Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, City of Rochester!

Today I was one of the speakers at the City of Rochester's official 175th anniversary celebration in City Hall. We were asked to comment on the saving of City Hall from near-demolition, and the lessons this preservation victory can impart to us now and in the future. Laura Zavala did most of the writing of these comments - I made a few changes and delivered these remarks just before the cutting of the spectacular, 750-pound birthday cake!

Grassroots organizing, and garnering public support for projects, concepts, and societal changes that move our community forward, are all part of our city’s vibrant history. Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony are two of the bright lights in Rochester’s long history of activism designed to bring about positive social change.

While many may not think of preservation as a form of activism, in reality preservation is exactly that. It’s common to think of preservation activities as dots on a timeline, defined by the moment in history when a landmark is “saved,” yet preservation is a much more fluid process. It’s relationship building, it’s research, it’s sometimes even marching to raise public awareness. Most of all, it’s the act of providing our communities with the most effective tools to work together for a sustainable future.

Rehabilitated buildings - such as this magnificent one in which we gather this morning - stand as testaments to the hard work of dedicated men and women with a vision of what our city can and will become with careful planning and altruistic vision and leadership. This building – our City Hall – is one primary example of visionary adaptation that adds so much to our city’s character and identity.

But it is more than that.

In 1968, plans were announced to construct a new federal building in Rochester, thus leaving this building vacant. Amid fears that abandonment would lead to swift demolition, a campaign was launched by The Landmark Society to encourage “recycling” the building by finding another use for it. The “Friends of the Federal Building” began an intensive publicity campaign with feature stories in local newspapers, radio and TV spots, and public speaking engagements. The Landmark Society gained National Register listing for the building in 1971 and city landmark designation in 1973.

The Friends’ quest was not guided only by the desire to share this architecturally significant structure with future generations, but also by why preservation makes good sense: it is the greenest of all construction options, it would save the city millions of dollars, it would serve to help with downtown revitalization, and it would save a rich landmark whose distinctive character could not possibly be duplicated with new construction.

The Landmark Society began exploring uses for the building, among them even a proposed Rochester Law School. At the same time, the City of Rochester began exploring the need for a new city hall. City Council commissioned the firm Handler-Grosso, Architects and Engineers to conduct a feasibility study, which revealed that rehabilitation and a new addition would prove much more cost-effective than demolition and new construction.

Just think: the environmental impact of demolishing this building and throwing away all its embodied energy - the energy that went into obtaining, preparing, and assembling its materials - would be equivalent to driving the average car around the equator almost 1,400 times. So the desire to save this building wasn't just about sentiment or aesthetics - although surely this is a building worthy of both sentimental attachment and tremendous aesthetic appreciation; it was also about preventing the needless squandering of a huge amount of energy.

Through careful planning, analysis and advocacy, The Landmark Society successfully constructed a compelling and smart case to save the building, and worked diligently to gather public support.

Their path was not an easy one.

Editorials in the Times-Union and the Democrat and Chronicle seemed to waver between supporting reuse and calling for demolition. While some celebrated the stately Richardsonian Romanesque building, others deemed it “ugly,” “not worthy of saving,” and “having served its purpose.” Further causing delays was an issue that may sound familiar today – economic recession.

However, a new law signed by President Nixon offered the city the opportunity to acquire the building for the whopping sum of one dollar. A feasibility plan also showed that the building would meet new energy conservation guidelines.

In 1976, the City of Rochester acquired the building for its new city hall.
Frank Grosso, from Handler-Grosso, was the lead architect on the project and his partner Richard Handler was the chief engineer. The total cost of the rehabilitation was $5,300,000, or $37.85 per square foot, which was approximately 50% of the cost of a new building.

Today we see many old buildings recycled into new uses: Rochesterians eat barbeque or garbage plates in old railroad terminals, drink coffee in a former automobile showroom, and live in former medical offices and factories. Historic neighborhoods like the Susan B. Anthony district, Maplewood, and Park Avenue remain livable, vibrant communities. Each of these projects showcases the best of the past, bringing historic buildings back to life through creative reuse or ongoing stewardship.

Today, as we celebrate this significant birthday, we’re looking to the future, focusing on effective tools to retain existing buildings, landscapes, and neighborhoods, which are among our greatest renewable resources. To that end, historic preservation planning is not just a moment in time, a “saving” of a historic building. It’s a completely “green” activity essential to a more environmentally sustainable future. Americans already embrace as common sense the need to recycle aluminum cans, glass and newspapers. We advocate applying that same common sense to our built environment:* reuse existing buildings such as this City Hall, reinvest in our older and historic communities, and retrofit our existing building stock.

So the story of City Hall is written, frozen in perpetuity on Rochester’s historical timeline from the first meeting of the Friends of the Federal Building to the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new City Hall on May 5, 1978. However, this story also serves as a testament to the incorporation of sound and inclusive preservation planning processes in city planning efforts. With a better appreciation of the value of our historic resources in our development efforts, we can continue to inspire and make a difference through the same spirit of forward-thinking activism that truly flavors Rochester.

Thank you.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services (and largely written by Laura Zavala, Director of Marketing)

*With thanks to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a great line!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Herb Verb – Tracy Gauss & Beverly Gibson

First in Your Old House Workshop Spring Series

On April 6’09 the Landmark Society began its new season of the spring, Your Old House Workshop Series. The speakers for the first session were Tracy Gauss — owner of Herbly Wonderful, a gardening business dealing with culinary herbs, cut flowers and heirloom vegetables for past 10 years in Batavia and Beverly Gibson — The Landmark Society’s horticulturist for past 18 years and owner of garden and maintenance business Yankee Gardener in Rochester.

The evening started with Beverly’s primer on soil preparation for growing herbs. We all know that a house cannot stand without a solid foundation; similarly plants cannot grow without soil preparation. She talked about the various aspects of the soil that play a role when planting herbs, like texture, structure and PH value. She indicated that Rochester primarily has Clay and alkaline soils, which are perfect for growing herbs. She also talked about ways to amend soils that best suit the needs of your garden. This can mainly be done by three means: organic (adding compost/manure), mineral (sand, vermiculite, chicken grit) and synthetic (hydro gels). She identified organic as her preferred method because it tinkers least with nature.

Following Beverly’s primer was Tracy’s educative and informative session on culinary herbs that also have a medicinal value. It was a hands-on talk where everyone could touch and feel the herbs she brought with her. She mentioned that besides the typical uses of cooking, crafting, decorating and medicines, herbs can be used to make soaps, potpourris, chocolates and balms— the possibilities are endless.

She started with general soil and weather conditions for growing herbs followed by the description of each herb, its uses and particular growing conditions in alphabetical order. She mentioned over fifty herbs that can be grown in our weather conditions .She stated that herbs like well drained soils and sunny locations. Ninety percent of the herbs don’t like shade. They can be grown in little 6” pots and best way to water them is through down tray.

Besides the widely known herbs like basil, bay leaves, caraway, cilantro, dill, chives, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary and thyme, Tracy talked about the uncommon herbs like peppery arugula used for salads, healing herb anise hyssop, light fragrant chamomile used for pathways, winter savory similar to thyme used for jellies and meat dishes and the all pervasive sage.

She concluded her talk by the much debated herb Stevia, a sugar substitute which is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is the solution to diabetes in United States; it cleanses the pancreas, and does not spike the blood sugar level. The best way to use it is by soaking in water for ten minutes and then using the liquid as a sweetener. This mixture can be stored in refrigerator for two weeks.

Being an Indian it was very interesting for me to see how the age old theories like ayurveda (the science of life) – a system of traditional medicine native to India for hundreds of centuries, has seeped into the Western World, just the same way that Yoga has become such an integral part of American healthy living. It is somewhat surprising that in the present day ironically a large number of Indians have forgotten much of this wonderful information.

The talk was extremely successful and had as many as sixteen attendees. The audiences were highly appreciative of the speakers and were happy that they gathered such useful information. We look forward to similar enthusiastic attendance for many of the upcoming series as well as constructive comments and feedback.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

2009 Preservation Conference - Just 10 Days Away!

“Maintaining Hometown Character in the 21st Century”

Register Today for The Landmark Society of Western New York’s 23nd Annual Regional Preservation Conference

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Medina High School, 2 Mustang Drive (off Route 31), Medina, NY

If you work with, live in, or want to save a historic property, you won’t want to miss The Landmark Society’s 23rd Annual Regional Preservation Conference on Saturday, May 2. With an eye to national trends, this year’s conference is all about economics: from the economic benefits of reusing historic downtown buildings to the ways homeowners can save money by preserving their homes’ original features, you’ll learn how historic buildings and landscapes contribute to economically and environmentally healthy, sustainable communities.

The one-day conference includes these four concurrent sessions:

Track A: Where's the Money? Restoring Economic Vitality in Your Community
In this practical, timely track you’ll learn where to find grants, loans, and tax credits for historic preservation, how to use market analysis to enhance your Main Street’s economic viability, and tour successful rehabilitation projects in downtown Medina to learn what has worked for local business owners.

Please note: This session may fulfill the training requirements for members of local planning and zoning boards. Please check with your municipality for details.

Track B: Preserving and Maintaining Your Old House from Top to Bottom:
Owners of older houses will find answers to some of their most vexing questions at these sessions, which feature functional and handy information on the best ways to maintain and preserve the distinctive features of historic houses.

Track C: Historic Preservation Planning 101
Confused by the lingo of preservation planning? Dreaming of a preservation project, but unsure where to start? This session will set you straight on the various private and public entities who “do” historic preservation, the services they can offer you and your community, and how you can take advantage of their expertise. If you are preparing (or hope to prepare) a National Register nomination, bring your works in progress for hands-on help.

Track D: Preservation Board and Commission Training
This full-day session is geared toward new and experienced board members, as well as the interested public. Topics will include the role of the preservation commission, procedures for running efficient and legally sound meetings, and the standards to be used in design review. Workshop includes a working lunch; participants are expected to remain in the session for the entire day.

Please note: This session may fulfill the training requirements for members of local planning and zoning boards. Please check with your municipality for details.

Special registration rate for Preservation Board and Commission members! See below for details.

Registration fee: $45 ($40 for Landmark Society members) before April 27, 2009. Lunch included with all registrations received by April 27. Registration (space permitting) after April 27 is $50 for everyone and does NOT include lunch.

Preservation Board/Commission members SPECIAL REGISTRATION RATE OF $40 PER PERSON if you register by April 27, 2009!

At least 7 days advance notice of withdrawal from a program is required to receive a refund (minus $5 processing fee). The day will conclude with a tour and reception.

ONLINE REGISTRATION now available; or, to register by mail, download the printable registration form here.

Or, register by calling (585) 546-7029 x10.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Monday, April 6, 2009

"This Old Wasteful House"

Be sure to check out the recent New York Times Op-Ed piece by Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, on how appropriate energy upgrades to older houses can address some of our country's most pressing needs:

We need to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. We want to create jobs, and revitalize the neighborhoods where millions of Americans live. All of this could be accomplished by making older homes more energy-efficient.
Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Oodles of preservation events!

If you would like to learn more about historic preservation, we've got just the event for you. Our preservation education events coming up in April through June offer something for everyone from homeowners to design professionals.

This isn't a full listing of all upcoming Landmark Society events, just those that are geared specifically toward historic preservation education (as opposed to our many tours and other events, which, of course, are also educational!). For other upcoming events, including local and out-of-town tours, be sure to check out the Events section of our website.

April 6, 13, 27, and May 5 and 12: Your Old House workshops - learn to care for your house by preparing your garden for spring, repairing your windows, taking care of hardwood floors, and more! All sessions start at 6 p.m. at the Stone-Tolan Barn, 2370 East Avenue in Brighton; these sell out early, so register in advance to reserve your spot for one session or the full series.

April 18: Birthday party for Frederick Law Olmsted in Highland Park (Lamberton Conservatory, 180 Reservoir Avenue), at 5:00 p.m. Enjoy cake and punch while learning about Rochester's remarkable Olmsted legacy.

April 23: Preservation Night at the Opera House - while not our event (this one is sponsored by the Village of Lancaster Historic Preservation Commission), this looks like a great opportunity to hear about the newly created Preservation Buffalo Niagara, and to learn about the Certified Local Government (CLG) program. The program will be held at the historic Lancaster Opera House, 21 Central Avenue, Lancaster.

May is National Preservation Month! This year's theme is "This Place Matters" - a powerful theme, since the historic places we care about do matter, for so many reasons.

May 2: Regional Preservation Conference in Medina, NY: Homeowners, Realtors, elected officials, zoning/planning/preservation board members, community activists, and anyone else with an interest in older buildings and neighborhoods won't want to miss it! Medina High School, 2 Mustang Drive (off Route 31), Medina.

May, date TBA: Marketing Historic Houses Successfully: This class, a joint effort of the Landmark Society's Rochestercityliving.com initiative and the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors, educates Realtors about the attributes of older housing stock, helping them to sell these special properties. The class includes two bus tours of city neighborhoods. Registration will be handled by GRAR, with classes taught by Cynthia Howk, Steve Jordan, and Jean France.

June 4: Green Strategies for Historic Buildings: This day-long workshop, presented by the National Preservation Institute, will demonstrate how the environmental goal of “reduce, reuse, recycle” can enhance the capital cost competitiveness of preservation projects. We are really excited to be cosponsoring this event, along with the Preservation League of NYS and AIA New York State. The workshop will be held at the Eisenhart Auditorium of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, 657 East Avenue.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Great news for a 1950s icon!

Today's Democrat and Chronicle has some excellent news about one of my favorite post-WWII buildings: the former Donuts Delite building has been purchased by the owner of Salvatore's Pizzeria, who plans to rehabilitate the building as a new location for his pizza franchise. He also plans to expand his usual offerings to include a modest breakfast menu, including - of course - doughnuts!

Donuts Delite is one of the buildings that our Recent Past Subcommittee has been interested in. We've met with city officials and neighbors who shared our concern that the building, at a very busy intersection, might fall victim to the big-box/drugstore trend. It's great to read in the article that the owner specifically did not want to sell to anyone who might demolish the building; after all, it represents his family's legacy.

The one phrase in the article that gave me a little bit of pause was where the reporter stated that the new owner plans to do some work "to give the place a '50s feel." If anyplace in Rochester already has a '50s feel, it's Donuts Delite! It's great that the new owner wants to restore the floors and booths, but I would suggest that he stick to restoring the fabulous 1950s elements that are already there, rather than introducing new elements like tin ceilings that do not relate to the building's actual history. It will be really interesting to see what he does about signage: the neon Donuts Delite sign is a strong character-defining element.

I'll be sending the new owner some information about tax credits and other preservation incentives. He may not realize that his building can qualify as "historic!"

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services