Annual preservation awards recognize top accomplishments
By Arnold Berke | From Preservation | November/December 2009
What do officials in the Virgin Islands, librarians in Ohio, and a beloved professor in Connecticut have in common? Preservation, of course! These and other passionate preservationists are saving buildings, neighborhoods, and landscapes across the United States, buoying our communities and enriching our lives. Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation honors a select few of them—and shines a spotlight on the places they cherish. Here are some of their stories.
The Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award
Vincent Scully understands cities, and as an architectural historian and activist, a teacher and writer, he eagerly passes his understanding on to the rest of us. Professor of art and architecture at Yale University for more than 50 years, Scully has persuaded Americans to demand the very best, in new buildings and in the preservation of old ones.
Scully's 19 books—from The Shingle Style (a term he coined) to American Architecture and Urbanism—and scores of articles show a keen interpretive mind at work. His lectures are legendary. "The image of Vince standing at a podium," writes Yale President Richard C. Levin, "and railing to his students against some anti-preservationist action, does not easily leave the mind of even the least impressionable Yalie." Scully has condemned the excesses of urban renewal, deplored sprawl, and praised traditional neighborhoods and landscapes. He has fought seminal preservation battles in his native New Haven and beyond.
This great communicator has shown us what cities signify for the individual—for example, comparing the experience of striding through the old Pennsylvania Station in New York City to that of slinking through its successor: "One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat."
Scully, who served on the National Trust board, has won numerous awards. To them he adds the Crowninshield, the preservation community's highest honor.
Fort Piqua Plaza, Piqua, Ohio
With five floors of rusticated sandstone, a huge central arch, and a stout corner tower, the old Fort Piqua Hotel may seem too grand for a town of 21,000. But this "poem in stone," as a newspaper dubbed the Richardsonian Romanesque pile at its 1891 completion, served long and well as Piqua's downtown social hub. The glory days faded, though, and by the 1970s the building stood empty and derelict.
Developers came and went, none of them able to make the rehab numbers work. So the city took the lead. The public/private Piqua Improvement Corp. bought the building in 1997, and enlisted a range of residents in the search for new uses. A match was made when the public library, outgrowing its nearby facility, came calling. It took some convincing—one naysayer protested that "new books will clash with an old interior"—but the library proposal won the day. Backed by funding that ranged from city and state money to private donations to historic and new market tax credits, the $20 million project revived the old hotel inside and out.
Today, the library occupies most of the structure, and the city runs the ballroom on the top floor for civic and social events. Retail is enlivening the ground-floor storefronts. "It was so sad, for so many years," says Ruth Koon, who chairs the Hotel/Library Legacy Alliance, which was formed to raise crucial local funds. "But now it's a hustling, bustling place."
The Danish School, Frederiksted, V.I.
Years after Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989, Frederiksted's grand edifice (see next page) sat ruined, trees taking root among the rubble—a sad fate for a structure built in 1799 as a seat of Danish civil authority.
The St. Croix Landmarks Society fought off demolition, but in 2006 then-Gov. Charles Turnbull launched a full-fledged restoration effort—part of a territory-wide initiative to rescue historic government buildings. Architect William Taylor searched the ruins and archives for clues to the original building, which had been used as a free school for enslaved children in the 1840s. It was radically altered in the 1970s.
Under Taylor's supervision, workers rebuilt thick masonry walls and decorative moldings, installed a wood-trussed roof (reinforced with steel), and reinstated the arched arcades that once flanked the second-story porch. Cast-iron columns, stairs, and hardware were remade.
Today, the re-created original interior, boasting mahogany ceilings and marble floors, is also back on display.
Returned to its traditional ocher hue, The Danish School now houses offices of the island administrator and Gov. John P. deJongh Jr., who has continued his predecessor's restoration initiative. A separate meeting hall on the site serves as a community center. "The whole town was kind of a co-conspirator in getting this job done," says Taylor. "It's a big thing here—you can't imagine how proud everyone is."
Gutiérrez-Hubbell House, Bernalillo County, N.M.
The 1849 marriage of Connecticut go-getter James Hubbell to Juliana Gutiérrez, from a prominent mercantile family, started an agricultural and commercial empire that the couple ran from a compact adobe house on the El Camino Real trade route. Their collaboration symbolizes the mingling of Anglo and Hispanic cultures in the Rio Grande Valley during New Mexico's territorial period (1848-1912). By 1996, when a developer proposed converting their crumbling hacienda into a restaurant, only 10 of the original 40,000 acres remained.
Worried neighbors and family descendants—including great-great-grandson Lorenzo Hubbell—formed a grassroots team (later the Hubbell House Alliance) to save the property. The group persuaded the county to buy the estate in 2000 through an open-space referendum, then picked up more funding from the county, the state, and Save America's Treasures (a partnership between the National Trust and the National Park Service). Earthen architectural experts Crocker Ltd. carried out the restoration, using historic materials and techniques. The ground-to-roof re-do, finished in late 2007, was the first to be implemented under New Mexico's pioneering historic earthen building code.
"The place gives you a picture of what early Albuquerque looked like," says Hubbell, "its roots, its rural color. And people didn't want to see encroachment on that." Residents now enjoy the storied adobe and its grounds as a living history museum, demonstration farm, farmers' market, and venue for exhibitions and community celebrations.
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