Friday, March 30, 2007

Enjoy Troy!

As you may have noticed, we love to promote Troy. And today we'd like to point out that it's that time of the month again -- Troy Night Out, an evening of arts and culture -- which means time to get out, explore, and experience the arts scene here in our ever-improving river city. This event, which will occur monthly, actually began in February, when it was still bitterly cold and snowy. In spite of the weather, event organizers estimate that 300-400 people bundled up and enthusiastically visited over 30 venues. Given the relatively balmy weather forecasted for tonight, many more people are expected.

As noted on the event's web site, Troy Night Out offers opportunities to:
  • LOOK: Visit Troy's 20+ fantastic galleries and art venues to see artworks by established and emerging artists.
  • TOUCH: Shop till you drop! Antiques, clothes, gifts, books, and more.
  • TASTE: Hungry? Grab a light bite or an elegant meal.
  • HEAR: The night is young! We've got entertainment at several live music venues.
Links to many of the venues are available on our sidebar at right (scroll down!) as well as on the Troy Night Out web site (link above).

I, and several other BCon faculty members, will join other Pottery District residents to Enjoy Troy. Speaking of Enjoy Troy, while you're enjoying Troy Night Out, see how many Enjoy Troy stickers you can find in your travels. I see them all over -- on the back of cars, in shop windows, on back of street signs, and on T-shirts and ball caps. And, if you want your own genuine Enjoy Troy products, stop by Daisy Bakers restaurant at 33 2nd Street.

A few highlights (the web site lists 54 venues in all) include:
  • Violinist Joshua Bell performing at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
  • Paintings depicting the history of navigation on the Hudson River and beyond by Len F. Tantillo at Clement's Frame Shop and Art Gallery.
  • Vacant storefront artist projects scattered around downtown, including a video installation by Rees Shad at the Pioneer Market/Troy Food Coop.
  • A collaborative installation at 193 River Street, lighted entirely by candles.
  • The art of our Mayor, Harry Tutunjian, at Francesca's.
Be sure to visit the Troy Night Out web site and come to Troy. This event does much to bring people and organizations together, and highlights the many positive things going on in Troy right now. In addition to the major redevelopment projects we've mentioned in recent posts, there is all kinds of grass roots, neighborhood-based and collaborative activity going on -- the Troy Coop, Little Italy, Troy Cinema & Visual Arts Group (visit them tonight, and learn more about their efforts, at Martinez Gallery, 3 Broadway), Troy Waterfront and Winter Farmers Market, The Photography Center, etc.

If you can't join us tonight, join us for the next one, in April or another month. If you want to know more about Troy, check out the Troy and Rensselaer and Explore Troy links in the sidebar at right.

Also, as much as we love to promote Troy, we don't wish to discriminate against our urban neighbors and love to celebrate their successes as well. As described in this article by Kathryn Lurie in yesterday's Metroland, Albany is offering a similar arts evening (First Friday Albany) and it is rumored that Schenectady is thinking about doing one too -- Third Fridays.

All we need now is someone to take on Second Fridays....anyone? Ballston Spa? Glens Falls? Saratoga Springs? Hudson? Hoosick Falls? Cohoes?

Neighborhood Revitalization: Stylish Infill Housing

As readers of this blog know, the City of Rochester, New York, has been doing some interesting work in the areas of neighborhood organization, revitalization, infill housing design and construction, and realtor training. This previous post describes some of the programs the city and associated organizations have developed and implemented, and yesterday's New York Times had this small piece in the Currents column in the Home and Garden section (copy by Aric Chen, photographs by James Rajotte, 3/29/07)[I added web links]:

"Last week the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America, a nonprofit group based in New York City, and Habitat for Humanity completed the first of several low-cost houses they are collaborating on to “bring better architecture to the realm of affordable housing,” said Paul Gunther, the institute’s president. Although the three-bedroom, 1,400- square-foot house in Rochester cost just $90,000 (it was constructed by a volunteer crew), it has Greek Revival details that allow it to blend into the historic neighborhood, said Richard Cameron, the designer. Nilsa Rivera, 24, the local resident who was selected to live there, will move in this weekend with her 2-year-old daughter, her fiancĂ© and her brother; in June the institute will publish “A Pattern Book for Neighborly Houses,” a guide to building well-designed affordable housing."

The Projects page of Flower City Habitat for Humanity's (Rochester, New York) web site has additional information on this and other projects, including an article (on their News page) from the Democrat and Chronicle about the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America's project, which is also being carried out in Savannah, Georgia, and Norfolk, Virginia. By visiting their web site (click link above), I also discovered their blog, The Classicist. I have not had a chance to do much more than skim its most recent postings, but it looks very promising, with many rich photographs of (what else?) classical buildings and interiors, accompanied by thoughtful commentary. I've added a link to the blogroll at right (scroll down!).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kate Mullany House Included in NYS Women's Heritage Trail

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced yesterday that the Kate Mullany National Historic Site on 8th Street (just north of Hoosick Street) here in Troy has been included in the newly created New York State Women's Heritage Trail. The Mullany House, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark, is the only site featuring an early trade leader and its inclusion will undoubtedly bring more visitors. Efforts are currently underway to restore the historic three-story house to what it was like when Kate Mullany lived there in the 1870s.

Here's the press release (with minor modifications in formatting):

22 Sites Celebrate the History of Women in New York State

(Albany, New York, Tuesday, March 27, 2007 . . . ) New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Acting Commissioner Carol Ash today announced creation of the New York State Women’s Heritage Trail designed to highlight the significant contribution of women in the history of New York State. The Heritage Trail is established by Heritage New York, a program within the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“New York is home to countless women whose leadership and influence have shaped the history of our state and the future of our nation,” said Ash. “The Women’s Heritage Trail recognizes the significant contributions of these remarkable individuals and will serve as an important educational tool for generations.”

“These world class facilities focus on the daily life, culture and inspirational contributions of women in New York State,” said Ash of the Trail’s 22 designated sites or museums.

Notable sites along the Women’s Heritage Trail include the birthplace of the Women’s Right Movement at Seneca Falls; the homes of key women’s rights proponents such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; and other influential women in history, including Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt.

“It is fitting for the creation of the Women’s Heritage Trail, a celebration of the contributions of women to our state and national history, to be announced in March during Women’s History Month,” said Rich White-Smith, Director of Heritage New York. “The sites on this trail reveal the depth and diversity of women’s achievements and struggles through history, from nameless immigrants to national leaders.”

The mission of Heritage New York is to preserve, interpret and celebrate the many important events, places and people associated with the state’s history through a series of Heritage Trails based on significant historical themes. Heritage Trails include the Revolutionary War, the Underground Railroad and the Theodore Roosevelt. For more information on New York State Heritage Trails, visit

“By establishing this heritage trail linking the state’s remarkable landmarks, we are highlighting New York State’s unique role in advancing the cause of women’s rights, as well as emphasizing the important contributions of individual women in our nation’s history,” said Ash. “I invite all New Yorker’s to visit these sites and continue to learn about our history and all these facilities have to offer.”

The 22 New York State Women’s Heritage Trail sites include:
  • Matilda Joslyn Gage Home (Fayetteville);
  • Johnson Hall State Historic Site (Johnstown);
  • Marcella Sembrich Opera Museum (Bolton Landing);
  • Constitution Island-Warner House (Cold Spring);
  • Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum (Jamestown);
  • Susan B. Anthony House (Rochester);
  • Alice Austen House Museum (State Island);
  • National Women’s Hall of Fame (Seneca Falls);
  • Letchworth Museum & Council Grounds (Castile);
  • Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (Hyde Park);
  • Historic Cherry Hill (Albany);
  • Harriet Tubman Home (Auburn);
  • Wilderstein Historic Site (Rhinebeck);
  • Howland Stone Store Museum (Sherwood);
  • Watervliet Shaker Historic District (Colonie);
  • Ganondagan State Historic Site (Victor);
  • Weeksville Heritage Center (Brooklyn);
  • Lower East Side Tenement Museum (New York);
  • Women’s Rights National Historical Park (Seneca Falls);
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Steepletop House (Austerlitz);
  • Kate Mullany National History Site (Troy); and
  • Shaker Museum and Library (Old Chatham).
The Kate Mullany House is also included in the National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, "Places Where Women Made History." This itinerary includes 74 sites in New York and Massachussets, and offers the following background history:

Kate Mullany (c. 1845-1906) House

This modest three-story brick house is the only surviving building associated with Kate Mullany, a young Irish immigrant laundry worker who in 1864 organized and led the all-female "Collar Laundry Union" labor union. Even though the women laborers of Lowell, Massachusetts and elsewhere had been organizing unions to protest working conditions and wages since the 1840s, early women's unions often only lasted as long as the particular issue under debate. The Collar Laundry Union, unlike so many other unions, remained an organized force in the industries of Troy, New York more than five years after its inception. The origins of Kate Mullany's union date back to the 1820s, when entrepreneurs established the nation's first commercial laundry in Troy to wash, starch, and iron a local invention, the "detachable collar." By the 1860s, Troy supplied most of America's detachable collars and cuffs, employing over 3,700 women launderers, starchers, and ironers. Working 14 hour days for $2 a week, the women launderers labored in oppressive heat. When owners introduced new machinery that increased production, but worsened working conditions, a young woman named Kate Mullany organized a union to demand change. In February of 1864, Mullany and 200 other workers formed the Collar Laundry Union. The well organized union struck and demanded a 25 cent raise, and the laundry owners capitulated a week after the strike began. The Collar Laundry Union remained active in Troy, often assisting other unions, and even attempted to establish an employee cooperative. Mullany herself gained national recognition in 1868, when National Labor Union President William Sylvis made her the first female appointed to a labor union's national office. One of the American labor movement's earliest women leaders, the home of Kate Mullany exemplifies a strong tradition of women's union activity. The property is not open to the public.

For additional background information, please see:
  • Carole Turbin's book, Working Women of the Collar City.
  • Then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's July 15, 1998 remarks in front of the Kate Mullany house as part of her Save America's Treasures tour.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Downtown Revitalization: Troy (continued)

This morning's Record has more details about developer First Columbia's plans for the neighborhoods at the north end of downtown Troy that surround Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square, where a new hotel/conference center, offices, retail, and residential development have been proposed. For previous posts on this subject, please click here and here. For the developer's Hedley Park Place project web site, please click here.

From The Record

Developer building on Hedley's vision for Troy
By James V. Franco, Monday, 03/26/2007

TROY - While a home in Colonie is getting an extreme makeover, there are plans in the works to give a 25-block area surrounding Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square the same treatment.

Last year, self proclaimed used car salesman and developer John Hedley sold his two buildings and his Cadillac dealership to First Columbia, a major commercial development company from Latham, with the hopes it would take his vision for the area and turn it into a reality.

While nothing is set in stone, the vision First Columbia has for the area between Federal and Jay streets and Seventh Avenue and the Hudson River includes a hotel, an office building, condominiums, a riverfront promenade, a couple of parks and a new parking garage.

All told, it could mean $500 million in direct and indirect investment into the city over 10 years.

One of the first steps, said First Columbia President Kevin Bette, is to build a 1,000-car parking garage on River Street across from Hedley Park Place to consolidate all the parking spots currently scattered about in different parking lots in one spot thereby opening up the lots for development.

"The parking lots strangle future growth in the neighborhood because all you do is park on the land," Bette said. "Once we get the parking garage built, it will free up the lots and we will start to develop the waterfront."

The next step is to construct a seven-story, 120-room hotel/conference center between Hedley Park Place and the Collar City Bridge. Bette said the hotel/conference center will take advantage of "the biggest economic engines Troy has now, which are the universities." Bette has been talking to major hotel chains to get a franchise and hopes to break ground this fall.

"There are three colleges and 20,000 students in Troy, and right now their conference needs are being met outside of the market," he said, adding the lodging and conference facilities will help support the existing restaurants and retail establishments. "It will bring more student life into that section of town."

The section of the city open to the public will also get a makeover with two urban parks, one at the end of Jacob Street near the marina and one near where the former Cadillac dealership now stands.

The objective, Bette said, is to get more activity at the marina and still maintain a place for the farmers market and craft fairs.

There are also plans for a 200,000 square-foot mixed use office building for the parking lot to the south of Hedley Park Place. It will feature retail on the ground floor, office on the next six floors and the top floor will be residential.

This section of the city is one of the most underutilized, and critical in the city with 60,000 cars coming across the Collar City Bridge daily and 30,000 coming across the Green Island Bridge, Bette said. Plus there are already 1,500 people working in the area.

"It needs to be an economic and vibrant area for the city to flourish," Bette said. "We have the jobs here already and we want to add to it."

The plan, capacity and commitment to carry it out is one reason Hedley sold the two massive former manufacturing buildings he converted into office space to First Columbia. While Troy has had a steady stream of developers promising the moon and sky, Hedley thinks First Columbia can pull it off.

"I personally think he can. When you are of that size and you have the wherewithal and the equipment and people in house already, these things can happen," Hedley said. "And I think he is very committed, and when someone is that committed and they have already proven they are willing to spend money in the city ... why not?

"To put up one or two buildings is one thing but I couldn't do a 25-block area. I'm just a used car salesman," Hedley said.

Mayor Harry Tutunjian said the city will work with First Columbia and would consider extending Industrial Development Agency assistance. He did add the company has not said it would not move forward without the assistance either. He compared the scope of the plan to the Congress-Ferry Street corridor project, which Hedley is also involved in, and said construction on the two projects could happen at the same time.

"It is this type of for-profit construction that has been long overdue in the city of Troy," Tutunjian said. "It is nice to have organic growth and development and not development fueled by public dollars like (Schenectady's) Metroplex."

Bette said it would be easier to buy 50 acres of land in Clifton Park and start from scratch, and it would be easier yet to be a major landlord in the city by operating Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square, but added, "We can't keep on cutting down trees and building suburban office parks or we will be shooting ourselves in the foot.

"We can't keep the blinders on and not worry about downtowns. John (Hedley) wanted to help Troy, and that is why he sold us the buildings. Some say we were crazy and things like 'the neighborhood is no good' and we do know that, but we feel we are up to the challenge."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

BCon Weekend Update: Traditional Trades and Crafsmanship

BCon students (with visiting prospective student) spent another day with adjunct professor Don Carpentier at Eastfield Village (if you missed my previous post about the Traditional Trades and Craftsmanship class, Don Carpentier, and Eastfield Village, and would like to know more, please read this).

After a brief review of molding profiles, terminology, and construction techniques at the restored William Briggs Tavern (pictured above), the class walked to Eastfield Village's restored, fully equipped Woodshop (pictured below), a short distance away.

There, Don demonstrated the proper use of wood planes, then turned the woodshop over to the students to experiment and learn how moldings were historically made. The shop contains several hundred wood planes from various periods of history and additional hand tools Don has collected over the years.

Everyone got a chance to practice, getting a feel for the wood and various planes, and asking numerous questions.

When everyone had tried planing wood into moldings, the class returned to the William Briggs Tavern, where Don presented a slide show illustrating the evolution of the fireplace, bake ovens, and chimneys. The class broke for lunch (bag lunches brought from school), finished the slide presentation, and then spent most of the afternoon studying brickwork, fireplaces, bake ovens and chimneys at the numerous Eastfield Village buildings.

Don announced that the 2007 schedule of summer workshops is nearly complete and brochures will soon be mailed and posted on the Eastfield Village web site. These 3-5 day hands-on, highly intensive, and immensely popular workshops are open to the public; click the Eastfield Village link above if you're interested!

BCon Weekend Update: Friday Classes

It has been a hectic weekend for the Building Conservation program. Classes got off to an early start with a rare Friday morning Preservation Law Class. After adjunct professor Dorothy Miner's presentation, small teams of students presented and discussed the case briefs that were assigned two weeks ago. Each team then received another set of cases to brief and prepare for discussion for the next class in several weeks.

After breaking at noon for a brief group lunch (catered in) and some library time, classes resumed with Professional Practice. This week's guest speakers were Joe Fama, Executive Director of the Troy Architectural Program, Inc., a not-for-profit housing and community design center, and Beth Cumming, Building Conservation alumna ('02) and historic preservation tax credit specialist at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Joe spoke about TAP's recent projects in Troy and Greene County, New York, adaptively reusing former school buildings into affordable housing and programs to market older and historic former commercial and industrial space. Beth, and adjunct professor Ruth Pierpont, spoke about the role of historic preservation tax credits and other NYS OPRHP programs.

Shortly after the conclusion of Professional Practice, students dove into Preservation Design Studio. Discussion and activity focused on needs identified at the March 9th community meeting, completing the existing conditions report for the Upper Congress Street/Mt. Ida neighborhood study, and reaching agreement on final products. After agreeing on the various sections to be completed for the existing conditions analysis, students outlined subjects and graphics for a final Powerpoint presentation and a web site for the Mt. Ida neighborhood. The web site will include a .pdf file of the exististing conditions analysis of the neighborhood, resource documents, historic maps and photographs, recommended projects, neighborhood/city contacts and resources, and helpful links. Completed "blue form" survey sheets will also be included for each building in the neighborhood, along with design guidelines.

Preservation Design Studio included a working dinner, which, like lunch, was catered in. As is periodically the case, students and faculty were pleased to welcome a prospective BCon student, a restoration mason from Kent, Ohio who was visiting for the weekend.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Preserving the Recent Past - Buildings of Paul Rudolph

Modern architect Paul Rudolph's buildings have been in the news a lot lately. There was a flurry of activity surrounding the recent demolition of a Rudolph-designed house in Westport, Connecticut a month or so ago, as well as the threatened demolition of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield building in Boston, Massachusetts (to make room for a new 80-foot tower) and Riverview Highschool in Sarasota, Florida.

Today's New York Times continues this trend, with A Road Trip Back to the Future, Fred A. Bernstein's interesting, well-illustrated, and meaty article describing his recent tour of Rudolph buildings in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, including the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, NY; University of Massachusetts' Dartmouth Campus, where "two vast, twisting [concrete] buildings circle a campanile;" Jewett Art Center at Wellesley College; the Government Service Building, First Church, and the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building in Boston, Massachusetts; Yale Art and Architecture Building in New Haven, Connecticut; and Tracey Towers in New York City. A slide show of the buildings is included.

In the Arts Briefly column, today's Times also reports that Boston's Landmarks Commission imposed a 90-day demolition delay on the Blue Cross/Blue Sheild Building on March 13, 2007, and that architect Renzo Piano has withdrawn from the project to build the 80-story tower on the building's site. The Times reports that the project's developer said that "the Boston firm CBT Architects intended to 'implement Piano's design, making appropriate refinements as needed during the design review process.'"

To review many more recent New York Times articles about Paul Rudolph and his architecture, click here to visit the Times Topic link.

Get Involved: Take Action Today to Save the Survivors' Staircase (NYC)!

From the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund (World Monuments Fund, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation League of New York State, Municipal Art Society, New York Landmarks Conservancy):

After months of hard work and consultation we have a window of opportunity to move forward with efforts to save the Survivors' Staircase -- the only remaining above-ground element of the World Trade Center AND move forward with the redevelopment plans for Lower Manhattan.

New York Governor Spitzer's administration and the Port Authority of NY & NJ have been working to explore moving the Stairs to a temporary home so that construction can move forward. Please take a moment today to encourage them to continue their efforts.

Two Easy Ways You Can Help (click the link below, read and scroll down page):
  • Email Governor Spitzer to thank him for his administration's willingness to listen to the public on the issue of how we can save the stairs while still moving forward with redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. Click link and scroll to bottom of page to generate a form email.
  • Email the Director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to urge them to continue their efforts to move the stairs to a temporary site until a permanent home can be found.
To read more about this exciting development and send your emails, CLICK HERE.

Upcoming Historic Preservation Conferences

Many thanks to the Preservation League of New York State and The Attic blog (the "virtual home of the Department of Museum Studies' research students, University of Leicester, UK") for bringing these conferences to our attention.

April 19-21
Albany, New York

If you're interested in barns and other rural vernacular architecture then this conference is for you! A variety of topics will be discussed, including:
  • barn stabilization and restoration techniques
  • conducting barn surveys
  • forming a local or statewide barn preservation group
  • historic barn types, especially those in the Hudson River Valley
  • protecting the endangered American barn & other farm buildings.
  • Friday, April 20: NBA Annual Business Meeting – OPEN to all. Find out what other states are doing and talk about the future of the NBA. Dinner: Talk by noted barn historian Bob Sherman.
  • Saturday, April 21: NBA Annual Workshop - The latest information from nationally-known timber framers, barn historians & barn organizations. Dinner: Talk by timber framer Rudy Christian on the history of the tradesman.
  • Sunday, April 22: Barn Tour - We will visit 4 barns in the Albany area, stopping for lunch along the way and returning to the hotel by mid-afternoon.
Registration Fees:
Friday & Saturday $225 (Students: $100)
Saturday Only $125
Barn Tour $ 50
Location: Best Western Albany Airport Inn, 200 Wolf Road, Albany
518-458-1000 /
A block of rooms has been reserved at $79/night.

For Registration Materials contact Katie at Woodford Brothers, 800-653-2276

April 19-21, 2007
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Join the American Association for History and Computing (AAHC) and Brown University's Public Humanities Program for an innovative look at how technology allows increased dialogue between historians and a broad public audience. This conference will be of interest to anyone concerned with bringing history to a general audience, including museum professionals, archivists, librarians, historic preservationists, filmmakers, as well as academic historians.

The conference will explore:
  • The role of technology in breaking down the barriers between historians and the public
  • Ways that historians have used technology to communicate with diverse audiences
  • How the practice of "academic history" changes when made public
  • New forms of collaboration between historians, archivists, librarians, historic preservationists, teachers and students
  • New forms of display and historical representation
If you are an historian (academic, public, secondary education, graduate student), or engage history through a related discipline (librarian, archivist, publisher, editor, etc.), this conference will provide a chance to meet other professionals to discuss technology's use in history.

Special Events:
  • Brewster Kahle, Director and Co-founder, The Internet Archive, presents the keynote address: "Universal Access to Human Knowledge (Or Public Access to Digital Materials)" - Mark Tribe, professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown, and founder of, on The Port Huron Project
  • Workshops on digital libraries, video in historic preservation, 3-D laser scanning, text encoding, Zotero, and GIS!
  • Papers on on-line history, using geographic information systems in historical and historic preservation work, preserving digital collections, archives, and more!
For more information:

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Historic Preservation Blog Watch

In the past couple of days, there have been some great posts on other historic preservation and history blogs:
  • The MyHomeTown Ohio blog, which I have mentioned several times, most recently posted a story about The Most Historic Small Town in Ohio. The post describes the efforts of ePodunk, a web site dedicated to the "power of place" in American communities, to identify the most historic small towns in the U.S. and establish a Historic Small Towns Index. EPodunk uses four criteria: the number of individual listings on the National Register of Historic Places, the size of any existing National Register Historic Districts, the average age of housing, and the use of the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Based on this criteria, ePodunk's Historic Small Towns Index identifies New York State's most historic small towns as Hudson (Columbia County), Essex (Essex County), and Cooperstown (Otsego County).
  • New York City's Historic Districts Council Newsstand provides a link to the Gotham Gazette's Reading NYC Book Club's transcript from a February 27, 2007 discussion of historic preservation with Kevin Walsh, author of the recently published book, Forgotten New York (based on a popular web site of the same name), and Roberta Brandes Gratz, former New York Post reporter, author of and The Living City and Cities Back from the Edge (with Building Conservation guest lecturer and Main Street revitalization expert Norman Mintz), and a Commissioner on New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission.
  • The My Florida History blog, created and maintained by a historical research consultant in Tampa, Florida, recently wrote this post about numerous history-related blogs and has also added a blogroll feature with links to more history blogs (including, I am happy to say ours -- thanks!). Today's post talks about 300-400 brief radio program podcasts on the Florida Humanities Council's web site.
I will be adding more links to this blog's sidebar as time allows (scroll down to see them), so please be sure to check back -- and thanks for reading!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Downtown Revitalization: Albany, New York

Another great article in yesterday's Times Union was Chris Churchill's "Downtown homesteading," which describes seven planned, in progress, or recently completed large scale downtown housing projects in Albany, along with the efforts of several smaller scale residential improvement projects. Among the large scale projects are:
  • Amos at Quackenbush Square - A $40 million, 11-story tower with at least 100 apartments proposed by Queri Development of Syracuse, New York;
  • 733 Broadway - A $35 million, 9-story tower with 122 units proposed by Norstar Development USA of Buffalo, New York;
  • Wellington Row - A $62 million, 14-story office tower with 15 condominiums proposed by Columbia Development Cos., Albany, New York;
  • 33 N. Pearl Street - A $600,000 conversion and renovation with six apartments recently completed by Mike Urgo (upper floors above Jonathan's pizza parlor), Albany, New York;
  • 109 State Street - $650,000 renovation with nine apartments currently under construction by AR Building & Construction, Albany, New York;
  • 111-113 State Street, $630,000 renovation with 11 apartments recently completed by AR Building & Construction, Albany, New York; and
  • 889 Broadway, undisclosed cost, conversion of four-story building and construction of four-story building with 44 condominiums.
The article reports that a market study commissioned by the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District and recently completed by Zimmerman/Volk Associates Inc. of Clifton, N.J., found that a market exists for about 2,400 housing units. As is true in many places where downtown housing is being constructed or renovated, it is hoped that increased choice and better quality of housing will help bring more people downtown.

The target markets are "empty nesters" and young professionals. Among the latter category is Matt Baumgartner, proprietor of Albany's popular Bomber's Burritos Bar (158 Lark Street) and Noche Lounge (895 Broadway) -- one of many young entrepreneurs creating notable arts, music, dining, and retail establishments in the Capital District's historic downtowns. He recently paid $225,000 for an old industrial building on Learned Street and plans to rehabilitate the building into two apartments, one of which he will occupy himself.

The article compares the Albany housing activity to similar situations in Denver, Colorado (Lower Downtown neighborhood), Boston, Massachusetts (Fort Point Channel area), Hartford, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island. It also states that in "the Capital Region, Albany has fallen behind cities such as Saratoga Springs, where hundreds of new apartments and condos have been constructed, and Troy, which has seen significant rehabilitation of older apartment units." The article continues:
Some say the Albany lag results from redevelopment decisions that brought Empire State Plaza and ubiquitous highway ramps.

"What you see there now is a consequence of years of tragic decisions," said James Howard Kunstler, the Saratoga Springs-based author of "Geography of Nowhere" and other books on the urban environment.
Added Saratoga Springs developer Jeffrey Pfeil, who is converting a former department store in Troy [the former Stanley (Gay) building at 3rd and State Streets] into apartments [to be called The Conservatory because of its proximity to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall]:
"the incentive (for developing housing) in Troy is that it's got a wealth of fabulous architecture, and, unlike in Albany, most of the architecture wasn't torn down over the years."
The J.W. Pfeil Company also recently completed a project involving adaptive reuse of a former textile factory into the Powers Park Lofts condominiums (387 Third Avenue) in the Lansingburgh section of Troy. Available units sold out quickly.

Historic Preservation, History, and Heritage in the News

It took forever to read the Sunday editions of New York Times and Albany Times Union yesterday. There were numerous lengthy articles relating to history, heritage, authenticity and visitor or shopping experience, and historic preservation. Some of the articles may be a bit of a stretch for this blog, but all are interesting, worth reading, and related in some way to the preservation of history, arts, and culture.

A sampling of the more relevant articles in the New York Times includes (login may be required):
  • A Room for the Night (Not 40 to Life) (Alison Gregor, 3/18/07) - describes the conversion of the former Charles Street Prison (near Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston's Beacon Hill) into the somewhat humorously named Liberty Hotel. The $110 million reconstruction project includes a new 16-story tower adjacent to the former jail, which began operating in 1851, and the demolition of a daunting wall that separated the institution from the community since around 1940. The hotel will have 298 rooms, of which 20 will be in the old jail building, which had been vacant for 12 years. The project's developer, Carpenter & Company, became interested in the site because of its architectural significance and prime location with views of downtown Boston and the Charles River. The old jail is a "cruciform with four wings, [and] the structure has thick granite walls that enclose a soaring 90-foot atrium at its center — once used as an exercise yard — which is topped by a cupola. Soon, four huge chandeliers, 10 feet in diameter, will hang from winches over entrances leading to two upscale restaurants — one to be called Bread and Water — along with a 3,000-square-foot ballroom off the atrium." The architects are Cambridge Seven Associates and Ann Beha Architects. The project will likely receive $17 million in federal and state historic preservation tax credits and will include interpretive exhibits about the former prison's history. In addition to describing the Boston project, the article also indicates that adaptive reuse of former prison and jails is increasingly popular, referencing jail to bed-and-breakfast and youth hostel conversions; conversion of the Bexar County Jail (constructed in 1878) into San Antonio, Texas' Comfort Inn Alamo Riverwalk, conversion of Sultanahmet Prison in Turkey (contructed in 1918) into the 65-room Four Seasons Istanbul, depicted in the 1978 film "Midnight Express;" and conversion of Her Majesty's Prison Oxford into the Malmaison Oxford Hotel [England].
  • A Chinese Village Struggles to Save the Dying Language of a Once Powerful Dynasty (David Lague, 3/18/07) - Noting that the decline of the Manchu language has become a serious obstacle for historians studying the Qing dynasty, this article describes the efforts of a small group of village residents, including 18 that are over 80 years old, to preserve the Manchu language. As the article notes, the residents are "descendants of seminomadic tribesmen who conquered China in the 17th century, they are the last living link to a language that for more than two and a half centuries was the official voice of the Qing dynasty, the final imperial house to rule from Beijing and one of the richest and most powerful empires the world has known. With the passing of these villagers, Manchu will also die, experts say. All that will be left will be millions of documents and files -- about 60 tons of Manchu-language documents are in the provincial archive in Harbin alone -- along with inscriptions on monuments and important buildings in China, unitelligible to all but a handful of specialists." An earlier article, Manchu Language Lives Mostly in Archives (David Lague, 3/17/07) and a video in which an elderly resident speaks and sings in Manchu are also available.
  • Another article, In Aisle Three, Couch Potatoes Trying the MP3s (Michael Barbaro, 3/18/07), discusses retailers' growing use of a newish concept called "experience marketing," to sell more products to customers. Experience marketing can and should be a key aspect of downtown/Main Street revitalization programs rooted, of course, in older and historic downtown buildings and neighborhoods. The article notes that the experience marketing concept harkens back to the frequently changing themed displays at department stores in past years, and focuses on recent stores opened by Samsung, AT&T, Verizon, and Maytag (where customers can bake cookies in Maytag convection ovens, put pants through the gentle cycle of a washing machine, or put their best china through a dishwasher). Although Apple [computer] gets only a passing mention, it was perhaps the first company to use the concept in its retail stores and Starbucks and Barnes & Noble have also used the concept for years. For additional information about how Starbucks uses experience marketing, read The Starbucks Aesthetic (Susan Dominus, New York Times, October 22, 2006).
  • Chasing the Ultimate Waterfall (Michael Joseph Gross) - the author relates how he began each day in the summer of 2005 by reading the books of explorer David Livingstone and then traced Livingstone's route to Victoria Falls in November of that year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his discovery of the falls.
And, for fun, a great article about Ina Garten, a k a "The Barefoot Contessa," who like "The Naked Chef," Jamie Oliver -- and other chefs, farmers, and foodies -- long ago recognized the importance of fresh, locally produced food and the importance of place:
The Times Union included "French aristocrat tale hides in Albany archives," Paul Grondahl's very interesting review of Sheila Kohler's forthcoming historical novel "Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness." The book describes aristocrat Henriette Lucy Dillon's February 1794 flight from the angry mobs and guillotines of Paris and subsequent resettlement in Albany. The author will be talking about her research and will read from the book on Thursday, March 22nd at 8 p.m. as part of the Visiting Writers Series of the New York State Writers Institute at the University of Albany. The free public event will take place at Assembly Hall, Campus Center, University at Albany uptown campus, 1400 Washington Avenue. An informal seminar for writers will also be held at 4:15 p.m. in Assembly Hall. For more information, call 442-5620 or visit

Friday, March 16, 2007

Realtor Training in Saratoga Springs

The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation is offering a realtor training program on March 22, 2007. Upon completion of the program, "Successfully Marketing Historic Properties," participants will be able to explain the basics of historic preservation and its impact on the quality of life, locate properties in national and local historic districts, understand the benefits and responsibilities of owning a home or commercial propertity in a historic destrict, describe the design review process and discuss the tax credit options available to home and commercial property owners in New York State. The program is sponsored by Ballston Spa National Bank.

Space is limited and the registration deadline was yesterday, but you may still be able to get in. The course fee is $40 for members and $55 for non-members (includes a one year membership in SSPF). For more information, please call (518) 587-4030.

If you are interested in historic preservation training programs for realtors, you may also want to read the overview of realtor training programs that I posted earlier this month.

Downtown Revitalization: More About Hedley Park Place, Downtown Troy

City of Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian provides a few more details about First Columbia's plans to redevelop Troy's waterfront at the north end of downtown in his latest weekly message:
March 15, 2007

For the second consecutive week we spent a fair amount of time this week discussing possible economic opportunities along the Hudson River. Last week the big talk centered around the demolition of City Hall and construction of new office or hotel space in its footprint. An exciting project to say the least. This week plans surfaced for a section of riverfront north of City Hall along River Street.

For those that have not heard anything about this project as of yet you can visit

The developer involved in this project is First Columbia out of Latham, which first purchased buildings formerly owned by John Hedley last year. For the better part of a year we have been meeting with Kevin Bette from First Columbia to discuss this project. As you will see from the website, they envision this as a project that is, “A Vision for a Vibrant Waterfront District in Downtown Troy.”

I wholeheartedly agree. This project, or development, or idea, is different than anything we have discussed in Troy for a long time. The reason for that is quite simple. We are not talking about developing a plot of land like City Hall. And we are not talking about an empty 14-acre site like the $160 million Congress-Ferry Street project.

Instead this is a plan that will completely transform not one, but several neighborhoods in the City of Troy. First Columbia calls it the Hedley District and estimates that the impact years from now will be felt by more than the two-dozen surrounding blocks. This is a reputable developer that would like to spend their own money to build retail shops, commercial offices, a hotel, and riverfront amenities that will change the way of life for those in North Central, Columbus Square, and Downtown. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

For the better part of three years, I have talked about creating an environment for growth. Cleaning the streets and improving public safety leads to a better quality of life. When you combine that with the unique past and architectural infrastructures here in Troy, we are living in an era where the time is ripe for development. We are at a point here in Troy where we can increase our tax base, living options, and overall aesthetic value, and I am proud to be a part of the wonderful change.

If you have any questions on these topics, please do not hesitate to call my office or shoot us an email at [or call me at (518) 270-4401].
If you did not see the article in the Times Union on Tuesday, you can find a link and read more about the project in Tuesday's post below. You can also visit First Columbia's project web site -- Hedley Park Place -- which includes a "community master plan" rendering, watercolor elevations of potential buildings to be constructed, and additional information.

Of course, it goes without saying that this project owes much to former Hedley Cadillac owner and Troy visionary John Hedley, who was promoting, buying and adaptively using Troy's industrial waterfront and downtown commercial buildings twenty years ago, when few others were interested. His past projects include Hedley Park Place (the former Cluett-Peabody building), Flanigan Square, and the Market Block. His current project, along with the City of Troy, Rensselaer County, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy Housing Authority and other developers, is the redevelopment of lower Congress Street, which includes substantial streetscape improvements as well as redevelopment Troy Housing Authority's former Ahern Apartments site for housing (market rate and affordable), offices, and retail.

Thank you, John!

NEWS: Los Angeles County Museum of Art Considering "House Collection"

I've recently posted about Colonial Williamsburg's potential sale of Carter's Grove, one of their many historic buildings, as well as the struggles of historic house museums in general. Now, as reported yesterday in the New York Times, a different and creative twist to protecting historic buildings may be on the horizon: the director of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is thinking about collecting "significant pieces of midcentury residential architecture, including houses by Rudolph M. Schindler, Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright," and "treating them as both museum objects and as residences for curators."

Of course, a number of organizations own and operate multiple historic houses or buildings as museums (Historic New England, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to name just a few), and I've heard that a few organizations have established programs where preservation-minded people can "live in a landmark" as a means of protecting and occupying threatened vacant historic buildings. And in England, it is possible for vacationers to rent historic buildings for short-term stays from the National Trust.

Mr. Govan's initiation and consideration of this effort to protect Los Angeles' modern architecture is not really a surprise. Before moving to Los Angeles, he was director of The Dia Art Foundation in New York for 12 years. In that capacity, as many of our readers will know, he envisioned and spearheaded the fantasic Dia:Beacon project in Beacon, New York. The Dia:Beacon project involved the adaptive use of an abandoned industrial building on the Hudson River waterfront to a quarter-million square feet of gallery space for modern works in its collection which had formerly been seen on an infrequent basis in scattered locations. My brief description here does not do it justice; it was a great project and is a great place, well worth a visit.

For more information about Dia and the Dia:Beacon project, read this collection of [The New York] Times Topics articles.

From The New York Times


A Museum Takes Steps To Collect Houses

By Edward Wyatt

LOS ANGELES, March 14 — Shortly after moving here last year to take over as director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Michael Govan started looking at houses — not as a place for him to live but as potential museum pieces.

His idea — one that has rarely, if ever, been tried on a large scale by a major museum — is to collect significant pieces of midcentury residential architecture, including houses by Rudolf M. Schindler, Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright, and to treat them as both museum objects and as residences for curators.

While he has yet to acquire any properties, Mr. Govan said this week that he certainly had his eye on some, including Frank Gehry’s landmark residence in Santa Monica, a collage of tilting forms. In an interview Mr. Gehry confirmed that Mr. Govan had discussed the idea with him but said that no agreements about the house’s future had been reached.

Mr. Govan, who moved here in March 2006 from New York, where he directed the Dia Art Foundation, said his project had been driven by the immediate impression that in Los Angeles, a city defined by outdoor spaces, architecture is inseparable from art.

“It started with an effort to rethink the museum, looking at the resources that are both locally powerful and internationally relevant,” he said. “It’s clear that the most important architecture in Los Angeles is largely its domestic architecture. I’ve talked certainly to a number of people who have interesting architecture, and I’m beginning to talk to other people about raising funds to preserve these works.”

The potential cost of the houses varies widely. Many of the most distinctive properties, in Beverly Hills or the Hollywood Hills, have most recently sold for millions of dollars. Others, like Schindler’s Buck House, on Eighth Street, barely two blocks from the museum, sold for less than half a million dollars in 1995, although it clearly would be worth more than double that today.

Mr. Govan was reluctant to discuss his plans in detail, partly because he has taken only “baby steps,” he said, but also because he does not want to set off bidding wars for houses in which he is interested. He said he hoped the museum could either buy houses or have them donated, the same ways that a museum would go about acquiring paintings or sculptures.

“This whole initiative will depend on generosity,” he said. “In the same way that someone would donate a Picasso, we want people to think of ways to see these houses as works of art and to think about ways to preserve them.”

Although he said he had received an “enthusiastic response” when he presented the idea to the museum’s trustees, “we have no funds at the moment” dedicated to the effort, he added.

But the idea has already started to generate chatter in the architecture community here. Richard Koshalek, president of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and a former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, said Mr. Govan’s effort was “not only crucial for the city of Los Angeles but for the history of modern architecture.”

“Architects learn from other architects,” Mr. Koshalek said. “This history will be lost if people like Michael do not take this kind of initiative.”

While owning an architecturally significant house in Los Angeles has long carried a certain cachet, many potentially valuable works have fallen into disrepair or been greatly altered by renovations undertaken by a succession of owners.

“A number of them haven’t been touched,” Mr. Govan said. “But many have been badly renovated and fundamentally changed. So I think it’s kind of the last chance to try to preserve a group of these as a collection.”

Mr. Govan’s idea is perhaps all the more remarkable because the Los Angeles County Museum does not have a department of architecture or design, unlike some older institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

But one of the museum’s first acquisitions after Mr. Govan moved to Los Angeles, after 12 years as director of Dia, was a high-rise office interior by the Modernist architect John Lautner.

The Lautner office was formerly owned by James F. Goldstein, a real-estate investor who had Lautner design the space in 1987 for the 20th floor in a building in Century City, the commercial development on Santa Monica Boulevard in west Los Angeles.

In 2005 Mr. Goldstein was informed that his lease for the space would not be renewed, and a foundation devoted to saving Lautner works began seeking a patron who would preserve the space.

The Los Angeles County Museum initially turned down the proposal because museum officials felt it did not have the room to display the 800-square-foot office. But once Mr. Govan arrived, he seized the opportunity to acquire the work for an undisclosed amount and use it not as an exhibit but as an office — specifically, his.

The museum now plans to install the office, which includes copper walls, a wood ceiling and a floor of black slate, as part of the renovation of the May Company building, a former department store that is on the western edge of the museum’s 20-acre campus on Wilshire Boulevard. That renovation is planned for 2008 or 2009, and Mr. Govan said he hoped to use the space as his regular office, allowing visitors access to it as an exhibit on weekends.

Similarly, he said he hoped to use the houses that he collects not strictly as museum pieces but as housing for museum staff members, a perk that he said he believed would help the museum attract new curatorial talent.

“A lot of curators here have sought out interesting houses,” he said. “I thought, ‘You could just have house tours on a regular basis to allow the public to have access to them.’ ”

Although it does not have a design collection as such, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has hardly ignored the city’s architectural history. In 1987 it organized a tour in the Silver Lake community of houses by Schindler, Neutra and other architects of the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. In 1965 the museum published “A Guide to Southern California Architecture,” a book that, although out of print, is prized by real-estate agents here who specialize in architectural gems.

Various Los Angeles organizations have also sponsored tours of houses that were built as part of the Case Study program: two dozen prototypes of modern architecture, by Charles and Ray Eames, Neutra and Pierre Koenig, among others, that were commissioned by Art & Architecture magazine and built from 1945 to 1964.

Silver Lake, an area around a man-made reservoir in the hills east of Hollywood, is the site of dozens of houses that would be potential acquisitions for the museum. The 2200 block of Silver Lake Boulevard, for example, has no fewer than five houses by Neutra, who was encouraged to migrate from Vienna to Los Angeles by Schindler, who was himself born in Austria and had worked in Chicago and Los Angeles as a construction supervisor for Frank Lloyd Wright.

Schindler’s work is also ubiquitous around Los Angeles. In 2001 the magazine ArtForum listed 32 significant works by Schindler, several in the parts of Los Angeles that visitors to the city rarely get to, including Torrance, Glendale, South Central and Woodland Hills.

Mr. Govan said that because the institution was a county museum, he did not intend to limit his collection to the area immediately around the museum’s west Los Angeles location.

With Mr. Govan’s plans already being discussed in architecture and real estate circles, the museum is certain to face some competition to acquire properties, including that of Mr. Gehry. His Santa Monica house, built in 1978 and remodeled in 1993, is known for its distinctive exteriors, which include corrugated metal, plywood and chain-link fencing.

It is also in the sights of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Mr. Gehry said, which has talked to him about its registering the house or acquiring it once he completes a new residence in nearby Venice, Calif.

“In the meantime,” Mr. Gehry said, “I’m living in it.”

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Historic Preservation: Get Involved

Surfing over to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Preservation Online today, I read in their story of the week that they are introducing a new feature, Before and After: Scenes from the Past and Present, a new web-only department to document both successes and slip-ups: images of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It looks like an interesting new feature, and will offer a great way for preservationists to share good restorations, and the all-too-common bad examples, known to many as "remuddlings." This, of course, reminded me of Old House Journal's longstanding "Remuddling" feature and some of the appalling photographs readers have shared over the years. The Trust encourages readers to email photographs of good and bad projects to preservation[AT]

Being on the Trust's web site reminded me that third annual Preservation Month (May) is fast approaching. Throughout May, the National Trust and its thousands of partners across the country will demonstrate the importance of our nation’s heritage as they focus on many aspects of the preservation movement including historic travel, heritage education, historic homeownership, and community revitalization. Local celebrations will highlight the unique culture and traditions of different areas of the country. This year's theme is "Making Preservation Work." The event's web page includes links to a sample press release, publicity plan directions, a public service announcement template, and sample activities. Here in Troy, recent Preservation Week (the month's predecessor) and Preservation Month activities have included a local preservation and rehabilitation workshop, historic hourse tours, lectures, preservation-related articles in local media and similar events.

In addition to preservation month activities, it would be great if our readers facilitated local distribution of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's newspaper insert. Working with The History Channel and the Newspaper in Education Institute, the Advisory Council recently created a 20-page newspaper supplement and companion document celebrating and explaining the importance of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

As noted on the ACHP's web site, the insert began to arrive at driveways and schools across the nation the morning of Oct. 10, 2006, when it was distributed in The Washington Times. The material is designed to be printed, distributed, and used throughout the 2006-2007 school year. The insert can be obtained and printed by newspapers, as well as used electronically by teachers and students nationwide. It is available to daily newspapers through the Newspaper In Education Institute. It also is available in both high and low resolution formats at

The goal of the NIE insert (and its companion document of additional heritage stories including more communities and states) is to create a broader understanding of the importance of historic preservation on the local and national levels, and the continuing important role of the NHPA in contemporary society. It does so by recounting how authentic experience of places of natural and cultural heritage benefit communities and the nation. The cultural, educational, and economic benefits of historic preservation are highlighted. It also serves as a primer of information regarding the NHPA and the national preservation structure it created, explaining how and why so much of America’s heritage resources have been saved and put to productive contemporary use.

The insert and companion document contain examples and stories of preservation activities across the nation, as well as information on the importance of learning history and the benefits of preservation. This information can help teachers and editors find stories relevant to curricula and local history and serve as a source to spark lessons and stories that enlighten and entertain students and readers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Recent Preservation-Related News Stories

It is a big news day in Troy...although we still have a long way to go, we keep hearing about new projects that have a lot of potential for improving the city and continuing the positive momentum.

A few weeks ago, we heard about improvement plans for the lower and upper portions of Congress Street (three separate but related projects). Last week we heard about evolving plans for City Hall (or the future city hall site).

This week, there are articles about redevelopment along the Troy waterfront at the north end of downtown (click link for project web site and see below for more information), as well as efforts to advance redevelopment of architect William Demers' handsome three-story, brick, Renaissance Revival style Haskell School (constructed in 1894) at 150 Sixth Avenue, in the Lansingburgh section of Troy, which has been vacant for quite awhile now.

Demers was the architect of numerous Troy buildings, including the RPI "Approach," Beman Park Hose Co. No. 9 (the subject of BCon's first historic structure report-oriented Preservation Design Studio), several churches, several private residences, and other buildings across New York State. Haskell School is listed in the National and State Register of Historic Places; click the link to read the nomination form.
  • Major Development Envisioned for Troy (Chris Churchill, Albany Times Union, 3/13/07) - Details Latham, N.Y.-based developer First Columbia's plans for the waterfront redevelopment in the downtown/North Central area of Troy. First Columbia recently purchased the Hedley Cadillac properties, as well as the former waterfront industrial buildings known as Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square. The ambitious redevelopment plans, while still in the preliminary stages, call for "new office and condominium buildings, a seven-story hotel, and a waterfront promenade," among other things. The article continues "First Columbia has even taken the unusual step of commissioning a master plan for roughly 25 city blocks in an area bordered by Federal Street to the south and Jay Street to the north. The plan, which dubs the area "The Hedley District," calls for the eventual construction of dozens of buildings in the area just north of downtown and the Green Island Bridge.
  • Old Building Has Solid Potential (Kenneth C. Crowe II, Times Union, 3/13/07) - Describes the city's (and others) recent efforts to facilitate and encourage redevelopment of this historic school building near the border of Troy's North Central and Lansingburgh neighborhoods.
The New York Times has also had several preservation- or history-related articles that will be of interest:
  • History, Digitized (and Abridged) - (Katy Hafner, New York Times, 3/10/07) - About the potential loss or disappearance from view/memory of historic artifacts and materials because of digitization. Lengthy, but interesting and thought provoking. Reminds me of Nicholson Baker's now long-ago (1994) article in the New Yorker about the disappearance of library card catalogs as libraries moved to online card catalogs and databases.
  • Digging for the Roots of America (Donna Kornhaber and David Kornhaber, New York Times, 3/10/07) - Another lengthy but worthwhile read which describes an international conference on the origins of American theater held in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's extensive archeological investigations and research related to the possible reconstruction of the Williamsburg Playhouse, thought to be America's first theater. Includes several research-based elevation and section drawings.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

INTERVIEW #1: Jamie Donahoe, Heritage Conservation Network

Welcome to our first Building Conservation blog interview. Although I will probably start them off slowly, I hope to have interviews posted weekly or perhaps two or three times a month in the future. The interviews will be conducted mainly by email or telephone and will probably be longer than my usual posts. Our first subject is Ms. Jamie Donahoe, co-founder of Heritage Conservation Network, an organization that provides hands-on preservation skills training in diverse locations all over the world.

AF: Hello, Jamie, thank you for agreeing to do our very first Building Conservation blog interview. Since our main audience is our existing students, faculty, and prospective students, could you start by telling us how you became interested in historic preservation and initially got involved in the profession?

JD: I love old houses, and always have. When I was in high school, I would ride my bike out to small towns in then-rural northwestern New Jersey and take pictures of the houses there. I didn’t know anything about them, really, and it was only after I took an architectural history class in college that I realized I had a veritable timeline of 18th and 19th century styles right along my street in good old Long Valley. I had once planned to be an architect, but soon realized that very few people would want me to design the types of buildings I was interested in. My father, knowing of my interest in old houses, gave me a subscription to the National Trust’s Preservation Magazine and that got me started thinking in that direction.

I’d been spending my college summers in Washington DC with my sister and interned at the National Building Museum, then in its infancy, between junior and senior years and Preservation Action the following year. After receiving my Masters in Preservation Studies from Boston University, I moved to Boulder, Colorado with my boyfriend – now husband – and got involved with preservation there, volunteering with Historic Boulder and serving on the Board of Directors for many years. It was four years before I found a paying preservation job, with the National Park Service working with Section 106 mitigation and HABS/HAER, taking a major pay cut to do it, much to the amazement of the person who hired me. It’s been with my husband’s job that I’ve moved, first to San Francisco, then, eleven years ago, overseas to Croatia, Thailand, Switzerland and now Hong Kong. As I tell friends here, had I known way back when that I’d be living in all these places, I might have chosen to focus on something other than 19th century domestic American architecture, i.e. old houses, but I’m sure I’d still love them.

AF: What types of preservation projects have you been involved in during your career?

JD: I’ve worked on all kinds of projects and in many aspects of preservation. With Historic Boulder, I did a lot of fundraising and education work; with the National Park Service in San Francisco I worked on updating the List of Classified Structures, a massive undertaking which involved documenting and assessing all the historic structures in the Western parks. While living in Thailand, I worked with UNESCO on the Wat Phou world heritage site nomination. My last big project before starting HCN was coordinating the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. My background is more in the administrative aspects of preservation rather than the technical, hands-on conservation side, which is why joining with Judith to form Heritage Conservation Network is such a good match, as she has the technical side covered. HCN has worked with all kinds of historic structures, from mill buildings and houses to bridges.

AF: Can you tell us more about the Heritage Conservation Network (HCN)?

JD: Judith Broeker and I started HCN in 2001. I had helped Judith with some earlier workshops with her company Preservation Unlimited. Those workshops were quite successful. Together, we decided to create a non-profit organization that would work around the world, providing people with the opportunity to learn new preservation skills and learn about different types of structures and cultures. It has grown a bit to encompass other goals such as sustainable development, and heritage tourism, but at its core, we match people with preservation projects. Those people may be looking for training opportunities or want to contribute to a worthwhile project; either way, we keep them busy.

AF: How do you select HCN workshop sites?

JD: We receive requests for assistance via the Suggest a Workshop feature on our website. Our board of directors reviews the requests and determines their feasibility, based on certain criteria such as historic value, the type of work that needs to be done and whether it can double as a training opportunity, the level of community involvement, and logistical considerations. Most of the requests we receive are very legitimate and it pains me every time we need to turn someone down. But we’re really operating at maximum capacity now, and until we grow a bit more, we just can’t accommodate any more. We certainly know the demand for our assistance, in the form of workshops, is high.

AF: Who are the HCN workshop faculty and how do you find them?

JD: Our technical experts are professionals with particular expertise. We generally find them through our network of contacts – both our own and those of our project partners. Sometimes, however they find us, as in the case of Andy deGruchy, the masonry expert who led the Wiesel Bridge workshop. He himself wanted to save that bridge and contacted us, offering to contribute all the necessary materials and donate his services. We provided two full crews of volunteers, and at the end of the two weeks, the bridge had been fully restored. People who work with historic structures, needless to say, tend to be quite passionate about their work.

AF: Who usually attends an HCN workshop, are they mostly for students or experienced professionals?

JD: Workshops attract a mixture of people, many of whom are students and professional preservationists who want to get some hands-on experience. The workshops are a great way to get hands-on with a project, especially for those in the field who, like me, work more on the administrative side of things. Lobbying and surveying are just as important, of course, but I have to say there’s nothing quite like actually hammering a few nails to feel like you’re part of something real. And of course each workshop also includes volunteers from the local community who are preserving their own heritage, as well as participants who have chosen “voluntourism”, spending their vacation contributing their time and energy to a worthwhile project. Participants often cite the group itself as one of the highlights of their HCN experience. What can I say, good people do good things.

AF: Can you describe “a day/week in the life” of an HCN workshop? What is it like to participate in an HCN workshop?

JD: Each workshop is a completely different experience so it’s a bit hard to generalize, but I’ll try. Lodging for participants ranges from cozy bed and breakfast accommodations to hostel-style dorm rooms. You’ll generally find the price of a given workshop reflects the accommodation being offered. In the case of the Kornthal Parsonage workshop, people have offered to host participants, which means we are able to offer two levels of lodging and therefore two price levels. We usually offer a different rate for people who don’t need accommodation; they may be camping, or have relatives in the area.

Participants are responsible for making their own travel arrangements to the site, such as air fare, rental car if needed, etc. In certain cases, we arrange transportation to the work site every day, though in most US workshops people arrive on their own accord. When necessary, we will write letters in support of visa applications, but we cannot of course arrange for people’s visas nor guarantee that their applications will be approved. Since 9/11 it’s become noticeably harder for people to get visas to the US, and that has affected us somewhat. As for meals, breakfast is usually provided at the place of accommodation. During the day, snacks, drinks and lunches are provided. We learned early on that people like, or rather, need, their coffee break; neither Judith nor I are coffee drinkers and in planning the initial workshops hadn’t taken into account how important morning coffee was to the vast majority of people out there! We provide snacks, water if necessary, and lunch during the day. In the evenings, people are free to dine where they like; inevitably the group chooses to go out as a group at least once, if not all of the time. In some cases, like our workshops in Sicily and Mexico, all meals, including dinner, are provided at the site, cooked by our hosts. We may work you hard, but we definitely feed you well, too.

Each day starts with a meeting to discuss the work to be done that day, the types of things that need to be considered, etc. Often there’s a brainstorming session to determine how to tackle a newly discovered problem – just the sort of thing that comes with working with historic structures. Generally the expert demonstrates what needs to be done and how, then people can try it out for themselves. People bring different skills to the workshop and share them, so we have had architects do measured drawings, carpenters teach great little tricks, and so forth. In many cases, participants have no hands-on preservation or construction experience whatsoever and they learn starting with the basics of using historic tools or modern power tools. It’s been a pretty empowering experience for a lot of people.

Field trips are arranged to relevant sites or sites of interest. For example, at our mill workshops, we’ve spent time visiting other mills in the area. In other workshops participants tour local historic sites, learning more about their host country or region. We are often able to arrange behind the scenes tours to give participants insights to the preservation and conservation issues at the site. Other times, believe it or not, participants are so focused on their work and the goal of completing a specific task that they forego the field trips in order to keep working.

AF: What are some highlights that stand out from past HCN workshops?

JD: My own personal highlight was seeing a 26’ sill beam slip perfectly into place at the end of the 2004 workshop at the Francis Mill. We’d been working like mad to get that done – it was the crux of the entire project – and, at the last hour of the last day, we did it! We held workshops at the Francis Mill in 2005 and 2006 as well, and the mill structure has been finished, amazing, when you consider there were really just six weeks of hands-on work. The Francis Mill Preservation Society is continuing work, with a new waterwheel set to be installed in June. Our workshop at the Manor House in Slovenia in 2006 was another highlight – not only was the discovery of the original color scheme exciting, the workshop received national television coverage, giving cultural heritage preservation a big boost in Slovenia. Of course, our work in New Orleans and Bay St. Louis is something we’re really proud of. Though our effort was small in the grand scheme of what was needed, to the individual homeowners it meant the world. The people who volunteered there were really touched by the experience.

AF: Tell us about some of the upcoming HCN workshops.

JD: This year we are returning to Virginia City, Montana and supporting the Montana Heritage Commission in their efforts to preserve the town, a massive undertaking, needless to say. This year’s focus is on historic finishes, a topic on which very little hands-on training is available. The Kornthal Parsonage, I have to say, is my own personal favorite of this year’s offerings. I fell in love with the building the minute I saw the photos, and there’s a lot of community support behind the effort to save this beautifully detailed Queen Anne house. The porches in particular need of serious attention. The workshop in Ghana is our first project in Africa, and we have very enthusiastic partners. It’s another of those places I, sadly, knew little about until we got involved, and we will be there at an exciting time – the 50th anniversary of their independence and the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery. We’ll be working on two structures – a stone chief’s house on the outskirts of Accra and a colonial-era residence in James Town, an important historic area in the city. We are currently working to involve local students and residents of James Town in the project and have them working there alongside HCN participants. The field trips to Elmina and Cape Coast, both World Heritage cities, should be great. We’re in the beginning stages of planning a workshop in Ethiopia at a very interesting, and complex, site that contains both archaeological remains and standing structures. So you can see we’re really covering the globe these days. We’re working to save the Stark House in Port Robinson, Ontario, an absolute charmer of a house that has essentially rotted out at the bottom. The workshop there – tentatively scheduled for this fall – will be just one way we’ll be involved there. In 2008 we have a focus on Eastern Europe, with workshops planned for Armenia, Albania, and back in Slovenia. The buildings in Armenia - many of which are still waiting for restoration after being damaged in the 1988 earthquakes - also strike a real chord for me. Beautiful. We are being really ambitious with our plans for 2008 and 2009 – the world is a big place and there is a lot of work to be done – we’re hoping people continue to support us and not only attend a workshop but all bring friends along with them!

AF: Aside from getting a degree in historic preservation or a related field or participating in activities such as an HCN workshop, how can students and others interested in preservation get involved or get experience?

JD: Plunge right in. Volunteering is a great way to get experience. Local historical societies, local preservation boards and organizations, statewide organizations, international campaigns all need people to help them. In addition to all my work with Historic Boulder, I volunteered with the National Park Service one day a week and was able to parlay that experience into a job there. (I had very understanding co-workers at my “real” job.) The HABS/HAER summer programs are an excellent way to get a start, too.

AF: What advice would you give those entering the field of historic preservation?

JD: Preservation is a very small field – everybody knows everybody. I’m always amazed that the people I worked with ten and even twenty years ago are many of the same people who are involved today. So be a good networker! Also, it takes a lot of initiative to undertake and follow through on many preservation projects - be sure you’re in it for the long haul and give it your all.

AF: This interview is a new feature on our blog; we’d like to do more. Do you have any suggestions regarding other preservationists we should interview?

JD: Sure. Nellie Longsworth, longtime director of Preservation Action, is an amazing woman. Jeff McDonald of the Virginia City Institute for Preservation Research & Technology. Charles Birnbaum, who is synonymous with cultural landscapes. People that we’ve met through HCN that are real go-getters include Franci Pecnik, our partner and on-site organizer in Slovenia, who is at the forefront of the country’s efforts to preserve their 4000-year history, and Sam Baddoo, who initiated our Ghana workshop and is working very hard to generate interest in Ghana’s culture, heritage, and historic buildings.

AF: I’m not sure where this fits, but I’m sure people would love to know how you operate from Hong Kong (and some of the other exotic places you’ve lived/worked) and about historic preservation in those areas.

The only reason this all works is because of the Internet. I’m online constantly. HCN exists pretty much virtually – our office is in a spare bedroom and our board members are scattered about. The time difference is a bit inconvenient sometimes when I need to talk with people in the US, but as you can see, almost everything can be done via email.

Preservation here in Hong Kong is in its infancy in many ways, but it is growing. The recent demolition of the iconic Star Ferry has served as a wake up call to the people of Hong Kong and has become the rallying cry that Penn Station was in the US preservation movement. There are designated monuments, but they are often out of context: a single building among a sea of skyscrapers. The proposed end to the street markets, the long-planned proposed demolition of Queen’s Pier, and “collective memory” are issues now. At the root of it all of course is money and land value.

AF Update, 3/13/07: HCN is offering the following workshops in 2007 (in Italy, Africa, USA, and Canada):
  • Conservation Survey in the Monastery of San Giovanni Battista (Serravalle, Italy, April 1-14, 2007).
  • Traditional & Colonial Building in Ghana (Accra, Ghana, June 24-July 7, 2007).
  • Historic Finishes of the Old West (Virginia City, Montana, USA, July 9-13, 2007.
  • Preservation Work at the Kornthal Parsonage (Jonesboro, Illinois, USA, July 15-28, 2007).
  • Saving the Stark House (Port Robinson, Ontario, Canada, September 23-October 6, 2007).
Additional workshops are planned for 2008. For more information, details, and registration information, please visit the web site.