If it wasn’t enough that the San Antonio Housing Authority voted to demolish the Alazan Courts project (1940) just weeks after it was included on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List (see my blog here), they are also moving to destroy the only piece left from Victoria Courts, an administration building from the same era 80 years ago.
Now, the building was found eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places by the Texas Historical Commission, so if SAHA is using federal funds or permits, then it is an “undertaking” and would have to be reviewed by THC in its role as State Historic Preservation Office. It doesn’t mean you can prevent demolition, but it can slow it down and allow people to reconsider.
When historic housing projects first became eligible for listing back in the mid-1990s, a lot of people and media attacked the notion that these hoity-toity preservationists were interfering with the noble goal of providing decent housing for the working poor. And no one does that better than a local housing authority.
Except that isn’t how it is done. The way housing authorities have worked for the last three decades is that they raze their old projects, partner with a private developer who gets tax credits for providing housing for people at 50 or 80 percent of median area income, while also providing market rate housing, thus eliminating economic ghettos and giving people a leg up.
As you may have guessed, this model is problematic, because by the time you displace a family for demolition and rebuilding, you are likely to never see them again. Moreover, the familiar pattern is like this – you slowly depopulate the project so when it is time to raze and redevelop, you have a far smaller number of people you are obligated to rehouse.
Interestingly, many clever developers have become adept at combining the low-income housing tax credits with the historic preservation tax credits. They even offered to help SAHA with Alazan-Apache, so we wrote SAHA and testified at their hearing.
Crickets. Again, nobody likes the hard work.
This year at PastForward, the National Preservation Conference, the National Trust for Historic Preservation focused on People Saving Places. “People” is operative, because for many – notably wonky architectural historians like myself – it had often been about buildings. Even for those in the planning profession, it had been a technical question rather than a human one. That is wrong.
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
“I must protest against the dismemberment of Chautauqua.”
- Letter to William Rainey Harper from John Heyl Vincent, 4 July 1899.
I stumbled across this nugget while researching other matters regarding George Vincent and William Rainey Harper, the first President of the University of Chicago. Vincent’s father John Heyl Vincent was a founder of Chautauqua, which as you may know, is a place in New York state that evolved from a Sunday School into a nationwide educational movement. Continue Reading
Last week. Maybe next week too.
It has been 13 months since I last blogged about the Farnsworth House (Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1951). In that blog I detailed the various options that had been studied to try to conserve the house despite the increased flooding of the Fox River at its location near Plano, Illinois. Continue Reading
This is the building in Harlem New York where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man. There have been extensive alterations, some of which were there in 1947 when he wrote the book.
This week Ray Bradbury’s classic book Fahrenheit 451 was occupying our living room couch because my daughter was reading it as a high school assignment. As I did, as many of us did. It is a classic about the need for books, for culture, in the face of dystopia. At the same time, the author’s home for over 50 years was being demolished a few hundred miles to the south, in Los Angeles, by the prize-winning architect Thom Mayne. You can see the demolition and read about it here. People are so upset that Mayne himself said it was “a bummer,” and you know how hard it is to crack an architect’s ego.
But the larger and more interesting question is: How do we preserve the legacy, the memory, the significance of a literary landmark? The issue is at the heart of many of our current debates about the National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, both of which are geared toward architecture and are not always ideally suited to the preservation of memory, of culture, of the rich loam that nourishes books like Fahrenheit 451 and all of the students who have read it for the last half-century. Here are a few examples I have used to illustrate literary landmarks over the years, and each of them betrays an architectural modesty, if not monstrosity. They are significant not because of their form, but because of what happened there. Continue Reading
I was at a meeting of the National Trust and several citizen preservation groups in Monterey concerned about the future of the Cooper-Molera Adobe, a house museum in Monterey, one of the treasures of California’s Spanish capitol. I blogged about Cooper-Molera two and a half years ago here, and what I said remains true – the site has been largely shuttered due to state budget cuts, cuts which are not going to be reversed.
When the National Trust announced it was working with a developer to come up with restaurant and other commercial uses at the site, there was a fair amount of community uproar, especially among volunteers who felt the site should stay interpretive. And this debate: “Commercial versus Interpretive” was still active when I was there last month. And it is a false dichotomy. This is NOT an either-or situation. It is a both-and situation. Continue Reading
we could all use some of this
That blog also delved into the 41-year history of World Heritage, which includes both cultural, natural and “mixed” sites. I detailed how we had shifted in heritage conservation from iconic and monumental singular sites to broader cultural landscapes. In recent discussions with conservation foundations, I am sensing a new confluence of heritage conservation and natural conservation as both approaches are moving into the arena of cultural landscapes. Continue Reading
“But just as a patient expects his doctor to pull out all stops in search of a cure, Northwestern must pursue every avenue before daring to raze one of Chicago’s architectural and engineering treasures.
We don’t think they’re trying hard enough. Surely, there’s a solution.”
That is from an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times yesterday, one of several actions that have ramped up the pressure on Northwestern University to explain why it needs to demolish Bertrand Goldberg’s pathbreaking 1975 Prentice Women’s Hospital, which I have been writing about here for over two years. The first building to use computers in aid of its design, Prentice is a song, a crescendo of 45-foot concrete cantilevers twirling into a quatrefoil of cylindrical skin delicately punched with ovals, a bold sculpture on a base that makes the regular buildings around it look dull-witted.
The architecture geeks have loved this building for a while, and of course I announced its ascension to the National Trust Eleven Most Endangered List a little over a year ago. Continue Reading
In the past I have written about the challenge of house museums. See House Museums and Ultimate Use. Almost a decade ago, the National Trust – which was basically created by Congress in the 1940s in order to receive houses and turn them into museums – started to discuss the end of the house museum as we know it. No more velvet ropes and stilted ossified stories of wealthy Victorians and the silver service they used when the Admiral visited. Continue Reading