Moving Buildings – San Antonio

July 20, 2016

I am living in an historic building that was moved more than a mile from its original location, from the King William district, the first historic district in Texas.

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This is the 1881 Oge carriage house, now located near the Yturri-Edmunds house, which is in its original location near Mission Road.  Our San Antonio Conservation Society moved the house here in order to save it.  On the same property we also have the Postert House, an 1850 palisado cabin which was similarly moved in order to save it from demolition.  In fact, I remember very well in 1985 when San Antonio set a record for moving the largest building that had ever been relocated on wheels, the 1906 Fairmount Hotel.

Fairmount Moving a 3.2 million pound building was an impressive feat, and like most preservation feats in San Antonio, it was an achievement of the San Antonio Conservation Society, who instigated the move, got the City behind it, and loaned developers money to cover operating shortfalls.  It was the largest building moved ON TIRES and it made a huge splash, but we need to recall that moving buildings – on rails or logs, was exceedingly common in the past.  A few blocks away you can see the former Alamo National Bank building, a five story building constructed in 1902 and then moved in 1913 to accommodate the widening of Commerce Street.  It then had three more stories added.

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Moving buildings was much more common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, even though the technology was more limited.  Part of the reason is economic – back then the improvements could be more valuable than the land.  Also, people prior to 1946 were less wasteful.  And those buildings were built to last.  I actually lived in an 1872 house that had been moved – only a hundred feet or so – in 1878.

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This is the only non-San Antonio photo in this blog.  Obviously.

Some San Antonio buildings have moved more than once.  Trekking from the Main Plaza past City Hall toward Market Square, you will encounter the O. Henry House (not to be confused with the O. Henry House in Austin) where the famous writer lived while editing his newspaper The Rolling Stone.

ohenry house

Well this is one peripatetic house.  Originally it was over a mile away on South Presa Street, and threatened with demolition in 1959, the San Antonio Conservation Society arranged to have it moved to the Lone Star Brewery where it was part of a museum collection until the brewery closed in 1997, at which point it moved to this downtown location and is again a museum.

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San Antonio has been saving buildings by moving them for so long that when they staged their World’s Fair in 1968 its distinctive feature was the re-use of some two dozen historic buildings.  Many more were lost, and some of those promised to be saved, like the stunning Greek Revival Groos House, were demolished by neglect or deceit.  Yet at the end of the day it was the first World’s Fair to invite historic buildings to the party, a fact celebrated by no less than the New York Times’ architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable.

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Now that the fair is approaching its 50th anniversary, some of those buildings are being saved – and in some cases, moved – again.  Interestingly, some of those buildings will actually benefit in the new Hemisfair plan by being moved AGAIN, because they will be placed in their original orientation and in fact streets are coming back so the buildings will have a more sensitive context than they did in 1968.

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This is the stone Twohig House, built in 1841 and reconstructed on the grounds of the Witte Museum in Brackenridge Park exactly one hundred years later, with furnishings provided by the San Antonio Conservation Society.  The Witte actually has several buildings in what I once derisively called “a petting zoo” of historic buildings, including this lovely Onderdonk Studio and the Ruiz House, which is adaptively reused as the Witte’s gift shop.

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I have been to the first “petting zoo” which Artur Hazelius created in the 19th century in Stockholm Sweden.  The purpose there was to preserve an understanding of rural heritage in an increasingly urban society.  The houses at the Witte are connected to the interior exhibits on local history and thus well interpreted, but the whole question of moving buildings is problematic in the heritage conservation world.

The basic idea is that moving a building destroys the CONTEXT, the sense of PLACE.  We do not consider these art objects as much as PLACES, so our laws reflect that.  My carriage house and the little Postert House behind me are NON-CONTRIBUTING structures to the Yturri-Edmunds National Register nomination because they are not original to the site.

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This is the Grist Mill at the Yturri-Edmunds complex, and it is in its original location – but it is not the original building but a 1970s reconstruction on the original foundations.  Like relocated buildings, reconstructions also have a hard time becoming landmarks.  The challenging conceptual bind is this – by relocating and thus saving the structure, we retain more knowledge and information about the past and can interpret it for the public.  But we have a harder interpretive job, because context has been lost, much as in the relocation of precious archaeological treasures.  Relocation is indeed a last resort, but sometimes it makes sense, like in the case of the Stuemke Barn, which we relocated behind our headquarters in King William because it was the only remaining building left on a downtown block being readied for a skyscraper.  In 1982.  The skyscraper isn’t up yet, by the way.

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That’s the thing about big real estate developers – they don’t move as fast as us.

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Ruiz House at the Witte Museum

Perhaps San Antonio has moved so many buildings because it feels the power of preservation much more than most cities, and has done so for much longer.  This is a community that will not stand by when an element of its built heritage is threatened.  Even if we have to number the stones and reconstruct it, even if it must move a mile or more, we are not willing to simply document what was – we want it as part of our future.

 

 

 

Places of the Heart Part 1

July 8, 2016

I just read Colin Ellard’s Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life because I saw a reference to his studies, which measure how buildings and landscapes affect our bodies and minds, our thoughts and emotions.  He famously tracked persons’ stress levels as they encountered blank and forbidding urban scenes versus human-scaled and interesting ones.  Blank and forbidding facades increase cortisol and stress.  Varied and humane ones trigger dopamine.

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Where are the people?  Why don’t they flock here?

Large Cairoli curving facade

Oooh, that’s better, yes, right there…

The book is an excellent survey of recent advances in neuroscience that further demolish the old mind/body and brain/heart dichotomy.  We all know that architecture and design can affect our feelings, but it turns out that affect – our feelings – are also part of the infrastructure of our thoughts.  Ellard describes his own reactions to places like Stonehenge and St. Peter’s in Rome and traces the history of built structures from the pre-agrarian ceremonial structures of Göbekli Tepe which are for him “prima facie evidence of our early understanding of the power of built structure to influence feelings.” (p.15)

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Celtic stone circle in the Wachau, Austria.

The book is rich in references to a wide variety of studies in neuroscience, including Giacomo Rizzolatti’s discovery of mirror neurons in the early 1990s, where even the adoption of a pose (or the witnessing of that pose) can affect one’s affect. This reminded me of my work over 20 years ago developing a wayfinding system for the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor, where consultant Richard Rabinowitz’s American History Workshop developed interpretive systems that altered your posture to make history come alive.  Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright used pathways, compression and release of space to direct our attention.

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We walk the walk with Wright

Ellard very early quotes John Locke (the new one, not the old one) in regard to WALLS – which Locke notes were not just created for protection but also “to protect us from the cognitive load of having to keep track of the activitites of strangers.”  The enterprise of psychogeography is thus the commodification of ATTENTION.

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Who needs a TV?

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Attention is itself an amazing illustration of the interconnections of mind and body.  Ellard notes that we “form preferences for certain types of faces within 39 milliseconds of their appearance” and we extract the gist of a landscape scene within 20 milliseconds, which means that these processes are happening faster than our “rational” mind can process them.  But we process them nevertheless.

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Eppur si muove

Living in San Antonio the famed River Walk is an excellent example of the kinds of things that appeal to our basic neural emotions and thoughts.  Curving lines, a variety of materials and images, an ever-evolving perspective.  This is even codified in the River Improvement Overlay that requires design variety at the River Walk level, a perfect codification of Ellard’s thesis that “by simply changing the appearance and the physical structure of the bottom three meters of a building facade, it is possible to exert a dramatic impact on the manner in which a city is used.” (p.110)

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Even if it is a parking garage…

This is rooted in our basic neural processes, according to Ellard “we are biologically disposed to want to be in locations where there is some complexity, some interest, the passing of messages of one kind or another.” (p.113)  It is not simply variety, but the URGE TO KNOW.

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I love the San Antonio River Walk.  Also, I think it.

Invigli Via Ascanio best

Milano

This knowledge of the psychogeography of everyday life is in fact a powerful tool for heritage conservation; for preserving the detailed, human scaled buildings of the past that accomplished information variety and integrated attentiveness.  This is much more than aesthetics.  It is mental health.

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Fort Collins

STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO WHERE WE DELVE INTO TECHNOLOGY (and Authenticity) (and how all cognition utilizes ellipsis)

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Alamo Plaza and Modern Archaeology

June 30, 2016

One of the great things about being in San Antonio is that they have 300+ years of history and a city archaeoligist.  My years at Global Heritage Fund brought me into contact with a lot of archaeologists, just at a time in history when the field was being revolutionized by LIDAR, ground-penetrating radar and all sorts of other high-tech options that allowed us to evolve beyond simply digging things up, which is inherently destructive.  Here is a blog about LIDAR from a little over a year ago.  I also did a lecture at the Pacific Union Club a while back on the latest in archaeological technology, and another blog last year titled Heritage in the Age of Virtual Reconstruction.

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It seems that the investigation of the Alamo Plaza to determine the 1836 battle boundaries is focusing on digging.  There is one good reason for this – they are planning to engage the public in the discussion, and having actual pits will foster curiosity and engagement, as this recent article describes.  There has been and will be use of ground-penetrating radar as well, and we can hope they use the full range of 21st century technology for such an important site.  As George Skarmeas said in the article – it is like Athens in terms of the layers of history!

In fact, there is an excellent summary of the latest developments in archaeology – and historic interpretation – just up the river at the Witte, which has an excellent exhibit on the Maya.

Witte Maya show overlay

Actually, the technique here is pre-digital.  Those older blogs show examples of the kind of virtual reconstructions that have been available to visitors for decades.  The excellent thing about this type of interpretation is it does the same thing as digging in terms of engaging the public.  You do more than simply look at a single thing: you see the layers and allow your mind to reconstruct the historic view.  In fact, if you skip ahead to the next blog, this is, in fact, how your minds works.

 

 

 

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San Antonio Conservation

June 26, 2016

“The entire mix of cultures was their birthright, the soul of their home city, and it was not to be taken away. Their goal became the saving not only of landmarks but of traditions and ambiance and natural features as well, the preservation of no less than San Antonio’s entire cultural and natural environment.”

Lewis F. Fisher, Saving San Antonio, p. 91-92

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For many years I have been pushing for “heritage conservation” as a superior term to “historic preservation” because it suggests a broader array of heritage beyond the architectural.  I have also been working to reform the National Register of Historic Places to better represent the diversity of the American experience.

La Villita cafe.jpgAnd now I am in a city that has recognized conservation as being about “place” more than buildings.   A city that has ALWAYS celebrated its cultural diversity.  San Antonio, Texas.

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Remember that detail?

When I told people I was becoming the Executive Director of the San Antonio Conservation Society every single one had something good to say about San Antonio.  What do you like about the city?  Chances are you have the San Antonio Conservation Society to thank for it.

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Mission San Jose

You like the Missions, which include the Alamo and four more (Concepción, San Jose, San Juan de Capistrano, Espada) that last year became one of only a couple dozen WORLD HERITAGE SITES in the U.S.?  Thank the San Antonio Conservation Society, which purchased mission lands in the first half of the 20th century and then gave them to the National Park that now operates there.

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You like the Riverwalk?  Thank the San Antonio Conservation Society, which fought plans to fill in its winding course and brought in the architect (R.H.H. Hugman) who designed this attraction in the 1920s.  Very few organizations have had such a concrete (or more appropriately, caliche block limestone) effect on their city for so long – 92 years and counting.

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Steves Homestead – opened as a house museum by the Conservation Society in 1954: in 1968 the surrounding King William area became the first historic district in Texas.

San Antonio was at the forefront of the national preservation movement by World War Two because the women who formed the society saw that heritage conservation was not simply buildings but all of the natural, built, tangible and intangible elements that make up place.  And we remain at the forefront, striving to preserve the first Woolworth’s lunch counter to be peacefully integrated in the South in 1960, and the stunning 1968 Wood Courthouse.

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How’s that for Mid-Century Modern!

So I am very honored to be here.  I began June 13, 325 years after San Antonio was first named.  True settlement began in 1718, and the city was always a multicultural frontier town, amazing Frederick Law Olmsted in 1856 with its “jumble of races, costumes, languages and buildings.”   This is what inspired Emily Edwards – who had spent time at Hull House in Chicago – and Rena Maverick Green to form the San Antonio Conservation Society in 1924.  They wanted to save the Greek Revival Market House, but immediately began a campaign that was NOT your usual historic society – in fact they were frustrated when they incorporated that “cultural conservation” did not exist as a category!

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Wise business and political leaders thought the bends should be straightened out…

The Conservation Society was also key in the San Antonio Missions being inscribed as World Heritage last year.  The Missions have been preserved by an alliance between the San Antonio Conservation Society, the Catholic Church, the State of Texas, the National Park Service and now of course UNESCO.  People in San Antonio tend to work together.

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After mass today, the priest asked the parishioners to voteyourpark.org to help raise money for fresco restoration at Mission Concepción – you should too!!

It is wonderful to be part of such an excellent organization in such an excellent city, where growth and progress have always been based on heritage.  That is the most sustainable form of development.  As to my own history, you can read about my own Myth of Eternal Return from 6 years ago (myth no more!) and my talk on the How and Why of Preservation here in late 2014.

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I am more than a little humbled by those who have gone before me.  Like everywhere, there are losses and challenges and hard-won victories.  The nation’s 7th-largest city is growing, and that means our heritage buildings, landscapes, and traditions will be growing as well, sustaining a rich and diverse heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Concrete Culture and the One-Trick Pony

May 15, 2016

I was going to write a blog about the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, now that I have been on hand to witness its demise on two waterfronts, one saltwater, one freshwater.  I spoke to fierce advocates, including a friend who was on the committee that selected the Chicago site south of Soldier Field.  I wondered why advocates had not developed a clear vision of what the museum was supposed to be, and I wondered whether lakefront museums designed for international tourists ever really serve the local population.

Met steps crowdEveryone in every borough goes to the Met, right?

But then I read this article by Jonathan Wynn about why cities should stop building museums.  This has many more implications for preservation and urban economics than the trials and tribulations of a single museum which is Totally Not About Star Wars.

soldier-fielddsIt’s the lakefront – what could go wrong?

Museums, like the United States and its Constitution, are a legacy of the Enlightenment and as such are supposed to be special, rarefied and a few steps above the quotidian and commercial.  But we now have more museums than McDonald’s and Starbucks stores COMBINED (see this article).  So they aren’t rarefied anymore. As the line between public and private has gone fugitive, ALL tourist attractions follow the same economic model, whether they are publicly or privately owned.

surfing museumSSurfing Museum, Santa Cruz

tool sign copyMuseums are a development tool.  And this is a tool museum.

And they all tend to have massive public subsidies, at least the ones built in my lifetime.  Over 100 sports stadiums were built in the last 25 years, most with tax-exempt bonds, and they are acknowledged now to be economically “dreadful,” to use Wynn’s term.  In Chicago, U.S. Cellular Field pioneered an unbelievable public pillaging way back in the 80s.

cellular fldOkay, taxpayers funded construction.  Now can they please buy tickets as well?

Now museums would seem to be different, more refined, more elegant, certainly more educational.  And they are usually not-for-profits, which means the massive public subsidies are going to a public good (at least those member of the public that can manage $25 museum admissions).  The University of Chicago found that between 1994 and 2008 Seven Hundred and Twenty Five (725) cultural institutions were built for $15.5B.  The result?  12 percent saw an increase in attendance.  Not an ROI to write home about.

OI egyptOne of the museums at the University of Chicago

Wynn’s recommendation?  More festivals.  They can be priced to cover their costs NOW, they are immensely popular, and they are incredibly good economic development generators for their communities.  Think about Coachella or SXSW, which have become positively definitional for their communities WITHOUT PERMANENT BUILDINGS.  Events come and go, but unlike sports teams and museums, they don’t leave giant single-use hulks behind.

SC blues fest14iSanta Cruz Blues Fest.

32 million people attended music festivals in 2014.  Festivals are nimble, they can switch venues, switch lineups, and unlike fancy waterfront museums, are MUCH more inclusive and diverse.  Wynn quotes Toronto Mayor John Tory:  “We should build the events – and maybe a building will follow.”

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This makes sense to me.  In heritage conservation we spend way too much time painfully reverse engineering this.  We have a building resource and we try to find the events and programming it needs.  This is especially challenging when it comes to house museums, as I have written about many times before, here, here, and here.

Lyndhurst E besterSMaybe a Goth festival?

Interestingly, most of the buildings that have survived 70 or 150 or 300 years are relatively adaptable.  It is difficult to find a city these days that does not have a lively neighborhood in an old warehousing district, where sturdy adaptable buildings still stand.  They epitomize the 21st century design fundamental “Long Life, Loose Fit.”  More challenging are those terribly specific buildings, especially the ones requiring crowds of people, like churches, theater and stadia.

3rd wd  red romThird Ward, Milwaukee

The 21st century economy is nimble and adaptable.  Capital is nimble; Labor will be, once artificial barriers are removed, and the only commodity worth its salt (hehe) is information.  The spaces around us become important not in their ability to deliver a certain commodity or experience, but their ability to deliver ALL commodities and experiences.

luminaria pop wallSLuminaria art event in San Antonio, one city that has married festival events and historic infrastructure in a remarkably successful way.  You should go there.  Soon.

The same is true of cities.  Those that spend billions financing one-use facilities will have a generation of debt and a one-trick pony to show for it.  Those that build events and experiences will be able to animate all kinds of spaces and buildings.  And they will offer the future something other than unpaid bills.

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The Vacant Stare

April 26, 2016

In my last blog, I took the new leaders of historic Oak Park to task for forgetting why the Village is an attractive place and proposing the demolition of three nice old buildings (one of which definitely rates as a landmark) on Madison Street.  The proposed demolition is part of a road-bending plan that completely redeveloped several blocks.

Madison Wesley 20s auto buildingNothing to see here, move along, please.

Some would argue that these buildings (only the landmark is vacant) have failed to attract development for 7 or 8 years, so they should be razed.  Interestingly, much of the plan’s site is already vacant, and has been so for more than ten years.  So, if the first part about razing buildings to make way for development is true, how come these come-hither drop-dead gorgeous vacant lots haven’t succeeded in attracting development?

Madison Euclid vacant lot2Ooh-la-la!

Because of the Vacant Lot Myth.  I have spent a three-decade career being told by real estate developers that historic buildings need to be razed in order to attract new development.  I guess the idea is that a blank piece of paper allows one to be more creative than one that already has some drawings on it.

OP Madison vacant lot2Move the cars so I can see what you look like

Except that is wrong.  I can tell you it is wrong from having taught Fine Arts students and I can tell you it is wrong according to recent research referenced here.  Referred to as the “Green Eggs and Ham Hypothesis” after the famous Dr. Seuss book written while constrained to 50 words.  Constraints – like old buildings rather than vacant lots – will inspire MORE creative solutions than the blank slate.  Intuitively true, it is nice to see research supporting this.

OP Madison vacant lotWould you eat them in a box?  Would you eat them with a fox?

Vacant lots are fine if you want to attract cookie-cutter development, the kind that can go absolutely anywhere because it does not relate to place – it relates only to the abstract commodities of square footage, the diagrammatic commodities of access and exposure, and design born of exigency not inspiration.

Which is not what most of use think of Oak Park.  We think it is special and terribly attractive place.

Best Buy genericIdentify where this is.  Stumped?  How about within 100 miles?  200?

So why is Oak Park acting like my teenage daughter who is inherently beautiful but spends hours in the mirror finding fault and spending all of her TIF funds on makeup?

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Taxpayers are spending $360,000 to study the plan, even though the developer is already buying up land, according to the Wednesday Journal.  There is also a TIF district because there always is.  So the taxpayers are subsidizing this one in several formats and believe me it costs more than mascara (which we bought at Walgreen’s on Madison – where they re-used an old building.)

Oak Park Madison WalgreensYeah but you can’t get a major retailer to….nvm.

Shouldn’t we use this soupçon of subsidies on a creative plan rather than one that any other community in the country could have?  Don’t we value our own attractiveness?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Park Amnesia

April 20, 2016

Well I have been back in Oak Park for over half a year now, and it just got listed as the coolest suburb in the Chicago area, in large part for its incredible historic architecture (over two dozen buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright – more than ANYWHERE, and tons more by other Prairie architects) and a rising restaurant and nightlife scene.

oak park s lake E 1970sS Oak Park Avenue in the 1970s

But even places that book tens of millions each year on their heritage sometimes forget how they got there, and apparently Oak Park village officials in 2016 have not only memory loss, but a dramatic diminution of executive function.

That is perhaps a harsh analysis, but we have a recently released economic development plan to prove it. The plan covers a two-block stretch of Madison Street, which was once Oak Park’s Motor Row. Among the few remnants of that heritage are this 1948 former automobile showroom,

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And this 1923-26 Hill Motors automobile showroom, which I thought was a landmark – we went to a Oak Park Area Arts Council event there some years ago.  It has been proposed as a landmark for the last NINE YEARS without Village action (and was on Landmarks Illinois 2007 Watch list).

Madison Wesley 20s auto building

There is also this 1922 muffler repair building which is remarkably intact.

Madison Euclid CarX

These last two buildings were designed by Oak Park’s most prolific architect, E.E. Roberts. Roberts had a long and storied history and produced many Village landmarks.

IMG_3300Details.  That’s where God is.

Now this new economic development plan proposes demolishing ALL three of these buildings. This despite the fact that they are “Significant” in the Madison Street plan and should require input from the preservation commission. One section of the Hills Motor seems to be preserved, the smaller half.

Madison Wesley 20s auto bldgWhich will be enhanced by a BIG OLD PARKING DECK next to it.

Is it 1965 yet?

Now remember how we convinced Walgreen’s to restore this nice little building a decade ago instead of demolishing it? It is only a block away.  See the blog here.

Oak Park Madison Walgreens Just imagine it in a landfill.  We like recycling here.

The Village also knocked another significant E.E. Roberts showroom at 260 Madison Street without ever consulting the Preservation Commission.

Now there are several vacant lots that the plan is addressing, which is good, but for some reason they want remove most of the buildings that are left.  Hmmm.

The plan curiously bends Madison Street here.  Now, granted the street is wide enough that they added planters in the last attempt to revitalize it. Which kind of worked, because there are several viable businesses here that will vanish if the plan proceeds.

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Why bend the street? In part it is traffic calming but the bigger part is advertising.   It will add some taxable buildable property on the south side once they knock down the 1948 building, supposedly JUST ENOUGH to attract a major anchor tenant.

Bottom line?   It will give the new building on the south side a physical prominence – kind of like a foot sticking out to trip you – thanks to the giveaway of public right-of-way.  A billboard without a billboard.

I’m not sure if they are paying any attention to retail trends in 2016 because the anchor tenant they are looking at would simply replace one two blocks away (same issue with Walgreen’s a decade ago) and depends on car-oriented once-a-week shopping, which is actually WAY over.

Is it 1965 yet?

At the end of the day it seems the kind of junior varsity economic development move that a more down-on-its-heels town might scramble after, not a mature community with an international reputation.  Especially since under the Village’s OWN PLAN they need to ask the Preservation Commission about the Foley-Rice Building.  So, are they going to?

This short-sighted plan needs a tune-up.

Panama Papers and Preservation

April 5, 2016

I am going to jump on current events, namely the release of terabytes of data from Panama implicating an international host of politicians and businesspeople and celebrities in whacking great amounts of money laundering.  These range from the obvious beneficiaries of oligarchy like the Russian and Pakistani leadership to the unexpected (Iceland?) and I am sure the contortionist rhetoricians of our endless political winter will try to tie in some of our own candidates and their corporate backers.  I of course will focus on preservation.

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A home last summer in my former hometown of Los Gatos.  $3 million.  That is normal in Silicon Valley.  In fact, in Palo Alto, the median home price is well over $2 million.

So what do these MASSIVE tales of money laundering have to do with heritage conservation?  Well, if you have been following my blogs here and in Traditional Building recently, you know I have been taking on the issue of historic districts and real estate prices. Both the Bay Area and Manhattan are known for their otherworldly real estate prices, and what the Panama Papers have shown is that one of the prime receptacles for laundered money is real estate.  In those markets (also Miami, which has like only a couple decades of dry real estate left).  Look at the Panama Papers article here.

LG W yellow VictorianSAnother Los Gatos Victorian.  I don’t know the price, but if you have to ask….

Okay, so all sorts of dirty dealers are stowing their ill-gotten gains in real estate – how does that affect preservation?  Well, first of all, it gives the lie to those economists and politicians who like to blame high prices on environmental regulations.  This was a key to Ed Glaeser’s analysis of Silicon Valley and Manhattan in Triumph of the City (great book, I reviewed it in this blog here.) It is also part of the false narrative behind the legislative efforts against historic districts in Michigan and Wisconsin.

office PASPalo Alto.  Michigan and Wisconsin wish they had this problem.

Four years ago when we were looking for a place in Silicon Valley, the pattern was (and is) that you would show up at a house or condo and there would be 15-20 other people and 2 or 3 of them would offer 10-20% OVER the asking price.  Cash.  No mortgage.  Nothing suspicious about that.  Did you ever see that 80s movie “The Boost” with James Woods?

LG mcmansion nasty.JPGYou’d have to be high to find good design here.  Also in Los Gatos.

This happens A LOT.  It happens in Chicago too – I remember a time before the ’08 crash when at least HALF of condos sold in downtown Chicago were speculative purchases that were NOT going to be lived in by the purchaser.  I’m sure it is true again right now because they are building a buttload of new residential towers on the Chicago River.

Chgo River 614The Riverwalk is done so you get that taxpayer subsidy.  Not that it matters, because you really live in Moscow or Shanghai or Odessa or Sao Paolo.

Secondly, this real estate reality also confounds the detractors on the left, who complain that environmental regulations (which include zoning, BTW) prevent affordable housing by driving prices up.  This is the old saw about preservation and gentrification, but as we just learned above THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF EMPTY UNITS in these expensive cities because they are housing MONEY, not PEOPLE.  This is, sadly, normal functioning of the real estate market.  Everywhere.

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Guiyang.  It has like 4 or 5 million people.  And Lamborghinis.  Lotsa places to park cash.

Supply follows demand, but you see the demand is for real estate INVESTMENT, and the supply is provided not based on the need for interior space but based on the need for investment vehicles.  Got it?  When you watch these markets at work you realize that there is a large cadre of actors who are driving the market, regulations be damned.  In fact, the whole point of Silicon Valley is to drive markets, for tech, for rides, for food, whatever.  That is what they do, period.

PA cool car.JPGWhen they aren’t buying cars.  Actually, they control that market too – the biggest international classic car show is Monterey.

It will be interesting to see the scale of laundering in the Panama Papers, because this issue is one of scale, and that is what separates actual economic analysis from policy positions based on ideology and anecdotes.

Sf Ital rowhousSSan Francisco.  Where the whole world owns real estate despite all of the regulations.

 

 

 

 

 

San Francisco and the heritage of cultural innovation

March 31, 2016

 

Mission St theatreSThe Mission, recently

Heritage conservation is about place even more than buildings, which are large and important but not exclusive constituents of place.  “If these walls could talk” is also true of streets (I did a course for over a decade called “If These Streets Could Talk”)  and sidewalks and trees and mountains and streams and streetlamps benches and on and on….  You also have certain places that have an enduring character despite the passing of decades and technologies, these places just seem to imbue activity in a similar way over time, causing us to assign that “character” to place.

Jack Keruoac sidewalkThis street talks in English and in Chinese

San Francisco is that kind of place where history and character suffuse a surfeit of sites, and despite everything (true) you have heard about its insane gentrification and “Die Techie Scum!” graffiti there is an enduring heritage quality to the place.   And that heritage is often about the cutting edge of cultural change.  Which is to say, Eros.

bow arrow bay bridgeIn San Francisco this is about LOVE.  I don’t think it would read the same way elsewhere..

I first visited the city forty years ago and there was a drought and the Governor was Jerry Brown so when I lived there again for three years there was a certain cultural and climate continuity.  This is a city whose built fabric is as old as most of the MIdwest but it is also the place where, when you tip the country, everything loose falls off and lands in SF.

Arch hill SFs

It was always a place where you could be different because it collected people from every corner of the world, from China and from all over the U.S. during the Gold Rush and it was one of the first places where it was okay to be gay or trans or sexually liberated  – or at least it was more okay here than anywhere else.

castro2The Castro, recently

The city was founded by the Spanish 240 years ago this week and has always been a place on the edge, a city of Good Herb (Yerba Buena) that had its first growth spurt during the chaos of the Gold Rush and has pretty consistently been known as a den of iniquity (One of the presenting Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence at Golden Gate Park yesterday was Sister Dana Van Equity).

hardly strictlyA different event in Golden Gate Park,not long ago

From Mark Twain to Herb Caen takes us from the Barbary Coast to  Beirut by the Bay and maybe the melody changed from honky tonk piano to electric guitar but I swear that bass line was there in ’06 when the city burned and sixty years later when it got all hot and not-so-bothered in the Summer of Love.  And then they tripped back down 100 miles to Monterey for the Pop and the Who and Jimi and Janis and it is hard to talk about the cultural somersault of the 1960s without saying San Francisco.

SF Love ToursbLove Tours in a Love Bus!  Very recently – less than a month ago

San Francisco has a fabulous history – I finished reading Donna Graves and Shayne Watson’s LGBTQ historic context statement for the City (see last blog) and it is clear the city had a national presence in the movement to insure equal human rights for the LGBTQ community.  It also has a national presence in the 1960s counterculture, from the Merry Pranksters and the Diggers to the Human Be-In and the Fillmore and of course the Haight.

Haight burgersSThe Haight, recently.

There is always something a little off-kilter about San Francisco, and they tend to celebrate the off-kilter, whether in the bacchanalic Bay to Breakers race that is more costume and consumption than physical activity; where major Easter events include not only the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (founded in San Francisco 37 years ago – now that is history, or herstory) in Golden Gate Park but the world’s largest Big Wheel race, which is a mere 15 years old but how long does something have to go on to be part of culture, especially in a town where National Historic Landmarks can’t even stay still but are rolling through the streets and up and down those hills everyday?

Trolley by Union SqUnion Square, recently

I like the fact that San Francisco’s Weird History is actually really deep – it is actual heritage, part of the deep character of the place, the kind of heritage that insinuates itself into the character of those who live there. Now thanks to rapid real estate rocketing rents in the Age of the Technology Startup San Francisco is losing Legacy Businesses despite their best efforts and becoming even more unaffordable than any other patch between the Atlantic and the Pacific.  (Yes, Manhattan, that includes you!)

SF from univ clubEven their most famous skyscraper is uniquely fabulous.

But these present problems don’t make the history go away and more important they don’t make the character go away, because it is still there everyday and no city has more characters than San Francisco.

SF montage3

 

 

 

 

Integrity and Authenticity

March 16, 2016

I will presenting at the 7th National Symposium on Historic Preservation Practice this weekend at Goucher College, on the Diversity Deficit and the National Register of Historic Places.  I have written often about this subject over the last five years, but lately my recommendations are getting more specific.  One of those has to do with the concept of Integrity, which I have previously proposed needs to be replaced with Authenticity.

ellison bldg

My favorite example:  where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man.  Authenticity?  Integrity?

But of course, it is not quite so simple, and I encountered a more nuanced approach recently courtesy of my friend and idol Donna Graves, who recently completed an excellent historic context statement on LGBTQ history in San Francisco with Shayne Watson.  Donna parsed the seven components of integrity, which includes elements of “feeling” and “association” that we associate with Authenticity, and which ACHP Chair Wayne Donaldson has stressed in relation to sites in Indian country and others where architecture is not the key to significance.

trib-marker-hh

It never looked anything like this when Jane Addams was there.  Wrong roof, new skin of 1960s brick – and more….

So the brilliant thing Donna did in her LGBTQ study was note which of the seven elements of integrity were important when dealing with social and cultural history, and which “are generally less important.”   Location,  Design, Feeling and Association are important when dealing with social and cultural history, although under Design “only the very basic features of a property are important, such as original form, and window and door configuration.”  She also notes “Integrity of style is not important.”  Preach!

Castro Fork Cafe

The Castro…

Setting, materials and workmanship are “generally less important for social or cultural histories.”  This is an excellent and important corrective to our architecturally-driven concept of integrity.  With LGBTQ history, and indeed with many sites of minority history throughout the U.S., these new approaches to authenticity and integrity can help reduce the Diversity Deficit in our National Register of Historic Places and in other local landmark practices.

canessa printing

So this is on the National Register for architecture as part of the Jackson Square district, but it arguably has thrice the significance under Criteria A and B as the site of the Black Cat Cafe, which was significant in 1.)the Early Development of LGBTQ communities in San Francisco; 2.) it’s association with gay rights pioneer Jose Sarria; and 3.) its role in Stoumen v. Reilly (1961) that essentially legalized gay bars. So there.

 


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