Trust Me: Inside the National Trust

Trust Me: Inside the National Trust

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Arnold Berke

Credit: Art by Richard Thompson

Hurricane relief got a big boost in June with the President's signature on a bill providing $40 million in grants to owners of historic homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Trust and its state and local partners pushed hard for the funds, aided by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). No state may get more than 65 percent of the grants, which will be administered by the state preservation offices. And an additional $3 million goes to those offices to perform preservation reviews in damaged areas.

...Crisp, modern, and much-acclaimed—but headed to the dump. Such seemed to be the fate of the Wilde Building, built in 1957 as headquarters for Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. on a grassy suburban campus in Bloomfield. But when CIGNA Corp., now the parent company, proposed in 2000 to raze the world-class monument, it caused a first-class uproar—a flood of disapproving ink and a Trust most-endangered designation. Thanks to a vigorous campaign led by the Trust, Hartford architects Jared Edwards and Tyler Smith, and Hartford Courant publisher Jack Davis, CIGNA announced in May that it would keep using the Wilde. The news is not unalloyed: The company did flatten the Wilde's modernist sibling nearby, the 1963 Emhart Building. Both were designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

...Another menaced modern landmark, Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal at New York City's JFK Airport, has been saved. Empty since TWA folded in 2001 and placed on the Trust's endangered list in 2003, the graceful flight-inspired structure will form the front entrance to a new JetBlue terminal now being built. The Trust, the Municipal Art Society, and others fought to include as much of the old building as possible in the new. They succeeded in saving the main structure plus two tube-shaped extensions at the back, though the flight wings at the ends of those tunnels were sacrificed for JetBlue's building.

...Credit the tax credits with having helped promote preservation big time, over a long time. And the idea has spread: The federal rehab credits are fast being supplemented by the states' own versions. Among the latest of these is a new 25 percent credit approved by Connecticut that aids the conversion of industrial and commercial properties into housing. Vermont has expanded the credits available to older buildings in its 60 designated village centers, as part of a new law that promotes development in built-up areas. And a proposed 25 percent credit has passed the Ohio House and is slated for Senate consideration after summer recess.

...The "Hollywood" sign shines again! No, not the ultrafamous one in L.A., but the vertical marquee that long ornamented the eponymous movie palace in Portland, Ore. Rusting away for years and eventually turned off, the steel-and-neon giant was taken down in May to be restored, an effort aided by $60,000 from American Express. In mid-July "Hollywood" was reattached and relit to celebrate the theater's 80th birthday. The revels included a screening of The General, a 1927 silent starring Buster Keaton that was filmed downstate in Cottage Grove, Ore. Partnering in the project is the Trust, whose Cynthia Woods Mitchell Fund for Historic Interiors has granted $10,000 to assess the theater's inside and plan for its restoration.

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