November 7th, 2012 | No Comments »
Prism Glass transom Band

“Industry,” with its prism glass transom band

There’s another example of “everything old is new again” in the Pine Street Antique Row corridor.  The historic retail stretch on Pine has seen several new businesses opening in the past few weeks and months.  Our friends and neighbors are delighted; we’ve been concerned about a recent sprouting of empty storefronts that were darkening the retail scene.

Among the new commercial residents that are appearing to mark a hoped-for rebound for the Row is “Industry” and its wonderfully restored storefront that’s casting new light onto Pine Street.  As in most of the late 19th and early 20th century storefront buildings in the neighborhood, the establishment in the 1000 block of Pine draws patrons into its light-filled midst with an eclectic mix of art, fashion and design.  Unique among its neighbors, however, is the storefront’s glittering prism glass transom that provides much of the light to the interior of the store.

Restored by the building’s owner, the prism glass transom redirects and diffuses sunlight deep into the space, providing extra illumination to the interior, and casting a sparkling light at night onto the sidewalk outside.  Prism glass tiles, patented in 1896 by James Penncuick and eventually marketed by the Luxfer Prism Company, quickly became a popular way to enliven and illuminate commercial spaces.    Their usefulness faded, however, as did the transoms in which they were installed, when dropped ceilings and air conditioning made the whole thing seemingly obsolete.

Somehow, the majority of the transom survived, unlike many similar to it when they were ripped out or covered up.  Kudos to the building owner, and to merchant Jay Lamancuso at “Industry” for a handsome restoration of the Pine Street building and the prism glass transoms.  Here’s hoping you light up Pine Street for years to come.

Posted from Philadelphia, 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 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?

March 24th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

Slick Art Moderne retail topped by a parking garage. Girard Square, 12th & Chestnut, Center City Philadelphia

Jeez.   Change is hard.  Here I’ve been a change agent for all these years – though I didn’t really know to call myself one until fairly recently.   And now my own life is changing as my story is taking off in new directions.  I’ve spent a lot of time over those years thinking about/helping others to make decisions on/persuading those who resisted making choices about how and whether to preserve the existing built places that make cities, towns and landscapes unique.  For a long time most have called that “historic preservation.”   But those two words have come to be misunderstood, as recently described by Johanna Hoffman in Next American City, if not actively resisted or even despised.  Maybe we ought to try “change management.”

So even as my personal story sees the turn of a few more pages, and I inform, persuade, cajole (and put the bite on) folks in different ways, I can’t help but see the change agent role remaining as a constant in the chapters of my story ahead.

It’s tricky trying to help shape decisions about the art and commerce of making or destroying or changing buildings, spaces and landscapes that people use and live in.  Buildings and spaces require use – an engagement with people in direct ways not usually experienced by the consumers of visual, theatrical, musical, fine or popular arts.  It’s a level of interactivity that places an extra layer of meaning onto architecture and design.  Decision-making and opinion-shaping are more difficult when you’re talking about places.  Managing change with a preservation ethic means having to make hard choices and having to explain and justify them to skeptics who always wonder who made you the taste police.  And the speeding up of development, and development decision-making, in a creative city on the rise like Philadelphia makes being a change manager still harder. #PhillyRising.  We have to not only discern what places are important to people now but anticipate what people might find important in the – maybe not even too – distant future.  Example?  We dodged the bullet aimed at our generation by a previous one that really wanted the “ugly” Philadelphia City Hall erased from Penn Square.  I sure don’t want to be aiming similar guns at the Millenials.

Stephen Girard Building, 1896, , 12th near Market Street

Here’s a more current example.  I saw a presentation recently on the latest proposal for the eminently re-developable Stephen Girard block in Center City Philadelphia.  Previous, pretty grandiose dreams for blading the entire block between 11th and 12th Streets and building a gazillion square feet of mixed uses on Market and Chestnut are thankfully history.  Now, the low-slung, full block Market Street building (a building beloved by few) may be replaced by an exciting mixed-use glass structure, better-scaled and with some cool potential tenants and slick graphics.  For the rest of the block: no announced plans, yet.

And there’s the provocative change management problem.  On 12th Street, in mid-block, is the Stephen Girard Building, an imposing and nicely detailed Renaissance Revival skyscraper.  A little tatty right now, but it has good bones and is marked with an important name in Philadelphia history, after all.  Most preservationists will probably argue passionately for its preservation and repurposing.  I will.

Then there’s the interesting, maybe not as pretty, Art Moderne building filling the block fronting Chestnut Street.  That one takes some more careful perusal and thought.  Built in the 1930s, it replaced much altered rowhouses that had long been used for retail.  Several levels of parking sit atop the storefronts, which are nicely articulated in great Modern Movement materials and finishes.  Certainly, it’s a unique building telling an important story of Machine Age change and urban growth.  I’ll bet there will be fewer passionate advocates for this one, but I’m voting for trying to find a way to better monetize and preserve it.  It’s an important part of the connective tissue in the retail heart of Center City and a subtly urbane streetscape building.

The decision-makers and taste-arbiters are going to have a big change management challenge soon on the Girard Block.  It’ll be interesting.

Johanna at Next American City says preservation is misunderstood.  You think?  After all these years, my family back in Denver still isn’t sure what I do for my day job.  But now that I’m managing change for other organizations and in my own story, they kind of get it.  Kind of.

December 31st, 2010 | 2 Comments »

What IS this?

We were in Denver – my hometown – last week and saw, with horror, the results of the continuing teardown phenomenon that may have slowed somewhat nationally but is apparently still rampant in the Mile High City.  In every neighborhood, there they were:  overscaled, mostly terribly detailed Tuscan villas, French chateaux, phony Colonials.  Spec houses for the most part, we surmised.

Obviously, Denver hasn’t gotten a grip on the practice yet.  An ordinance passed a couple of years ago that gives neighbors a chance to respond to proposed teardowns, along with a period for potential designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, is coming under increasing fire from the crowd that cries “real estate terrorism”.  In their sights this week:  a terrific mid-century modern house in Belcaro Park, an upscale development of the 1950s and ’60s on Denver’s near east side.  (Full disclosure:  I grew up there.)  Once a cohesive district of large ranches, Usonians and traditionals, most of them architect-designed, Belcaro is losing its sense of place at a dismaying rate.  The area has avoided the scourge of overscaled replacements that plague other historic Denver neighborhoods only because the lots are positively vast to begin with. The permanent deed restrictions and strong neighborhood association that were counted on for decades to protect the character of the place have now apparently failed to stem the tide of scrape-offs.

Wallbank House, 1958. Denver's Belcaro Park

The 1958 Wallbank House, designed by architects Tician Papachristou, a colleague and biographer of Marcel Breuer, and my old friend, prominent Denver designer Dan Havekost, is set to be replaced by a house just 400 square feet larger.  So the landfill-enlarging teardown isn’t even justified by overheated expectations for ostentatious amounts of space.  Just a lack of imagination and appreciation for a stunning mid-century design that could easily be adapted and expanded.

Like so  many post World War II developments across the country, Belcaro hasn’t been formally surveyed to create an inventory of significant properties to justify the historic district it could have been.  (Ironically, it was in suburban Denver where the first National Register district of mid-century modern houses in Arapaho Acres was listed a few years ago.)   It’s time to do so.  The shift of ownership in the neighborhood suggests an opportunity:  a younger cadre of buyers are part of a generational trend toward appreciation for the architecture of the 1950s and ’60s.   Places like Belcaro Park should learn, quickly, to capitalize on their architectural assets, educate residents and would-be buyers about the unique character and opportunities of the existing built environment and help realtors and investors to make informed, creative and environmentally sustainable decisions.

I hope it’s not too late for Belcaro.  Other historic Denver neighborhoods – Hilltop, Bonnie Brae – may have lost too much.  Sad.  And here I thought northern New Jersey was the teardown capital.

Wallberg House. (photos thanks to The Denver Eye)

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 30th, 2010 | No Comments »

I’m pleased to see that our preservation colleague Adele Chatfield-Taylor, longtime President of the American Academy in Rome, is to receive the 12th annual Vincent Scully Prize at the National Building Museum in November.  Adele joins a distinguished company of leaders who have, through ideas and scholarship, influenced the world of design and architecture.   Among the previous Prize winners are Vincent Scully himself, Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, recently retired National Trust for Historic Preservation president Richard Moe,  the Agha Khan, Jane Jacobs and Robert A.M. Stern.

In the words of the National Building Museum’s announcement of her award, “Ms. Chatfield-Taylor has consistently promoted excellence in the design world, while ensuring that the planning, architecture, and historic preservation disciplines remain connected to the public.”  I can think of few of my colleagues, mentors or teachers (all of which Adele has been over the years) who better represent or promote that nexus of people and place.  A fellow Columbia Preservation Alum (as well as one of my teachers there) and Rome Prize winner, Adele’s contributions to the field are legion: from the New York City Landmarks Commission to the Design Arts Program at the National Endowment, where she helped to create the Mayors’ Institute on City Design.

It’s gratifying to see that the Vincent Scully Prize Jury recognizes the importance of preservation as an integral part of making and conserving great places and Adele’s important and sustained voice and leadership in that endeavor.  Congratulations Adele.

August 29th, 2010 | No Comments »

Urban – characteristic of city life, of or related to the city

Prospects – belief about the future, search for something desirable, a prediction of a future course