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Preservation in Nature

Preservation in NatureWhen you see the words “historic preservation” you instantly picture…buildings. Residential homes, grand mansions, maybe a cobblestoned brick lined downtown or an iconic train depot sitting just above the tracks. Maybe our previous blogs focusing on the not-so-obvious means of historic structure reuse bring to mind a 1950s gas station, a school, or a barn.

As we busy ourselves this spring season in anticipation of dusting off those garden tools in the garage, soon to reap the benefits of April showers and fill the yards with May flowers…even the soil, the very soil upon which everything stands is worthy of preservation.

Preservation in NatureFor over 83 years the NPS (National Parks Service) has been protecting and conserving American places for the preservation of our culture and history, our summer vacation enjoyment, and for our future generations. Of course we would prefer to see every structure in America reused and restored. Today, we have plenty of existing homes and buildings to house our citizens and businesses…however, we’re a growing population. We aren’t going to stop development altogether, and thanks to the NPS these places will continue to be kept to their original natural setting for generations to come. If you haven’t seen Ken Burns’ documentary on the history of the NPS – “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” – I suggest adding this to your Netflix queue and setting some TV time aside for this awe inspiring film series.

Here in Missouri, our own Department of Conservation has been hard at work protecting wildlife and our natural resources for over 77 years. Their education efforts and landowner involvement has paid off to make the department a model for other conservation departments across the country. You can hear about their inspiring story with their 75th Anniversary Video.

Throughout the month of April, we will be highlighting the history of spring’s grandest gift….the great American growing season! From historical landscaping to Victory Gardens, and yes, even the American Farm.

 

Audrey L. Elder
Past to Present Research, LLC

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Places Matter: Bridges

Katy Bridge, Boonville, MO

Katy Bridge, Boonville, MO

Each year the Missouri Preservation Conference picks a fantastic historical setting for three full days of classes, presentations, and events. The 2013 Conference brought preservationists, historians, and architects from all over the state of Missouri to the grand little town of Boonville. Not surprisingly, we had the pleasure of sitting in on several presentations about the preservation of…bridges. It may seem like an odd, niche topic, but the host city’s recent dealings with saving their treasured Katy Bridge provided the ideal opportunity to start up the conversation. And to say that their story is inspiring is an understatement.

The Katy Bridge – so named after the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, MKT for short – was constructed around 1931-32 as a replacement for another bridge used by the railroads since 1873. The vertical-lift span bridge was the longest of its kind at the time of its construction. More about the history of the bridge and its preservation project can be found here. Although it hasn’t operated since the mid-1980s, the bridge has found use as part of the Katy Trail that caters to pedestrian and bicycling traffic that drives much of Boonville’s tourism. In 2005, though, the Union Pacific Railroad proposed the demolition of this bridge, in turn inspiring locals to rise up together and form the Katy Bridge Coalition aimed at saving and preserving it instead. After 8 years of a campaign to raise funds and building a brand image centered on their beloved landmark, the organization celebrated a major victory when the City of Boonville finally took ownership of the Katy Bridge.

Why did they fight so hard to save this old, rusty bridge? Why does this place matter to them, and why should it matter to us? In fact, why should any bridge be worthy of this kind of attention?

Well, let me tell ya.

  • Tourism potential. Looking at Boonville’s example, it’s easy to see that bridges could become part of outdoor attractions for nature-lovers, bicyclists, Sunday drivers, picnickers, photographers, etc. They may not directly generate revenue, but it has the potential to bring consumers to the surrounding communities.
  • They can be aesthetically pleasing. Take, for instance, this beauty in Washington County, MO, built in 1856. What a treasure! I’m not saying that all bridges are this beautiful, but many historic bridges (particularly those that were built before the mid-twentieth century) are both feats of engineering and works of art.
  • They offer an unadulterated glimpse into our history. Most bridges are left unaltered after their initial construction, save for a few repairs here and there. As a result, they are a blast into the past, showing details not utilized in modern design and engineering.

In the state of Missouri there are 24 historic bridges listed on the National Register of Historic Places – including the Eads Bridge in St. Louis – and another 150 are considered eligible for designation. For a comprehensive list of historic bridges across the nation, and to find one near you, visit Bridgehunter.com.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

 

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Places Matter: Schools

Picture in your mind the one-room rural school house, with immobile desks, chalkboards lining the walls, a single pot-bellied stove to heat the schoolroom. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. No nonsense, rigid in its formality. Don’t forget, too, that these pupils had to walk 10 miles, uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot, etc. — we all know that story.

Teaching philosophies have changed drastically over time – for example, the environment for learning and what was taught as “core curriculum.” Just as these beliefs and values have changed, so have the way we construct schools to accommodate students in an academic environment. These changes are often reflected in our school building’s style and construction.

Flash forward to the first half of the 20th century, and we find that larger, more urban schools were being formed. Larger facilities were necessary to accommodate a growing student population among the communities, as advancements in transportation and better connecting roads allowed smaller rural schools to consolidate and join the larger school districts. As for the buildings themselves, more attention was given to building materials — floor tiles, ceilings, plaster walls, etc. — that would limit noises permeating through the halls allowing students to focus on their studies. Windows were made larger to permit an abundance of natural light to pour into classrooms, and were also made to open in order for fresh air to circulate — both of these features added to the learning environment. In another quite opposite learning theory, windows were intentionally left out of the blueprints, in the belief that the visual distractions from the outside world kept students from focusing. Interior layouts also expanded from the basic classroom spaces to include specialized classrooms, such as gymnasiums, kitchens, workshops, etc. Even the addition of theatres or auditoriums further served as a space where students could express themselves through the arts, but also invited the community to gather and utilize the space for civic meetings and gatherings.

Schools have consistently been integral parts of our communities. Whether your roots are small town or urban core, families’ lives more-or-less revolved around the school. It’s also the place where many of our memories from our younger years developed, and helped shape who we are. It seems natural that these storehouses of memories should be preserved and remain as pillars in our communities. So what kind of efforts are being made?

A group in Southern Missouri have banded together to survey, preserve, and even find reuses for one-room school houses that are prevalent in the countryside. Check out this news clip to hear about one of their projects:

The Kansas City Missouri Public School District witnessed the passionate responses from members of the communities surrounding schools upon their announcement of their intention to close a number of schools around the metro. While this gained some negative attention across the nation, they bounced back by opening up conversations about how to reuse those properties and maintain relevance in their respective neighborhoods by basing the reuse possibilities on community input.

There are plenty of preservation groups out there dedicated to school buildings of all shapes and sizes. Check out these links for more information on how to get involved and show how these places matter.

 

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Most Fun Mid-Century Modern Reuse Ever

Andy's Frozen Custard -- Columbia, MOWe introduced you to the newest neighbor in the historic community in our recent blog, The New Nostalgic. That Mid-Century Modern era. We open our arms, give a warm welcome, and even invite a good old fashioned block party to celebrate its acceptance among the other historic greats — Greek Revivals, Queen Annes, Craftsman, and all the other magnificent examples of architecture of the past. This lovely, newly recognized era has been lingering nearby for over half a century without a second thought to its place in history. It’s now an accepted fact that the brick ranch of the 1950s and early 1960s is hip and relevant to a new generation of homeowners. “Retro” is all the rage.

Who doesn’t love a flaring hoop skirt complete with an ironed on poodle? Ribbon adorned ponytails and rolled white cotton tees? Just imagine June Cleaver in her heels and pearls picking up her black shiny rotary phone to call Ward to ask him to pick up a couple pounds of flour on the way home. Ward hops in his Ford Fairlane and with the biggest 1950-something smile that a well-suited man can muster he heads off towards the A&P. However first he has to stop for gas. Yeah, you can see it. A rounded glass-walled Phillips 66, with a roof on it that resembles a space ship. Some overly mannered young man just waiting to clean the windows while the car fills with gas.

In our last blog, we created a great list of places worth saving. Some of them surprising, it’s the reuse part that really gets fun. Right here in Missouri we have some of the most fantastic examples of Mid Century Modern gas station reuse. Some of them only exist today because of dedicated grass roots movements to keep them from demolition. No, they are no longer a fuel stop, they have become way more fun! Ice cream shops, café’s and BBQ joints, just to name a few.

Next time you’re out and about be sure to stop by one of these former pit stops for a snack stop!

The Filling Station BBQ — Lee’s Summit, MO

Andy’s Frozen Custard — Columbia, MO

Starbucks — St. Louis, MO

We would love to hear from you! What would you do with a blast from the past filling station?

Next…Schools. How learning theories and the political environment affected design and what are we doing with our empty past homes of education.

Audrey Elder

Past to Present Research, LLC

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2014 in Historic Preservation

 

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Places Do Matter

Napoleon UMCMany of us have heard of the National Trust for Preservation’s “This Place Matters” campaign that began several years ago. This program gives everyday citizens all over the country an opportunity to save a historic place that holds a special place in a community’s heart, in an individual’s heart. My first personal experience of this love for a place began with a place where I was reared, where friends and family gathered, and a place that I learned the value of stewardship. My hometown church. I remember admiring it and respecting it even more when we celebrated the church’s 100 year anniversary in 1997. I felt the connection grow even stronger as we all shared stories about its history – from its humble beginnings out in the country, visits from circuit riders, our German heritage, even stories of physically moving the building to its present location. It found its place in the history of our community, and to this very day is well cared for because it is dearly loved. The diligent actions of a community can speak louder than any words ever could; those actions tell the world that this place matters.

Historic preservation is about saving those places that mean the most to us. These efforts are certainly not limited to fancy homes and churches. There’s a grand array of places to be saved, not the least of which include:

  • Homes and neighborhoods
  • Barns
  • Churches
  • Schools
  • Hotels
  • Bridges
  • Downtowns
  • Trails
  • Theatres and opera houses
  • Diners
  • Parks
  • Public artwork
  • Courthouses

Thousands of places around this nation have been saved because of the efforts of passionate people. Take, for example, the City of Boonville, Missouri, a community that rallied together to rescue the Katy Bridge from being demolished; though the 6-year battle is not yet over, their fighting spirit is something to be admired and stands as a testament to what can be done.

Katy Bridge, Boonville, MO

Katy Bridge, Boonville, MO

What speaks to you? What do you and your community hold dear? The National Trust still proudly and strongly encourages participation in this program by which you can share about these places, and is a great way to start conversations in your community about how to move forward with preserving the places we treasure.

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

 
 

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A Short History: Kitchens, Part III

1950s KitchenBy the end of World War I, most American households were equipped with “modern” conveniences, such as running water, gas stoves, and all the gadgets and tools that mail-order catalogs could fill their homes with. Though these time-saving tools were all designed to make the task of food preparation simpler and more efficient, what it really did was add more clutter and a bit of confusion. The inclusion of new gargantuan appliances – stoves, iceboxes, etc. – necessitated changes in the layout to make kitchen operations manageable. It seemed only natural that a realignment was necessary.

One of the better-known reimaginings was introduced during the 1920s in the form of the “Frankfurt Kitchen,” conceptualized and created by Margerete Schüte-Lihotzky, a Viennese architect. Inspired by Fredrick Taylor’s Scientific Management theory (“Taylorism”) that considered the efficiency of time and movement within a space, Lihotzky designed a compact kitchen space with specific placement of the sink, stove, cabinets, aluminum storage bins, and workspaces. Even a fold-down ironing board was incorporated into the design. The time-motion studies were carefully conducted to maximize the use of a small work environment, with most needed items within arms’ reach. If you take a look at the layout, you’ll see similarities to the galley kitchen we’re all familiar with. The problem with it, though was that it was maybe just a little too compact – it was designed to only accommodate one adult in the room, but even so it seemed a little cramped.

Flash forward to the 1940s. Not much had changed in the way of kitchen design during the previous decade (a little thing called the Great Depression hindered progress a bit). Further motion studies were conducted and the idea of the Kitchen Working Triangle was born. This model was based on the idea of creating three standard zones: cooking (range), preparation (sink/dishwasher), and food storage (refrigerator). Balancing the distance between each zone/workstation was key – each side of the triangle should be no less than 4 ft, or any more than about 9 ft, with minimal interference by obstacles and foot traffic intersecting. This idea is still in use today.

There was another emerging trend during the 1940s, though. Previously the kitchen was wholly set apart from dining and living areas, in its own separate room. Following World War II, new housing was quickly being built to accommodate the multitudes of couples hoping to become homeowners and start raising families. These homes were mainly ranch-style homes, with somewhat open floor plans ideal for entertaining guests. During this time the kitchen started breaking out of its shell and opening itself to other rooms, or at least offering an area in which to dine – the beginning of the “eat-in kitchen.” The kitchen was finally becoming a social space, joining the rest of the home.

Finally, the 1950s. I don’t think it’s any big secret that commercialism was a major driving force thru this decade and beyond. Do yourself a favor and check out some videos on YouTube of 1950s television commercials advertising everything you could ever want or need in a new, modern kitchen: cabinets, formica countertops, electric ranges, automatic dishwashers, water heaters…you name it. Who would want to keep their old, outdated kitchen, when they could upgrade and have the newest, top of the line products designed to make their kitchen work for them, in turn making more time to kick back and relax? At the same time, the introduction of more convenient pre-packaged and frozen dinners meant that less time was needed for preparation of meals, and as a result kitchens started becoming a little lax in their level of efficiency.

This, of course, continues today. We still pay attention to the placement of our appliances and obsess over new ways to make use of the space that we have. (I mean seriously, have you checked out Pinterest lately? You don’t have to look too far to see this.) It is now a centerpiece of our home, a warm and inviting space open to the rest of the home so we can entertain freely and not miss a moment of time with our families. What other differences do you see between “then” and now?

Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of this series!

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

 
 

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A Short History: Kitchens, Part II

1909 Sears CatalogYou walk through your front door. Hang up your coat, throw the keys on the counter that serves as the “catch-all,” look through the pile of mail on the desk, then you instinctively look in the fridge. (It’s what we do when we walk into the kitchen, even if we’re not hungry, right?) Your son walks in and grabs a box of Easy Mac out of the pantry and zaps it in the microwave for a quick after-school snack, while your daughter has break-and-bake chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, emitting a heavenly aroma that fills the house. Ahhhhh…

Our experience now is such a staunch contrast to where we left off in last week’s post.

Up until the end of the 19th Century, the kitchen was about the last place in the house that you wanted to be. It was hot, it was smelly, and unless you were willing to pull up your sleeves and lend a hand doing house chores, you really had no business being in the kitchen. But things improved, thanks to some outside forces that allowed kitchens to advance.

Industrialization during the 19th century – especially the last quarter – was a huge instrument for change. Here’s a smattering of what advancements were brought about to better our lives:

  • Improvements in agricultural practices meant increased yield and lower food prices
  • Improvements in technology (such as coolers and canning goods) preserved food for longer and giving them more mobility
  • Improvements in transportation (roads, waterways, and especially railroads) meant more variety was able to be distributed across the continent

This was REVOLUTIONARY. Could you imagine being in the landlocked Midwest and finally having access to seafood?

As a result of all this, households of the Victorian era indulged in multiple course meals with foods and flavorings that they may have had limited access to previously. Of course, to prepare these grand meals on their fine dishes and utensils, many households employed servants to take care of preparation and clean-up. Running water inside the home would have made their jobs much easier, and so many homes arranged for water lines to be connected to their buildings – particularly at the rear, where the kitchen was typically located. Scullery maids were able to keep busy with their dishwashing with this convenience.  (Sometimes they were launderers as well; thus, the scullery kitchen is often considered the precursor to our laundry rooms, which are still usually located adjacent to the kitchen.)

While Victorian kitchen technology by no means brought waffle makers or smoothie-makers into our homes, there were some great advances to be noted: the ice box, the can opener (crude, but still technically a can opener), and a variety of more functional cooking ware. Gadgets and appliances weren’t the only parts of this kitchen revolution. Some Victorian homes were equipped with electricity that, in big ways as well as small, made the experience extraordinary.

One story from my experience comes to mind. I worked as a docent, giving tours of the Adams House in Deadwood, South Dakota, a charming Queen Anne with all the elegance and “modern conveniences” from its time still intact. One feature that I liked to point out to my guests was something unseen, but that made kitchen and dining service operations run seamlessly. As the kitchen staff prepared dishes back in the kitchen, the guests of the home sat eating and conversing in the dining room. It would be terribly rude to interrupt a course of the meal or cut conversation short with the arrival of the next round of dishes. To avert this problem, the homeowner had a button installed on the floor at the head of the table; one step on the buzzer alerted the kitchen staff that that was the appropriate time to enter the dining room with the next course.

Efficiency of the kitchen was first and foremost on the minds of the era’s homeowners. Kitchen operations were expected to operate like a well-oiled machine, and any kind of tool made available to make its operations run smoothly were welcomed and sought out in the home. Mail-order services such as Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck were especially adept at wooing consumers with time-saving products featured in their catalogs. Stoves, laundry sinks, and an endless list of gadgets were available to Americans in even the most remote locations. The inclusion of many of these items, too, made us realize that we needed to rethink how we design our kitchens to maximize their potential.

Next week we’ll continue with Part III of this series. Spoiler alert: TV Dinners are in our future!

In case you missed it, be sure to read Part I as well!

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC

 
 

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