March 14th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

Words.  My Mom’s life was all about words.

I am certain that she was stringing them together in complete – and clever – sentences by the time she was one or so.  Because by age sixteen, in 1943, she had written, typed and even bound her autobiography.  All her life she reveled in playing with and making words do her bidding in the art of communicating.  She and Barbara, one of her childhood playmates in Greeley, invented a language of code words – both written and spoken – and they would leave notes for each other in this secret lingo in the front seat of an abandoned automobile in the alley behind their houses.

Mom’s love of life was palpable to all who ever knew her, even for a short time.  Her next oldest brother, Neil, was her great childhood pal, and she admitted that the influence that he and his friends had on her made her a tomboy.  At Greeley High, she and The Gang, her ever-expanding group of girl friends, rode around on the city bus all evening singing songs at the tops of their voices.  Mom was always a singer of silly songs.   Some of them she learned from her mother.  And she passed these ditties with their clever puns, jokes and wordplay on to her sons.  We still laugh every time we sing them – and that’s considerably more often than our spouses or children want to hear them.

By sixteen, when a senior in high school, she was already writing stories for the Greeley Tribune, and that fall, off she went to Boulder to the University of Colorado, where her older sister Eleanor had attended some years earlier.  Like Eleanor, she pledged Alpha Phi and, as they say, history was made.  Alpha Phi was an extraordinarily important part of her life ever afterward.  Lifelong friendships were made.  These were such close friendships that they survived even a little envy creeping in.  One Alpha Phi pal admits that the girls were jealous of Mom’s typewriter – the only one in the house.  But Ann had writing to do, and a lot of it.  She majored in Journalism, and when she graduated from CU she almost immediately headed to the University of Illinois, finishing a Masters in Radio & Television Journalism in just a year.

It was in her post-graduate professional life as a radio station traffic manager that she met our Dad, Paul, the station engineer. We have Jack Hull to blame for setting them up for their first date, by the way; he was Dad’s best friend and the station’s on-air talent. Mom and Dad were married in 1951.  A stint with a Denver advertising agency was soon followed by the arrival of yours truly in 1953, Gary in 1955 and David three years after that.

To Mom’s everlasting annoyance, she never bore a formal Alpha Phi legacy.  But that didn’t stop her from recruiting us for the cause anyway.  All through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, Mom and the Denver Alpha Phi alums sold heart lollipops in local stores, restaurants, banks and the like to benefit the Heart Association.  Ron, Gary and David were roped into delivering the decorated coffee cans with heart lollipops stuffed in their tops and then coming back to collect the money.

We were also responsible for delivering her copy to the assignment desk of the Denver Post on deadline day, while Mom circled the block in the car.  She was writing feature articles and weekly events columns for the Zone Editions of the Post during our elementary and junior high years.  When the Post abolished the Zone editions, she moved her byline to the Washington Park Profile and continued to report and write on community news and feature stories for many more years.

Also for years, Mom was the alumnae editor of the national Alpha Phi Quarterly magazine, and her reporter’s skills were called into play every other summer when she went to the national convention to cover it for the magazine.

Meanwhile, there was the church magazine and a history of the congregation to write and edit, countless bridge games (with or without Dad, who we’re sure was always a reluctant bridge player), the church choir to lend her lovely soprano voice to, clever poems to write for family communications, and of course all those Alpha Phi meetings and events.  Oh, and there were her duties as Cub Scout Den Mother, co-creator of boys’ craft projects (the Cookie Christmas Tree survived in the basement until 2003!), teaching us how to yodel and thus waking up all the neighbors in Palmer Lake, and perhaps most importantly for me: encouraging us to read, read, read; plus editing, advising and mentoring on term papers, poetry, and more recently, my blog.

Thank you, Mom, for all you were and are to me, my brothers, our family and your legion of friends around the world. Your and Dad’s abundant kindness has, I hope, rubbed off at least a little.  The depth and breadth of my love for chocolate almost matches yours. And in our lives we can only hope for a fraction of the return you got on your investment in friendships.  You said when you were sixteen “My greatest accomplishment is having a great many friends.  If friends are an asset, my liabilities are few.”    Well Mom, you are the richest person I’ve ever known.

Your spirit and influence and courage live on forever:  I still have that typewriter you used to help your sorority sisters prepare their term papers in 1946.  You had your words to the end: even when you couldn’t speak them anymore, I know they were with you.  And now you’re gently correcting the angels’ grammar, as you did ours.

Yes, you predicted correctly in that 1943 autobiography: “This I know: whatever Fate has cut out for me, his scissors were a pen point and a book mark.”

I love you.  Eternal rest, grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.

YouTube video:


Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

Posted in Heritage, Storytelling
June 9th, 2011 | No Comments »

I’ve just been to a public forum, presented by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museums Commission (PHMC) and hosted by DVRPC, which sought comments on the draft state Preservation Plan.  Many of the participants were fellow preservation-geeks, but it was great to see Fairmount Park folks, staff from the Philadelphia City Plan Commission, the city Historical Commission, higher ed people and reps from the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (@CreativePHL) as well.

It was a lively and thought-provoking discussion about how to position historic preservation and the agency’s work out in the world for the next five years.  And the findings of a non-scientific, self-selecting online survey that the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of PHMC undertook formed the basis of the discussion.  Most of the survey results weren’t too surprising:  people who responded are mostly over age 45, and don’t list “historic buildings” as the places that best reflect what they value about their communities.  But if you think about it, the character-defining features of the communities themselves – the neighborhoods, the landscapes, the trails and waterways – that were the top rated selections in the survey actually embody the heritage that we preservationists seek to, well, conserve.

One of the forum-goers even articulated what I’ve been thinking for some time: maybe we should consider a language change, to what our British and Canadian colleagues call “heritage conservation.”  They avoid “historic.” What’s historic, anyway?  The definition gets fuzzier all the time.  And “preservation,” which sounds like we promote encasing cherished architectural artifacts in amber.

It was also good to hear from the City Plan Commission staffers, and to get some context for their decision to create a stand-alone historic preservation category in the newly adopted Philadelphia 2035 Comprehensive Plan. As I have read the plan during the past few months, I’ve had the slightly annoying feeling that perhaps creating a unique preservation section in the Plan suggests that it’s an afterthought.

It’s great to be singled out in positive ways: historic preservation is important and gets its own chapter.  We’ve all arrived!  But shouldn’t conserving the heritage we’ve got be woven in as an integral part of our planning and development goals and strategies?  Is positive, but separate, attention a way of marginalizing?

The PCPC folks agreed that they’d asked themselves the same questions and decided that education of a public that is largely uninformed and at least consciously uninterested in the built heritage of Philadelphia could benefit from a definitive discussion about the issue in a focused section of the Plan.  They’re likely right.

That same kind of education and conversation need to be a compelling part of the Pennsylvania Preservation Plan as well.  We heritage conservators (see, it didn’t hurt) and our partner, the SHPO, will have to make new friends and allies in the environmental, energy conservation and outdoor recreation worlds.  We will have to learn to lobby more aggressively, network more strategically, communicate more broadly and look at what we want to conserve more diversely.  So onward with more work to craft a meaningful and powerful Preservation Plan for the Commonwealth.




Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

May 19th, 2011 | No Comments »

Eat at the chef's counter, sip great wine, watch them cook incredible food at Val & Marcie's Barbuzzo













Heritage preservationists have for a very long time been sent to the irrelevance “time-out” corner by many who unfairly claim that they (we, full disclosure) are focused entirely on pretty buildings and not on cold, hard reality.  But old buildings and existing neighborhoods fans really know, as does everyone involved in real estate, planning, architecture and other real world pursuits, that “use,” “use” and “use” are the three most important words in our language.

Philadelphia entrepreneurs Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney know all about using existing buildings, and their neighbors in Center City’s Midtown Village have enjoyed the benefits of the reborn street life the pair have helped foster.  Earlier this week, the AIA Philadelphia Chapter, along with the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, saluted their remarkable love for and commitment to urban life in the heart of Philadelphia.  The AIA, at the Alliance’s annual Awards lunch, lauded the partners with the annual Henry J Magaziner, EFAIA Award, which recognizes those who, though outside the “normal circle of preservation and design, have made a significant contribution to preservation of the built environment.”  The duo’s three restaurants (Barbuzzo, Lolita and Bindi) and four shops (Open House, Grocery, Verde and Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates) near 13th and Sansom, reside in older buildings saved and rehabilitated over the past decade by developer Tony Goldman and have joined several other long-standing businesses in the vicinity in turning around what was once considered a “red light district.”

Congratulations to the pair, who even live above the store.  (How else could two people manage such an empire?)  Val and Marcie have made our neighborhood more lively, safer, more interesting and, well, more delicious.  (All their ventures are great,  but @Barbuzzo, already a James Beard award winner, is not be missed.)  Thanks to them and their unflagging energy and creativity.  Philadelphia is much the richer for their commitment.  So is the salted caramel budino!


Posted from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, United States.

May 4th, 2011 | No Comments »

The new lobby at the Temple Performing Arts Center

Last night, I joined fellow historic building fans and saviors for the Preservation Alliance’s annual preview tour of one of the group’s upcoming Awards luncheon honoree projects:  the former Baptist Temple, now the Temple Performing Arts Center.  What a great rehabilitation project I discovered, and what a perfect architectural example of Philadelphia’s 250-year-old and still thriving reputation as a center of innovation and invention.

Project architects rmjm/Hillier and engineers Keast & Hood were presented with a 100+ year old stone landmark that had been abandoned for more than 20 years.  The team was challenged with transforming it into a performing space with enough flexibility to welcome the University orchestra, rock concerts, weddings and weekend church services.  One of their most interesting tasks required inserting a substantial lobby space into what was originally designed in 1891 as one large preaching barn.  Restored auditorium of the Baptist TempleA big, square open space – no interior columns to intrude on the sightlines of the 4,000 congregants to the pulpit, 200 voice choir loft and “River of Jordan” baptismal font  – had to be divided to provide a traditional, separated lobby with the usual audience amenities and new vertical circulation.

Thankfully, instead of trying to create a historicized, pseudo-19th century lobby, the architects chose a very sleek, modern vocabulary that draws patrons through a glowing glass and steel environment into the stunning, and slightly surprising, restored auditorium.  Meanwhile, the designers also had to engineer a structural upgrade that complemented the four underperforming columns at building corners, which stretch from foundation to roof, that Keast & Hood tour guides described as ” like a waiter supporting a tray on the tips of four outstretched fingers.”

Baptist Temple and Temple University founder Russell Conwell headed up Victorian Philadelphia’s premiere megachurch here, where he built a theatre that was designed to focus his star struck flock’s attention, center stage, on his notoriously uplifting and inspiring sermons.  So the University’s preservation project at Conwell’s Temple can’t be called an adaptive use; it’s still a theatre.  But the careful rehabilitation includes textbook restoration of lots of historic elements, like conservation of scores of art glass windows.  The spectacular central fan window above the entrance now casts a gloriously colorful glow in the auditorium through an enormous – and soundproof – glass wall in the new lobby.

Tourgoers look in vain for the turntable on the stage of the Chapel of the Four Chaplains

One historic element didn’t make the restoration planning cut, however.  In the Chapel of the Four Chaplains, a splendid undercroft designed in an elegant Romanesque style in 1951, the great central arch frames the platform from whence interdenominational religious services were to be conducted.  But the turntable within the arch that allowed the Catholic, Jewish and Protestant altars or regalia to be rotated into view when needed was never fully used, and has now been dispensed with.

Observers like marketing guru Patricia Mann are extolling Philadelphia’s current brand as an incubator of innovation and the logical extension of our long history as a “cradle of invention.”  (See Ben Franklin.) The inventively and beautifully reborn Temple on North Broad is a first rate performance hall, a terrific model of preservation with out-of-the-box thinking, and a worthy recipient of the Preservation Alliance’s Achievement Award.

April 27th, 2011 | No Comments »

This really warm weather brings out the walkers, including me, and a day of exploring Washington Square West confirms that Philadelphia is looking pretty great in all this sunshine.  More historic streetlights are going up on South 12th Street; that block by the slowly rebirthing Odd Fellows Building really needs the light, notwithstanding the horrendous flashing LED’s washing the facade of the new nightclub next door. (And does anyone know what “The Leoncalvo” was, by the way?)

Tulips, azaleas and wisteria splash across the front of the beautiful and historic Pennsylvania Hospital with vibrant color, reminding me of my first days as a new Philly resident and coming upon that glorious monument to Dr. Thomas Bond’s and Benjamin Franklin’s vision that became America’s first hospital.  I knew I was someplace extraordinary.

And then there are the Litter Critters: fanciful re-imaginings of the very functional and very boring Big Belly recycling and trash cans along the sidewalks of Headhouse Square and South Street.  The exuberantly designed vinyl wraps encircling the trash receptacles would put a smile on any face with their individual personalities and colorful palettes. 

Thanks to the city’s extraordinary Mural Arts program (Mayor Nutter just bragged that Philly is the mural capital of the universe!) for their Big Picture art education program.  I finally connected the mental dots about the so-cool, festively decorated trash trucks that started appearing last year.

Similar kudos to the Lombard Street homeowner who, fed up with the poorly located and ugly traffic signal powerboxes on our sidewalks that also serve as major tagger-magnets, hired an artist to make “her” powerbox a perpetual reminder of spring.

It’s quite a spring in Philadelphia:  PIFA is just wrapping up, and what a magnifique three weeks of massive arts festival the @Kimmel Center has brought us.   We had no trapeze lessons, but enjoyed many of the terrific offerings.  Can’t wait for next year.

Now for Penn Relays.  And the first blooms in our own garden.

April 1st, 2011 | 1 Comment »

Philadelphia's Mother Bethel AME, a proud recipient of Save America's Treasures preservation grant funding. Maybe among the last. Photo courtesy Mother Bethel AME Church

The final verdict is in.  President Obama and the “tough-on-spending” crowd in Washington got their way when the latest stopgap federal funding bill that Obama signed recently abolished the Save America’s Treasures grant program.  It’s true, certain members of Congress had hijacked some of those grant funds by way of their own pet project earmarks over the past few years.  Nevertheless, thousands of fragile pieces of our national culture were saved, preserved, restored and celebrated thanks to the SAT grant program that began as a vision of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in the mid-1990s.

In Philadelphia, we’ve been fortunate that a lot of pretty important and valued landmarks have been the recipients of SAT funding.  Mother Bethel AME Church, the founding location of Rev. Richard Allen’s African Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1890, got badly needed structural repairs.  Christ Church in Old City, the Eastern State Penitentiary and more than 30 other critical heritage projects got funding that, because they required matching money, leveraged much more private philanthropic giving to see the projects completed.

Now, no more.  The nation’s only source of bricks and mortar preservation help is ended.  In the thirty years that I’ve been making my own small efforts to help preserve our cultural patrimony, I’ve heard so often “why can’t America be like Europe, where they appreciate their historic buildings and places and really preserve them?”  I never paid much attention to that comparison question (apples to oranges in so many ways).  But now, quoting Winston Churchill, who was responding to a wartime minister who proposed slashing cultural spending in Britain, I ask “then what are we fighting for?”

Let’s do some comparisons.  The Tory/LibDem coalition government in that selfsame Britain, which has just slashed its spending by an even greater proportion than Congress’ deficit hawks are calling for, has announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund will give out £300 million (pounds) – that’s more than $500 million – a year starting in 2013 for heritage preservation and conservation projects in the UK.  That’s ten times the largest ever annual US appropriation to Save America’s Treasures.  Makes you wonder why so many American leaders, who holler about American values and our cultural exceptionalism, are utterly unwilling to help pay for sustaining it.

Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: by Tom Crane, courtesy of Wagner Free Institute of Science

So what if a New Jersey Senator successfully earmarked some dough to restore and re-open Thomas Edison’s Invention Factory?  Just like at the Wagner Free Institute of Science in Philadelphia – with perhaps a slightly more recognizable brand – the Edison Factory used that SAT money to preserve and present to our kids and future generations an inspiration for getting interested in science and innovation.

While Congress and the President have ignored the cries from thousands of Americans who have argued for the job-creating, culture-preserving value of Save America’s Treasures (the abolition of which will save the beleaguered Treasury the equivalent of a tiny rounding error in the federal budget) the English Heritage Lottery Fund has embarked on a nationwide consultation to get UK residents’ opinions and ideas on how the £300 million should be spent each year.  What a daft idea.  Listening to the tax payers.

Is NPR really next?

December 15th, 2010 | No Comments »

Channel 6 video

The Petty's Run archaeological site, where iron and steel forges and a cotton mill dating from 1730 helped build an American industrial economy. Soon to be a field of grass again.

So much for slashing unnecessary spending in the New Jersey budget.  The Capitol Joint Management Commission (JMC) recently approved expending an as yet undetermined amount of money (“more than $400,000,” according to the beleaguered designers and historic preservation consultants hauled before them) to fill in the Petty’s Run archaeological site on the New Jersey Statehouse grounds in Trenton.  As historians and archaeologists from all over the U.S. and Great Britain are howling about the wasted opportunities for scholarship and study, Trenton business and tourism leaders are mourning the effects of another blow to the capital city’s constantly thwarted efforts to build a tourism economy.

In spite of the hundreds of thousands of dollars – constitutionally dedicated and previously appropriated – already spent on exploration, study and design for an interpretive park construction project that is also already funded, New Jersey’s spending more indeterminate dollars to  cancel the park, fill in the hole and plant grass.

Meanwhile, downriver in Philadelphia, saner and cleverer lovers of history and economic development are opening the exciting President’s House on Independence Mall, steps from the Liberty Bell.  It’s another (ahem) internationally significant archaeological site that is being beautifully interpreted and presented to a public and visitors who have already proven that it’s a big attraction.  Hundreds watched from viewing platforms every day as the dig unfolded.  Kudos to the City of Philadelphia and the National Park Service for their recognition that history and tourism mean economic activity.

No explanation, now, from the Governor’s or Lieutenant Governor’s offices in Trenton for  the undue haste in filling in the Petty’s Run site.  Preservationists and archaeologists wait anxiously for revelation of the plan for appropriate recordation, artifact retrieval, masonry conservation and careful protection of the site as it is filled.  (The JMC approved this “project” not only without a budget but without a plan.)

Some people just have no imagination.  I’m glad Philadelphia does.

November 17th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

Tony Goldman, the developer with the magic touch who transformed SoHo in New York and South Beach in Miami Beach, among many other re-imagined and revived commercial districts on the Atlantic Coast, recently won the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Louise DuPont Crowninshield Award for his “superlative achievement in the preservation and interpretation of our historic and architectural heritage.”   Goldman has seen opportunity in older urban enclaves over and over again, and we in Center City Philadelphia are lucky to be receiving the fruits of his vision and investment.

Goldman Properties have rehabbed some 25, mostly historic, buildings in the Midtown Village area just east of Broad Street.  (I wish we could agree on a snappier name for what many in the community – although maybe not savvy brokers and marketers – still fondly know as The Gayborhood.)  From the signature, Horace Trumbauer-designed Philadelphia Building on Walnut Street and fanning out north and south, Goldman’s retail, office and residential projects have revolutionized the area.  Once stagnant and maybe even a little seedy, it’s now an animated district of interesting restaurants and amazing entrepreneurial businesses, attracting hipsters and tourists (even tourists from Jersey).

The Lincoln, Camac & Locust

This week, we midtown denizens are eagerly awaiting the annual launch of the Beaujolais Nouveau vintage, when  quite a few of those entrepreneurs will offer tastings, pairings and wine specials at eight restaurants and shopping deals, demonstrations and samplings at six retailers.  Vive la Beaujolais Day!

And vive la difference the Goldman touch has made on the larger neighborhood.  We’ve waited a long time, but work has started on the shuttered Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Lodge at 12th and Spruce.  It looks like the elegant but dingy terra cotta-swathed building will offer full floor flats, with huge windows looking out on 12th Street’s big honey locust trees.   Word is that just around the corner, on our neighborhood’s arguably most picturesque street, Camac, the burned-out Lincoln Apartments is poised to be reborn as a boutique hotel.  And across the road, Stephen Starr will soon open still another in his seemingly endless herd of dining establishments in the former Deux Chiminees, nee Princeton Club..

Odd Fellows Building, 12th & Spruce

Back at the Philadelphia Building, tenant Next American City, the edgy and thought-provoking nonprofit magazine and advocacy group that promotes and celebrates innovation and urban life in cities like Philadelphia, is joined by many youthful,  creative economy firms, including my husband’s web development company.

It’s pretty exciting, especially since we’re all looking for signs of a rebounding economy.

Is Tony ahead of the curve?  He certainly has been all along.  Kudos to Tony Goldman for the incredibly transformative visions he invests in.  And kudos to the National Trust for acknowledging his work.  Oh, and I can’t wait to smash a couple plates at Opa when it opens on Sansom Street sometime soon.

A construction dumpster can often be a good sign in front of a long-unloved historic building

September 6th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says he wants to make Atlantic City “Las Vegas East.”  And Christie’s counterpart (both would hate that description) Gov. Ed Rendell and his Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board seemingly have never met a casino proposal they don’t love.  The character-less Sugar House Casino on Philadelphia’s waterfront is set to open in a couple of weeks, right on top of the site of a British Revolutionary War fort.  Oh, and another soulless slots parlor – “now with table games!” – in the Philadelphia suburbs is dealing with a rash of incidents where parents, and grandparents, are leaving their young children alone in cars in the parking lot while they gamble.

Surely there are many things wrong with this picture.  And perhaps the most audacious idea yet, a slots “resort” in an abandoned motel less than half a mile from the Gettysburg Battlefield, may actually have legs.  Two days of public hearings earlier this week thankfully brought out hundreds of thoughtful folks who passionately objected to the very idea of a gambling parlor near, actually really on, hallowed ground.  And the No Casino Gettysburg group presented an inspiring video, featuring David McCulloch, Ken Burns, Susan Eisenhower and a host of Gettysburg residents articulating their heartfelt opposition to the casino developer’s contention that slots and roulette wheels will “attract tourists to the Battlefield Park.”

What?  The authentic experience of walking the paths that American soldiers trod on their way to one of the most important confrontations in American history isn’t enough?   You’d rather leave the kids in the car while pretty colored lights flash in your eyes than share with them the story of America’s survival in the face of deep division and unspeakable  suffering?  Heroic acts, or a free buffet?

Many observers, Richard Florida among them, bemoan an America “awash in generica.”  That certainly describes Atlantic City, the prospective Las Vegas East.  I wonder if Christie’s goal includes creation of a higher level of inauthenticity than one can imagine: a replica Las Vegas version of a fake New York or a phony Paris.  Sadly, there’s so little left of the authentic, historic Atlantic City, and so few who even care, that it probably no longer matters.  There.  But Gettysburg is a real place, that tells real stories.  And  I believe that people – yes, even Americans – can still tell the difference and do care.

More and more towns are signing up for the Main Street revitalization programs, and are buying into a heritage tourism promotion mentality. My friend and colleague Donna Harris invests her time in helping many of those communities to capitalize, literally, on their unique and authentic downtown places.  Local volunteers support historical societies, serve on preservation boards, learn how to capture funding for neighborhood revitalization.  Care.

I’m looking for authenticity.  Let’s hope Pennsylvania – and dare we hope, New Jersey? – opts for some, too.

Posted in Heritage