New Pages: I Love Your Rear and Wish List

Hello wonderful supporters and readers.  As you hopefully know already, we’ve been incorporated as a nonprofit in Michigan and are working toward 501(c)3 status (currently, we’d like at least one more board member to file our forms, and more on that if you want to message us).  So, we’re a fledgling organization with very little funds and need all the free promotions we can get.  That includes sharing our posts from here or from our Facebook page. If you love Port Huron history and the historic built environment, please share our information with others!  It’s discouraging (and odd) how very few people do in fact share about us (as a newer person that has come to this area and experiencing this disconnect, it is not surprising at all that so much has been demolished already).  We will be conducting studies, of course, nominating buildings and districts to registers, publishing a journal (hopefully!) for authors covering the history and built environment of the Thumb area, and more.  To do that takes support.

In any case, one of our new pages is called “I Love Your Rear,” where we’ll post the backs of buildings and then compare them to the fronts.

What does the front of this building look like?

Rear view of the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store on 24th St (1335), Port Huron.

The second page, Our Wish List (a subpage of About Us), will have–what else?–things the organization needs.  All donations will be tax-deductible retroactively (for example, donations made this year will still be tax-deductible even if we don’t obtain 501(c)3 status until 2018, although we have no intention to wait that long).

Thanks so much for reading this far, and for any support you can give or do!

Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings: Thank You, National Trust

One view of the magnificent Mission Inn, Riverside, California. There are many astonishing views to this building. This building took a TON of effort and money to renovate. Worth it? Of course, with all the quality materials and workmanship this group of buildings contain, besides the almost limitless amount of design details.

One view of the magnificent Mission Inn, Riverside, California. There are many astonishing views to this building. This building took a TON of effort and money to renovate. Worth it? Of course, with all the quality materials and workmanship this group of buildings contain, besides the almost limitless amount of design details (elements of “intrinsic value,” as mentioned below). See an interior shot of the multi-level, huge round stairwell, below. And see more at http://www.missioninn.com/photo-gallery-en.html

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is simply a great organization with all kinds of useful information for planners, preservationists, history buffs . . .  Last fall they posted a “Six Practical Reasons to Save Old Buildings” at their site, but I only saw it recently.  It would seem like a place like Port Huron would have learned something by now about the loss of so many of its historic buildings, the built enviornment that made Port Huron what it is–well, what it was.  Most of the buildings lost (including whole blocks of historic commercial structures) have not been replaced by anything better, or even equivalent, in monetary or aesthetic value. (Historically speaking, I remain surprised every time I come across a building that had been moved because someone valued it–the thing had value; buildings used to be moved a lot more than people today realize, I’d wager.)

If a city can be likened to a person, it’s as if Port Huron is an aged lady who hated her own old body, so cut parts of it off, thinking her appearance would then look more appealing (she sought to hide her age, too, by not posting about her past on her website).  But she didn’t add anything to her appearance by slicing away at herself; she was only left with the reality that there was now less of her, and, she didn’t look any better.  There are those who appreciate the weathered, older, and wiser folk, and seek them out.  And despite so many people telling her just this thing, she still can’t seem to like her old self.  She had glory days for sure, and people feel a little bit like they are a part of that, still, when walking through the remnants of those days.  They connect with those who came before, somehow, instead of just blandly passing through a plastic and drywall matrix of cookie-cutter walls.

I want to imagine what it was like when William Jenks walked down the same street that I’m now walking on, and think about what it was like in a restaurant where he and his buddies talked about the growing city, the ship they were building, how the ball was in so-in-so’s house on the third floor the night before, etc.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if there are any buildings left that held a restaurant or lounge that William Jenks might have socialized in, and I don’t know yet if any of the remaining large homes still have their third floor ballrooms.  But, I hope you get the picture.  Perhaps you have different thoughts of the past in Port Huron, like imagining a 1920s scene of beach revelers.

So, what are the practical reasons for saving old buildings?  I’ll provide you a shortened list of what the National Trust provided.

  1.  “Old buildings have intrinsic value.”  I’m going to be a bit jaded here and say that a lot of folks wouldn’t know what “intrinsic value” means.  But here the author talks about the value of the materials and craftsmanship used in older, pre-WWII buildings.  You just can’t get many of these materials any more, and you often can’t reproduce the quality or craftsmanship.  Example:  old building in Tennessee was saved from the wrecking ball after realizing that it’s thick brick walls (five layers!) could withstand the most powerful tornadoes.
  2. “When you tear down an old building, you never know what’s being destroyed.”  Another example from Tennessee (the Daylight Building, built 1927).  A building became an eyesore, as so many altered and then uncared for buildings do.  Someone finally wanted to renovate it instead of demolish it, and it turned out to have qualities that no one knew about:  “drop-ceilings made with heart-pine wood, a large clerestory, a front awning adorned with unusual tinted ‘opalescent’ glass, and a facade lined with bright copper.”
  3. “New businesses prefer old buildings.”  Older buildings are perfect for smaller businesses and start-ups.  Businesses with new and therefore possibly risky, ideas, need the economy of existing infrastructure.
  4. “Old buildings attract people.”  I would say the reasons for this attraction include the human scale and the attention to, and value of, detail.  Those who came before us stopped and looked at the roses, and smelled the roses, and said that the roses were very good.  Today, builders don’t seem to even know roses exist, let alone have value.  But the author had these ideas about it:  “Is it the warmth of the materials, the heart pine, marble, or old brick―or the resonance of other people, other activities? Maybe older buildings are just more interesting.  The different levels, the vestiges of other uses, the awkward corners, the mixtures of styles, they’re at least something to talk about. America’s downtown revivals suggest that people like old buildings. Whether the feeling is patriotic, homey, warm, or reassuring, older architecture tends to fit the bill.  Regardless of how they actually spend their lives, Americans prefer to picture themselves living around old buildings.”
  5. “Old buildings are reminders of a city’s culture and complexity.”  “Just as banks prefer to build stately, old-fashioned facades, even when located in commercial malls, a city needs old buildings to maintain a sense of permanency and heritage.”
  6. “Regret only goes one way.”  Like anything else, once a historic structure is gone, it can’t be resurrected.  We can’t tell the future, and the future might’ve been better with the use of that now-gone building.
Mission Inn, interior stairwell

This building took years to renovate. Many other renovation projects take much less time, expense, and aspirin, but result in appreciated and livable, if now awe-inspiring, spaces just the same.

Mission Inn, Riverside

I couldn’t help it . . . had to add another. The bottom portion of this photo does not represent the bottom floor! This is truly an amazing building, in what seems an unlikely place far outside of Los Angeles. But, people used to take a train here, and elsewhere (the track was a large figure 8) in the desert, before autos changed everything.

As Seen in Port Huron, April 24th 2016

Backways, Port Huron

The alleyscape of the southeast block of Military and Water Streets, Port Huron (taken April 24, 2016; filtered).

The lull in posts should not be confused with an absence of work on PHAH&PA’s part.  Research is being done, pages are being added to and edited, buildings and districts are being identified as possible National Register candidates, one-on-one meetings are being held, and there’s some training going on in there too.

Part of the page additions and research has involved taking and adding photographs, so I thought I’d share some here.  Today, not realizing that the Exquisite Corpse coffee house wasn’t open on Sundays, my son and I took a little stroll around the block it’s in, looking for the little things that make up the personality of a building and a block.  Here are a few.

Historic alleyway door and wall, Port Huron.

Old stonework and double door, Military street alley (at Water Street), Port Huron. I only wish you could really see what this photo can’t seem to convey about this historic doorway.

Pilaster detail, Water St, Port Huron

Pilaster detail, east end of Water St, Port Huron.

Historic bldg details, Port Huron

Stone foundation and pilaster detail, east end of Water Street, Port Huron.

Pilaster base, north end Military St, Port Huron

We’d need to do a rubbing of this one. Pilaster base, at the north end Military St (east side), Port Huron.

Historic interior detail, Military St, Port Huron

Historic interior detail (or ghost of one), east side of Military Street (south of Water), Port Huron. East Lake Builders seem to be in the process of preserving and renovating this building.

Detail of the Old Masonic Lodge Bldg, Port Huron

 

 

 

At left is an upper door detail from what’s left of the 1912 Eagles Lodge No. 343 at 1001 Military Street. It used to be a stately three story structure with brick upper floors, but now only the bottom first floor remains (it is utilized as a social services building). See below. An image of the original building will be added when one becomes available.

1001 Military St, Port Huron

Below is a side view of what is probably the only red sandstone building in Port Huron, and it’s in pretty sorry shape.  This structure was one of the oldest banks in the city, St. Clair County Savings Bank.  Amazingly, it’s present location at Military and Pine streets is not it’s first–it was moved stone by stone from a location that was closer to the water (Endlich 1981:71).

Old St Clair County Bank bldg, Port Huron

St Clair Cty Savings Bank Endlich p72

At left is a scan of the building during better days (Endlich 1981:72); the photo is undated.

Source

Endlich, Helen.  A Story of Port Huron (Port Huron: Self-published, 1981).

Getting the Word Out about PHAHPA

I’ve been busy populating this site’s pages with useful information, researching and helping some folks with historical building questions, and trying to make more connections.  So, I hadn’t been focusing on developing the organization as a nonprofit quite as much.  But to make things clearer in everyone’s mind (including my own), I came up with a one page hand-out about the Port Huron Area History and Preservation Association.  Eventually, when the organization has a new host, pdf’s of forms, informational sheets and brochures, articles, etc., will be made available.

In the meantime, feel free to comment on the contents of this hand-out.  We would appreciate thoughtful feedback and any insights into the local situation that could prove helpful to furthering the preservation of our historic community.  First is an image of the sheet which could be copied and printed out, if desired, followed by standard text.

Port Huron Area History

The background color is quite off in this scan, but it’ll do for now.


Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association  

Community.  Uniqueness.  Home.

cropped-ph-1st-baptist-1867-2.jpg

Bringing the Port Huron area’s history to life.

We’re here to inform and inspire Port Huron area residents about the possibilities of preserving and rehabilitating their historic properties.  We’re here to help those same residents investigate their properties for the purposes of recognition, preservation, and the application for any possible monetary benefit or assistance.

We will do this by developing and presenting (1) data related to regional history, architecture, and planning, (2) historical narratives and contexts, (3) “how-to” articles and ready-to-use forms; by providing (4) assistance with research, technical forms, and report writing, and by (5) recognizing historical resources at the organizations’ web page and via public avenues, and when funds allow, (6) provide permanent informational plaques (to be mounted on the historic building). 

We are still in the development phase of establishing this organization for the greater Port Huron area, with the goal of incorporating and being awarded nonprofit (501[c]3) status.  To find out more and to contribute in any way (including volunteering, or even being on the Board of Directors or an advisory committee), please visit PHAHPA.ORG and/or contact Vicki Priest at 949-449-4731 (or phahpa@zoho.com).  Thank you!


 

Yes, Virginia, Historic Preservation for the Masses Exists

Playful architecture, Port Huron

A historic house of concern, located at 1440 Chestnut, Port Huron. It has an unusual and playful very wide and deep-set tower, which dwarfs the small bay window behind it. There is another home with these same surprising features in South Park, Port Huron.

Against the will of a huge amount of people and their community representatives, monied interests in Michigan are trying their darnedest to–for all intents and purposes–eliminate historic districts (Ellison 2016; Finegood 2016 (1); Finegood 2016 (2)).  So with this dark cloud looming, Stephanie Meeks’ “President’s Note” in the Spring 2016 issue of Preservation (Fighting Displacement) seemed like a sudden burst of sunshine.  To read the entire piece, click the previous link–it’s not a long read.  But here, let me give you some highlights.

For many Americans in cities, the biggest crisis now and in the foreseeable future is a dearth of affordable housing . . . Simply put, the rent is just too high. . . .  Fourteen cities around the country saw double-digit growth in rents last year.

There is sometimes a perception that preservation is driving excessive rents by making older neighborhoods more attractive to well-heeled outsiders, and by ostensibly limiting the housing supply. We have been heartened by recent research . . . that suggests instead that preservation supports existing residents across the economic spectrum . . .

One terrific example of this is in Macon, Georgia, where the Historic Macon Foundation has been renovating homes in the Beall’s Hill neighborhood. Historic Macon never displaces current landowners by acquiring occupied houses [displacement is happening in Michigan, where very nice old homes are being torn down to build “McMansions], and it counters displacement in other ways, such as building houses designed to be affordable for families and operating a robust historic tax credit consulting service.  [emphasis mine – this is a terrific idea]

Rather than exacerbating the crisis, creative adaptive reuse projects all over the country are expanding housing options and helping cities become more affordable.

I wonder what we can accomplish at the local level here in Port Huron, if we try?  Please contact me if you’d like to discuss the possibilities!  vicki@phahpa.org

Problems with anti-historic district rhetoric

Below is a reprint of an article posted by Justin Davidson in the New York Magazine, Daily Intelligencer.  Please go to the article for further citations and the comments section.   I just want to add that a lot of the rhetoric revolves around ideas like:  wealthy people just want to keep their neighborhoods nice (who wouldn’t want that?) and high valued, but, we should be FOR higher density in our communities.  I support historic preservation for lots of reasons, and I’ve never been wealthy.  Historic preservation is about valuing quality materials and design, human scale and unique cultural environments.  It’s not about stopping progress or making our own history, but instead about keeping what’s of human value from our past.  I’m not for dense cookie-cutter communities made out of glorified cardboard, and I’m not for residents losing control of their communities in order that wealthy, powerful, corporate interests can do whatever they please.  I like what one commenter (JamieGlas) wrote:

“It depends.” This kind of nuance seems lost on the CityLab crowd that wants to impress you with Supreme Court decisions and grandiose “rhetorical blowtorches” that break down in almost any case study. There’s only a set of abstract pro-development rules. you kind of get that the authors position is a misguided political one not an architectural or social one. If quality is not a value we preserve, it won’t be a quality we value in future construction either.

The Atlantic’s Anti-Historic-District Argument Is Wrong and Extreme

Over at The Atlantic’s urbanist magazine-in-a-magazine, CityLab, writer Kriston Capps turns a rhetorical blowtorch on the concept of the historic district, particularly in residential neighborhoods. Family homes don’t warrant protection, he argues, because, well, they’re homes, and people should be able to do what they want with them. Whole clusters of homes are even less deserving of protection, he argues, in a multipronged, bipartisan case — none of which I buy.

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