Posts Tagged ‘Gaylord Building’

Commercial and Interpretive

November 15, 2013

I was at a meeting of the National Trust and several citizen preservation groups in Monterey concerned about the future of the Cooper-Molera Adobe, a house museum in Monterey, one of the treasures of California’s Spanish capitol. I blogged about Cooper-Molera two and a half years ago here, and what I said remains true – the site has been largely shuttered due to state budget cuts, cuts which are not going to be reversed.
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When the National Trust announced it was working with a developer to come up with restaurant and other commercial uses at the site, there was a fair amount of community uproar, especially among volunteers who felt the site should stay interpretive. And this debate: “Commercial versus Interpretive” was still active when I was there last month. And it is a false dichotomy. This is NOT an either-or situation. It is a both-and situation.
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As I said in 2011, the site was always commercial and it still is because there is a gift shop on the corner. The barns are currently empty due to code issues, and the site is a hub of inactivity. Commercial uses would not only be interpretively appropriate, they would raise awareness of the site and bring its historical understanding to many more people.

I spoke about my own experience with another National Trust site, the Gaylord Building in Lockport, Illinois. This was the National Trust’s first “adaptive re-use” site and its first industrial building. It was restored by the Donnelley family in the 1980s and half was made a restaurant and the other half a series of interpretive exhibits and museum-type uses.
gaylord f SWs

We did a strategic assessment there about seven or eight years ago and we learned that the building has a split identity – people either saw it as a museum or as a restaurant. And the two never met. The answer was too make the restaurant more interpretive and the interpretive side more commercial. Have more exhibits in the restaurant and a shop in the museum side. This would unite the building’s identity and as I said above, bring the historical message to a much larger audience.
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But the more I thought about it, the more this artificial distinction bothered me. I thought of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, which I visited about 15 years ago. When you visit, you learn that the tomb of Strongbow in the nave was in fact the site of the most important binding legal agreements in the land through the centuries. Not only was there no separation of commerce and sacred culture, but they were in fact legally bound together. You needed to go to the church to do business. Because that was THE public building.
christchurch ca

If we want to reach the public with historic sites that have a lot to relate about history and architecture and the roots of our shared places, we need to make those places the center of public life. But the preservationist impulse is often the opposite: Save it. Remove it from the world. Hide it. Protect it.
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Why leave your building outside where there is rain and weather and stuff?

This is wrong. As I have well learned running the Global Heritage Fund (join here!)the only way to preserve something over the long term is to make it useful and productive for its community. Then the community will preserve it sustainably over the long term. There is no amount of money that can save a building forever – none, even if you put it indoors somehow and encase it in amber. Everything deteriorates. The only way to truly save something is to make it vital and central to enough people that they will keep investing in it forever.
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Like this submarine. As Mies’s grandson Dirk Lohan noted, it would be ludicrous to have this design in a place that didn’t flood. If it doesn’t get wet, it has no message.

Going back to our friend Strongbow at Christ Church, there is perhaps a Biblical, New testament reference that makes preservation purists want to excise commercial from interpretive, even when you are interpreting a commercial site. Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, right?
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More Father than Son, but my all-time favorite Wyspianski window

Two thoughts there: One, the story proves that commercial transactions in sacred space go back WAY before Strongbow, again probably because it makes the most sense to transact business in the most public of places. Two, if you actually read the passage, it wasn’t just moneychangers – it was also dove (pigeon) sellers, which were used for sacrifice, and a major trope throughout Old and New Testaments is moving away from blood sacrifice.
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Here’s a picture of a Catholic church, so there
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and here is a synagogue
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and a mosque

But even if we go with the religulous approach to preserving something by keeping it free of the Taint of Mammon (good band name), aren’t we diluting its historical message by radically changing its use? The only time Cooper-Molera WASN’T a commercial site was when they made it a museum.
drawing rm b

And what is a museum? Why only the NEWEST use of all! We have had shops and offices and temples and houses for thousands of years. When is the first museum? A little over 200 years ago. Here’s me in that VERY FIRST museum 31 years ago, when the idea of a museum was closer to 170.
vince louvre82
The naked guy behind me is about 10 times older than the idea of a museum

One of the lessons I have struggled to learn my whole life is the virtue of the “both-and”. My dissertation advisor Bob Bruegmann kept admonishing me to get away from dualities, from “either-ors”. So I understand where the fine citizens of Monterey are coming from. I came from there too. I also sought to see the world in dualities and I also sought to throw the dove sellers out of the temple.

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But that supposed “purity” is a false message that garbles and fundamentally alters – not in a good way – the meaning of historic sites. For too long we have conveyed that to be historical is to be unengaged in life. But history DID NOT happen like that – it happened right at the vibrant and completely messed-up center of life. Unless we put our historic sites right into that messy center they will have neither historic nor contemporary validity.

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It’s not Forbidden anymore


Green Preservation

November 4, 2009

Preservation is green. It retains the carbon footprint of structures that are already there, requires less materials, less expense of energy to construct – because it is already constructed. It is true that some older buildings (more likely those built 1940-2000) USE more energy than new “green” buildings, but the greenest new building will still take 30-40 years to pay off its carbon debt.

Two years ago, National Trust President Dick Moe made a speech at the National Building Museum about preservation and sustainability. It was epochal. He had the statistics that proved that “the greenest building is the one already built” but he wasn’t just preaching to the choir. He was making it known that there was a vibrant, multifaceted preservation movement, and that this movement was staking its claim to sustainability and moving even further in that direction.

The results are out there. Two sites you HAVE TO SEE are blogs linked at right: Barbara Campagna’s green preservation blog (Barbara is the Graham Gund architect of the National Trust) and Carla Bruni’s blog. Carla is a graduate of our Master’s program in Historic Preservation and she has already made a mark. We had her speaking on her work in New Orleans and now she is teaching a preservation class at the Center for Green Technology.

You can’t consume your way to sustainability, folks.

Back to Dick Moe. He announced his retirement this week, and it reminded me of that epochal speech two years ago and how excited I was that he was leading the National Trust and the preservation movement into the future. And it wasn’t the first time he had done it. During his 17 years at the helm, the National Trust reinvented itself from top to bottom. The Trust, founded 60 years ago to save historic houses, nearly doubled its collection of historic properties, but much more significantly, it broadened that collection to more nearly represent the American experience and American architecture. From the commercial Gaylord Building to Philip Johnson’s modernist Glass House to the Acoma Sky City Pueblo, the National Trust’s collection of historic sites has been revolutionized. Not only do we own the two most famous modern glass houses, we also have a new Modern and Recent Past Initiative, a new Preservation Green Lab in Seattle, a more vigorous series of regional offices and a robust collection of statewide and local partners. There are three times as many statewide preservation organizations today than there were in 1992. Dick Moe didn’t simply grow the Trust, he expanded its relevance and helped make it the leader of an expanding nationwide movement. His leadership will be missed but his impact is visible everywhere you look.

A new birth of interpretation

February 13, 2009

Yesterday we had a great event in Lockport, unveiling the new Lincoln Landing park and Abraham Lincoln sculpture. It should have had better publicity, for the sculpture was a good and bold attempt at portraying the multitudinous Lincoln in three intertwined figures, at once a return to the narrative in sculpture within a modern matrix of sensibilities; an organic cubism that presents different aspects together within a realist mode. Interesting stuff and largely successful, by young artist David Ostro. Doesn’t beat St. Gaudens in Lincoln Park, but it works. Lincoln as a legislator supported the construction of the I & M Canal among other internal improvements. (Hear that GOP? – it wasn’t even shovel ready – and that is in the day they actually used shovels…)
The park itself is a huge step forward. They moved the “petting zoo” of historic buildings that had agglomerated there in the 1970s and 80s. Not only weren’t they original to the site, they blocked the view of the Gaylord Building, where I Chair the Site Council on behalf of the owner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Now the building has its original context of the canal and the public landing – now Lincoln Landing – and its role as a canal warehouse and grain concern during the 19th century is more visible in every way.
The interpretation in the Lincoln Landing park also incorporates the standing Cor-Ten steel silhouette figures we launched a decade ago in the I & M Canal Corridor, as well as medallions commemorating various significant Lockport figures past and present. Not only does this include 1840s figures like canal engineer William Gooding but modern figures like Will County Historical Society docent Pat Darin, because history isn’t over yet.
medallionssWe are part of history, as Prof. Dennis Cremin noted in his dedication speech. This is a key element of historic site interpretation nowadays – letting people know they are part of history, too. They are actors and stewards and history is not a foreign country but the background to everything we experience and perceive. It is altogether fitting and proper that we do this.

House Museums and Ultimate Use

October 24, 2008

During the National Preservation Conference for the last many years, Fridays are the busiest day, beginning at 7:15 AM with breakfast with the Site Council Chairs and Trust President Dick Moe. I represent both the Gaylord Building and the Farnsworth House. The former has a decent endowment while the latter does not, and of course the economic climate was at the top of the agenda for all 29 of the Trust sites.

Gaylord Building 2004

This is always a fascinating meeting, especially since the Kykuit Conference, where the Trust sites took the “beyond the velvet ropes” step, encouraging Boards and staff at historic sites to go beyond the “museum” model for historic houses. This is of course a great interest of mine as readers of this blog will know. I have been proposing to the Trust for several years the idea of a national database of all historic sites that could be used for corporate meetings, institutional retreats, filming, and a whole variety of events. These things all happen of course on an individual Trust property level, but a national database – perhaps licensed to other sites as well – could be a powerful funding tool.

The historic house museum, based on tourism and ticket sales, has NEVER made sense in all of history, unless the tickets are very high in price (Biltmore), or an incredible number of tourists are pushed through (Fallingwater), or a gift shop regularly trebles the income per visitor versus ticket sales (Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio). The Gaylord Building has relied on its endowment, even though it has a paying tenant (the Public Landing Restaurant). The Farnsworth House is working on merchandising, as well as offering more expensive “restoration tours.”

Speaking of which, Joan Mercuri explained to me the thinking at Robie House, which is taking the strange and unusual step of closing completely to try to complete the last $5 million of their restoration. Joan explained that many visitors were upset that they couldn’t see certain things during restoration. She also stressed that some of the decisions regarding how many tours would be available – once a week this coming year, and none from November ’09 to April ’10 – were not final and they would possibly open more. She also talked about cell phone tours, which are a growing media for heritage tourism and interpretation. So that made some sense, and obviously there are lots of hard feelings among docents, but I haven’t read the Hyde Park Herald so I don’t understand the infighting. If it were up to me, I would still be more open during the restoration – that is what we are doing at Farnsworth – but it isn’t up to me. I suppose you could do exterior tours during intensive interior renovation. That will essentially be the situation at the Farnsworth House during certain points in the rehab. At Robie House that is an even more obvious strategy, since like Farnsworth, much of the design brilliance is visible from the exterior.

The other fascinating aspect of being at the Site Councils meetings at the National Trust is the Trust’s wise commitment to recognizing the end of the house museum as we know it. They have changed Boards who couldn’t see that end, and they will continue to do so. Sites will look for new types of community outreach and development and measure success not based on visitors but a more comprehensive assessment. Most importantly, we hope to show the rest of the nation that some sites have to transition – become private sites again as they once were. There are too many house museums, a fact the Trust recognized almost a decade ago. I’m glad we are being creative at the Farnsworth House and I am glad the Gaylord Building was ALWAYS an adaptive re-use project with a commercial component. Because that is the only preservation that is sustainable.

floods keep me busy

September 30, 2008

It felt like I was crisscrossing the northern half of the state last week, and in a sense, I was. I did two tours for the Art Institute on Wednesday and Thursday to LaSalle, to visit the incomparable Hegeler-Carus mansion, an 1874 Italianate-cum-Second Empire extravaganza that never left the family, and to ride the new historic canal boat on the I & M Canal at Lock 14. The floods of almost two weeks earlier prevented us from riding on Wednesday and curtailed our ride Thursday.

The floods also drew me out Wednesday afternoon post-tour to Plano, to see the Farnsworth House and assess the damage.
There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the electricity is working and, more importantly, so is the insurance. The bad news? The wardrobe may be a loss – an accurate 1996 replica of the original.
The end walls of primavera wood are in bad shape, and we will probably debate how much needs to be replaced. We need to investigate the structure underneath the travertine panels, and we also have water in the window wells that needs to be addressed.
We discussed strategies for opening the house on a limited basis during construction – as was done at Montpelier – so people could see the process. This was a good idea – I saw Montpelier during the process and loved it.

We also have to deal with the question: the house has been flooded or almost flooded by 3 100-year floods in 12 years – why don’t you move it? Or put it on retractable stilts or somehow get it out of the way of the floodwaters? Well, of course the first answer is we saved it 5 years ago from being moved out of state, and despite Mies’ love of “universal architecture” this was designed for a specific location and a specific client.
The second answer occurred to me as I was perusing my latest issue of ARCHAEOLOGY which described the various depredations threatening the Egyptian sites at Thebes. My first memory of National Geographic magazine is the cover in the 1960s when they moved the Ramses tomb to make way for Aswan Dam. So, why not move Farnsworth House? Well, my memory of that NG cover was how they had to hack Ramses into little pieces to move him – the same is true of Farnsworth House. Even though we are dealing with postwar building techniques, I doubt we could get those hidden spot welds on the I-beams right today. We don’t like what happened in Thebes, and now the Valley of the Kings is subject to flash floods thanks to the unintended effects of the dam, which got rid of the annual floods and siltation, which caused farmers to increase both irrigation (which increased floods) and fertilizer use (which then threatens the stone artifacts with its toxicity). So, flooding – the human-directed kind – is a huge issue in both places. But the question (To move or not to move?) must be asked and we at Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust are going to be exploring all of the options very seriously. In fact, we hope soon to welcome public suggestions for solutions and how much they would cost.

After the tour Thursday I visited with four of the veterans of our lovely Art Institute China trip this summer as the museum celebrated its tour programs. Friday I zipped out to Lockport for the Gaylord Building Site Council meeting, where we debated the budget and the upcoming opening of the Lincoln Landing – a new park in front of the building that replaces the cluttered cabin collection of Pioneer Settlement with a new sculpture celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s connection to the canal. The park design is nice and will enhance the building.

But there is a nagging Lincoln thing here. Lincoln is my favorite President and I can recite the Gettysburg Address by heart, but as a historian I am troubled by our Illinois tendency to equate Lincoln with ALL local history. The story of the I & M Canal, which straddled the continent, built Chicago and opened up the West to settlement and industry even before the railroads, is a hell of an historical story. It doesn’t need Lincoln to make it important. Fascinating historical narratives are buried in indifference, awaiting the brush of Lincoln’s sleeve to be made real. The same thing happens in architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, especially in Oak Park. A nice building is a nice building and a good design is a good design, but unless Frank Lloyd Wright sneezed on the blueprints, it isn’t really great architecture.

Anyway, I’m not done with Friday. I headed out Friday evening to the Dunham Riding Club in Wayne to give a talk for the Preservation Partners of the Tri-Cities on the National Register (I’ll be doing a similar discussion in Kenilworth in a couple of weeks). A nice audience and they were offering up a super tour weekend, including the stunning 1937 Campana Building in Batavia. It’s a great building and a stunning tower-and-wings that looks ready to soar above the farm fields on the Fox Valley. I would hazard to say it is a more impressive building that the nearby Fabyan Villa in Geneva, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Abraham Lincoln must have been involved somehow….

tomorrow? Hull House…


August 3, 2008

August already in Chicago, normally time for some landmarks shenanigans by the powers that be. At least, that used to be the tradition in the 1980s – announce a big historic-building-damaging project in August when the goo-goos were off in Saugatuck or Door County and couldn’t mount public opposition. That may be less true in the Internet age, because you can get the internet next to the pool in Rowley’s Bay. We shall see if down time dog days produce anything this year, but in the meantime I need to catch up on landmarks news in Illinois…

The big news at Landmarks Illinois is the selection of Jim Peters as the new President of Landmarks Illinois. Peters brings excellent credentials, being an award-winning faculty member of our SAIC Master’s program in historic preservation for seven years, a former Director of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, and a certified planner with a preservation degree. Jim also knows everyone and knows how to get things done, which is the LI way. I can proudly say I was on the Search Committee that unanimously chose Jim.

Budget cuts everywhere. The DysState of Illinois has halved its staff budget at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency which has cut the hours at historic sites and has already suffered a decade of budget cuts. Hello? What is the state’s biggest industry? Tourism, you say? Well, then, let’s shut down all of the tourist sites! These state pols couldn’t find out which side their bread buns were buttered on with both hands and a flashlight.

At the National Trust budget tightening is striking as well, thanks to the faltered economy, although not nearly as draconian as Illinois. Usually a down economy means an uptick in my industry (one of the nation’s few with a positive trade balance) education, although we will have to wait until the fall class shows up to prove that one.

Jerry Mickleson of Jam Productions bought the Uptown Theater, which has been shuttered since the early 80s and despite landmark status in ’91 has continued to fall to bits because it is a massive theater with no parking in an endearingly sketchy neighborhood. Jam was the last one to use it, booking rock acts, a couple of which I saw in college, and they probably have a better sense of how to make it work than those who love the theater more.

That is one of the great conundrums at the heart of historic preservation. We save buildings because we fall in love with them, and we fall in love with them because we see them so much or learn so much about them and the more we take in each historical and artistic detail the more we want to preserve – on a pedestal – the object of our affection. But like all love objects, historic buildings should not be put on a pedestal and that is why so few can become museums. Pygmalion is an enduring human fiction.

In this regard I was chatting (electronically) with Mark Harmon, Site Director at the Gaylord Building in Lockport, about the future of that National Trust property (where I chair the Site Council). The building decided decisively NOT to be just a museum when it opened in 1987 and again 15 years later. Half of it has always been a restaurant, a paying tenant. The other half is interpretive (or interpretative if you like an extra syllable) with various galleries and visitors centers occupying its three floors over time. Half museum, so to speak, and our strategic plan a few years back basically came to the conclusion that we have to make our museum-side more commercial (we would love to have a 19th century general store there) and the restaurant side more interpretive, to better integrate the identity of the National Trust’s first adaptive re-use property. This is the goal we are working toward, as Mark sagely noted and I responded that the greatest innovation we could offer the preservation world would be leases for commercial tenants that hold them to certain interpretive goals.

It is a fine balancing act between the refined tastes of the artist and the base urges of commerce, between Pygmalion and the blow up doll. That balance is an art and it is the reality of life – as opposed to the artificiality of the pedestal and the love that smothers.

Twenty Years later

October 26, 2007

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Originally uploaded by vincusses.

In 1987, the rehabilitated Gaylord Building opened as a museum, gallery and restaurant. Last night we gathered there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of saving this landmark.

The oldest portion was built in 1838 as a supply depot for construction of the Illinois & Michigan Canal and thus is the oldest industrial structure in Illinois. The 3-story Italianate addition was added in the late 1850s when the building was used as a grain store and warehouse. In 1902 two brick stories were added as it became a lock factory, and in 1948 it became a plumbing supply warehouse. By the 1980s it was an abandoned hulk.

Enter the Donnelley family – Gaylord Donnelley learned his grandfather, George Gaylord, had owned the building in the 1870s and 1880s and formed a not-for-profit to rehabilitate the building. Barbi Donnelley, one of my mentors, ran the project and is still intimately involved. Jerry Adelmann, my first mentor, helped inspire it. I recall the hot August day when Gaylord Donnelley announced the project; I recall bringing a tour group to the decrepit hulk and I recall meeting Governor Thompson 20 years ago as we celebrated the opening of the building.

In 1996 it became the first adaptive re-use project to become a National Trust historic site, representing a broadening of a movement that began with house museums. The list of National Trust properties has never been the same – now we have desert pueblos, tenements, and two modern glass houses. The Gaylord also represents the reality of historic preservation – it is ALWAYS adaptive re-use.

I said that last night at the dinner. We had just reviewed an excellent new exhibit of artifacts and documents and new panels describing the entire history of the building (Go. Visit. Now.) I said that historic preservation is about the future, about rehabilitating the physical remains of the past as useful parts of contemporary life – finding new lives for sturdily built structures. It is not about preserving the past but reanimating the past so that it continues to make history.

Fallingwater and the Case of the House Museum

November 14, 2006

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Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Fallingwater – the iconic, death-and-decay-defying leap of Frank Lloyd Wright from one end of the 20th century to the other. A building that cannot be left out of architectural history. A building that almost too nakedly tries to say everything about the role of nature and artifice that everyone from Vitruvius and Alberti to Perrault and LeCorbusier tried to say.
Maybe I want to focus on Fallingwater because it has a built-in fire suppression system and Chicago is beset by idiots with blowtorches.
Beyond its iconic status, Fallingwater is also a house museum, which is a challenging thing to be.
Preservationists are impelled to save things for many reasons, including a desire to educate the public about histories and designs. The most elemental expression of this impulse is the house museum, an historic landmark open for tours. These have existed for at least a century, and many think that preservation is ONLY about house museums. The National Trust for Historic Preservation was chartered by Congress in 1949 largely to accept house museum donations.
If the house museum is a perfect expression of the preservationist impulse, it is at the same time a really lousy economic model. I am involved in lots of house museums – I gave a talk at the Hegeler-Carus mansion in LaSalle on Sunday, which is one of the most exciting buildings I know in the state. I serve on a Restoration Committee at Pleasant Home in Oak Park, I Chair the Site Council for the Gaylord Building, a National Trust site and I sit on the Steering Committee of the Farnsworth House in Plano, Mies van der Rohe’s temple in and of the wilderness.
With all this experience I can tell you that house museums are a bad idea economically. The average house museum in this country takes in about $8 per visitor and spends $38 for that same visitor. A survey of the early house museums in Charleston and New England in the 1920s produces roughly the same economic formula. House museums have never made economic sense.
Which is why the National Trust only accepts house museums with endowments (now), and which is why our priority at the Farnsworth House is to raise an endowment to maintain and operate the house in perpetuity. Rolf Achilles proposed a worldwide call to architects to donate $100 each and I think it is a great idea.

Which brings us back to Fallingwater, which like the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, is one of the more successful house museums in the country. To be successful, you need the iconic status, you need to be a destination and you really need a good bookstore/gift shop. Movie theaters make money on popcorn, not ticket sales, and the same is true of house museums, except substitute coffee mugs, books, earrings and scarves for popcorn.
Fallingwater is quite an operation – they move so many people across those recently reinforced cantilevers that I imagine they will need another big restoration again in the near future. They have a restaurant and a big shop and at the end of the tour they herd you into a room for a membership sales pitch.
I wanna do the same thing at Farnsworth House, and it is very similar – iconic, located about an hour from a major city. As architecture, it is simpler and subtler, perhaps more resonant if not as loud as the house on the waterfall. It has the potential to be one of the very, very few house museums that pays its own way.