Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans (PRCNO)

Cornerstone Preservation participated in the PRCNO’s “Operation Comeback” as one of many firms that donated services to aid in the reconstruction of the storm and flood damaged neighborhoods of New Orleans. The Resource Center, which has been in operation since 1974, has shifted its preservation advocacy programs into overtime in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In addition to coordinating pro-bono meetings between property owners and preservation professionals from across the country, the PRCNO also purchases and restores run down and abandoned properties in an effort to revitalize New Orleans historic neighborhoods. Visit PRCNO’s website to learn more about the great work of its dedicated staff and how you can help.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An Urban Survivor

Ray’s neighborhood was empty when we arrived. There was little sign of life and even less of the rebuilding and healing that the nation would like to believe is taking place in the historic districts of New Orleans. Ray told us that within his city, the blighted areas seem to remain “out of sight and out of mind” to far too many. Several of his neighbors had abandoned their properties and have not returned to help him breath life back into this once proud neighborhood.

Ray just turned forty-five and never has lived anywhere but the Holy Cross district. As he recounted stories of better days, he spoke of community and friendship, of the small businesses that once thrived in the neighborhood and their colorful proprietors. His younger middle-aged brother was quiet and remained in the shadows as we conducted our evaluation of his family’s two residences in the neighborhood. As he looked inward and remembered, tears welled in his eyes.

The brothers are committed to repairing their homes and rebuilding their lives. They clearly are overwhelmed and, by their account, there is little help. They were touched by the attention we extended to them in conducting an evaluation of their properties and thanked us in advance for the promised inventory that would itemize damage and make recommendations for the work that needed to be done.

What needs to be done is far more than Ray and his brother will be able to accomplish alone. Yet, each day they set to their work and continue to hope that some manner of help is on its way (despite the year that has passed since tragedy changed the very fabric of their lives) and remain optimistic that others will follow in rebuilding the nearby abandoned residences. Their passion for the past and normalcy that once characterized their lives is palpable. Every step they take appears to be a step towards attaining the goal of re-establishing the life they once knew.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

19th Century Lower Fox River Locks

In 1866 with control of the Lower Fox River transferred to the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company, the federal government sent Major Charles Sutter to survey the canal system and make recommendations for its improvement. Major Sutter reported on the fully completed canal, two dams and four locks in the Grand Chute area (now Appleton), offering that the lower dam was water-tight and in good condition, but that some settling and seepage was taking place at the upper dam. He described the first three locks as positioned along a 3,600 foot canal bypassing the upper dam. According to Major Sutter all three locks required new planking and gates; the fourth lock, on a separate 1,267 foot canal bypassing the lower dam, was observed as being in good condition although replacement gates were recommended.

Four years later, the United States government took over the Lower Fox waterway, including the Grand Chute locks, and in 1872 the system were placed in the care of Major D.C. Houston of the Corps of Engineers. Following his survey of the man-made elements, he reported to Congress on the condition of the waterway. Concerning the features in Appleton, he indicated that they generally were in poor condition, noting that the upper dam required new gravel each season to keep it tight. Of the locks, he observed all in need of remedial attention that included replanking beneath the water line and found Lock 2 in the worst condition, with its south wall threatening to collapse.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Glimpse into the Wisconsin State Capitol

From the Rotunda, the barrel vaults open to a height of four stories and extend into the wings through the grand marble stairs that ascend to the second level. Spatial hierarchy, conveyed through proportion, materials and decorative finish, is evident throughout. Elegantly appointed public spaces house the Supreme Court, the Senate, the Assembly and the offices of the governor. The meeting rooms dedicated to the Senate and Assembly contain large public galleries and monumental murals. The Supreme Court Hearing Room, also at a scale that accommodated public hearings, was finished with a series of four murals based on subject matter provided by the then-seated justices. The North Hearing Room, originally designed for the use of the Railroad Commission, was finished in marble and furnished with murals on the theme of transportation.

The clear demarcation between public and private space is central to the development of architect George B. Post’s scheme. The public spaces, such as the Rotunda, chambers and major corridors are characterized by ornate decoration, rich materials and lavish details. The private offices, designed to be adaptable through the use of interior non-load-bearing walls, were constructed at a smaller and more intimate scale, although even the smallest offices were finished with wood trim and ornamental stencil work.The spatial hierarchy Post established architecturally was reinforced through the furnishings installed and by the decorative finish paint applied throughout by the New York firm of Mack, Jenney and Tyler.

Cross Plains, WI

Cross Plains is a small community located about 15 miles west of Madison. Highway 14, which has been dubbed by the state "Frank Lloyd Wright Memorial Highway" is the easiest way to get here. This is the same route Wright traveled to and from his home Taliesin near Spring Green, another thirty miles west. Cross Plains remains unfettered by urban sprawl; a two-mile trip from the center of the village brings you to Festge Park, a bluff that rises above the rich agricultural landscape.

The Historic Structure Report: A Planning Study or Design Document?

Until very recently there had been much confusion among both building owners and professionals concerning the purpose and intent of the “Historic Structure Report” as product and as process. Then the National Park Service (NPS) issued its long awaited (in some circles) Preservation Brief 43, The Preparation and Use of Historic Structure Reports. The Park Service’s guidelines represent a huge service to the entire preservation community. They will assist the development of a commonly held understanding (that transcends regions and professional disciplines) concerning the objective of a historic structure report. Further, this document should go a long way towards standardizing form and content.

The NPS clearly conceives of the HSR as a planning document in which architectural research is assembled comprehensively, the relative significance of building elements are identified, conditions are assessed, preservation planning (or the identification of proposed preservation treatments) occurs and general recommendations are established. Key is that this process presents an opportunity to link the building with its past.

The HSR should analyze existing conditions in light of documented history and identify preservation goals in the best interest of the building. If the report satisfies the later purpose, a roadmap will be in place that will foster consensus and an approach to design that will be correct for the building. Work priorities and preliminary costs represent a part of the study, but to arrive at a detailed restoration scope of work and project budget is beyond the purview of a HSR as described by the Park Service. (“The level of detail to which the work items are defined should be limited in the historic structure report, as these recommendations serve as the foundation for, rather than in place of, design and construction documents for the work.”)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Frank Lloyd Wright's Meeting House

The Unitarian Meeting House can be seen as exemplifying national trends in post-World War II American culture for its suburban location and modernist design, but it does so with an air of nonconformity that reflects the social and architectural sensibilities Frank Lloyd Wright had cultivated late in his career and which were unique to the architect.The church is significant as a highly personal expression of the faith, heritage and aspirations of Wright as he approached the end of his life.

The Meeting House also is significant internationally as a premier example of Wright’s late Usonian architecture, yet unusual for its non-residential application. As was typical throughout Wright’s career, the Meeting House was ahead of its time and presaged trends to come. The amalgam of old and new elements in the Meeting House reveals how very personal the building was to Wright and therefore how unique it is within his work. Drawing upon youthful memories and other religious structures with which he was familiar or had designed, Wright created a church that bears testimony both to his nineteenth-century heritage and twentieth-century vision.In April 1959 Rev. Gaebler, the minister of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, officiated at Wright’s funeral at Unity Chapel (near Taliesin) and burial in the adjacent Lloyd Jones family cemetery. At his time of death, the Unitarian Meeting House was the only large public building Wright had lived to see constructed in Wisconsin, an architectural signature statement in the state where he was born and the city he had once called home.

Steven W. Wadzinski: Transition to the Historic

With Steve Wadzinski's unexpected and premature death on August 11, 2006 the architectural work of this unsullied and talented designer transitioned into the realm of the historic. The top image is a detail representing a small section of a barn that he had been rehabilitating (as artistic process) for the past decade. It functioned as a space for his many artistic pursuits, as well as a gathering place for family and friends. The other is his last building, which was completed just prior to his death (note that construction permits still are visable in the front window). It was intended to be an art studio/educational facility, the physical embodiment of a long held dream to share his artistic vitality with others. These buildings are located a short distance from Lake Michigan in Bailey's Harbor, WI. This was a landscape deeply cherished by Steve and the context for his most creative work.

The Unitarian Meeting House (not enough?)

Yesterday the First Unitarian Society of Madison gathered to vote on whether or not to build a +6 million dollar addition to their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed facility. Since this would represent a financial stretch for the congregation, the ongoing preservation and maintenance of the historic facility falls into question. A HSR recently completed for the Meeting House identified costs associated with preservation of the 1951 building. However within the context of the current capital campaign, which is focusing on new construction, the dollars allocated to the care of the landmark fall short.

Why Blog?!?

Cornerstone Preservation documents and evaluates historic structures and sites in order to facilitate their sensitive care and restoration. Also, since dissemination of information represents a "cornerstone" of our work philosophy, this blog was established as a venue through which to share work in progress, work completed and general observations on related topics.

Buildings do not need to be large to be important. This exterior detail is from a small utilitarian shack that provided shelter to the lock tenders on the Fox River in Appleton, WI since about 1917. The system is one of only a couple in the nation that continues to use hand operated valves to flood the chambers and a tripod with spar to open and close the gates. These navigational features had been "mothballed" by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s; they recently were acquired by the State of Wisconsin and currently are being restored and returned to operation.