Friday, March 26, 2010

The glowing green eyes of history

Yesterday, an article "Something Strange in Herald Square" (linked below) was tweeted by someone I follow on my personal Twitter account. I found it very interesting. First, it tells a fun story, in an interesting visual manner, of something I bet many people walk past every day in New York City without noticing. It also made my nerd-self emit a little "squee!" as my imagination ran wild with images of glowy-eyed creatures observing NYC from above. (Apparently I've watched Ghostbusters a few too many times...)

Read the article: Something Strange in Herald Square

Photo: Scouting NY

I love not only that these owls exist (over a century old!) but also how they were re-purposed. (And, of course, my inner Fox Mulder adores the conspiracy theory portion of the article...) This story is a perfect example of how personal stories involving fantastical history can be found in the most unexpected places. It's quite likely that many of the buildings, bridges, parks and other items from our shared built environment have similar stories to share. I think it's also crucial to recognize how often we pass by things everyday that we take for granted.

As preservationists, we need to remember that these stories are oftentimes a common thread with which people can identify. Some who think they don't care about "old buildings" might be fascinated by a company founder's story...or, in this case, they might just find glowy-eyed owls to be pretty cool. Each of these "ins" is a way to engage people in the important work we do.

Do you have a favorite oddball landmark where you live? Do you know its story? Share it with us. We'd love to hear (and see!)

p.s. If it weren't for Twitter, we'd miss out on some really cool stuff. Do you follow us? Please join us: @landmarksociety

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, director of marketing

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Legendary Lockport

Landmark Society's day tour

Working in the field of preservation makes it obvious that I am fascinated by history and historic architecture, but more than that I am fascinated by the feats of victory and vision our ancestors had. With limited resources and exceptional hard- work, they accomplished results that sometimes it is hard to imagine in today’s age of technological advancement. We have gotten so used to our I- phones and laptops that we can’t imagine how life was before this! I felt this way when I went on a Landmark Society’s day tour to Lockport, the home of the “Flight of Five” Erie Canal locks. It was a feast to see such an example of architectural and engineering finesse built in a time and age when canal boats were pulled by horses and mules on the towpath. There were no cranes and lifts to do any work.

We started our day with a wonderful cruise of the Canal. On this two hour long tour we were able to go under the upside down bridge, experience “Locking through” by watching the lowering and raising by 49’ on Locks 34 & 35, observe the barge repair Dry Dock and see a combination of past and present with Flight of Five right next to the two modern locks built in early 20th century.

After this enjoyable cruise we had canal side lunch buffet in an 1840 renovated warehouse resembled to look like a 1800s canal town with its interesting art and architecture. From here we went on a tour of Niagara County Historical Society with a Victorian parlor, historic pantry and old toy room.

We also saw some other buildings on their premises. The most interesting being the Pioneer and transportation building. It was great education for me especially because I am an immigrant! There was an exhibit of Native American Iroquois and Tuscarora clan. I learnt that LaCrosse was invented by them. The second floor of the building was recreated as a Pioneer cabin with interesting artifacts like candle molds, a knitty-knotty and trundle beds.

Wait ! I am not done yet! After all this we had the funnest part of the day. I know funnest is not a word, but I felt like a kid when we went to the Erie Canal Discovery Center. This is a new multi- media interactive museum which transports visitors back to the opening of the Erie Canal. So now, we are putting technology to some good use. Here you can meet with the characters involved in the building of Erie Canal. Our narrator was Nathan Roberts- Chief engineer for the canal. A simulated night excursion in a packet boat lets visitors explore how canals work. In addition to this, there are beautiful exhibits talking about the history and making of the canal. My most favorite part was a miniature model of the canal locks that helps explain the concept. I felt like a kid doing my science experiment, it brought back memories of my childhood and made me realize how we are touched by the past in so many different ways!

It was a tour filled with fun and education about our history and engineering. It is a perfect tour to take with your kids and spend a wonderful family time together. We would like to thank all the people who took the tour with us and we hope to see you again this year too! Don’t forget to check out our website for 2010 tours at

We have lots of exciting and eventful locations planned for this year! Book your spot, they fill up soon......................

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, preservation associate

Friday, March 19, 2010

Are you looking for a house in the City? Don’t know where to start?

See what our past tour goers have to say about Rochester City Living Saturday tours…..

With spring in its splendor Landmark Society is offering you all these wonderful opportunities to enjoy the glorious sunshine and learn new things about your city that you live and breathe every single day of your life. This coming Saturday (March 20) Landmark Society in collaboration with City of Rochester is offering FREE bus tours of your city followed a City living expo on Sunday for two consecutive weeks.

This program is specifically focused on people who are interested in buying a house in the City. The bus tour begins at 2 pm on this Saturday and will leave from Landmark Society’s headquarters. It is approximately a 3 hour tour. This weekend’s tour will focus on east side neighborhoods. We will go through the curving streets of Cobbs Hill, stunning avenues of East Avenue, explore the funky architecture of Upper Monroe, Park Ave, Neighborhood of the Arts and lots more……

It is our promise, whether you are brand new to the City or have been living here for years; you will discover new things about your city that you never knew before. If you don’t believe us, see what our past tour goers have to say about the tour:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it 100”—Carrie Peterson

“Our tour guide was fascinating! In all my life I have never come across a guide who is so passionate and knows everything”— Cathryn Callahan

“I have been living in the City for more than 30 years but never knew about so many places that we saw today” – Pamela Higginson

Now, the choice is yours! Make the most of this opportunity. For more details on the event, you can visit

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What to do if your Contractor died 100 years ago?

This past Monday (March 15th) we had our Spring gathering of Preservation boards and Commissions. It was an extremely successful event with attendance of over 70 people. We had people from six counties in Western New York. The participants list not only represented people from local preservation boards and commissions but also from Canandaigua's Planning board and a rural community Town of Bethany, south of Batavia. In addition to all the participants we were fortunate enough to have our colleagues from New York State Historic Preservation Office in Albany, Bob Englert and Chris Capella Peters.

Before the formal presentation, we had a mix and mingle hour, where attendees were presented with the opportunity to discuss the initiatives and activities of their boards and commissions with others. Followed by this was our formal presentation by Jerry Ludwig, architect, columnist, and our key speaker. He started his talk with a metal piece - a construction part with pipes and asked "what is it?" We got some interesting responses; it was basically a plumbing pipe for a house with a cistern from the late 19th century. He told the audience: don’t believe Lowe’s or Home Depot if they tell you that we don’t have this part. You won’t believe that even in today’s day and age we have specialized artists who use the right techniques and building parts to best suit your historic house. Jerry, along with input from architect Virginia Searl, talked about appropriate building materials and approaches, how preservation is most sustainable, and how you should never believe the myth behind the energy savings from vinyl windows.

Along with Jerry, we had six other craftspeople, including Steve Jordan- window repair specialist and contributing editor to Old House Journal, Kurt Catalano- slate roof and copper flashing specialist, Jim Turner- mill working specialist, Patt Clancy from Morse Sash and Door, Ken Wilson from Rochester Colonial, David Keefe from Green Mountain Window and Door Co. from Vermont. All these craftspeople bought wonderful samples of their works and products. In addition to all this, all the attendees received wealth of information in their packages focusing on the U.S. Secretary of Interior Guidelines and Preservation Briefs.

Overall it was a great evening with lots of information and new friends. We would like to thank the Town of Irondequoit for our wonderful venue, with special thanks to their newly appointed Town Supervisor Mary Joyce D’Aurrizio, who shared the significance of historic preservation, her passion for historic architecture and how she enjoys living in her family home from mid-19th century. Last but not the least, we would like to thank all our attendees for their time and making this evening a success.

We hope to see you again in our Fall gathering.

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

Can historic preservation lead us out of the recession?

I came across a story in my morning reading that I felt was important enough to share. It's a well-written piece from a SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) blogger, referencing an article published last year in Contract Magazine.

The SCAD blog author states the Contract mag piece is worthy of a re-read, and I could not agree more. Budget cuts in NY State threaten to close state parks and historic sites and the proposed Obama administration 2011 budget eliminates funding for Save America's Treasures, a federal preservation grant program responsible for, among other things, restoring both the original star-spangled banner and the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Important stuff.

Simply put, America needs to understand the role preservation plays in our daily lives, in our country's recovery, and in our collective future.

Some staggering statistics from the Contract piece:

  • In Michigan, $1 million in building rehabilitation creates 12 more jobs than does manufacturing $1 million worth of cars;
  • In West Virginia, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 20 more jobs than mining $1 million worth of coal;
  • In Oklahoma, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 29 more jobs than pumping $1 million worth of oil;
  • In Oregon, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 22 more jobs than cutting $1 million worth of timber;
  • In Pennsylvania, $1 million of rehabilitation creates 12 more jobs than processing $1 million worth of steel;
  • In California, $1 million of rehabilitation creates five more jobs than manufacturing $1 million worth of electronic equipment;
  • ...and the list goes on.
Read for yourself:
Here's the blog.
Here's the original Contract Magazine piece.
What do you think?

p.s. If this fires you up, please don't let it end here. Forward the information to your friends and colleagues. Call your state and federal elected officials. Or, better yet, join us and add your voice and support to our collective membership as we work diligently to ensure preservation stays a top priority our region, and in this country.

(image by Alisdair McDiarmid, licensed under CC 2.0)

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, Director of Marketing


Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome aboard!!!

Spring Gathering and Networking event for Preservation boards and commissions

As we enter the beautiful season of Spring, Landmark Society welcomes you at its Spring gathering of Preservation boards and commissions. If you were at the earlier gatherings, you know how enthused and energizing they are are, if not you have your chance again!!!!

People from various towns and villages present the innovative techniques and strategies they
have employed to promote preservation and strengthen their economy. Whether it is heritage tourism of Brockport or middle school history lessons of Palmyra, you will hear it all.

This spring once again Landmark Society has tried to provide you with useful knowledge and an opportunity to meet with your peers in other towns and villages through our Spring gathering. Here are the details of the program:

What: "How not to ruin a building" - Everything you want to know about building materials and methods

Speakers- Jerry Ludwig and guest contractors

Where: Irondequoit Town Hall

When: March 15' 2010, 6:00 p.m.

We look forward to having you tonight!

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate

Friday, March 12, 2010

These should be places where we use and live and enjoy. These are living spaces...

Hi. My name is Laura, and I suffer from Marketing Brain. This means that no matter what I do, read, see, think about or experience, I always seem to find myself conducting a logical (read: Spock-headed) examination of the concepts of communication and perception. It's maddening sometimes (both to me as well as to anyone around me I'm sure!) but I think it's important to do...especially in preservation.

See, in preservation, what we know we do is much different than what people think they know we do. I could wax poetic about this for days, but that would likely bore you right out of your skulls. So instead, I'll post a quote from a recently-published article from the Buffalo-based magazine/blog Block Club, which sums it up nicely:

"Historic preservation is a very high hurdle for people to get past. They don’t see it as a green movement. They don’t see it as a neighborhood movement. They don’t see it as a keeping-a-sense-of-place movement. They see it as a set of rules and regulations that ordinary people cannot achieve. And that’s the dilemma…"
So how do we get the average person to understand this concept - that preservation isn't about being wed to a property, or about rules, regulations and putting old things under glass as specimens - but instead, that preservation is a movement about sustainability, smart planning, active use and keeping a sense of place for future generations to enjoy? That's my primary challenge as The Landmark Society's marketing communications "army of one," and the challenge we all share throughout this field of preservation.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this one. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

And, here is a link to the full Block Club piece. A great read.

(I should note the Block Club article isn't only about perception. It highlights the amazing grassroots preservation efforts taking place in Buffalo and speaks to our field as a whole. It also features Henry McCartney, our former executive director who now directs Preservation Buffalo Niagara.)


p.s. Our Annual Preservation Conference on April 24th addresses how preservation and sustainability intersect. I hope you'll join us: Saving the Past, Sustaining the Future: Preservation Strategies for Challenging Times

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, director of marketing

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reuse or Remove?

It is often said that one of the greatest challenges to the preservation of our modern buildings is that they are not old enough to be considered historic and are not worthy of the same regard given to such beloved buildings as the Powers Block or the former Genesee Valley Trust Building. Along with the issue of age is the relative ambivalence and sometimes flat out antagonism to these buildings’ existence and designs by the general public. The modern buildings often displaced whole sections of downtown neighborhoods and businesses replacing dense 19th century-era streets lined with low rise mixed use structures with “superblocks” on which one or many buildings of a scale never before seen would be built, the street grid erased and replaced by what were often barren and uninviting plazas.

People still fondly remember the shops, restaurants and bars of downtown areas like the Third Ward and the neighborhood centered on Front Street. Many blame the projects that were built in their place for destroying the flavor of boomtown Rochester while helping to cause the ills that would plague downtown for decades to come.

With the ongoing redevelopment of the Midtown Plaza complex we are seeing firsthand the challenges

of reusing or preserving modern structures on a large scale and at the center of downtown. Midtown Plaza was one of the few modern projects to live up to its billing and is highly regarded by a community that feels nostalgia for times spent shopping and socializing there in its heyday. Yet, little is said about preserving the original look of the Victor Gruen-designed atrium and hotel/office tower. Most people just do not see it as a beautiful building or one of historic significance. Fittingly, when it came time to consider reusing parts of the mall and tower structure it was required that the original facade of the tower not be retained.

Some may see this as a defeat of preservation. However, it is at the very least environmentally responsible and may prove to be the rule instead of the exception when it comes to renovating modern buildings, as it already is in larger cities like New York. There, many buildings designed in the 1950’ and 1960’s by New York firms Emery Roth and Sons and Kahn and Jacobs have had their facades replaced with contemporary materials and styles while their internal utilities were updated with the latest in telecommunications and electronics systems. Although the more famous examples of modernism will likely be protected as landmarks - many modern buildings in Chicago already are considered historic and are protected for many modern buildings that are reused their rigid frame steel skeletons will be all that is preserved.

In some cases even a perfectly good steel-framed modern building can be too innovative to reuse…

In January of 1970 the Central Trust Company broke ground on their $2 million bank, office and parking garage complex at the corner of East Avenue and Winton Road. Designed by distinguished local architect Myron E. Starks the complex would consist of a 41,000 square foot bank and office building fronting East Avenue and a 157 spot parking garage to the rear of the office building. The office and banking buildings were of steel frame construction faced with pre-cast concrete.

In line with the design philosophy of the great modern architect Louis I. Kahn, whose famous First Unitarian Church stands just south of Central Trust on Winton Road, the design of the office building would clearly express the transition from the concrete-clad “served” areas of the building’s offices to the sloped roof, brick-clad “servant” areas of the stair and elevator towers at the perimeter. At the University Avenue side of the site would be built the reinforced concrete parking ramp. Central Trust Company would move their computer center from the main office to an area on the first floor of the parking structure.

In the 1990’s M&T bought out Central Trust and took possession of the complex at Winton and East. In the years that followed it was determined that the parking structure was unsafe and it was closed to the public. The office and bank branch continued to be used by M&T until the opening of a new building a block away on East Avenue in 2008 caused them to vacate the older structure.

Wegmans, in a bid to buy enough of the adjacent properties to replace their small store on the western end of the block with a supercenter, purchased the former Central Trust Company’s complex, which stood at the eastern end of the same block. Although they planned to use the site of the banking complex as a separate commercial development it was found to be unfeasible to reuse the 1970’s structure.

Instead of placing the HVAC mechanicals in the basement or penthouse of the office tower, as was common practice in office buildings for decades, they were built into the parking ramp and computer center behind the tower. It was decided that it would be too complex and costly to retrofit the tower with the required HVAC infrastructure and in early 2010 the former Central Trust Company’s East Avenue branch was demolished, a case of modern design innovation falling victim to its own engineering complexity and the financial uncertainty of the post-millennial economy.

Posted by Dan Palmer, Landmark Society Volunteer