This is Fiesta: San Antonio’s Cultural Heritage

April 22, 2019 Blog, Historic Districts, History, Intangible Heritage, Interpretation Comments (1) 391

If you have to ask…A Night In Old San Antonio®, the premier Fiesta event, shown in 2017.

New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Rio has Carneval, Ahmedabad has Utturayan and San Antonio has Fiesta. It is part of the city’s intangible cultural heritage, a parade that culminated in a “Battle of Flowers,” a European pageant suggested by a Chicago Presbyterian minister back in 1891.

The parade soon became an elaborate and fantastical depiction of social rank with an elaborate collection of self-styled royal courts where the high and mighty families dressed up in themed fantasies and young women debuted in five-figure gowns as the “Duchess of Harmonious Elegance” or “Princess of Perceived Coordination” or whatever and now this tradition has been going on for over 120 years. Heck, “Cornyation,” which makes fun of this, is itself at least 60 years old and has a book about it.

Me and my medals. More on back.

Then there are the medals. Everyone has a medal for sale, even McDonald’s. You sell them, trade them, give them out and compete with other medals. They represent causes and organizations and businesses and politicians and individuals. Even if you don’t try, you will still end up with three dozen of them and you need a sash to carry them all. We all end of looking like South American generals by late April.

NIOSA medal design unveiling, 2019. Do you know of another city where medals are an integral part of life?
We don’t have generals but we do have Kings, and they have royal retinues.

We have Kings. The Texas Cavaliers crowned the first King Antonio in 1927, and this group of business leaders found competition 21 years later when the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce crowned the Ugly King – Rey Feo. Now the two Kings get along fine and compete simply to raise money for children’s causes and scholarships respectively.

Parade to the King’s Party, San Antonio Conservation Society Board members, 2018.

There are over 100 official Fiesta events, It’s a “party with a purpose” and its signature event is A Night In Old San Antonio®, now in its 71st year. This is our event, which began about 1936 as a Fall Harvest Festival down by Mission San Jose. By the early 1940s it became a downtown Riverwalk event and at the City’s insistence, we moved it up into La Villita in 1948.

It now runs four nights – a total of 20 hours. It utilizes the talents of over 10,000 volunteers to provide food, drink, music, crafts and fun to over 80,000 guests. It raises money for conservation in La Villita and throughout San Antonio. We have 5 year-round full-time staff, two downtown buildings including a commercial kitchen and 18,000 square feet of warehouse just for this four-day event.

La Villita is a nice site for it, because it is full of old buildings and gets very crowded, which is part of the appeal of NIOSA!

Oh yes, and we have volunteers who meet every Thursday morning year-round to make paper flowers and cascarones for the event,

Cascarones? Those are confetti-stuffed eggshells that you crack over your friends’ heads during FIESTA. You can buy them at the local grocery store, just like the medals. For NIOSA® we make our own – about 50,000 each year.

The origin of the cascaron is actually Chinese.

Fiesta as a whole features several major parades, several multi-day fundraisers with food and drink and music, and a huge collection of official receptions, dinners and ceremonies. 100 events. Everyone decorates their house with flower wreaths, papel picado banners, and all manner of colorful acoutrements.

There is nothing like this in any other city that I know of.

It may not have the fame or cachet of Carnival or Mardi Gras, but I love its intricacies, particulars, flights of fancy and aged authenticities. Fiesta is San Antonio’s cultural heritage.

1975.

Y’all come visit NIOSA® this week, ya hear?

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Civil Rights Tourism

April 16, 2019 Blog, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 369

“The U.S. Civil Rights Trail was designed to motivate people to learn more, see more and feel more. The website can tell the stories, but the emotional weight of those stories cannot be fully absorbed without standing in the exact spots where sacrifices were made and the direction of history was changed.”

Howard University, Washington, D.C.

The Civil Rights Trail combines sites that have been significant in the battle for Civil Rights, especially the 1950s and 1960s. Launched in January, 2018, the Trail includes over 100 sites in 14 states. Given the incredible popular success of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture and the fact that Civil Rights tourism is a growth sector demanding honest history, the identification and interpretation of such sites promises to be an economic boon to communities where these resources are located.

Display in National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D C

The National Civil Rights Trail includes over 100 sites in 14 states, but none in Texas, although Dallas has developed its own Civil Rights Trail. The opportunity is great: a $63bn industry.

In San Antonio, we have the story of the first voluntary and peaceful integration of a Woolworth’s lunch counter on March 16, 1960, a story that Jackie Robinson said “should be told around the world.” He was quoted in the New York Times on March 20, 1960, but the story did not have the “legs” of the more confrontational protests in other cities.

2018 San Antonio Tricentennial mural at Hemisfair. From a March 16, 1960 photograph of a young man looking into Woolworth’s

In addition to Woolworth’s the sites of the Kress, H.L. Green, Grant’s, Sommers and Neisner’s stores survive, sans lunch counters. The beginnings of a Civil Rights trail are right in front of us, although the concern is that at least two of these could disappear soon.

Kress Building, Houston Street, San Antonio

Thanks to local landscape architect and historian Everett Fly, more overlooked sites in San Antonio are now being uncovered. You could see markers for the Rincon School near the River Walk, but Fly’s work has really illuminated the importance of downtown – notably Alamo Plaza, in a struggle for equal rights that goes back to the early 1880s.

African American barbers plied their trade at the Menger Hotel, and an African American owned a cleaning shop at the rear. Across the street, Joske’s Store was built on the site of an 1860s slave market. In 1960, Joske’s resisted integration as seven other downtown stores adopted equal serving policies.
This was H.L. Green’s, another lunch counter that integrated that day. It is a block south of Woolworth’s and across from the Menger.

The challenge now is to bundle these sites – and many more, into a package that can attract tourist investment. In San Antonio we already have the largest Martin Luther King Day march, active contingents of Buffalo Soldier interpreters, and Everett Fly’s impressive research into African American cemeteries.

Buffalo soldiers at Rodeo Parade

The opportunity is there. The question is: Do we embrace it?

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Pillars of Value

March 27, 2019 Blog, Economics, Historic Districts, Sustainability, Texas Comments (0) 335

Why saving buildings makes more dollars and sense

1310 W. Commerce, built c. 1899 for Toby Barnes

Here is a very intact Victorian home in San Antonio of the typical Queen Anne type: L-shaped plan with front facing gable, decorative balusters, posts and porch trim. It even has decorative brackets with drop pendants that survive on the corner.

1306 W. Commerce, built c. 1909 for Charles Willard

Next door we have this house. It is boarded up and a temporary fence was added three weeks ago, but this Queen Anne retains a lot of integrity, from every one of its four Doric order porch columns to original wood siding and decorative shingles in the protruding gables. The house volume is unchanged since 1912.

1302 W. Commerce, built c. 1899 for Henry Gill

Next door, also behind the fence, this Folk Victorian gem has a double-munched standing seam metal roof, original siding and original shingles in the gables. It is also boarded up, so we don’t know how many original doors and windows survive, but in my experience, there will be several if not all.

SOOOOOO……. the owner proposed to demolish these three.

I have seen buildings in WAY worse shape get saved.

In fact, one that was on the demolition list when I started at the San Antonio Conservation Society three years ago recently came up in our house hunting.

Needs to be demolished 2016. Today it is yours for $300k here.

The owner of the three Commerce houses has a business a block away where he rents, so he bought these “just in case.”

Perfect! Move your offices in there and ditch the landlord!

Um, so then the owner’s representative said they tried renting them but they were having too much trouble. But then the druggies and thugs started hanging out and breaking in, so they need to be demolished.

Because when you demolish buildings, those problems go away?

Um, no.

Then the owner’s rep said he wants to build and apartment building here but has no plans and no timeline.

“There is plenty of room to put in his office AND add an apartment building,” I said. This is not an EITHER/OR.

And then there is money. You rehab these as houses, you can get the city tax incentives. You rehab them as National Register landmarks (that still needs to be done) and you can get a 20% investment tax credit. And a 25% state tax credit. They would totally qualify based on their history, architecture and condition. 45% of your rehab costs paid for.

Since the fence went up three weeks ago the squatters and scrabblers have stayed away. We can only hope the owner listens to reason. Or money. Or the neighbors. Or takes a look at Zillow and sees what has happened to other buildings that someone once thought should be demolished.

Because they couldn’t think of anything else.

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Both And

February 25, 2019 Blog, Interpretation, Technology, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 345

Paper or plastic?

For years we have been offered this choice at the supermarket checkout, and it annoys me. Why can’t I have both? I sometimes reply “Some of each,” which confuses people. But I actually have some need for plastic and some for paper. I’m NOT one or the other.

Paper in plastic.

Our “polarized” 2019 world has been caused by many such false choices – politically and otherwise – between categories that seem to exclude each other. But they don’t. Making the categories more extreme (i.e., you are either Communist or Fascist) makes the duality seem real. It’s not.

YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE A SIDE!

Let’s leave the hoary hoardings of the politicalifragilistic to one side and remain in our expertise: architectural history and preservation. 13 years ago in this blog I celebrated a debate which I witnessed several times between modernist Paul Byard and classicist Steven Semes (who is a good friend) on the appropriate way to design additions to historic buildings. Byard, who has since passed away, advocated modernist additions while Semes has written a book arguing for contextual additions. The debate was AWESOME because each speaker was so convincing you actually suspended your own bias and wandered back and forth between the camps.

The debate and the dichotomy struck me yesterday as I visited the San Antonio Museum of Art, a late Victorian building with two contemporary additions.

Paper.
Plastic.

One satisfies the contextualists, and one uses contemporary materials to distinguish itself from the original. Both defer to the original building in scale, massing and setback. If you are sensitive to brick color and the patina of time, both read clearly as additions. I like them BOTH.

SAMA has both MODERNIST and CONTEXTUAL additions. Or perhaps I should say SAMA has BOTH Modernist AND Contextual additions.

And where does Art Nouveau stained glass fit into your philosophy, Horatio?

BOTH AND is the actual dynamic state of the world. The binaries and categories we use to make sense of this world are intellectual constructs that negate a major physical reality: Time.

A thing now does not equal a thing ten years from now. This is manifest at the quantum level but it is also true up here in the everyday. Styles change, technologies change, and materials age, each at their own rate.

King James Bible, 1611. Words and language change as well.

There are continuities, of course, and indeed the task of heritage conservation is about maintaining continuities amid change. To do that job, you need to see things as they are, not as you would have them be. You need to understand BOTH now AND then.

The dynamic nature of experience and existence belies clumsy categorizations. We, and our work, are always in the process of becoming.

I explained this better in my 2012 blog: Categories are your Frenemies.

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Coalition for the Woolworth Building

January 29, 2019 Blog, History, Interpretation, Texas Comments (1) 471

San Antonio Woolworth Building, built 1921. The first voluntary, peaceful integration of a Woolworth’s lunch counter happened here March 16, 1960.

San Antonio has a unique history in the Civil Rights movement, but it is not known because it is characterized not by conflict, but by its absence. The tradition continues to this day with the nation’s largest Martin Luther King Day March. Approximately 300,000 participants annually.

They even saw our sign in Hawaii!!!

This year, a new Coalition for the Woolworth Building participated in the march and had an information booth in the park afterwards. The Conservation Society is a member along with the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, among others.

As the banner notes, what happened in San Antonio in 1960 was different.

The most prominent corner in San Antonio – the intersection of Alamo and Houston Streets.
  • February 1, 1960 – four students stage a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Protests and violent reactions pepper the nation in the following weeks.
  • March, 1960 – OLLU student and NAACP member Mary Andrews sends letters to downtown lunch counters requesting equal service. NAACP holds rally Sunday March 13 and asks for desegregation by Thursday March 17.
  • On Tuesday, March 15 civic, religious and business leaders meet and agree to desegregate Woolworth’s and six other lunch counters.
  • Wednesday, March 16, 1960. Photographers descend on Woolworth’s in San Antonio as blacks and whites are served equally at the basement cafeteria and lunch counter
  • March 19, 1960. Jackie Robinson calls the voluntary integration “a story that should be told around the world” and compares it to his integration of Major League baseball in a Page 1 New York Times story
Integration at Woolworth’s, March 16, 1960. Courtesy UTSA Special Collections.

There were places – Corpus Christi, Oklahoma City, that integrated their ,lunch counters earlier, but only following protests and confict. San Antonio proceeded differently.

Susan Beavin and Nettie Hinton of the Coalition for the Woolworth Building, 2019.

Woolworth’s location gave it special significance. Nettie Hinton recalls buying the “big donuts” at Woolworth’s prior to catching the bus to the African-American East Side. Indeed, the corner of Alamo and Houston was where the cultures of San Antonio met and separated – Hispanics to the west, African Americans to the east, and Anglos to the north.

The story is not well known, despite Jackie Robinson and the front page of the New York Times because there was no violence. The old news media saying “If it bleeds, it leads” could find no purchase in the soil of San Antonio, so the story was not “told around the world” as Robinson pleaded.

San Antonio Woolworth’s Houston Street entrance, 2019

Although it could be still! In fact, Civil Rights sites are one of the few growth areas in tourism, as reported recently. This Civil Rights site is an opportunity for San Antonio.

What’s Not There

Now, the threat to the Woolworth’s Building since 2015 has been that it sits atop the site of the west wall of the Alamo compound, potentially the site of Travis’ quarters during the epochal 1836 battle.

See the area to the left where the soldiers are swarming in? That is under the building below.
This is on top of the site of the north wall, where Travis fell and where Santa Ana broke through. A more significant location, but apparently is wasn’t for sale.

Yesterday someone said to me: “But the lunch counter is gone – there is no remnant of it.”

The same is true of the western wall and Travis’ quarters. Nothing left of them. The buildings there have basements, so it’s all gone. No remnant.

So which do you interpret?

Both, obviously. And you have tons of room inside the Woolworth Building to do that.

See my 2018 blog on the Woolworth Building here.

FEBRUARY UPDATE:

The Woolworth Building has been nominated as a State Antiquities Landmark, to be heard by the Texas Historical Commission on April 16. You can voice your support by contacting Mark Wolfe, Executive Director, Texas Historical Commission, P.O. Box 12276, Austin, TX 78711, Mark.Wolfe@thc.texas.gov

Also, check the Conservation Society website for updates!

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Backwards Planning

January 5, 2019 Blog, Economics, Sustainability, Vision and Style Comments (0) 324

Ignoring the law and asking forgiveness? yikes.

Recently in San Francisco a house flipper illegally demolished a significant 1936 home by the famous Richard Neutra.  Here is some coverage.

Perhaps he expected to be treated like the last lawbreaker, who had demolished a Willis Polk house in the same city and was fined a record $400,000.  In that case the flipper paid the fine and quickly made 7 or 8 million on the flip.  Price of doing business.

Except our Neutra Exterminator didn’t get a fine – he was told he had to rebuild the house in the same materials just as it was, and then put up a plaque explaining the history of the building and making sure everyone understands that they are looking at a replica. 

I’m sure we can find a “property rights” type who would cry for this poor flipper,. but not me.   The value of this harsh but entirely equitable judgement is that it discourages the unfortunate tendency of some to “ask forgiveness” rather than ask permission.  This approach undercuts the law and rewards lawbreakers. Making someone FIX their lawbreaking actually discourages further lawbreaking.

This building in Chicago was illegally built to four stories about 20 years ago. The City forced the owner to remove the extra two stories. That is how it is supposed to work.

(By the way, you can always tell a flipper because they SAY that they are going to live in the house with their family.  Dead giveaway.)

I also TOTALLY live with my family in my other houses on the Continent.

We have some of this “backwards planning” here in San Antonio.  First, we have a structural problem in Planning.  Public hearings on planning issues are only held AFTER the applicant has dealt with the city planners and there is a big sign that clearly states that there can be no changes at that point.  So public input is rendered worthless.

Oops! Sorry, I was just trying to salvage it.

We have the “ask forgiveness” problem in epidemic proportions.  Applicants come before a citizen board with limited experience, plead that they have already invested in their non-permitted scheme, and the board feels sorry for them and grants the permit retroactively.  Awful precedent, and everyone is taking it up. It happens at Board of Adjustment all the time – “I didn’t know I needed a permit. Sorry. Can I keep it?”

I needed a permit for a sidewalk? Just because it threatens the structural integrity of the building due to its angle, topography, location and material? How was I to know?

This also happens with the Historic and Design Review Commission, which has several new members and it still getting used to its processes and purview.

I guess, technically, we are the Wild West, but planning anarchy is no way to welcome tens of thousands of new residents a year. With a series of political and administrative shifts in our city (and an increase in borrowing costs) it is high time we fixed our backwards planning.

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San Antonio Development: Density, Intensity and Affordability.

December 15, 2018 Blog, Chicago Buildings, Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 502

Minneapolis just eliminated single-family zoning, and Oregon is considering the same for its cities.  The goal is to increase affordable housing and redress a century of racial bias undergirded by said zoning.  Planners are excited by this trend and see more of it on the horizon.

Buurma section of River Forest, Illinois

San Antonio just reformed its zoning code to include R-1 and R-2 zones, because our old zoning allowed high density pretty much everywhere.    The new R-1 and R-2 zoning will help low-density core neighborhoods and historic districts by encouraging appropriate infill.  So, with all of the current City Hall concern with affordable housing, why are we doing the opposite of what Minneapolis did?

Four houses sidewise on one lot, Grove near Roosevelt.

The contrast with Minneapolis is actually not as dramatic as it seems.  Not only is San Antonio more affordable in general, it is not landlocked like Minneapolis.  Plus the zoning in Minneapolis was actually, really “single family.”  In contrast, even our new R-1 and R-2 districts could see 2-3 units on a lot.  King William, the oldest historic district in Texas, is full of accessory units and always has been. In fact, one of our highest priced houses was once seven apartments:

Yup.

At the San Antonio Conservation Society we meet regularly with neighborhood representatives, and in a recent meeting we learned the difference between density and intensity.  We tend to think only of the former, but look at the little two-story apartment building below.  It has been in the heart of the King William district for decades and is incredibly dense – something like 126 units per acre.  But it is not intense.  It fits in.

In the heart of the district.

Now look at the development below, which is less dense, but more intense.

Also ugly.

After the meeting, I shared a project from Oak Park, Illinois about a dozen years ago.  Two historic houses built in 1875 and 1908, the latter actually a two-flat.  The owners proposed ten units over parking massed up front toward the sidewalk.  Super intense.

This is what they were inspired by, to replace the two houses below.

Since it was in a historic district, the demolition was not allowed, and today the two houses look the same as they did before.  Better, actually.

So did preservation mean gentrification?  Nope.  Turns out you are looking at seven units.  You just can’t see them unless you get right up to the buildings and look into the back.  What preservation meant was that density was increased without increasing intensity.

In fact, Oak Park’s Long Range Historic Preservation plan way back in 1994 encouraged accessory units and coach houses as a way to maintain the historic character of the area.  Preservation is about improving development, not opposing it.

18th Street, Pilsen, Chicago

There was some more interesting news out of Chicago this week when the city landmarked the Mexican-American neighborhood of Pilsen, with the specific intent of preserving its vernacular architecture and its culture.  They are crafting a historic district with the specific goal of preventing gentrification. 

Got it? Yes, you heard that right.

This mural was painted over last year, an outrage that certainly propelled the landmark designation.

Chicago combined landmark designation with a five-year Affordable Requirement Ordinance (ARO) and an arrangement with Chicago Community Land Trust to reduce property taxes. Crucially, the effort is focused not just on architecture but also the distinctive culture of Pilsen.

A Pilsen tour led by local activists in 2009.

This is something we have been working on in San Antonio for a few years , notably with the City’s Living Heritage Symposia that the Conservation Society has supported.  Cultural heritage conservation is the leading edge of our field, and it is exciting to see how various communities are developing new tools to achieve it.

West Guadalupe, San Antonio

It is also nice to see an end to the 35-year old myth (shibboleth, perhaps) about preservation and gentrification.  I was asked the question by news reporters when I came to San Antonio in 2016 and I said what I always have said – gentrification and its definable cohort – displacement – is a much bigger phenomenon than historic districts. 

Let me be clear – when preservation emerged as a form of zoning in the 1920s, it was used to exclude minorities and preserve wealth, just like single-family zoning. 

Ansonborough, Charleston.  It happened here.

But that was no longer true by the 1980s, when preservation had been inflected by the 1960s community planning movement, permanently altering its character.  Someone wrote a dissertation about this 🙂

Yes, there were historic districts that gentrified.  There were also historic districts like Wicker Park in Chicago that slowed gentrification while nearby unregulated areas saw values double or triple in a year’s time.

Wicker Park

This week San Antonio extended its housing incentive program, to the cheers of some and jeers of others.  There are different opinions about whether the tools work or not.  San Antonio is shrinking the target area and adding an affordable housing fund following concerns that the incentives were being used for more upscale projects.  

Neighborhood workshop at San Antonio Conservation Society

As someone has commented regarding the Pilsen plan, there are always unintended consequences of incentive programs, whether financial or regulatory.  IDZ zoning was intended to provide affordable housing in inner-city areas and after a decade became a default for developers trying to avoid various regulatory requirements.

And maybe squeeze in a few more square feet.

Real estate development always follows public subsidy – from roads and sewers and trails to zoning and funding incentives.  The Pilsen experiment includes industrial job goals. It also includes a recreational trail and policies designed to allow the trail to improve the community without increasing values too much.  The obvious parallel here in San Antonio is the RiverWalk, especially the Museum Reach, which together with the Pearl has spurred a flurry of development.

The Mission Reach has potential for the South Side, and another piece of that puzzle was added this week with the Mission Historic District Design Guidelines.  Like the Pilsen landmarking, these will help conserve an architectural vernacular particular to a place and a people.

We have seen an increase in the number of Great Blue residents.

These various efforts demonstrative how much the preservation/heritage conservation field has evolved a lot in the last 35 years.  Zoning has certainly changed significantly in the last century.  Most importantly, the goals have shifted in the wake of urban revitalization.  Time will tell whether these various programs work toward the new goals of affordability and amenity or have unintended consequences.  

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Heritage Conservation 2018 – PastForward

November 20, 2018 Blog, California, Intangible Heritage, Sustainability, Technology Comments (0) 557

Just back from San Francisco, currently sporting the worst air quality on the planet but also hosting PastForward, the National Preservation Conference.

For me it brought back fond memories of Beijing, 2004.  

It was the final meeting for National Trust President Stephanie Meeks.  I remember flying from Chicago to Washington DC and back the same day to vote her into her position back in 2010.

Her speech at the Plenary session hit five major points that well illustrate the status of heritage conservation in 2018 and its future direction.  You can see her full speech here, but I hope she will allow me to reflect on her five points below.

People First

Heritage conservation is about what people want and need, and not about museums and architectural obscurities.  It is about Main Streets and housing and schools and jobs and how communities are built and thrive.  It about more than tourism and curation – it is about how we feel about belonging to a place, investing ourselves in it.

Stephanie cited Abraham Maslow’s 1943 “Hierarchy of Needs” where PLACE and a sense of belonging were first identified as essential human needs.  Current neuroscience has dramatically underscored this early intuition with the solid research into the brain chemistry of architecture and environment in the work of Colin Ellard (which I blogged about here in 2016.)

Ahhhh…dopamine….

The latest developments go even further that Ellard’s quantification of how – chemically – interesting buildings make us feel good and parking lots make us anxious.  I just read Sarah Williams Goldhagen’s Welcome To Your World, a study of the new concept of embodied cognition – that how we think about and understand our world is crafted by our built environment, largely in an unconscious way.  She makes the case that good design is a basic human need, a key to brain health and a source of emotions.  “Recognizing and identifying patterns produces in us a sensation of pleasure.”

We see ourselves in our surroundings.

It turns out architecture is neither a luxury nor an externality.  It is the way we construct our thoughts and feelings.   The heritage conservation field is only beginning to take advantage of these new frontiers in neuroscience which prove something we suspected for a long time.  Look for a big expansion in the coming years.

Innovation

The changes to heritage conservation in the last two decades are epic.  In terms of diagnostics, we can now learn so much more about archaeology and buildings with minimally invasive techniques impossible in the 20th century.  Ground-penetrating radar.  LIDAR.  We can snake cameras into the tiniest crawlspaces and cavity walls, and we can point cloud anything with a regular camera if need be.

Presidio 2007 – an actual point cloud station but they did show us how to do it with camera.

New tools are also available for rehabilitation.  I learned Thursday that a company actually makes siding that matches 1940s asbestos siding!  We can 3-D print components, or we can find the companies that still make the same sash cord they did 90 years ago.

Yeah baby!! 

The greatest innovations, of course, have been in interpretation of historic places.

Painting with light.  “Restored By Light” at Mission San Jose, 2016

Innovation works at two levels here.  First, we have to reach the next audience through the media they choose to use.  Second, we can restore history without resorting to massive physical intervention, as seen above.

Interpretation at the recently reopened Cooper-Molera historic site, Monterey, CA.

Innovative interpretation is key not only to the massive tourism industry, but also the more basic and democratic project of sharing why we save and repurpose elements of the past.  People love the stories in the simplest of buildings.  They enrich our experiences, which people crave today more than things.

Stephanie referenced the virtual reality interpretations of historic sites, and I would simply add that augmented reality is already a staple of museums and public history today, in 2018.  The next generation of tourists will expect AR at every heritage site.  Full stop.

I blogged about this moment almost two years ago here.  

Scale

Scale.  We complained at Harvard Business School this summer that every case study was about scaling.  But yes, scaling is growth and that is the pattern of political economy and indeed civilization.  So too in preservation we need to scale beyond the regulated landmark by incorporating heritage – in some form – into every aspect of building and planning.  We are doing it here in San Antonio, from our neighborhood workshops that invite ALL communities regardless of designation to the city’s recent efforts to improve infill zoning.

Stephanie specifically referenced the rehabilitation of Cooper-Molera Adobe, the National Trust site in Monterey which I was involved with and saw in all of its free-entry glory last Saturday.  It is like the Gaylord Building now – a restaurant, bakery and event space pay for the lively restored and crisply interpreted historic house.  Nice job!

The challenge of bringing the heritage conservation message to scale is implicit in the initiatives described above – including all older neighborhoods regardless of their architectural integrity or consistency; reaching out to include diverse voices from history; understanding heritage as a part and parcel of EVERY planning and zoning decision.

The challenge for groups like the National Trust or San Antonio Conservation Society is how do you transmit scale into your organization?  Can you grow membership in an era of declining membership?  Can you create micro-members who join for a singular moment and cause?  Can you re-tool surveys to fully incorporate diverse and intangible histories?

Living Heritage

This was not one of the categories in Stephanie’s speech, but it was a frequent topic of educational sessions, since San Francisco is leading the way in dealing with Living Heritage through its thematic context studies, Legacy Business Program, and cultural place initiatives.

Japantown, San Francisco

These initiatives explode the traditional bounds of architecturally-based heritage conservation by focusing on intangible heritage and community values that are embodied in PLACE but not ARCHITECTURE.  Some of these sessions were TrustLive follow-ups to the TrustLive presentation at our September Living Heritage Symposium in San Antonio, featuring my friend Theresa Pasqual.  I blogged about our 2017 symposium here.

Climate Change.

Three and a half years ago I attended the Pocantico Conference on Climate change and heritage.  With so many coastal cities threatened by rising sea levels, climate change remains a central concern in the field of heritage conservation.

Preservation is always triage – which are the most important places to save, and which must be let go due to limited resources or political capital?  Climate change accelerates these hard choices.  I am reminded of Valmeyer, Illinois, the little town that moved – in its entirety – up to the bluffs following the devastating Mississippi River flood of 1993, or the National Historic Landmarks on the east coast that have been moved inland as storms worsen.

Like Lucy the Margate elephant.

Joy.

This was a nice touch on Stephanie’s part.  Spread Joy.  The joy of heritage, a work that supports the brain and enlivens the body through its haptic interaction with a nurturing environment, an environment rich in stories and social interaction.

We know about this in San Antonio, where 12,000 volunteers entertain 85,000 attendees each year in support of preservation.  A Night In Old San Antonio® will be here April 23-26, 2019!

 

 

 

 

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Alamo Plaza October 2018

October 23, 2018 Blog, History, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 598

If you want to see what the Alamo Plaza plan was like exactly four months ago prior to a series of public meetings, check out my blog from June 20 here.  If you want to see what the City Council approved last week, check out my blog from June 20 here.  Not much changed, although a booklet called Alamo Plan August 2018 did address a series of the questions that came up during the public meetings and explained why things pretty much had to stay the way they were.  Like the website, the book starts on the negative, decrying all of the icky things that happen in front of the Alamo.

Always best to start with the negative..

We don’t get the POSITIVE vision for the site until after the City hands over control.  It is curious that we only are presented what Alamo Plaza shouldn’t be – the few images in the booklet are generic and uninspiring.

The Crockett, Palace and Woolworth Buildings that we have been advocating for for the last three years.  These face the Alamo chapel.  In the August 2018 book they announce they will “assess the significance and integrity according to national standards” and “assess opportunities for reuse, including how to connect multiple floor plates”.  This is the equivalent of Henry II’s plaintive wail “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

The City Council voted to lease the plaza and streets to the State of Texas for 50 years (with two 25-year extensions).  The main changes over the four months were not changes to the plan as much as changes to those opposed to the plan.  The two main parades (Battle of Flowers and Fiesta Flambeau) agreed to the new parade routes, the Citizens Advisory Committee publically approved the plan, and the Historic and Design Review Committee approved the moving of the Cenotaph, which raised the most controversy over the summer.

The new location of the Cenotaph within the plaza area was arguably the only change made to the plan itself.  They did add some new drawings commemorating the Payaya Indians who first inhabited the 1718 mission to the final presentation and book.  These added illustrations received significant commendation from the Council members for interpreting more than just the 1836 Battle of the Alamo.  So… they included the 18th century, but what about the 20th???

The Phil Collins-sponsored metal model plaques that were installed this year start with 1744, and then march to 1785, 1793, 1836, 1846, 1861 and … then stop marching at 1900.  This is the problem:  They claim to interpret 300 years of history but actually stop halfway, prior to the 20th century.  Which is when Adina de Zavala and Claire Driscoll actually saved the Alamo.  And a city happened.

Despite the casting of this summer’s plan as an “interpretive plan,” the only hints at interpretation were images of costumed interpreters and the recent hiring of a living history director.  Although they have assured me there will be 21st century museum staples like augmented reality, there is a curious fondness for the unpopular and unprofitable world of 20th century living history, which I surveyed in another recent blog.

In fairness to our city leaders, we raised a big stink about the importance of the Woolworth’s Building in Civil Rights history (see my blog here) and this was referenced in the City’s lease agreement, if not into the Alamo Plan publication.  But it can still be demolished.

That would be a missed opportunity to make money.

A recent study shows that Civil Rights tourism is one of the few categories of tourism that is growing – a new Green Book movie is coming out and the National Museum of African-American History with 2.4 million tourists has kicked off a boom in the sector.

Fine looking building – would be worth saving for architecture.  But the Civil Rights history is even more epic.

The other big issue this summer was access, a subject of our petition.  The new museum which will occupy the space (and hopefully the facades) of the Crockett and Woolworth Buildings will be open 9-5 and during that time only one access point to the plaza – next to the museum – will be open to the public.

No sneaking in!!!!!

Up to six gates in the new fences surrounding the plaza will be open at other times, so that vital midnight selfie in front of the Alamo will be only a bit less convenient than today.  This element of the plan upset most of the architects and planners in town, and again, there was minimal change – more off-hours access points were added, but daytime stayed at one.

My normal time is 7 AM, although I will probably have to leave my bike outside.

So, now all the decisions will be taken by the state.  The Citizens Advisory Committee and the Historic and Design Review Commission will comment on the results of the architectural assessments, but the power lies with the General Land Office of the State of Texas.

Icky!

We can hope.  Our focus at San Antonio Conservation Society remains on the buildings.  Roads can be closed and opened.  Gates can be added and subtracted,  Fences can be erected and deconstructed.  But once you tear down these historic buildings, they are gone forever.

 

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September sightings

October 2, 2018 House Museums, House Museums, Texas Comments (0) 447

This will be a primarily visual blog highlighting some of the heritage sites I saw this past month which I had not seen before.  First is the Tuberculosis sanitarium houses on Zarzamora here in San Antonio.

Built starting in 1938, this complex of a dozen buildings features red tile roofs and southwestern style sun-baked wall finishes.  TB patients would each get a small cubic house with plenty of windows and really sweet architectural details.

Gotta love a real steel casement window.  They rolled that steel 7 or 8 times to get those delicate profiles.  Nothing like it today.

University Health Systems owns them and uses some for offices and some for storage.  We are hoping that several can be preserved in the long-term, focusing on those built in the 1938-48 period of initial construction.  The overall feeling is like you are on a 1920s silent movie set!

We also got to tour the Sisson House, a very early house adjacent to the acequia at Mission San Jose.  The American Indians in Texas are planning to create their museum there.  The house is owned by the National Park Service.

The fun part here is trying to figure out which section was built when.  There are two structures, and parts of the main house here appear to be wood, but a rear portion is stone and/or caliche block.

Did they take stone from the abandoned mission and build an addition?  The rear building has a surprisingly deep basement – was it built first?  I love these kind of forensic escapades with knowledgeable historic architects around as we debate potential answers.

Even the double munched standing seam metal roof has a curious proportion on the shed addition.

The next treasure is in Billings, Montana and it is a house museum.  I have seen many, many house museums, but the Moss Mansion in Billings is really something.  Built in 1903 and designed by Henry Hardenbergh of Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel and Dakota Apartments, this house was an exercise in architectural styles, beginning with the insanely detailed Moorish foyer:

To the left is a library so paneled and English that is has a stained glass window of William Shakespeare, while to the right is a room so French and pink you expect Louis XIV-XVI to materialize out of thin air.

The level of architectural detail is really off the hook – this house did not do a wall finish, but a wainscot, a wall finish, a crown finish and a relief plastered ceiling in every room in every style.  Here is the parlor beyond the library in a Nouveau style:

The crown molding here in the study is about 8 inches high and 4 inches deep

Not only is there a massive bathroom on the second floor with tile all over the floors and walls, but even the ceiling is tiled with rosettes at every corner:

horror vacui non potest

Dining room detail.  The other side of the room has stained glass.

A bedroom.

Another bedroom.

Not only did they have the first telephone in town (and owned the company, if memory serves) they also had electric hair curlers in every bathroom, and massive ice boxes in the pantry.

This house survived because it stayed in the family until the 1980s.  Reminds me of the Maverick Carter House here in San Antonio, which is STILL in the same family, has a similar vintage and a similar Richardsonian Romanesque exterior.

Entry, Maverick Carter House, San Antonio

I actually toured that one back in August, so it doesn’t count for September.

Here’s me with Stephen Cavender at the Audi Dominion, which replaced a Robert Hugman house that was not known at the time.  We are standing by a plaque recalling the house and there is an area that uses stones from the property to create a small rest area whilst the house outlines are traced on the lot.

Finally a wonderful courtyard with a tile waterfall design from O’Neil Ford’s incomparable Trinity University, listed on the National Register of Historic Places this year and the site of the city’s second Living Heritage Symposium!  That deserves another blog…

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