Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Want to create jobs and conserve energy? Re-use a building!

The message that preservation is the ultimate form of "green architecture" is gaining traction at the national level. The National Trust's blog today points to a new ad by the WE campaign (Al Gore's organization) that highlights how rehabilitation of historic buildings is a great way to conserve energy and create jobs. You can watch the 30-second ad on the National Trust's blog.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Monday, December 15, 2008

Preserving Susan B. Anthony's Neighborhood

For about a year, the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood Association has been working together with the Landmark Society on a mini-grant program for homeowners in the Susan B. Anthony Preservation District. Funding for this project came from the sale of two houses that were donated to the Landmark Society and sold to new owners a few years ago.*

The mini-grant program got underway in the fall of 2007. We had 12 applications and all applicants were granted monies for exterior repairs to their homes. The program has been successful with over eight completed projects this year and three scheduled for early next spring.

Because the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood is a city-designated Preservation District, all exterior projects must be in-kind replacement or must be approved by the Preservation Board in advance. This can be a challenge. Our local chain hardware stores do not carry the same width or styles of posts that were used on our pre-Civil War era homes.

At the same time, working on these old houses can have unexpected rewards. One project became a community effort to repair front porch steps and railings. On a very cold November day a tent was erected over the front porch at 37 Madison St. The homeowner and several neighbors came together for five days under that tent to recreate the exact porch rails and steps that needed repair or replacement. They spent days on details to recreate the exact posts and rails that were original to the home. The collaboration amongst neighbors ensured that the finished project was designed exactly as it was designed over a century ago. Now the tent is gone and the front porch and stairs look exactly as they were originally designed, and will remain so for many years to come. It was enjoyable as a friend and neighbor to watch every day as they worked together under that tent and progressed on their project. Historic preservation grant programs can do more than preserve properties; they also can nurture and preserve the communities they serve!

By Dawn Noto, President, Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood Association

*An earlier phase of this project, in which architect John Bero met with individual homeowners to discuss maintenance and rehabilitation issues, was partially funded by a grant from the John E. Streb Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Landmark Society Comments at Midtown Public Hearing, 12/2/08

Statement by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator, at the public hearing on the Midtown project DGEIS, December 2, 2008

A team from the Landmark Society is reviewing the DGEIS and preparing our formal comments to be submitted in writing later this month. In the meantime, I would like to commend the City on leading a thoughtful process that has provided many opportunities for public input, and would also like to thank the City and its consultant team for many months of careful planning and serious thought about the best possible future for this challenging property.

Midtown Plaza, particularly the atrium, is a significant and unique historic resource that potentially presents a wealth of opportunities for reuse as part of a revitalized city core with a distinctive character. Our preference would be to see the atrium integrated into a creative reuse of this site.

At the same time, having participated in the planning process, we recognize the serious economic and physical obstacles that limit the viability of such a reuse. We recognize the constraints that saving the atrium would place on the rest of the site, particularly the circulation pattern. That said, we would support any ongoing efforts to find a suitable reuse that could still save the atrium.

Midtown was a pioneer in its day, an innovative concept that was heralded by the national media and by planning experts across the country. It remains the most fully realized and most intact example of the work of Victor Gruen, a nationally influential architect specializing in retail design and urban planning in the 1950s and 1960s.

If the ultimate decision is to demolish the atrium, we believe that loss can be mitigated only if it is replaced by an equally forward-thinking, high-quality design that functions as a true gathering place for the center city. It is too soon to tell if the open space now envisioned for the center of the Midtown block, the approximate site of the atrium, is an urban amenity of sufficient quality to mitigate the loss of the atrium, but we will strongly urge that this urban landscape not be an afterthought but a bold, innovative example of civic design.

Finally, and most importantly, we remain concerned – particularly in this extremely difficult economic climate – that we could see a situation where the demolition occurs but the funds for redevelopment dry up, leaving a vast empty space in a crucial part of downtown. We strongly urge the city to pursue phased demolition, only demolishing what is certain to be rebuilt, and to put in place any mechanisms that would prevent this devastating scenario.

We look forward to submitting our formal comments. Thank you for the opportunity to comment tonight.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Landmark Letter in Newsweek

Laura and I made Newsweek!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beneath these streets lies potential

A few weeks ago, some friends and I took a tour of Rochester's abandoned subway. (you can read about another staffer’s adventure in a related post here). The standard group tour only went to the Broad Street Aqueduct, and from there our guide set us loose to explore. Most people left out the way we entered, but a small group of us, flashlights in hand, continued on into the darkness, not knowing what we'd find. It was simultaneously thrilling, creepy and amazing. We had spontaneous humming of the Indiana Jones theme song, our nostrils were assaulted by some smells of which I’d rather not know the source, and there were times I truly thought I would become fodder for the next Saw sequel, but overall it was incredibly inspiring. Our ragtag little group of strangers bonded as archaeologists of a lost urban landscape – a threatened landscape that stands to be erased.

We had earlier learned a brief synopsis of a proposed alternative to the city's plans to fill in the subway, one which was to restore the Erie Canal through the center of the city. Several groups have voiced their opinions of adapting the tunnels for use or even restoring Rochester’s rapid transit system. Most have been shot down.

Regardless of what plan you support or perhaps are indifferent to, the fact remains that downtown Rochester needs a shot in the arm. With the recent announcements surrounding the length of time it will take to see the Midtown Plaza project come to fruition, and all the Ren Square uncertainty, it’s truly an unsteady time for downtown’s future. Not only do we need business here, but we need people to want to live here. Sure, we need housing to make that happen, but we also need community to draw people into - community that is developed through arts and cultural happenings and places for people to gather.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because a current project in New York City somewhat parallels our issues and may serve as a positive model at which we can look for inspiration. This awesome project is finally coming to fruition through a long and arduous battle that has taken ingenuity, activism, some celebrity endorsement and old-fashioned elbow grease. I want to believe it is something we could accomplish here with a little bit of the right stuff.

For those not familiar, the High Line is a section of 1930s-built elevated railway on New York’s Lower West Side that was slated for demolition. It's now been preserved and is being turned into a "park in the sky" much like the Promenade Plantee in Paris. The project has been ongoing for about a decade after a couple of local men – Joshua David and Robert Hammond – got together and started formulating plans to save the High Line. Their work attracted stars such as Ethan Hawke (who used the Paris park, incidentally, as a setting in the awesome Before Sunset), along with several other talented and dedicated activists who have committed thousands of hours to making this a reality - activists like my love, Edward Norton (seen in the photo below obviously getting ready to sing me a song of adoration because we are totally in sync with our thinking about our responsibilities to the world).

Contrary to what you might think, I swear I didn’t know about Ed's involvement until I started reading more on this project. I was pleasantly surprised since it is also a fact that I will shamelessly take any opportunity to combine Ed and my work here at The Landmark Society. So yes, in addition to being that awesome-preservationist-green-living-Barack-Obama-documentary-
to-be-a-better-human-being guy, Ed has lent his considerable voice and clout to this project. You can see some of his work on the project here.

But I digress. The High Line project is a success story that has even spawned a new neighborhood. This article in New York magazine says it all: "The abandoned railroad that made a park...that made a neighborhood…that made a brand..." Just think of the possibility something like this could offer Rochester. Of course our version may not embody a plethora of green space (considering the majority of the subway is underground) however, I am sure that with the abundance of creative and artistic minds here in this city that a better use could be found for that space other than a dirt fill.

When the subway was closed down, a whole new landscape emerged in its place. There is art - seriously good graffiti art with use of color that will blow your mind. There is incredible light. There are plants sprouting up in places plants wouldn't normally belong. There is life in these here tunnels!

Check out the snapshots in the slideshow below and then tell me that there isn’t potential for some seriously creative and innovative action to take place down there. How about a park in the area that is illuminated by the natural light from the arches of the Broad Street Bridge?How about an urban art center showcasing the creativity seen down there? How about some park space in the areas where the tunnels come out into the open sunshine? How about even a restaurant - think how lovely it would be to enjoy a glass a wine and a good meal while looking out over the river, bathed in natural light.

How about anything other than destroying this amazing place...?

I couldn’t help but emerge into the light and mourn the possible loss of this part of our history. I love this city. I want to see it become a place that can retain young, creative minds rather than further digressing into a springboard for young talent to jump onto other places. Enough with the business as usual approach. We’ve had enough promises of the "next great thing"'s time to make it happen. I'd love to hear your ideas of adaptive reuse of this treasure under our streets.

And, once again, Ed babe, if you're reading, my offer of discussing these things over dinner and wine is still open. Call me.

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, Director of Marketing


Two Big Projects Taking Shape

At the end of today’s Preservation Issues Committee meeting, one participant commented, “that was a meaty meeting!”

It was indeed. We discussed two very large projects that have the potential to significantly reshape key areas in our region.

One of the two is a project called CityGate, where a developer proposes to demolish a complex of nine National Register-eligible buildings and redevelop the site as a mixed-use complex. This property is at the southeast corner of Westfall and East Henrietta roads, and was formerly the Iola campus, a tuberculosis sanitarium developed between 1911-1931. The complex has been determined eligible for the National Register due to its architecture (representing early-20th century institutional architecture; the work of German-trained architect Siegmund Firestone plus three notable Rochester architects) and for its social history, as a public health facility.

The site has very few neighbors, and thus far, there has been very little public interest in the project and few public comments. The Landmark Society is one of the few parties to have commented in the past, and we are currently working on our comments on the current iteration of the design. I would like to very strongly encourage anyone with an interest in urban design, historic preservation, planning, sustainability, adaptive reuse, etc., to take a look at what is proposed for the site and submit your comments. To do so, go to this site and click the link for the CityGate Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement. It’s a big file and may take a long time to download; hang in there!

The majority of today’s meeting was devoted to a detailed presentation by Mark Tayrien of LaBella Associates and Dorraine Laudisi of the City of Rochester regarding the Midtown project, focusing on the City’s vision for the site, the process of making decisions regarding the historic buildings (the State Historic Preservation Office has determined that the entire Midtown site is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places), and the procedure for public input.

We were pleased that our committee was the first audience for the city’s brand-new outreach presentation that will be presented to a series of audiences as the city seeks broad public input on this very significant downtown project. We have a small team reviewing the planning documents in detail and preparing official Landmark Society comments. I also encourage everyone interested in the future of downtown Rochester to review and comment; the relevant documents are located here. There are quite a few documents posted; go first to the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, dated November 10. You might also want to look at specific appendices, notably Appendix G, which deals with historic issues. It was clear from the presentation, and from the DGEIS, that some big decisions regarding the future of the site are not yet set in stone and the time is ripe for public input.

Comments on both projects should be submitted to Dorraine Laudisi at the city of Rochester (Dorraine.Laudisi AT; please send us a copy! Dorraine told us today that the City is very eager to receive and incorporate comments from the public, particularly from people with expertise in planning, design, and historic preservation. She and her colleagues really rely on these comments to help guide the City’s decision-making, and to help them steer the developers toward the best possible outcomes.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Seen the new phone book?

Have you seen the new 2009 white pages? The new book prominently features a vignette from the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood, one of Rochester's eight preservation districts. This compact neighborhood includes a nearly intact streetscape of vernacular 19th-century houses lining all sides of a picturesque central square, which is now adorned by the magnificent sculpture "Let's Have Tea" by a local artist (who can see his creation from his front window).

The house in the background is one of the neighborhood's best success stories from the past few years. A few years ago, new owners purchased and rehabilitated this house, formerly one of the most problematic properties in the neighborhood. Today it is one of the most distinctive houses on the square, and the owners have gone on to rehabilitate other properties on King Street. Thanks largely to their efforts, King Street looks much better than it did a few years ago and is no longer riddled with vacancies. The photos below show the house before, during, and after rehabilitation.

Congratulations to residents Michael Warfield and Angel Licea for the great work on their house, and to Pepsy Kettavong, the sculptor of "Let's Have Tea" - what a joy to see their work so prominently featured for all of the Rochester region to admire all year long!

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Monday, November 17, 2008

Did The Landmark Society touch your life this year?

This has been a challenging year as economic pressures cause all of us to tighten our belts and make tough choices. All of the reports that I am seeing this year indicate that year-end giving will be down, not a surprise. Here at The Landmark Society, we are hoping that our loyal members and donors will continue to support our mission as the demand for our preservation planning services continues to rise.

Villages, towns, cities, counties and individuals invariably turn to us for help. With fiscal constraint and careful planning we have been able to accomplish much. Here is a brief summary of some of the great work we have done this year with support from our members and donors:

For the past decade, The Landmark Society has been actively engaged in revitalization efforts in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood. This year, we obtained a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a program we dubbed “The Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood Preservation Initiative.” With these funds, we brought the highly regarded architect, John Bero to an initiative that partners with the neighborhood association to educate homeowners on their specific ‘old-house’ maintenance needs and to provide the funds to implement preservation-minded improvement projects such as porch repair and exterior lighting.

In addition, a grant award from the Preservation League of New York State for $7,500, helped to lay the groundwork for a future rehabilitation of the currently vacant, city-owned building at 556-560 W. Main Street, a strategic corner that is an important gateway to the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.

We continue to engage in productive discussions with key planners and decision makers regarding the Midtown project, Renaissance Square, Memorial Art Gallery and others currently on the table, and we have brought attention to the tremendous opportunities for the redevelopment of downtown’s historic resources.

The Landmark Society and the Rochester chapter of the American Institute of Architects are partnering through ‘Archipedia’ ( a public survey effort to raise awareness of recent past architecture. This new and proactive initiative focuses on identifying, evaluating and protecting resources of the recent past, encompassing structures and resources built during the years 1930 thru 1970. These structures are ready to be recognized, interpreted and treasured as the newest frontier of our cultural legacy.

In addition, we continue to offer technical expertise, educational and advocacy services to members and the public at large. Outreach includes such programs as Walk the Walk; Encounters with Rochester’s African American Ancestors, Annual Preservation Conference, House and Garden Tour, and our ode to city living and stimulus to economic development, The Inside Downtown Tour.

We intend to continue to serve our nine-county area with energy and success. But we cannot sustain this level of intensity without the help of our loyal donors.

Please choose to give a gift to our 2008 Year-End Appeal,
click here to access our secure website. Gifts to the 2007 appeal have helped us tremendously through this tough time.

Your contribution will help us maintain our essential capabilities and could help us grow to meet the ever increasing need.

Posted by Susan Latoski, director of development, The Landmark Society of Western New York


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Olmsted was on to something

Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Rochester's Seneca/Maplewood, Genesee Valley, and Highland Parks, was convinced that exposure to nature was necessary to counteract the effects of city life. Here's what Olmsted and his design partner Calvert Vaux had to say, describing their plan for Central Park:

[The purpose of urban parks is to provide] the feeling of relief experienced by those entering them, on escaping from the cramped, confined and controlling circumstances of the streets of the town; in other words, a sense of enlarged freedom is to all, at all times, the most certain and the most valuable gratification afforded by a park. [cited in Witold Rybczynski, A Clearing in the Distance]
Here's how I described this in the National Register Documentation for the Municipal Park System of Rochester:

Olmsted's urban parks were intended, first and foremost, to contrast with the city. Like other advocates of the pleasure ground movement, Olmsted firmly believed that access to nature could be physically and psychically restorative to city dwellers. He stated that landscapes with the right combination of characteristics could "refresh and delight the eye and through the eye, the mind and spirit." Olmsted was convinced that this restorative process could only work subconsciously, through exposure to an environment that appeared to be totally natural, even if it was actually manipulated to some degree.
Olmsted's approach was to create large urban parks (pleasure grounds), their specific character rooted in nature but enhanced by the skilled hand of a landscape architect, that provided access to the particular scenic effects that had the most positive psychological impacts on park visitors. In Rochester, Olmsted designed a classic pastoral landscape (gently rolling hills, calm water, and broad curves, intended to provide a sense of unity and harmony) for Genesee Valley Park, and a contrasting picturesque landscape (rugged terrain, bold landforms, and dramatic scenery, intended to inspire awe at the mystery and grandeur of nature) for Seneca/Maplewood Park. Scientific research appears to support Olmsted's views on the restorative power of nature. A recent blog post uses 21st-century language to describe a very 19th-century, Olmstedian concept:

Thoreau would have liked this study: interacting with nature (at least when compared to a hectic urban landscape) dramatically improves improve cognitive function. In particular, being in natural settings restores our ability to exercise directed attention and working memory, which are crucial mental talents. The basic idea is that nature, unlike a city, is filled with inherently interesting stimuli (like a sunset, or an unusual bird) that trigger our involuntary attention, but in a modest fashion. Because you can't help but stop and notice the reddish orange twilight sky - paying attention to the sunset doesn't take any extra work or cognitive control - our attentional circuits are able to refresh themselves. A walk in the woods is like a vacation for the prefrontal cortex.
The next time you feel like you need to restore your psyche, spend some time in an Olmsted park, and thank Frederick Law Olmsted, a man ahead of his time, for his magnificent gifts to our city.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Preservation Priorities for a New Administration

What should President-Elect Obama do to support historic preservation? The National Trust for Historic Preservation is asking people who value historic buildings, landscapes and communities to weigh in on their top priorities and to submit comments and suggestions as they prepare their official platform for preservation, to be shared with the new administration.

Vote on your priorities and submit stories, recommendations, and advice from your perspective here.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Architectural Eye Candy...key to urban redevelopment?

Here's some eye candy for all of us who love great architecture – new and old. When I first looked at the site, I enjoyed it for its entertainment value – after all – the exhilaration of good or fun architecture is part of the reason we work so hard to save it when it is threatened, and if you can’t have fun with it, well…it could get serious!

Then I put my big idea hat on and thought – how very wonderful it would be if here, in the Rochester area, we could inspire the same exuberance of innovative architectural design. Lo and behold, when I scrolled down – I saw we did make the list – The new Strong Museum construction is identified as one of the “strange buildings of the world.” I also immediately thought about James H. Johnson’s ‘Mushroom House,’ built right next door in Perinton, NY. Shouldn’t that too be on this list?

And shouldn’t , as we look to redefine our urban core with the site potentials at both the Midtown and Renaissance Square sites, among other under-development sites, we be considering the construction of equally stimulating architecture? How about some positive controversy for a change!

To see more go here.

Yes – it costs money. And such design is not for the faint of heart. But, if it is designed well, and built to last, think of the long term benefits of that joy. I do.

Posted by Joanne Arany, Executive Director LSWNY


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting at Ghost Walk - a test of honesty?


The Landmark Society's 15th annual Ghost Walk is now history. Well, I guess it's always history, since it's an event where actors portray the darker side of Rochester's past. But I digress.

We welcomed 2,000 participants over the last two weekends of October. As usual, they walked with guides to six different performance areas, where they witnessed an event from Rochester's history brought to life by talented actors. At the end of the tour the guides brought them back to our host facility, Third Presbyterian Church, for donuts and cider. And a social experiment.

We offered a voting activity, based on one of the stories they saw enacted on the tour. Here's the story from the past:

In 1904 a horrific fire in downtown Rochester destroyed the original Sibley, Lindsey and Curr department store (and many other buildings.) Sibley's had been the largest department store between Chicago and New York City - six stories of just about anything your heart desired.

One of the casualties of the event was the "fireproof safe" containing all the store's records. It crashed from the sixth floor to the basement as the interior of the building burned, cracking open as struck the bottom. All the contents were destroyed, including the records of the accounts receivable.

At a time when many sales were extended "on credit" - Sibley's had no way of knowing who owed them what. They knew how much money they were out, but not how to recoup. How could they collect on their bills? It seemed the store was destined for financial ruin.

I was curious to see what kind of response people might have today. As Ghost Walkers enjoyed their cider and donuts, they were presented with the following question:

What would you do if you ordered merchandise from and received it - then read in the newspaper that a virus destroyed their records, and all charges and delivery addresses have disappeared? You have not been charged for the merchandise in your possession.

Would you send in a payment?

Participants voted in an anonymous process - and we tallied the results for each group, and each evening of Ghost Walk.

We then announced the results to each tour group. And those results each night were pretty consistant. We collected over 1,500 votes. About 2/3 of all participants said they would send in a payment.

We did notice that when there was a large youth group in a tour, the numbers would change - with many more voting they would not pay. One of them commented to a Landmark volunteer "Well, if it was a Mom and Pop store that I knew, sure - but They have a ton of money."

We also then let the tour goers know what happened in 1904. Sibley's was not ruined. The money came in. People paid their bills. In the end, Sibley's estimated that about 90% of what was owed was paid. They were able to use the funds to build a brand new store, in the building many now associate with the former store - near the "liberty pole" sculpture in downtown Rochester.

So - were people in the past more honest than people are today? Or, was it that they felt a connection to this "home town" store?

And what does that all say about the level of honesty in our community, where many shop only online or in anonymous, big-box chain stores?

I think another benefit of liveable communities - with businesses you know, and business owners who know you - is that it contributes to a higher level of trust in our society. It helps us hold ourselves accountable, when we know the names and faces of those with whom we do business. As I write this entry on November 4th, Election Day, it seems to me that a higher level of trust is a very good thing for which to strive.

Think about that the next time you choose between the mega-mart and the locally owned place.

It was an interesting social experiment at Ghost Walk 2008 - which, it turns out, is more than just history.

Posted by Cindy Boyer, Director of Museums and Education - and Ghost Walk producer

Thursday, October 30, 2008

First Unitarian Church by Louis Kahn

Our trustee Jean France sends the following:

The First Unitarian Church of Rochester is sponsoring a program, "Our Louis Kahn Building", on November 8 at 8 p.m. It will be a panel discussion moderated by Sterling Weaver and featuring Duncan Buell, member of Kahn's firm during construction, Marlin Potter, contractor on the project for Robert Hylan and Sons, and Jean France, architectural historian and member of the architect selection committee.

Jean France is a professor emeritus at the University of Rochester and, as noted above, was personally involved in the congregation's decision to hire Louis Kahn as the architect. She has written a fascinating brochure about the church building.

The First Unitarian Church is located at 220 S. Winton Road, between Highland and East Avenue.


Modernist Architecture Meets Art World

Continuing to think about modernist architecture and its future, and discovering that the world or art has it in mind too. London anyone?

(Also, check out this great
web magazine and hit the art or architecture tabs for some very neat stuff!)

Lucy Williams exhibition
from Wallpaper* magazine, Sept. 5, 2007, available online here.

If the word collage brings to mind used up yoghurt pots, egg cartons, glitter and glue, then the work of Lucy Williams might come as quite a shock. The British artist specializes in low relief collages of mid-20th century Modernist architecture, and couldn't be further away from the sticky mess we've all created in yesteryears.

Modernist architecture in collage might seem an unlikely pairing of subject matter and medium but even the briefest glance at Williams' work shows how well the stark and hard-edged geometry lends itself to depiction in modular blocks of different material in a range of subtle textures and colors. The minute precision is extraordinary: each iron railing, brick and leaf is individually applied and the overall effect is mesmerizing.

Click here to view Lucy's work from 'Beneath a woolen sky'.

Williams' has her first solo show in London this month titled 'Beneath a Woolen Sky' at the Timothy Taylor Gallery and we caught up with artist to find out more...

Did you want to be an artist when you were younger?
No, not really, I didn't realize you could be such a thing until I had nearly left school, but I was always making things.

Where does you fascination with mid-century Modernism stem from?
There is something visually iconic about Modernist architecture, pared down, distilled to its essence, a blank canvas we imagine inhabiting. The era was about belief, ideas that we now no longer hold, of social cohesion through the design of a building, Utopian dreams long dissipated. Within the work those ideals are celebrated, but must also describe a time lost to us now.

Who, what, where and when are you greatest sources of inspiration?
The Constructivists; the concept of the Bauhaus and its output; the RIBA archive; Patrick Caulfield; municipal architecture; Mary Martin; new towns; Ben Nicholson; El Lissitzky's Abstract Cabinet in the Sprengel Museum in Hannover; swimming pools.

How long does each work take to produce and what does the process consist of?
Each work takes about a month, sometimes longer. Once I have found a photograph, I scale it up and make a very detailed and precise drawing. It is at this stage I have a pretty good idea whether it will work as a collage, and also at this stage I make my first decisions about what materials I will use. I work from back to front, usually deciding how the background will be made and slowly working forward. I plan a little but not very much, I like being surprised, and in this respect it is not unlike the process of painting.

How did you master the precision involved in your work?
Lots of practice! My work has evolved its complexity over time. There are things I cut now that I wouldn't have been able to do a few years ago.

There's a very powerful sense of absence and vacancy in your images, is this a conscious deployment?
I see them more as a world to be inhabited, but people do often see them as the way you describe. People project different narratives onto them.

Posted by Joanne Arany, executive director


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008 Political Poll Results

From our website:

Election time is upon us! As in previous years, The Landmark Society sent a brief questionnaire to key local candidates as part of our efforts to understand candidate positions on issues concerning historic preservation. This year we focused on all relevant legislative races in Monroe County at the federal, state, and local level: U.S. Congress, New York State Senate, New York State Assembly, County Legislature, and Henrietta, Penfield, and Riga Town Councils.

The results of these surveys can educate our members about how candidates might approach issues of historic preservation should they be elected. We believe this information is vital to our community.

The questionnaire and the responses may be viewed here. Candidates who failed to respond are also noted. Candidates' responses are published in their entirety; no changes or alterations were made.

We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to view your candidates' responses. We believe this information will be of value as you choose your vote.


Joanne Arany, Executive Director
Jerry Ludwig, President


Sustainability, Recent Past, and More from Tulsa

Yesterday I posted a link to a description of an interesting session on climate change at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's annual conference in Tulsa. Here are a few more posts worth reading from Trust staffers who attended the conference.

One session whose description really resonated with me concerned sustainability issues relating to post-WWII buildings. Lately I've been giving two presentations, one on how historic preservation is the greenest form of development (recycling on a grand scale), and one on the importance of identifying and protecting our notable resources from the recent past. The two concepts are somewhat in conflict, as mid- to late-20th century buildings, on average, have much worse energy performance than buildings constructed before 1920 or after 2000 - so in one presentation I try to build people's appreciation for recent resources, while in the other I point out that they, not the older buildings more easily recognized as "historic," are a big problem from an energy perspective. The session on sustainability and modern buildings posed this dilemma as an opportunity, as described by Barbara Campagna:

...according to a 2003 Department of Energy report, 55% of America’s commercial building stock was built between 1945 and 1990. And the most inefficient buildings are those built during this same period. Given that almost 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the US come from the operations and construction of buildings, the only way we are going to make a demonstrable impact to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is through the greening of our modern heritage – most of which are not stellar icons like those discussed in this session.

The session looked at the philosophical and practical issues associated with making these decidedly un-green buildings, constructed when energy was cheap (ever try to open a window in a 1960s office building?) more environmentally friendly.

While the session Barbara Campagna described focused on iconic buildings, another session looked at very ordinary buildings: 1950s and 1960s neighborhoods. This was another topic of particular interest to me, as I'm working on a project with the Village of Pittsford to develop some guidance for their Architectural and Preservation Review Board to use when reviewing applications to alter post-war houses in the village (the entire Village of Pittsford is a locally designated preservation district, meaning that any exterior alteration to any building, regardless of age, must be reviewed by the APRB). Adrian Scott Fine points out that in Tulsa, as in many communities, preservationists and others are just starting to come to grips with the implications of post-war neighborhoods as potential historic resources:

In an already rabid private property rights environment, it’s a tough sell to put in place local historic or conservation district designation anywhere these days, let alone to do it for a 1950s ranch house neighborhood. A big part of the problem is us and our need to get over ourselves. The idea of saving places which are from the period of our living memory is affected by a number of prejudices, where taste all too often trumps judgment. History didn’t stop in 1945 or in 1975. We cannot pick and choose arbitrarily which era of our past to deem more important.

Finally, another of Barbara Campagna's posts, this one a story about a tour of green rehabilitations in and around downtown Tulsa, resonated, for obvious reasons:

I learned that 60% of Tulsa’s downtown core is covered with parking lots and that the neighborhoods, communities and culture exist on the edge of downtown or the older “suburbs”. That encouraged me a bit, although I would like to understand sometime what happened to downtown Tulsa to devastate it to such an extent. There is no retail, few restaurants, no pharmacies, grocery stores, or dry cleaners anywhere in sight downtown. And while many downtowns around the country go dormant on the weekends, I have never seen a major city that is dormant during the week also...

...What I learned from this trip and from several other visits around the city over the weekend, was that there are islands of hope in the city. What’s missing right now is connection. Downtown has more holes than beauty and most of the innovation appears to be on the edge of downtown. But each of these projects represented the best in community activism and dedication to reviving place. Each of the people we met behind the tour and the projects are adaptive use warriors -– recognizing the importance of keeping what you can and looking for ways to bring culture and community to their city. I hope that the influx of 1,500+ preservationists will have some impact on the political will and that ten years from now the surface parking lots will be replaced with parks and green buildings, you will be able to find a pharmacy, grocery, restaurant, and store on every corner and the streets will be alive with activity during both the week and the weekend.

Sound familiar?

The National Trust conference will be in Buffalo in 2011 - we look forward to the opportunity to bring those 1,500 preservationists to Rochester while they're right next door.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Monday, October 27, 2008

Preservation and Climate Change - A View from "Across the Pond"

Last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation held its annual conference in Tulsa. I wasn't able to make the trip to Oklahoma but have been following along via the National Trust's blog, where Trust staffers have been describing the sessions, their impressions of Tulsa, and more. A post describing a session on climate change and historic preservation, featuring speakers from the United Kingdom, caught my eye. From the description posted by Barbara Campagna, it sounds like it was quite a far-reaching session, containing information on current and projected impacts of climate change on specific historic properties, discussion of how to truly measure values related to sustainability, and explanations of steps that British preservation organizations are taking to both adapt to climate-induced changes and to reduce the energy needs of historic buildings. Here's a particularly chilling passage from Barbara's description:

Decades of neglect and little investment leads to slum clearance and wholesale redevelopment, while whole life costing tied to embodied carbon modeling has been using carbon calculations (15-20 years) assigned by bankers and investors that are likely less than the true value of our material culture. In terms of ecological sustainability, models suggest that melting ice caps will cause a breach of the Thames and catastrophic flooding of London.
At the end of the post are some interesting links to British organizations that are pursuing this type of holistic view of climate change as it pertains to historic buildings - great stuff.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting Ready for Winter?

A recent article in the Boston Globe about "buttoning up" your house for the winter includes a neat interactive graphic (click on the image of the house to see the graphic) where you can see the payback period for various weatherization techniques. The shortest payback period? Window plastic wrap, that clear plastic you can install on the inside of your windows in the fall and remove in the spring. The longest? Replacement windows - at 33 years (according to this article, anyway - other studies have found much longer payback periods, well longer than the expected life of the windows).

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"Preservation by relocation" or "harvesting?"

Our November newsletter arrived on my desk this morning, and should be in your mailboxes soon (not a member? Join here!). In the newsletter is an article I wrote about historic religious buildings in urban areas, focusing on the challenges they face as demographics shift, some of the innovative ways former religious buildings have been reused, and resources that can help congregations maintain their historic religious buildings.

A recent article in the Buffalo News presents an unusual approach to the problem: a congregation in Georgia wishes to purchase and dismantle a vacant Buffalo church, move it to Georgia, and reassemble it there as their new house of worship. Is this historic preservation? Normally a moved building is considered to have lost a significant component of its historic integrity, because it is no longer in its original setting. However, there are cases where moving a building is the only way to save it - if demolition is imminent, for example. In the case of this former church in Buffalo, there seems to be some disagreement as to whether the building might have the potential for reuse if it remains in its original location. Buffalo has a surplus of empty religious buildings, due to a large number of church closures, and while there have been notable reuses, many are sitting empty.

What would you think if a vacant building in your community was moved somewhere else - is it a great save, or a community loss? Would you rather see it mothballed in place in the hope that the future might bring new uses (much as there is now a strong demand in many cities for long-vacant industrial space for loft apartments), or know that another owner is taking care of it elsewhere?

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


A recent past loss in Palm Beach

Here's a story and a very sad video about the demolition of the Manus House in Palm Beach, an interesting modernist house by Browning Parker, a devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was one of Parker's favorites of his 6,000 designs, so much so that he attempted, unsuccessfully, to salvage some of its components to reuse in his own house. The house was 48 years old, just shy of the 50-year mark when buildings usually are more easily recognized as "historic."

It's because of losses like this that we are working to identify our region's own gems from the recent past. If you know of a house, gas station, school, office building, or any other building, structure or landscape that evokes the 20th century particularly well, tell us what you know about it! Visit our Archipedia website, where we are teaming up with the AIA to collect information about our region's 20th-century resources. Fill in what you know, and enter "N/A" for what you don't - we'll fill in the blanks for you.

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Former LSWNY Trustee Honored by Preservation League

Former Landmark Society trustee Trude Brown Fitelson received a prestigious Excellence in Preservation Award from the Preservation League of New York State this fall. The award honored Trude's achievements in promoting historic preservation in the beautiful Thousand Island Park, a historic Methodist campground that evolved into a popular resort area. She was instrumental in promoting the National Register listing for the park and has spearheaded many other planning efforts focused on sustaining the character of this unique community. Congratulations, Trude!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rochester's Underground

Last Saturday, October 11th, my wife, Carole and I recently had the opportunity to visit the fabled Rochester Underground beneath Broad Street. While this was on a large tour as part of the River Romance festivities and we only traveled from South Ave to the Blue Cross Arena, I couldn't help but be taken by this once great and bustling area. I felt I could almost see and hear the trains pass as workers came and went from their downtown jobs. I enjoyed listening to the city planners discuss their ideas for use and revitalization of the space. I think anything that can be done with this asset should be done, save 2 options: fill it in or leave it alone. If you haven't been down there, find an opportunity to go; perhaps the City will be offering these free tours again. Don't go alone or in a small group. There are many groups out there talking about the future of this underground world. One group that hosted the free tour on Saturday is the Canal Society of NYS. See their web site by clicking here. Hopefully it won't remain in its current state for very long.

By Mark Lombard, husband of our Finance Officer, Carole Lombard. Mark is a "volunteer" at the Landmark Society (like all of the spouses are)!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Politics and Preservation

Is anyone else out there both a preservationist and a political junkie? If so, during this last stretch of the election season, you might be wondering about the intersection of historic preservation and politics. Historic preservation doesn’t exactly rank high on most candidates’ lists of priorities, and in an election dominated by issues related to the economy, health care, foreign policy, and energy, I would be shocked to hear either of the presidential candidates utter the words “historic preservation.” Still, since preservation does tie into broader issues, particularly economic and energy issues, it’s certainly relevant to wonder what the impact of the races to be decided in just a few weeks will be on historic preservation.

There are folks out there who spend their time working to advance preservation-related public policies, and this seems like a great time to let you know what they're up to. As a graduate student, I was an intern at Preservation Action, the nation’s grassroots lobbying organization for historic preservation at the federal level. PA has an impressive track record of effective work on behalf of historic preservation, advocating on behalf of the federal preservation program, the federal rehabilitation tax credits, and national programs like Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America. They have been instrumental in building the Historic Preservation Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of Congresspeople who pledge to work in support of the “the preservation and thoughtful economic development of historic places.” Seven Congresspeople from New York State, including Louise Slaughter, are members of this caucus.

As a grassroots network, PA is based on the support and participation of preservation advocates working at the local level throughout the country. Our region is not well represented in their membership rolls (I may still be the only Rochester-area member!); I encourage you to join and support this great cause. While it may seem like federal-level legislation and policy has little impact on what we do at the local level, the truth is, decisions made in Washington do impact us every day. I know I don’t have time to be actively involved in federal issues day to day, but it’s nice to know that Preservation Action is there to fill that role on our behalf.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation also takes an increasingly active role in advocating for policies that promote historic preservation and sensible development. In addition to its own advocacy work, the Trust’s Public Policy Department offers resources that can help local advocates make the case for appropriate preservation policies in their own communities. Check out their website for a variety of useful tools.

At the state level, the Preservation League of New York State coordinates a statewide coalition of preservationists who seek to advance preservation policies, with a particular focus in recent years on creating a meaningful state tax incentive for historic preservation. The specific political framework in our state (not to mention the current fiscal situation) makes this a challenging undertaking, but the colleagues across the state continue to make our case that preservation is a sensible and necessary investment in the future of our communities.

At The Landmark Society, our advocacy work also includes educating our local candidates about preservation and educating our members and friends about those candidates’ positions. Each fall, our Advocacy Task Force prepares a questionnaire to ask candidates for local, state and federal office in Monroe County their views on historic preservation and related issues. We are now collecting replies from the candidates and will have those up on our website next week; watch this space for more! We see this project as a great opportunity to let our candidates know what issues are most important to us, and to give our members and friends information that will help them evaluate how the candidates would approach local issues pertaining to revitalization, sprawl, and sustainable development.

While we did not send our questionnaire, which focused on relevant state and local issues, to the presidential candidates, it is interesting to wonder where they stand on historic preservation. I came across a blog post recently that posed the question of how each candidate would affect the field of historic preservation. Nellie Longsworth, past president of Preservation Action, used to say that preservation was not a Democratic or a Republican issue; there are supporters on both sides of the aisle and there have been leaders from both sides who have advanced distinctly pro-preservation policies.

After all, historic preservation ties into issues that candidates on both sides hold dear: it’s about strengthening local economies and creating local jobs, revitalizing historic downtowns and neighborhoods, conserving a unique sense of place, protecting the environment, and protecting and promoting the places that have contributed to our national character over the generations. We won't hear the presidential candidates address historic preservation specifically, but perhaps as we listen to them talk about bigger economic and environmental issues, we can make some inferences as to what type of leadership they would provide on the issues that impact our communities and our historic resources.

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Preservation Boards Mingle in Perinton

Last night the town of Perinton hosted the first annual Preservation Boards & Commissions Fall Networking Event, planned by the Landmark Society’s small but active Boards & Commissions committee.
We had a tremendous turnout of about 60 preservation board and commission members. After introductions and welcoming remarks from our executive director, Joanne Arany, Perinton town supervisor Jim Smith, and Perinton Historic Architecture Commission chair Ann Parks, we heard a whirlwind overview of architectural styles from Cynthia Howk, followed by a quick game of “stump the expert” in which we threw a few surprise images at Cynthia to see how she and the group did at identifying their style and date. Before and after the formal program, the room was full of energetic conversation as board and commission members mingled and shared experiences. From the feedback we’ve received so far, the event was a hit, leaving everyone eager for more training and more networking opportunities.

Almost 30 municipalities in our region have local preservation ordinances, and in each of these there is an appointed group of community residents that may be called a preservation board, preservation commission, architectural review board, historic sites committee, or something similar. (This is not to be confused with a historical society or the town historian, although in some case the local historian is an ex officio member of or advisor to the board.) This is the group charged with identifying and designating local landmarks, reviewing proposed alterations to individual properties and properties in designated districts, and issuing Certificates of Appropriateness to verify that such alterations will be done in conformance with preservation standards.

Each municipality’s ordinance is slightly different, ranging from purely voluntary ordinances with no enforcement powers to stricter controls that seek to maintain the historic character of a property or district. The details of how each board or commission operates vary as well. Each individual board or commission has a different set of specific duties: some are at an early stage of identifying local landmarks and building support for designations, while others have long-established lists of designated landmarks and districts and spend most of their time on design review. Perinton was a great place to hold this event since town leaders have demonstrated strong support for preservation and a long track record of proactive, sophisticated work on behalf of historic resources. When we advise newer boards on how best to conduct themselves, we often recommend that they visit the Perinton board.

The members of these boards and commissions are volunteers who have some level of expertise in the subject of historic preservation. Most ordinances require that board membership include such categories as a Realtor, an architect, and a preservation district resident. They make their judgments on the basis of design guidelines, federal standards, and accepted preservation practice. In their makeup and role within municipal structure, the boards are similar to zoning and planning boards, and indeed all three boards function best when they are in regular contact with one another.

Last night’s event provided a taste of what we intend will be a regular series of opportunities for board/commission members to convene for training and networking. To continue the discussion between these events, we invite all preservation board and commission members in western New York to join our online discussion group where you can share your experiences, ask one another questions, and gain access to a variety of helpful information. Learn more and join the group at (If you don’t already have a Yahoo ID, you will be asked to create one, but you can participate in the group using your regular email address if you prefer. To ensure that its group members do not receive spam, Yahoo has stringent anti-spam measures, which you can read about here.) If you are a member of a preservation board or commission, or are just interested in the subject, please join the group - we need a few more members to get real conversations going!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator