Executive Director’s Blog

Paul Newman’s Toaster

September 24, 2015
Posted September 24th, 2015 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog
Linden Place received a grant from the 1772 Foundation to repair the leaded glass fanlight windowsLinden Place in Bristol, RI received a 2015 grant from the 1772 Foundation to repair the leaded glass fanlight windows

”We’re a throw-away society, aren’t we?  We throw away everything. We never even try to fix things – we throw them away, we destroy things – appliances that break, old buildings because they’re old, we throw away relationships that aren’t exactly what we thought they’d be, we throw away wives, husbands, marriages.”   Paul Newman quote ~ NYT February 11, 1990

Paul Newman is the patron saint of people, places and things that may seem to have lost their value but whose worth has only been enriched by time and struggle: critically ill children, historic buildings, his beautiful wife, and broken toasters. His eyes were startling blue and piercing- windows to a soul that was worth exploring; soulfulness wrapped around the idea that being a throwaway society is truly wrong.

I thought about his quote while discussing the problem of how to handle historic windows, the “eyes” of historic structures and the frequent target of environmentalists and home improvement businesses who push replacement windows as an energy and cost-saving solution for home and business owners.

Historic windows can be a real challenge – often wooden, single-paned, leaky and of random sizes.   So, why not throw ’em away and replace with something that promises so much more like manufactured vinyl replacements?

Because, as with many overly simplistic solutions, this one fails to look at the real impact of caving to this  “easy” solution.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation outlines the case for a Paul Newman-approach in:

http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/buildings/weatherization/windows

Here’s the rundown from the Trust’s excellent piece, which I encourage you to read:

~ Historic windows, particularly those made before the 1940’s, are from old growth wood which is denser and stronger than modern equivalents.

~ Replacement windows probably won’t fit right- the original ones were custom-built for the opening.  Guess what ill-fitting windows do?  Leak.

~ When you replace, you throw the old one in a landfill.  Don’t throw old growth wood and craftsmanship into the landfill.  Just don’t.

~ New factory-built windows can’t be repaired easily because they are manufactured as a unit.  Historic windows can be and, even better, by local craftsmen. If the manufactured window has a broken component and it can’t be fixed, we will now be contributing another window to the landfill.  Let’s not do that.

~ Historic wood windows, combined with storms and weather stripping, can be nearly or as energy efficient as replacements.

~ The energy cost-savings payback period on factory built units is pretty long – some studies show up to 40 years, and that’s before you consider that replacement windows typically fail within 20.

~ Historic windows are character-defining.  Maybe this is the softest argument but, when you look at a historic building that has replacement windows, it generally looks wrong.  One colleague referred to this short-sighted solution as “gouging out the eyes” of the building for economic and environmental reasons that just don’t hold up.  Our culture and history is embedded in the complete structure- design and proportions matter.

Windows are the eyes of a house, and eyes are the windows to the soul.  Don’t gouge them out.  Don’t put them in a landfill.  Think of Paul Newman’s beautiful peepers and his more beautiful soul, which celebrated the beauty of older and imperfect people, places and things.  All are worthy of a little more care and effort and their value will only appreciate with our thoughtful attention.  Think before you throw them away.

Old quilts and summer chills

August 5, 2015
Posted August 5th, 2015 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog

FullSizeRender1

“In memory of Peg, a Negro servant to Henry Bull Esq. died July 25, 1740 aged 6 Years”

God’s Little Acre Cemetery

“Burial grounds demonstrate not only the existence of slaves but of communities—of families and shared experiences, of suffering and struggle, and of dignifying rites of humanity across generations. The roots of these communities run deep, and bind families and communities to the land and this nation then and now. ”  — David Blight, Yale University

In early April, my family joined a funeral procession that led to Center Cemetery in New Milford, Connecticut where my father was laid to rest with military honors.  He was buried next to his immediate family and near his ancestors whose birth and death dates span over 200 years.  It was a raw, cold day and we were broken-hearted.  After eighty-eight years on this earth, seven children, two wars, two heart surgeries and a year of suffering, there was no doubt that he had earned some rest but we were still not ready to lose him.  He mattered to us.  His life is forever interwoven with the lives of his extended family.

Three months later I found myself at Fordham University in New York.  I was there to meet Sandra Arnold, the founding director of the Burial Database Project of Enslaved African Americans.  Sandra has assembled a talented team  “to create the first and only national registry for the burial documentation of enslaved Americans [which] will be publicly accessible and a valuable research tool for scholars, historians and institutions interested in reconstructing the history of American slavery. Most importantly, the registry will provide crucial genealogical assistance to those seeking to restore families separated by the institution of American Slavery.”  To hear more of Sandra’s fascinating story on NPR, check out:  http://www.npr.org/2013/03/24/175141077/marking-forgotten-slave-burial-sites-online

Just a few days after meeting with Sandra Arnold, historian and writer Theresa Guzman Stokes brought me to God’s Little Acre Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island where African Americans have been laid to rest since the early 18th century.  These burial sites are already in the National Registry, thanks to Theresa and her husband Keith Stokes who together have researched, written, lectured and educated the public on the African American experience from colonial days through Newport’s Gilded Age to the present.  Theresa’s knowledge is boundless and her enthusiasm is captivating.  She reminded me that cemeteries are places of history- for the living to remember the past.  Check out some of the Stokes’ work at:  www.colonialcemetery.com

I learned from these two scholars that these burial sites are critically endangered and, without them, our full history has not been told.  “[Burial sites] have been bulldozed over by shopping centers, crept over by weeds and forgotten by time. Across the country, from Lower Manhattan to the Deep South, are unmarked slave burial sites, often discovered only by chance or by ignominious circumstance as when construction crews accidentally exhume bodies when building a shopping mall.” – New York Times, March 18, 2013

Nationally, we need to pay much more attention to this or we risk losing a full, robust and finely-grained historic picture.  My grandmother’s quilts remind me of this: the bold colors and patterns represent wars, migrations, great leaders, and major milestones.  But the individual threads represent the fragile, individual lives that contributed daily to the larger picture.  If these threads are missing or frayed, the larger picture is blurred and unclear.

Seeing samples of the individual records sent to Sandra Arnold for the national database sent chills up my spine – as did hearing Theresa unpack the narrative of an entire life by looking at one stone.   The interconnectedness made possible by modern technology allows these scholars to reach back and reclaim the individual dignity and the missing pieces of history that remain buried in sites across the country.  Their work will make a far better American historic quilt by reversing the fraying and tears and by making the colors more refined and vibrant.  If we fail to support such efforts not only will it be a failure to provide the absolute minimum amount of dignity and respect to our forbears, but also a failure to weave in precious pieces of genealogy and key pieces of the “narrative of our nation.”

It did not occur to me on that sad, cold April afternoon that there was privilege in that moment for my family and for most modern Americans.  There is no doubt in my mind or heart that the Americans who lie in unmarked graves in this country matter as my father mattered.  They raised families and food, built buildings, fought wars and provided the critical labor without which this country could not have survived and grown to wealth and strength.  The absence of basic searchable information about these lives is like pages and chapters ripped from our history book. After meeting with these two scholars, the importance of their work became even more clear to me.  It matters to not only direct descendants but also everyone who believes we should keep our full history from fraying into a blur.

~ Mary Anthony, August 3, 2015

 

For more information,  http://www.periwinkleinitiative.org

The Periwinkle Initiative is a public humanities and education initiative with the important mission of building the National Burial Database of Enslaved Americans (NBDEA) – the first and only national database to document individual burials and burial grounds of enslaved Americans. The Periwinkle Initiative also advocates for public policy that protects the burial grounds and recognizes their historical significance.

The Periwinkle Initiative derives its name from the flower that certain scholars believe was the most common wildflower brought to gravesites of enslaved Americans. This perennial flower has guided researchers to many abandoned burial grounds that would have otherwise gone undetected. The resilient Periwinkle is a perfect symbol to represent the endurance of enslaved Americans and their legacy.

Hoop skirts and fast food

June 27, 2015
Posted June 27th, 2015 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog

 Shopping on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont

Backward-looking, elitist, snobby, precious, architectural appreciators with an affection for hoop skirts.  Those are terms I’ve heard many times associated with those of us in the field of historic preservation.  And, sometimes its kinda true.  Being a sensitive lot, many of us have shied away from judging buildings too much because we don’t want to be thought of as elitist or backward-looking.  We don’t want to say historic buildings are better.  But, that’s kinda true, too. The reality is that most of us have a visual preference for more thoughtful design, and older buildings and neighborhoods are found to be more visually appealing by many of us, whether we call ourselves historic preservationists or not.

Instead of shying away from judging we should acknowledge that even young kids know that older buildings, particularly those built by skilled craftsmen with true artistry on a human scale, just feel better.  We know it when we see it.  No matter what the building’s modern function is- elderly housing, high tech incubator, restaurant or home, the refinement and charm brought by age evokes a positive instinctive response.   Beacon Hill in Boston, the lovely squares of Savannah, and Rainbow Row in Charleston are beloved by residents and tourists because they feel right.  Like local food, historic buildings are organic and have evolved over time to meet the specific needs of their location and history- they have terroir.  Chain restaurants and pharmacies look freakishly similar no matter where you go.  With few exceptions, they look like they were dropped from space by alien invaders.  And, that might be kinda true, too.

In acknowledging and maybe even capitalizing on visual preference for historic structures and neighborhoods, we might be able to find all those latent historic preservationists we’re told are out there.  If they’re taking pictures of historic neighborhoods, they probably care.  We should not ignore their captivation.

Here’s a simple test, inspired by a program developed by The Dunn Foundation and Scenic America called Viewfinders that explores this concept with young people (credit to A. Nelessen Associates, who originated the concept of the visual preference survey.)

Check out Viewfinders at:  http://www.scenic.org/blog/207-scenic-america-launches-viewfinders-visual-environmental-education-program

Here’s my version:

Where would you rather live, shop, eat out, go to school?

suburb     OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Live?

mall      burlington better

Shop?

Wendys        north end

Eat out?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA         school modern

Go to school?

To be clear, I love modern architecture and I don’t believe inspired design is limited to old buildings.  But its okay to recognize that historic buildings are often more solidly built, thoughtfully designed, uniquely situated and organic.  It is time for us to be more bold in assessing visual preference when it comes to preserving our old buildings.  They feel good to all of us, whether we call ourselves preservationists or not.

Maybe historic preservation is in your blood if your visual preference bends to them, as well…

 

“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

If recycling 1,344,000 aluminum cans matters…

June 4, 2015
Posted June 4th, 2015 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 2005 demolition of the J. Allen Smith House in Knoxville, TN (shown above) inspired a successful historic properties redevelopment program there

 

The 1772 Foundation has remained committed to historic properties redevelopment programs (revolving funds) making fourteen grants, totaling $867,400 in 2014.  Another eighteen already have been awarded in 2015, totaling $998,000.

Our belief in the multiplier effect of revolving funds remains strong.  And, we have come to understand that engaging in this type of proactive preservation does more than increase the capacity of an historic preservation group to protect more square feet or a greater number of buildings.  Historic properties work brings new people and new energy to our cause.  By being in the fray, we open doors that have been closed for too long in our field.  We begin to matter to a broader audience.

For one thing, being truly active in communities brings historic preservationists into the robust world of environmental activism.  We all know, as preservationists, that the greenest building is one that is already built. When a revolving fund saves a building, like the Anna Clapp Harris House in Boston, it has made an environmentally correct choice.

Donovan Rypkema, principal at Place Economics in Washington, DC, states it this way in his excellent piece: Economics, Sustainability and Historic Preservation:

“In the United States, we collect almost one ton of solid waste per person annually. Around a fourth of the material in solid waste facilities is construction debris, much of that from the demolition of older and historic buildings. We all diligently recycle our Coke cans. It’s a pain in the neck, but we do it because it’s good for the environment. Here is a typical building in an American downtown – 25 feet wide and 120 feet deep. Today we tear down one small building like this in your downtown. We have now wiped out the entire environmental benefit from the last 1,344,000 aluminum cans that were recycled. We’ve not only wasted an historic building, we’ve wasted months of diligent recycling by the people of your community.”

In 2009, Historic Boston restored the Anna Clapp Harris House in Dorchester with help from the North Bennet Street School.  The Sustainability Lab at MIT chose to measure the carbon impact of this particular restoration- would it have been greener to tear down this historic building and replace it with a supposedly green building- gold or platinum LEED-certified?  The answer was surprising and can be seen in the YouTube post “HBI Carbon Calculator” that uses the Anna Clapp Harris House for its case study.  The study finds that the “point of indifference” or the point where the new green building would actually be more environmentally friendly is nearly a century.  There is a lot of embodied energy in historic structures but we, as preservationists, have not been successful at making this connection for our colleagues in related fields.

We have seen that, when historic preservationists move into proactive properties work, they are able to cross-pollinate their efforts to save beautiful historic properties with other groups whose goals clearly overlap with ours.  For instance, Smart Growth activists believe in precisely what environmentalists and historic preservationists do- walkable cities, using resources wisely, places with a “sense of place” and compact built design.  The opportunities for collaboration between these fields are astonishing.

The positive impact preservation-minded developers have had on historic structures alone is enough to warrant 1772’s continued interest and funding, but we have been equally inspired by the opportunities that become available when preservationists become more integrated with our sister fields of smart growth and environmentalism.  We have a very deep need for this hybrid vigor in our field.

We all know “old buildings matter.”  Saying this isn’t enough.  Active historic real estate work, especially when carried out in cooperation with our colleagues in the environmental and smart growth fields, brings new energy and vitality to our work.  It shows why historic buildings matter to all of us, not just those who call themselves preservationists.  Our friends who care about the environment, walkable cities and thoughtful urban landscapes do not typically call themselves historic preservationists.  We hope that our ongoing commitment to proactive historic properties efforts will show how preservation matters to all of us and how it can serve our common goals.

 

This land is your land….but, this building is not your building

April 7, 2015
Posted April 7th, 2015 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog

Newport Film

A warm summer evening last year at the Preservation Society of Newport County’s

Marble House mansion for the NewportFILM screening of “Keep on Keepin’ On”

a documentary about the life of music legend Clark Terry

FREE and open to all.

 

I distinctively remember singing “This Land is your Land” in Miss Potter’s 4th grade music class at Ivy Drive School.

And, I believed it.  Like many of my peers, I believe in the sanctity of open places, maybe even that the divine can be found in nature.  I have happily volunteered over the years to clean nature preserves, raise money and awareness, and write grants to preserve open space.  The 4th graders around me felt that connection too.  At our recent 30th high school reunion, many of those same “kids” were engaged in the protection of environmental resources.

But none seemed to be engaged in historic preservation, support for which lags far behind land protection, perhaps because buildings are built to keep nature out.  The grand American historic architectural gems weren’t built for you and me- they were built for those who could afford them.

So, how does the historic preservation world, which does not have a particularly strong history of cross-cultural connectivity or inclusivity, allow the public to feel the joint custody felt by so many in the land conservation movement?

Let the light in, let everyone fall in love with the building.  Know that as historic preservationists, we run the risk of acting in so precious a manner that the very preciousness of the building is being lost to future generations.  Be open to a variety of uses, some of which might feel a bit risky after years of cautious protection.

Will grounds get muddied and upholstery ripped?  Maybe.  Sometimes.

But without the light and warmth and touch of people who care as much about historic buildings as they do about redwood forests and golden valleys, they will die a perfect precious death, unnoticed by those who could have protected them.

Historic preservationists need to let go of the perfect, embrace the risky and allow the light and warmth of people to be their buildings’ most precious ornaments.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

~Leonard Cohen,  “Anthem”

Mary Anthony

Executive Director

The Doomsday Vault, Grandpa Ott, and the Cherokees

March 11, 2015
Posted March 11th, 2015 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog

0036-bean-cherokee-trail-of-tears

 

The Doomsday Vault, Grandpa Ott, and Cherokees

Along with the rest of New England, I have grown weary of gray snow, frozen toes, narrow slippery sidewalks, and re-re-re-scheduling appointments and travel because of weekly snowstorms.  Thankfully, March has arrived and there is no sign of permanent damage to house, car, limbs or psyche.

This time of year brings the trifecta of spring: daylight saving time, the vernal equinox, and the vibrantly green and intoxicating seed catalogs that give us faith that the ice will melt, the ground will thaw and food can be grown again, even in New England.

The combination of these last icy cold days of winter and the pile of seed catalogs on the kitchen table reminds me of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, whose chilling nickname is “the Doomsday Vault”.  It is the Noah’s Ark of seeds located halfway between Norway and the North Pole.  Its stark modern metallic exterior- half bunker-like, half futuristic architecture is built into the permafrost and protected by the occasional visiting polar bear.

The shining modern edges of the structure belie the fact that it is historic preservation in action.  And not the “George Washington slept here” kind of preservation, the “I like to eat food, sometimes three times a day and would like future generations to able to do so too” kind of preservation.  The Crop Trust maintains the black box recorder of our world’s agricultural history –  history told in the language of DNA.  The Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth. It will secure, for centuries, millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. (https://www.croptrust.org/what-we-do/svalbard-global-seed-vault) To date, the Vault holds over 800,000 samples, representing food crops from most countries.  Ultimately, it will hold 4.5 million samples, the ultimate food supply backup.

Closer to home, with no polar bears in sight, the 1772 Foundation has consistently supported Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.  From www.seedsavers.org:    Founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, SSE’s collection started when Diane’s terminally ill grandfather gave them the seeds of two garden plants, Grandpa Ott’s morning glory and German Pink tomato. Grandpa Ott’s parents brought the seeds from Bavaria when they immigrated to St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870s. Diane and Kent realized that if they did not keep these varieties alive, they would become extinct.

SSE’s work to preserve seeds is an amazing mash-up of thoughtful historic preservation and the preservation of our future food supply.  There are serious threats: genetically modified organisms, climate change and the demands of consumers for cheap fruits and vegetables- food bred to meet transportation demands, not flavor or nutritional excellence, and definitely not the well-being of small local farmers.  Unlike hybrids (having only one generation of “trueness” to them) and genetically modified organisms, “heirloom seeds” are the ones we haven’t tampered with, yet. They are robust genetically diverse gems that have evolved naturally through open pollination.

Without genetic diversity, we are vulnerable to the kind of collapse that comes from heavy reliance on one type. The Irish potato famine provides the historic view of the catastrophic results that can be expected if we ignore the need for diversity.  Had there been a diverse crop of potatoes instead of a monoculture of “clones”, some of the crop would have survived the 1840s blight and provided the right resistance for the next generation of potatoes and people.  One million people perished because of a lack of genetic diversity and we are still vulnerable.  Seed banks could be our salvation.

It is a remarkable sensation when you understand the importance of the heirloom seed world- the weight of this potential in a handful of beans.  The ones I bought after visiting SSE’s Heritage Farm were from a collection that had been passed down from the Cherokees who had managed to protect them on their forced march west in 1838. The beans are named “Cherokee Trail of Tears” and carry with them not only the genetic diversity that is at risk, but also a painful American history lesson and the hope for a better future.  Indeed, each of the varieties of seeds in the SSE collection has a story of American history embedded within it, stories that are now being collected for cucumbers, tomatoes, wheat, squashes, etc., so we will know how they came to survive.   The 1772 Foundation funded the Collection Origins Research Effort (CORE) to document the stories behind the seed.  A sampling of this work can be viewed at exchange.seedsavers.org/core/index.aspx

Never has historic preservation had such a critical purpose- to protect our future food supply. Take a look at www.seedsavers.org and www.croptrust.org; these groups will sustain us through many more long, cold winters to come so that seed catalogs will continue to land on kitchen counters in March filled with the promise of a fruitful spring. Help them out and know that you are connecting our forebears’ efforts with our grandchildren’s futures.

 

~ Mary Anthony, Executive Director

The 1772 Foundation