Growing up on the campus of Virginia Union University, Dianne Watkins was intimately familiar with the Belgian Friendship Building. Architect Henri Van de Velde designed the art nouveau structure for the 1939 World's Fair in New York, and it was supposed to go back to Belgium after the fair. When World War II intervened, however, the Belgians donated the building to Virginia Union, in Richmond. It was reconstructed there in 1941, during the administration of John Ellison, Watkins' uncle and the first African American president of the university. A few years ago, Watkins was looking for a way to celebrate her uncle's legacy when she came upon an article in a 1941 issue of the Richmond News Leader that referred to the Belgian Friendship Building and its 35-bell carillon. But Watkins didn't remember the structure having bells. "The university knew it was a bell tower, but they didn't know where the bells were," she says. Watkins' brother, Alan Nelson, did some investigating and learned that the bells, inscribed in part, "For Peace Alone Do I Ring," were at Stanford University's Hoover Institution of War and Peace, where they had been ringing for more than 60 years. To commemorate Herbert Hoover's famine relief efforts in Belgium during World War I, the Belgian-American Foundation presented Stanford (the 31st president's alma mater) with the bells after the World's Fair. In 2004, Watkins created Bells for Peace, a nonprofit organization that aims to encourage international education as well as raise funds for the restoration of the Belgian Friendship Building and the installation of a 23-bell carillon. So far, Bells for Peace has raised enough money for four bells and an architectural assessment of the structure. The Belgian government has also pledged to donate four additional bells.
Not long ago, Tim Mather learned about a threatened house in his Lake Oswego, Ore., neighborhood: a 1,000-square-foot masterpiece of modernism designed in 1950 by Pietro Belluschi. A developer had purchased the dilapidated house in 2006, hoping to sell it to someone willing to fix it up, but no buyer came forward. When Mather discovered that it was facing demolition, he asked the owner if he could have it, offering to move it off the site at his own expense. The owner agreed, and Mather joined with fellow architecture buff Tia Ross to organize two open houses to find a new owner. Although Mather heard from about a dozen prospective buyers, most of them planned to move the structure out of the city. "The midcentury modern style is beautiful, and a lot of those homes in this area are being lost," said Mather, who considers the house an important part of Lake Oswego's architectural heritage. "We should try to keep it here." Mather got the original plans for the house from Belluschi's family, and with the help of some volunteers, he measured, photographed, and numbered every board in the home before deconstructing it and storing it in a 48-foot-long container. Mather is now in talks with city officials about reconstructing the house in a local park as a public tribute to Belluschi's work. —Stephanie Joy Smith