A San Antonio surprise

November 4, 2017 Historic Districts, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (1) 228

So here is the photo I posted on my first day at work nearly a year and a half ago.

This is the main office of the San Antonio Conservation Society, and has been so since 1974, when the organization was already 50 years old.  It is the Anton Wulff House, built in 1870 and described as Italianate style.  This is reasonable since it has that Tuscan tower, those paired windows and doors and other hallmarks of the most popular style in America from 1850 to 1880.

After the tower and the main front-facing gabled mass, there is a half-gable mass that almost reads like an addition, but everyone assured me the building was built this way.

Maybe it is the nature of the slightly irregular limestone blocks, but that last mass (which contains my office) seemed less designed, reflective perhaps of the isolated and emergent city some seven years before the railroad arrived.

What did seem clear was a complete absence of any influence from Anton Wulff’s home country, Germany, and specifically the Alsace region adjacent to France.  Alsatians had clearly brought European architecture to nearby Castroville at the same time.

Huth House, Castroville, 1846.

But I was wrong because I did not have an encyclopedic knowledge of early 19th century high style European architecture.  If I had, I would have recognized a homage to the MOST famous German architect of the 19th century, Friedrich Schinkel, he of the Altes Museum.  In 1829, Schinkel designed the Römische Bäder, an expressionistic complex at Potsdam for the romantic Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm IV.  This is what it looked like:

Credit for this discovery goes to Michael Guarino, who left me a stack of images of the structure.  All of a sudden the Wulff House had a fairly grand legacy, and that half-gabled section made sense for the first time.

 

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A dozen years and counting

August 1, 2017 Historic Districts, House Museums, House Museums, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 151

Twelve years and 502 blogs ago, I began “Time Tells” – my little blog about heritage conservation, architecture, planning, technology and economics.  I have moved three times in those dozen years and now live in San Antonio, one of the pioneering preservation places in the United States.

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Real Estate 2017

January 27, 2017 Blog, Economics, Historic Districts, Technology Comments (1) 570

I attended a recent ULI event here in San Antonio that outlined emerging trends in  real estate.  I was struck by how much the factors they identified tracked with my own prognostications in November during my Partners speech in Houston at the National Trust conference.

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Moving Buildings – San Antonio

July 20, 2016 Historic Districts, House Museums, Sustainability Comments (2) 512

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

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

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Lathrop Homes, 3 years after

February 20, 2016 Chicago Buildings, Historic Districts, Sustainability Comments (1) 482

Full disclosure:  Four years ago, I was the Historic Preservation consultant for the Julia C. Lathrop Homes in Chicago, a very important 1937 federal housing project.  This past Thursday the Chicago Plan Commission approved the current plan for the project, which I ceased to work on when I left Chicago in July 2012. I took the opportunity to compare the plan to my April 2011 Preliminary Report and to the project at the time I left.

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Main Street and Community Preservation

February 13, 2016 Economics, Historic Districts, Sustainability Comments (0) 290

This coming week I will be lecturing about Main Street, a National Trust for Historic Preservation initiative that began in the 1970s as a way to help preserve historic downtowns throughout America in communities of every size.  This was in the era when suburban shopping malls had become the centerpiece of American life, drawing attention and dollars away from the smaller shops and services of the old downtowns. Continue Reading

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Historic Districts, Economics and Misconceptions

January 30, 2016 Blog, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (6) 362

Everybody loves them some locktender’s houses

One of the interesting facts about the heritage conservation field is that it does not track neatly with political persuasions.  My first day of work in 1983 saw the legislation creating the first national heritage area co-sponsored by every single member of the Illinois Congressional delegation, bar none.  Imagine. Continue Reading

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Transforming the Heritage Field

May 7, 2015 Historic Districts, History Comments (0) 283

Lockport, Illinois, part of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor

The first of two blogs on my plan to transform the statutory and philanthropic foundations of heritage conservation.  Today we deal with the statutory in the United States…

As I prepare to move on from Global Heritage Fund after three years, I am committed more than ever to the transformation of the field of heritage conservation.  In the distant past, heritage conservation was a curatorial activity that sanctioned and even encouraged the removal of physical – and intangible – artifacts from our economic everyday in order to conserve them as if under a bell jar.  But, as I demonstrated in my dissertation, that approach began to die as historic preservation (in the U.S.) and heritage conservation (everywhere else) were infused with community-based activism and organization in the 1960s.  I had the good fortune of coming into the field during the creation of the first heritage area in the U.S. 32 years ago. Continue Reading

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Planning for the Future; not Scrambling for the Past

September 21, 2014 Economics, Global Heritage, Historic Districts Comments (1) 273

I was re-reading one of my blogs from nine years ago (430 posts now – I guess I am about consistency and endurance whether I like it or not) and was struck (again) by my (consistent) non-ideological approach to heritage conservation. That blog “Heresy and Apostasy” basically took to task the concept that preservation had some kind of ideological purity and that those who didn’t try to save absolutely everything all the time were not “true” preservationists.

I recalled my youth in the field, when I did come close to that position, but it was never one I was completely comfortable with. First, ideologies sit outside of history and thus fail all tests of time. Second and more to the point, I began my career working on a heritage area – the first in the U.S. – and the goals there were historic preservation, natural area preservation, recreation, and economic development. Preservation was part of planning for the future. Preservation was a wise economic decision, especially in a post-industrial economy. Continue Reading

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Yangon Heritage

March 6, 2014 Economics, Historic Districts, History Comments (0) 258

Rangoon. The Garden City of the Orient. It really was, and thanks to a half-century of neglect, it still is. Sort of like Havana, Rangoon gives you that sense of stepping back in time, before the glass skyscraper shopping centers, before Rayon and ubiquitous telephony. I rarely wax nostalgic but when I walked the streets of Rangoon in May of 1986, I fell in love with the colonial architecture.

You could feel the sense of time there. I have never been to Havana, but I have experienced the sense of time frozen in architecture in a few other places – Budapest a decade ago, Georgetown (Malaysia, not D.C.) in the 80s, even Leeds back in ’82. It is an architecture that begs for preservation but not restoration. It is messy but it is literally dripping with history; with significance.

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