures, many of them National Historic Landmarks. This investment by the SAT program generated in excess of $330 million from other sources. This work meant 16,012 jobs (a job being one full time equivalent job for one year...the same way they are counting jobs for the Stimulus Program). The cost per job created? $13,780. This compares with the White House announcement that the Stimulus Package is creating one job for every $248,000.
As anyone who has been through a Save America's Treasures application process can attest, these applications are rigorously reviewed by career federal employees. Competition for these grants is intense and only the finest of projects receive funding.

Preserve America is a very different sort of federal program. This program provides an opportunity for communities throughout the United States to be named a "Preserve America Community". Nearly 800 have done so since 2003. Preserve America Communities may then apply for between $20,000 and $250,000 for heritage tourism, historic preservation planning, history education, and economic development projects. A summary of Total Grants Awarded through 2008 on their website shows since funding began, $17 million has been awarded through 6 competitive rounds. This has resulted in 228 projects being funded from over 601 project proposals requesting $30 million. Preserve America has provided advocates an invaluable tool to bring to local elected officials and get them on the preservation bandwagon.

As those familiar with the Preserve America program know, this is not the first time the program has been faced with a cut. A grant round in 2009 was postponed for lack of funding. Another grant round was announced and applications just requested by February 12, 2010. This was made possible through actions of the Congress to provide an additional $3 million for Preserve America.

Of all cuts submitted as part of the budget process, only around 60% of these make their way into law. So the burden now appears to be on advocates throughout the U.S. to make their case why these programs deserve to be funded. The best opportunity may be in the next two weeks when preservationists throughout the U.S. will come to Washington as part of Historic Preservation Advocacy Week. Pat Lally, Congressional Affairs Director, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes the event as such:
We’ll be making a full court press on the Hill to oppose the elimination of SAT and Preserve America. We’ll also oppose other cuts to important preservation programs, and lobby for increased funding for State and Tribal Offices.
For those interested in attending Historic Preservation Advocacy Week, it is not too late to register.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Eddie G. Robinson Museum, Grambling, Louisiana

The Eddie G. Robinson Museum in Grambling, Louisiana, honors the memory of a college football coach who worked to overcome the stigma of racial segregation. Located on the campus of Grambling University this museum is the outgrowth of a volunteer effort to find a suitable way to honor Mr. Robinson. These efforts were greatly aided by an appropriation of $3.3 million from the Louisiana State Legislature in June 2008. This allowed for the original women's gym on Grambling's campus to be converted. The museum includes a small theater, a display wall with photos of every Grambling player who went pro, and a scale model of the Cotton Bowl scoreboard showing the final score of Grambling's victory over Alcorn State in 1985. The museum also houses primary source materials including oral histories, playbooks and game plans, and correspondence.

The museum is one of several attractions along the Louisiana African-American Heritage Trail, beginning in New Orleans and making its way through south and central Louisiana to the north end of the state. This program with the tagline "A story like no other" has a professionally produced website, with video and music introduction. Less a trail than a collection of sites throughout the state, this still represents a notable effort to present African-American heritage throughout Louisiana.

GMC Advertising is responsible for the "A Story Like No Other" campaign. They were the recipients of three "Addy" awards for this work. The Mosaic Award and the Judges Award-as well as a Gold Award for Sound Design-were given in recognition of a series of narrative vignettes featuring Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. GMc+Company created, wrote and directed the series as part of a multimedia campaign to promote Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail, a project of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Official Museum Website

Facebook Fan Page

Louisiana Museum Confronts Segregation, New York Times, February 12, 2010

Louisiana African-American Heritage Trail

A Story Like No Other

Friday, January 1, 2010

Little Hollywood, Kanab, Utah

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Kanab, Utah, was named "Little Hollywood" in the 1950's by people in the movie industry who used this as a location for filming of television shows and movies. MGM built a makeshift studio outside of town in the 1940s. More Westerns were produced near Kanab than anywhere else outside of California. Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and Ronald Reagan were among the movie stars who worked here. The Frontier Movie Town attraction in Kanab offers tours of movie sets. An interpretive sign effort has placed signs throughout the Town featuring photos and descriptions of performers who once worked here.

Among the movies filmed in or near Kanab include:

1950 - The Lone Ranger (TV)
1950 - Death Valley Days (TV)
1952 - Westward the Women
1955 - No Place to Ride
1956 - The Rainmaker
1957 - The Dalton Girls
1957 - The Girl in Black Stockings
1957 - War Drums
1960 - Wagon Train (TV)
1960 - Gunsmoke (TV)
1962 - Sergeants Three
1966 - Duel at Diablo
1967 - The Long Ride Home
1967 - A Time of Killing
1969 - Mackenna’s Gold
1970 - Six Million Dollar Man (TV)
1971 - The Devil and Miss Sarah
1973 - One LIttle Indian
1976 - The Outlaw Josie Wales
1976 - In Search of Noah’s Ark
1976 - How the West Was Won
1979 - Donner Pass - The Road to Survival
1979 - How the West Was Won
1979 - The Apple Dumpling Gang