Page N1.2 . 16 November 2005                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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Preserving Communities

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One success story is the Washington Gateway Neighborhood in Boston, which received a 2005 NTHP Great American Main Street Award. Forty years of "urban renewal" had decimated the Gateway commercial district, razing all but 10 blocks and a handful of historic buildings. The former grand boulevard had been deserted, considered unsafe, and divided by an above-ground expressway.

In 1997, several Gateway neighborhood associations responded to these problems by creating a main-street task force. The goal was to catalyze a neighborhood shopping district, increase middle-income housing, and retain diverse residents and businesses.

Seven years later, the project had resulted in 46 new businesses, 407 new jobs, and 27 building rehabilitations totaling more than $120 million in investment. The project logged over 17,000 volunteer hours and rehabilitated two historic structures in danger of collapsing.

Minot Hall, restored by Hresko + Associates, was a once-abandoned social hall built in 1858. It now features 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) of thriving restaurant and retail space, capped by 45 housing units. The Gateway main street project was also responsible for the placement of 32 architectural design kiosks revealing the history of the neighborhood.

The success of the Gateway and other main-street projects underscores the value of preservation efforts in community revitalization. As other conference presenters noted, however, marginalized buildings and communities are often ignored during urban renewal.

Honoring Neglected History

"Our history falls one building at a time, through ignorance and arrogance," said Pauline Bradford, a longstanding member of Portland's African American community, who spoke to conference attendees during a walking tour of Portland's African American building heritage. This community has lost 1379 buildings to urban renewal efforts over the past several decades.

As is the case in other parts of the country, rapid growth and gentrification in Portland continue to threaten the city's most important African American historic buildings. The Billy Webb Elks Lodge, for example, which was built in 1921, served as a "colored" YWCA and meeting place for the NAACP. It still functions as a social hall for weddings and theater productions. The board is currently struggling to raise more than $20,000 to refurbish the building.

The Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, designed by architect Morrison Vail in the 20th-century Romanesque style, also faces an uncertain fate. A host venue for national African American leaders and local political events from the 1920s to 80s, the church sits across the street from several Victorian-era homes that are all that remain of the city's contemporary African American building stock. Since the congregation moved to new quarters in 1993, the long-term use and preservation fate of the historic church has yet to be determined.

Greening History

The conference session, "Greening Historic Landmarks," offered positive examples of sustaining community and the natural environment through preservation work. Panelists summarized the affinity between green building and preservation with a quote from architect Carl Elefante, AIA, a principal of Quinn Evans Architects: "The greenest building... is the one that is already built."

A partnership between the Portland Development Commission and the NTHP will build a database of projects nationwide combining historic preservation with green building techniques. One example is the Portland Armory in the Pearl District. Built in 1891, the structure is being transformed by GBD Architects into a performing arts center and may be the first historic building in the United States to earn a platinum LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Environmentally friendly features of the armory include a water catchment system to harvest rainwater for use in art features and plumbing, onsite electrical generation through a natural-gas fired microturbine, and fuel cells, daylighting, and natural ventilation to reduce dependence on air conditioning.   >>>

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The Portland (Oregon) Armory was built in 1891 and is being restored by GBD Architects.
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Performing arts center lobby of the Portland Armory.
Image: GBD Architects

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Billy Webb Elks Lodge, endangered site of Black history in Portland, Oregon.
Photo: Linda Baker

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A historic preservation award went to Ships Tavern Mews of Wilmington, Delaware, restoration by Homsey Architects, Inc.
Photo: Homsey Architects, Inc.

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Ships Tavern Mews.
Photo: Homsey Architects, Inc.

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A historic preservation award went to Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, New York, restoration by Machado and Silvetti Associates.
Photo: Machado and Silvetti Associates

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Stone Barns Center.
Photo: Machado and Silvetti Associates

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Stone Barns garden.
Photo: Machado and Silvetti Associates

 

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