Posts tagged with "National Trust for Historic Preservation":

Placeholder Alt Text

The Farnsworth House is (once again) besieged by floodwaters

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, certainly the most flood-prone site in the National Trust for Preservation’s storied portfolio, has once again found itself threatened following catastrophic rains that ravaged much of the Midwest during the first half of this week. (In Chicago, this May has been one for the books in terms of rainfall.) Considering the glass-encased, one-room abode’s location on a 60-acre site in the Fox River floodplain near the Illinois city of Plano, precariously rising water is certainly nothing new for the nearly 70-year-old modernist masterpiece. Major flooding events, some causing considerable damage to the structure, have occurred in 1954, 1996, 1997, and in 2008 when Hurricane Ike prompted the National Trust to suspend public tours for several months while the building underwent extensive repairs. Floodwater at the Farnsworth House, which like most National Trust properties is currently closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic, appears to have deluged the lower terrace. But unlike some past flood events, the water has mercifully stayed below the stilt-hoisted floor level and is continuing to recede. Flood mitigation tactics were also deployed to limit the damage. More rain, however, is forecasted for the coming days. Katherine Malone-France, chief preservationist with the National Trust, detailed the current situation—and what needs to be done moving forward—in a statement provided to AN:
“The Farnsworth House is a Modernist icon that Mies van der Rohe designed to be inseparable from its idyllic natural setting. Van der Rohe recognized that the site was in a flood plain, and that is why it was built on stilts, however ongoing development as well as recent and increasingly more severe storms within the Fox River watershed have created an serious, ongoing to threat the structure. In the last few days the high water mark reached within 18 inches of the finished floor of Farnsworth House but are receding for now. National Trust staff have implemented their standard flood response protocols, including turning off the power, lifting furniture, raising and protecting the curtains among other protocols and they will continue to monitor the situation. This comes just as the house had been returned to the original interior design created by Edith Farnsworth herself as a part of Edith Farnsworth Reconsidered exhibit focused on the extraordinary woman who commissioned the house. The pandemic has significantly delayed plans for public viewing of the installation within the Farnsworth House but people around the world can engage with this digitally on the Farnsworth House’s social media channels. “The lower deck of the house has been completely flooded and our conservators estimate $500,000 will be needed to repair to steel perimeter channels, interstitial concrete, waterproofing, drains and the travertine pavers. The National Trust has begun a project to repair the lower deck, but we can only continue if additional funding sustains these efforts.”
To be clear, the initiative to repair the lower deck of the Farnsworth House was instigated prior to this week’s flooding events as part of a multi-year sequence of “projects that are crucial to the stewardship of the site and ensure it endures for future generations.” This so-called Lower Terrace Restoration Project, which underwent feasibility and investigative tests in 2019 and early this year, “will be a complex and expensive project which aligns with the National Trust’s other long-term plans for the site,” explained the organization, which welcomes over 11,000 visitors to the private weekend refuge-turned-museum annually. The National Trust acquired the Farnsworth House in 2003 after Peter Palumbo, the home’s previous longtime owner who purchased the retreat from Edith Farnsworth in 1972, put it on the market and its fate took a turn for ominous. As mentioned by Malone-France, visitors can still virtually tour and learn more about the Farnsworth House through the National Trust’s digital platforms; an array of historic sites managed by or affiliated with the National Trust are receiving special attention in May as part of Virtual Preservation Month.
Placeholder Alt Text

National Trust urges Congress to support historic preservation efforts during coronavirus crisis

On April 30, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and five partnering organizations sent a letter to leaders in the United States Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to consider specific program funding in any future coronavirus-related federal stimulus packages. The intent is to help to “catalyze the economic recovery of nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and the arts and culture sector, while also protecting historic and cultural resources” during and in the wake of the pandemic. Submitted to Congress by the National Trust alongside Main Street America, the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, the Coalition for American Heritage, the National Preservation Partners Network, and Preservation Action and endorsed by over 375  historic preservation organizations and businesses, the letter is quick to extend gratitude toward lawmakers for provisions within March’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act, that have aided nonprofit organizations working within the arts and humanities sector. That includes the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a universal above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions,  and emergency funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. However, the National Trust stresses that much more help will be needed moving forward as “nonprofit organizations continue to operate in a state of economic crisis due to the loss of revenue from closures, event cancellations, and a decline of charitable contributions.” In addition to an extension of the PPP, the letter calls for the following provisions: An enhancement of the federal historic tax credit; supplemental funding of $420 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, including additional funding for state and tribal preservation offices, as well as a “significant investment in rehabilitation and related historic resource programs through existing competitive grant programs;” the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), which would provide $9.5 billion in funding over a five-year span for deferred repair needs within the National Park Service and other agencies; additional enhancements of the charitable giving incentives included in the CARES Act; additional funding to the arts and humanities agencies that received aid as part of the CARES Act, and lastly, “urging opposition to legislative exemptions from provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act, including Section 106, or the National Environmental Policy Act.” The above provisions were borne from a comprehensive engagement effort initiated by the National Trust to “develop a list of legislative priorities vital to sustaining the broad preservation sector comprised of local, state and national organizations, Main Street communities, historic sites, and more,” as explained by Pam Bowman, director of public lands policy with the National Trust. “We conducted outreach to partners and allies across the country to learn the immediate needs required to protect the nation’s historic and cultural resources at this unprecedented time.” The National Trust is also imploring those within the preservation community to keep their local officials’ collective feet to the fire during a time when “the outlook for legislative activity in Congress remains fluid and uncertain.” Per statistics calculated by the American Alliance of Museums and shared by the Preservation Leadership Forum, museums, including historic cultural sites, are losing roughly $33 million per day due to coronavirus-related closures. This endangered sector supports 726,000 annual jobs and contributes $50 billion to the economy each year. On March 13, the National Trust announced its national staff would transition to remote working, and that tours and programming would be suspended at all nine stewardship sites that it owns and operates: the Glass House, the Farnsworth House, Lyndhurst, Villa Finale, the Woodrow Wilson House, the Gaylord Building, Shadows-on-the-Teche, Chesterwood, and Woodlawn Plantation/the Pope Leighey House. At the time, co-stewardship and contracted affiliate-operated historic sites had been left to decide whether or not to continue operating based on local safety restrictions and other factors, although all 27 historic sites in the National Trust's portfolio are now listed as being closed to visitors. In the meantime, visitors can remotely visit a slew of historic sites across the country, some rarely open to the public, as part of the National Trust’s inaugural Virtual Preservation Month. Kicking off with a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House in Virginia, a new virtual experience at a different National Trust Historic Site, designated National Treasure, or participating site with the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program will be unveiled each day throughout the month of May.
Placeholder Alt Text

When the glass cracks at the Glass House, how is it replaced?

The Glass House, Philip Johnson’s renowned personal residence in New Canaan, Connecticut, recently replaced the oversized glass panes of its iconic exterior after cracking due to thermal stress. The home, part of a 14-building compound on the bucolic 49-acre site, now functions as a historic house museum run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Originally completed in 1949, the Glass House features floor-to-ceiling plate glass exterior walls held in place by steel stops and black-painted steel piers of stock H-beams that expressed the mass-produced, industrial materials employed for its design. In the summer of 2019, one of the home’s 18’-0” x 7’-10” panes of existing glazing cracked due to thermal stress. The stress was caused by temperature differentials and a lack of movement within the original steel frame, said Ashley R. Wilson, FAIA, the Graham Gund Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the lead architect for the glazing replacement project. While the replacement of original building fabric is often a contentious topic in the field of historic preservation, Wilson noted that the glass that was replaced was “likely an early-generation replacement” because it was 3/8” annealed glass, meaning that it was heat-strengthened glass—a technology not available yet in the late 1940s. The original glass, Wilson pointed out in conversation, was likely a single pane of 1/4” polished plate glass, per 1948 drawings, and would have been “beautifully clear and flat, but fragile.” Although the team was not replacing the original glass, the project was not without complexity. The new glazing, provided by Canadian glass manufacturer Agnora, needed to meet ANSI safety standards, accommodate wind load (particularly challenging because of the glass’s large dimensions), avoid overloading of the existing steel supporting rail, and, of course, visually match the original design intent as closely as possible. To accomplish these goals, the selected glass was slightly thicker, at 9/16” rather than 3/8”, and laminated with an inner layer of PVB for safety, said Wilson. To avoid potential corrosion of the steel and clouding of the glass in case the inner PVB layer gets exposed to moisture, the team added weeps to the glass pocket. The removal of the existing glazing and install of the new presented a new set of challenges: The old glass was prone to more cracking, requiring extra care in its removal. In order to extract the glass, the steel stops also needed to be removed. The steel frames were cleaned, prepped, and painted before the system was reinstalled. Because construction took place in November 2019 to minimize conflicts with tours and programming, the workspace also needed to be heated and protected from the elements, explains Wilson. What’s more, she noted, “the west wall glass had to use a crane to lift the glass unit over the building,” Wilson contends that the thermal stress that caused the glass to crack was not due to extreme temperature swings due to climate change but rather to “but an inherent weakness and limitations of 3/8” thick glass at such a large size.” But despite the unique nature of the Glass House—and its oversized glazing units—there are clear lessons to be learned from the project about considerations when replacing glass at midcentury buildings. “At the Glass House, care was taken by the preservation team to analyze the replacement glass options, thickness, performance, and installation to match the original design while improving performance and complying with current safety codes,” said Wilson. While the replacement project focused more on safety and appearance rather than sustainability goals, it did take advantage of how glass technology has evolved since the 1940s and 1950s. More broadly, new glazing products such as IGUs and more effective, longer-lasting sealants can significantly improve energy efficiency for mid-century buildings, allowing for better buildings that are more highly adapted for what the 21st century will bring—global warming or otherwise.
Placeholder Alt Text

Another modernist New Canaan icon gains full historic protections

A 72-year-old modernist icon in New Canaan, Connecticut, will live on with its original look. Last month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation signed off on a preservation and conservation easement that will protect the Landis and Pamela Gores House from demolition or subdivision forever.  The residence, burrowed in the hilly landscape of southwestern Connecticut, is the work of architect Landis Gores (1919-1991), one of the “Harvard Five” group of New Canaan architects. Currently owned by the Gores family, the easement requires them and future owners to gain the approval of the National Trust for any planned changes to the house, additional constructions, or alterations to the surrounding landscape.  Ainslie Gores Gillian, the daughter of Gores, said she considered her family home more satisfying than other houses she visited as a child. “It was as solid as a monument yet it had freedom and grace,” she said in a statement.
"The giant glass walls of the living room felt suspended in space; I could sit warm by the fireplace and watch a snowstorm outside. Out or in, I had expanses for play. And when my sister wed, the house was entertainment space—scores of guests dined on the terrace as I ran to greet Philip Johnson, striding across the meadow, an Andy Warhol array of Marylin Monres dangling under his arm.” 
The picturesque vision of the Gores House still exists today, largely thanks to the family’s commitment to its preservation. In 2002, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But it was long-deemed an architectural marvel well before that—in 1964, the Connecticut chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave Gores an Award of Merit for the project. Even though it was “planned and built more than a decade ago,” they said, “this house has become a classic example of the Wright tradition adapted to the environment of New England.” 
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by The Harvard Five (documentary) (@theharvardfive) on

The Gores House may resemble a landlocked version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which was built over 10 years earlier, but many have come to see it as a perfect combination of the international-style work done by Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. A single-story home with wood framing, the building stretches 130 feet long on a 4-acre landscape. It features a flat roof, floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and a stone base in places. In some ways, the Gores House even mimics the Glass House, which Gores worked on with Johnson, and was built around the same time in the late 1940s.  This isn’t the first time this year that the National Trust has granted a conservation easement to a modernist New Canaan residence. In June, the “design intent” of Noyes II by Eliot Noyes was put under protection by the preservation organization. 
Placeholder Alt Text

Five top landscape firms join forces to save the National Mall Tidal Basin

As the National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. weathers the impact of tourism and climate change, teamwork may be the best way to save it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the Trust for The National Mall have announced a partnership of five landscape architecture firms tasked with shaping the Tidal Basin’s future. “The National Mall Tidal Basin embodies freedom, perseverance, and democratic values, and it is a place where people come together from around the country and around the world to celebrate these ideals," said Katherine Malone-France, NTHP's chief preservation officer, in a statement. "That is why we must bring our best innovation and ingenuity to meet the challenges it is facing. DLANDstudio, GGN, Hood Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, and Reed Hilderbrand are slated to join forces in order to maximize the Tidal Basin’s potential as a public space. The coalition exists within the National Mall Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, a forum for innovation and collaboration with regard to the future of the landscape. Surrounded by the iconic memorials of Washington, the Tidal Basin has played an important role in the city’s landscape throughout history. The heavily-trafficked Tidal Basin Loop Trail offers unmatched views of the National Mall and its surrounding monuments, but a crumbling sea wall has led to regular flooding that impedes sidewalk access and threatens the world-famous cherry trees around the basin. The Ideas Lab hopes to compile a broad range of perspectives from the firms in order to combat the many challenges faced by the Tidal Basin such as infrastructure issues, an overwhelming visitor experience, the need for intensive land conservation, and more. “Our goal, as a lead partner of the National Park Service, is to bring innovation and partnerships to expedite the fulfillment of the Master Plan for the National Mall,” said Catherine Townsend, president and CEO of the Trust for the National Mall. “These five visionary teams are a prime example of how collaboration between distinguished experts in fields aligned with our project needs will create solutions to help overcome the complex preservation issues affecting the treasured Tidal Basin.” The proposals will be presented in an Ideas Lab exhibition slated to run next summer through fall 2020, during which the public will have the opportunity to inform the design process before concepts are finalized.
Placeholder Alt Text

National Trust for Historic Preservation names 2019's most endangered places

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) released its annual list of the U.S.'s most endangered places on May 30, highlighting an often surprising group of places and spaces threatened by forces like climate change and aggressive developer schemes across the country. While a listing signals a building’s realistic peril, a listing can also aid in reviving a building, as the NTHP brings national attention to the spaces, which can help spark awareness and action. The list has been published for 32 years, and has highlighted over 300 places. In that same time period, only five percent of the listings were actually lost. Katherine Malone-France, the interim chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation said in a statement, “We know that this year’s list will inspire people to speak out for the cherished places in their own communities that define our nation’s past.” The tides of taste often bring buildings in styles like postmodernism and brutalism to the list. The youngest building selected this year is the Thompson Center in Chicago, a spaceship-shaped building of glass and steel known for its soaring 13-floor atrium. In 1985, the design was meant to allude to a new, more transparent government. However, like many of the listed buildings, the Thompson Center is in danger due to neglect and financial troubles. Often developers see these historic buildings as opportunities for more profitable high rises or denser floor plans, and swoop in on economically imperiled lots. Nashville's Music Row, a historic district listed this year, is threatened by a tantalizing proximity to the city's downtown core and its relatively low density. Developers are itching to knock down the 19th-century homes and set plans in motion for high rises and corporate office spaces, much more profitable footprints that would erase much of the music-making history of the city. Aside from development, climate change and social justice histories also play a large role in the 2019 selections; the iconic National Mall Tidal Basin is under threat from rising sea levels and unstable sea walls. Small establishments, like the Excelsior Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, an African-American social club dating from 1944, that trace the history of race relations in America, have far less attention and protection.  The eleven design landmarks that make up the 2019 list are not only aesthetically appealing, but they are also vital chapters of the American cultural, historical, and artistic stories, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to help inspire their rescue. The eleven places listed in 2019 are: Tenth Street Historic District Dallas, Texas Nashville's Music Row Nashville, Tennessee Hacienda Los Torres Lares, Puerto Rico Ancestral Places of Southeast Utah Southeast Utah James R. Thompson Center Chicago, Illinois Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge Bismarck, North Dakota Industrial Trust Company Building Providence, Rhode Island The Excelsior Club Charlotte, North Carolina National Mall Tidal Basin Washington, D.C. Willert Park Courts Buffalo, New York Mount Vernon Arsenal and Searcy Hospital Mount Vernon, Alabama
Placeholder Alt Text

New social network wants to change how young AEC professionals connect

As a new generation of freshly minted architects, engineers, and construction professionals enter the field, one company is trying to get ahead of the curve with a social network for people who “shape our cities.” Named Ticco, after the nearly 10,000-year-old Norwegian tree Old Tjikko, the social network is designed for Gen Z and Millennial AEC professionals, as well as others who need their expertise. The project is the brainchild of Katie Rispoli Keaotamai, who previously led the California nonprofit We Are the Next and made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 40 Under 40 list last year. She is perhaps most famous for her successful attempt in 2015 to preserve the first Taco Bell. Ticco, which is being developed with the design studio Each + Every, could be seen as an extension of the work of We Are the Next, which apart from historic preservation, leads workshops with youth to help them engage with natural and urban landscapes and the communities that surround them. Ticco hopes to bridge gaps between siloed AEC professions by encouraging communication and collaboration. The company also wants the broader community to see what the next generation is thinking, and encourage greater access and diversity within these fields. The goal, said Keaotamai, is that “professionals who positively build and shape cities will interact when they want to, and not just when they have to.” She goes on to say that she believes the network “has the potential to change the way we as AEC professionals understand one another, initiate working relationships, and approach problems in the built environment.” Much like existing social media, Ticco will give users their own customized profiles and feeds, which will include content from those they follow and other content from across the platform. While members can follow other users and can like content, those metrics aren’t publicly displayed, doing away with sometimes toxic aspects of social media. Ticco intends to use likes to adjust what content gets highlighted to other users. And, of course, there will be individual and group messaging. That platform will also encourage groups that serve the public, like government agencies and community organizations, to pair with members who have particular expertise in order to “affordably kick-start projects that aim to make their city safer, more accessible, and more fun to live in.” There will be membership fees, which the company says will be about a third less than those of typical professional organizations, and, as the company points out, Ticco’s resources will be available all day every day, rather than just at select conferences or networking events. Additionally, for each person who joins, the company will donate $25 “to support educational initiatives and internships that help diversify our members’ professions.” The company will also branch out with retreats, discussions, and partnerships, the first of which will take place next month in Long Beach, California. Ticco is accepting applications for its first 100 spots, which are open to anyone in AEC-related fields with between 2 and 15 years of experience.
Placeholder Alt Text

The National Trust acquires more of historic Rockefeller estate

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) has announced the expansion of The Pocantico Center in Pocantico Hills, New York, which will include the acquisition of the Rockefeller Playhouse, a “large Tudor-style building built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1927 as a venue for family recreation and events,” and family properties from the historic Rockefeller estate, according to a statement from the trust. Following the passing of David Rockefeller last year, the properties were gifted to the National Trust, and will join the Trust’s portfolio of 28 historic sites across the nation. Other properties at the Center, including the Marcel Breuer House, the Coach Barn, the Orangerie, and the encircling gardens and landscapes are managed the RBF but are not owned by the Trust. The Pocantico Center is home to philanthropic and public programs. It attracts over 32,000 visitors each year with its public tours and art collections. Annual community programs include “a biannual lecture forum, a dinner series, garden symposia, and other talks on the Center’s art and sculpture collections, as well as an actively cultivated school garden.” The Center also welcomes artist residencies each year from a range of disciplines, including “dancers, musicians, playwrights, poets and visual artists.” The additional buildings and land were already handed over to the trust and the RBF on July 15. The organizers expect to open the added buildings in September. “Saving, using, and sharing historic properties like the nearby Playhouse and Guest Houses help us to understand and appreciate the past, engage with the complex issues that define our present, and come together in a beautiful space to imagine and create a better future,” said Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the trust. “With a 70-year reputation for excellence in stewardship, the National Trust is honored to protect these historic places and committed to the long-term sustainability and success of both these properties and the entire Historic Hudson Valley. We are deeply indebted to the Rockefeller family for this remarkable gift, just the latest in their exceptional multi-generational commitment to preserving America’s past.” AN recently reported that Meeks is stepping down at the end of 2018, after more than eight years in office. The organization’s board of trustees is actively searching for Meek’s successor.
Placeholder Alt Text

CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is stepping down

Stephanie Meeks, the eighth president and first woman chief executive officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, announced this week that she will step down at the end of 2018, after more than eight years in office.

Jay Clemens, vice chair of the organization’s board of trustees, has been named to lead a nationwide search for Meeks’ successor, which will begin right away. Clemens will be joined by a search committee made up of four board members, working with Howe-Lewis, an executive search firm based in New York.

Founded in 1949, the National Trust is a privately funded, nonprofit organization that works to preserve and celebrate America’s historic places. Meeks began as CEO in July of 2010 and leaves at a time when preservation-oriented builders, planners, architects, and public officials are constantly threatened by lack of funds and the loss of local tax credits to encourage preservation. Many local governments have far more preservation projects seeking funds than they can afford to support.

In response, the Trust recently completed the largest fundraising campaign in its history, drawing $305 million to support its mission. Meeks also led an effort to reposition the Trust’s holdings of 27 historic sites and add a new one, Thornton Gardens in southern California. The organization’s annual list of Most Endangered Historic Places continues to draw attention to landmarks and districts that face an uncertain future.

“With integrity and vision, Stephanie has guided this organization and its essential and important work to higher ground,” said Trust chairman Timothy P. Whalen, in a statement. “Places that matter to all Americans in this country are more secure as a result of her determined and skillful leadership…Each of us on the board are grateful for and admire all that Stephanie has accomplished for preservation in the United States.”

Meeks “brought a fresh perspective to a valued, legacy organization, seeking to revitalize the National Trust for a new century,” said Robert Ivy, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Institute of Architects.

Besides overseeing the fundraising campaign, Meeks completed a five-year strategic plan for the organization, moved its headquarters to the Watergate complex in Washington, D. C., established a program called National Treasures to support preservation efforts, sought ways to assist America’s cities through its ReUrbanism initiative, and launched an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. With Kevin Murphy, she co-authored a 2016 book published by Island Press, entitled The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities.

Accouncement for the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, launched by the Trust under Stephanie Meeks's leadership (Courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Meeks could not be reached for comment in time for this article, but she noted in a message on the Trust’s website that she believed the completion of the fundraising campaign was an appropriate time to bring in new leadership. She noted that the campaign exceeded its goal by $105 million, including four gifts of $10 million or more and 26 greater than $1 million.

“It is against this backdrop of success that I have decided now is the right time to pass the baton to the next leader of the National Trust,” she wrote. “The end of a campaign is a natural inflection point for any organization, and I believe that the best time for a transition is now so that my successor can take the reins at this moment of strength and build toward an even stronger future.”

In a separate message, she thanked the many partners who have helped the Trust realize its goals.

“It has been a privilege to lead an incredible organization of talented and committed individuals dedicated to preserving and honoring the places that tell our full American story,” she said. “As I reflect on the results we have achieved together, I am deeply moved and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to an organization whose important work will continue to shape the cultural landscape of our nation.”

Meeks’ announcement set off speculation within preservation circles about who might take her place. In one government preservation office, there was talk that President Donald Trump’s daughter, Tiffany Trump, may be in line to take Meeks’ place. Others noted that the organization is not a federal agency and the President does not have the authority to appoint its top executive.

Placeholder Alt Text

Vermont's Mormon future city called off after preservationists sound the alarm

Plans for a utopian city based around the Mormon design principles of Joseph Smith have been scuttled by their Salt Lake City-based developer, after the National Trust for Historic Preservation put out a warning about the project. The sprawling sustainable city first made waves in 2016, when it was revealed that Utah millionaire David Hall had already purchased 900 acres in Vermont’s rural White River Valley through his nonprofit NewVistas Foundation. Those 900 acres were part of a larger plan to collect 5,000 acres across the four towns of Royalton, Sharon, Strafford, and Tunbridge, and carve out a walkable, mixed-use urban development for 15,000 to 20,000 people. Hall claims that the project isn’t religious, just an experiment in ecologically sensitive urban design (despite its location near the birthplace of Joseph Smith) and that the LDS isn’t involved in any way. Still, NewVistas' plan for the town hewed closely to Smith’s 1833 City of Zion plan; each square city block would be arranged in a rectangular grid along wide streets with prescribed setbacks on half-acre lots. NewVistas wanted to combine Smith’s 19th century ideas with 21st century technology and New Urbanist principles. The city would have been composed of smaller villages of 160 to 210 people each on 960 half-acre lots, all centered around common areas, with the villages eventually coming together to form an urban conglomeration that could be scaled up to house millions. The trippiest of Hall’s ideas? In a Bloomberg interview, Hall claimed that residents would live in 200-square-foot apartments, with Roomba-like robots that would shuffle furniture around when needed to create more space. Hall had picked up a total of 1,500 acres in Vermont since his purchases first went public. Now, after the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the four towns and surrounding valley under “Watch Status” on their annual list of the 11 most endangered historical sites, Hall has dropped his plans. “The charming village centers and idyllic surrounding farms and forests in four historic towns,” reads the Trust’s statement, “would be permanently altered by a development proposal calling for construction of a new planned community in this rural part of Vermont.” The move was abrupt, coming only one day after the Trust’s designation on June 26. Despite being met with fierce local resistance in the past, Hall directly cited the Trust’s mention and has now placed his land holdings up for sale. All 1,500 acres are reportedly being sold as one parcel to prevent overdevelopment in the future, though the plots are not all contiguous. Fans and aspiring utopians shouldn’t be discouraged. Hall has already dropped $100 million on kickstarting a chain of global NewVistas, and a prototype community in Provo, Utah, close to Brigham Young University, is still on track.
Placeholder Alt Text

U.S. Army to restore one of the last surviving WWII officers' club for African American troops

In partnership with The National Trust For Historic Preservation, the U.S. Army announced its support today to restore and reuse one of the last surviving World War II–era officers' clubs for African Americans in the country. With the Army's go-ahead, project stakeholders will adapt the Mountain View Officers’ Club in Arizona into an events space that honors the contributions of black soldiers and the struggle for civil rights. The Mountain View Officers’ Club is one of only two surviving officers' clubs from the WWII era. Located inside Fort Huachuca, the country's largest training ground for black soldiers during WWII, the club was a social nexus, giving hundreds of officers in a segregated military a place to unwind with drinks and dancing, as well as cultural programming, like exhibition fights with boxer Joe Louis and performances by Lena Horne. The base, which sits about 15 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, hosted over 25,000 soldiers at its peak. Real estate developer and frequent military contractor Del Webb built the wood-frame, two-story structure from the Army's design codes, and the club is a prime example of World War II Mobilization architecture. The National Register–eligible property recently found itself on a different, more precarious list: Vacant since 1998, the structure was added to National Trust's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list back in 2013. To give the building new life, the National Trust is partnering with a host of stakeholders, public and private, to preserve the building and adapt it as a flexible events space. The Army has "conditionally" accepted a proposal to transform the building into a community site, one that would offer upscale dining and meeting options to military and civilians alike. A 4,400-square-foot deck at the rear of the building would be used for screenings and outdoor dinners, and low-slung outbuildings would add additional restrooms and storage. “We are delighted to have the interest and support of Fort Huachuca in exploring the untapped potential of the Mountain View Officers’ Club,” said Christina Morris, field director for the National Trust, in a statement. “Reactivating the Mountain View Officers’ Club is a creative solution that answers the local need for a new social, event and recreational center, while keeping alive this chapter of Civil Rights history for future generations of soldiers and civilians.” For inspiration, the team looked to a similar reuse project in Riverside, California. A former officers' club of the same vintage is the centerpiece of Homefront at Camp Anza, an affordable housing development for veterans and their families. The club now serves as a gathering space for residents and those in the surrounding neighborhood. The National Trust and the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Huachuca partnered with local and state groups to bring a site proposal to fruition this summer. The group includes Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers, a preservation organization dedicated to saving the Mountain View club; Tuscon, Arizona–based architects Poster Frost Mirto; Kadence Restaurant Group, a Tucson hospitality company; as well as state preservation and arts groups. With the Army's blessing, the stakeholders can now court developers and investors for the project. To pay for the work, one of those organizations, Arizona State Parks and Trails, turned to the National Park Service’s African-American Civil Rights Fund, a program to document, preserve, and interpret the 20th century's civil rights movement. If the application is approved, the half-million-dollar capital grant would pay for the restoration of select elements of the dance hall and fund an exterior restoration that would bring the building back to the way it looked when it was erected in 1942.
Placeholder Alt Text

Popular historic tax credit is on the Congressional chopping block

A tax reform bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday would eliminate a widely used measure for combatting urban decay, even as developers and preservationists argue that the program more than pays for itself. The Historic Tax Credit (HTC), introduced in 1981 by the Reagan administration, provides a 20% tax credit over five years for projects that revitalize historical buildings that would have otherwise fallen into disrepair. Paying out only after the project has finished, the program generates $1.20 in tax revenue for every dollar spent, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Shifting the cost burden entirely to the private sector, the tax credit has made it easier for developers to find funding for rehabilitation projects that lenders are typically wary of. A 2015 report by the National Park Service and Rutgers University has shown how the credit has ultimately generated over $131 billion in private investments and preserved over 42,000 buildings across the country. By offsetting the increased design and construction costs associated with saved these blighted buildings, HTC has also created over 2.4 million construction, administration and local business jobs. Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, put out a statement after the House revealed its latest reform legislation. “By spurring public-private investment in the reuse of old and historic buildings, the federal Historic Tax Credit fuels the economic engine that is currently revitalizing downtowns, neighborhoods, and Main Streets across America. Getting rid of it now threatens the economic revival that is evident in America’s cities and towns. Any plan to revise the tax code should enhance, not abolish, a pro-growth investment like HTC.” A rare coalition has formed between developers, preservationists and members of Congress as support for saving the HTC has grown. In a bi-partisan letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Congressman David B. McKinley, (R-WV), rallied for the credit even while acknowledging that he was expected to vote for the proposed tax reform bill. “Since its inception in 1978, this tax credit has spurred economic activity and has directly aided in the revitalization of Main Streets and rural communities nationwide. Over 40% of the projects using this credit have been in rural communities, breathing new life into their downtowns and attracting investment,” said McKinley. With the program funding everything from asbestos abatement to insulation replacement, the backlash to eliminating the HTC is only expected to grow as this latest attempt at tax reform makes its way through the House.