Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 Most Endangered Historic Places: Sweet Briar College's Campus



Sweet Briar College’s Campus - Amherst, Virginia

Significance: Sweet Briar College was founded near Lynchburg in 1901 as a women’s college by Indiana Fletcher Williams in memory of her only daughter, Daisy. The original 3,300-acre campus, including buildings designed by Ralph Adams Cram, is still intact. The Sweet Briar College Historic District is comprised of twenty‐one of the campus’ oldest buildings listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The Italianate Sweet Briar House, transformed by Elijah Fletcher in 1851‐52, is also listed. Other resources include a slave cemetery and dwellings, scenic viewsheds, conservation areas and old growth forests.

Threat: In March 2015, the Board of Sweet Briar College announced that it would close at the end of August 2015. The sale of the campus is rumored. Currently, none of the historic and natural resources are covered by easements that would protect them from inappropriate future development. While the college has cared for these resources over the course of the 20th century, the possibility of a sale presents them with an uncertain future.


Solution: In order to demonstrate leadership and active stewardship of the outstanding built and natural environments that comprise the campus and landholdings of Sweet Briar College, historic preservation and conservation easements should be put in place prior to any potential sale or change of use.

Photo courtesy of The Historical Marker Database
(http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=46318)

Update (6/29/15): Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., the non-profit group formed to save Sweet Briar College, recently celebrated the announcement of a settlement agreement that will save Sweet Briar College.  The settlement provides the opportunity for a new leadership team to develop a plan to shore up the college’s finances and develop a long-term plan for sustained success.  As part of the June 20 settlement agreement, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. has agreed to deliver $12 million in donations for the ongoing operation of the College within the next 60 days, with $2.5 million to be made available by July 2. The Attorney General will consent to the release of restrictions on $16 million from the College’s endowment to augment alumnae funds for the ongoing operation of the College.  Moving forward, we continue to urge current and future leadership of Sweet Briar College to take the steps necessary to maintain and protect its unique and significant built and natural resources. 

Selected Links:


Image courtesy of Sweet Briar College
(http://sbc.edu/about)

Contact: For more information or to learn how to get involved with the effort, please contact nominator Charlotte Bonini, Sweet Briar College Alumnae Association / Saving Sweet Briar Inc., at: cbonini@mac.com

Monday, February 23, 2015

Selma Mansion, Still Endangered

Selma is a 113 year-old mansion located five miles north of Leesburg in Loudoun County. The property is near U.S. Route 15/James Monroe Highway, formerly known as the Carolina Road, an important Colonial trading path that extended from Maryland to North Carolina.

Selma Plantation stands in the background as a new housing development goes up.

The original estate at Selma was established in 1815 by Armistead Thomson Mason, nephew of George Mason. A 19th century house stood at Selma until it burned in the 1890s. The present Colonial Revival mansion was built in 1902 by Elijah White. The 1902 house is Loudoun’s earliest example of Colonial Revival architecture. Over the years, Selma has changed hands multiple times and is currently owned by Historic Selma Estates. It does not appear that Selma is currently for sale. 

Selma is part of the Catoctin Rural Historic District, a 25,000-acre area in northern Loudoun County that contains a mixture of historic churches, schoolhouses, bridges, small farms, and large estates.

Since 1999, no obvious maintenance or improvements have been made to the property. A 300-unit development was built near Selma which disrupted the viewshed from the mansion.  For these reasons, Selma was listed on Preservation Virginia’s Endangered Sites list in 2009.

Preservation Virginia‘s Endangered sites program helps raise awareness of Virginia's historic sites at risk from neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.
  
Preservation Virginia does not own or control the buildings we list. We encourage preservation-minded individuals or organizations to invest in endangered sites that are for sale or in need of financial assistance. If you are interested in visiting, researching, or purchasing any Endangered Sites listing like Selma Plantation, please contact owners, local real estate agents, or local city or county government officials in which the endangered site exists. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

PRESERVATION VA'S TOBACCO BARNS PROJECT SUPPORTS TEN JOBS IN 2014


Historic preservation has many local economic benefits, such as the hiring of craftsmen and skilled workers.  Since Preservation Virginia’s Tobacco Barns Project’s inception in 2012, over ten local jobs have been supported in the Pittsylvania, Halifax and Caswell County region.

These ten jobs represent five local building companies from Pittsylvania, Halifax and Caswell Counties who were hired in 2014 to repair barns as well as a local photographer; moreover, these companies will continue working with the barns project in 2015 and beyond.

William and Miles McNichols repairing a tobacco barn in Pittsylvania County

Not only are jobs being created, but these jobs go beyond the benefits of typical job creation by giving back to the entire community. For example, the barns that were repaired are all visible from the public right-of-way and could easily be incorporated into a regional tobacco heritage tourism initiative, such as a smartphone application-led driving trail.

By celebrating and supporting the deeply-ingrained agricultural history of the region, the barns project has had other positive outcomes such as strengthening local identity and reinforcing what people already know — that promoting local heritage is vital to the current and future well-being of their communities. These benefits are something that local jurisdictions and economic development departments should recognize.

Job creation aside, there are yet more examples of how historic preservation helps improve local economies:
  • Investing in a historic house is a sound investment. The lifespan of new buildings is between 40-50 years but most historic structures were built to last over 100 years. Houses in historic districts have proven to have higher property values than houses not in historic districts. Historic home owners are also eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits.
  • Historic buildings attract people who want to improve and be active participants in their communities. For example, many people have moved to Danville in recent years for one reason — affordable historic houses. When these tax-paying citizens add so much to the local economy, Danville’s historic districts should be considered prime economic assets. 
  • Historic buildings, sites and main streets attract visitors. Tourism is Virginia’s second largest industry. The city, town, or county that does not take advantage of its tourism potential is making a huge economic blunder.

Von Wellington of Wellington Film Group recording the repair of a tobacco barn

The reach of the Tobacco Barns Project serves as an example of the kind of inclusive program that localities should take to heart and it helps demonstrate that historic preservation in the 21st century is not just about saving elaborate houses owned by a town’s former leaders, but rather the recognition of a wider, more inclusive and shared history that also comes with many economic benefits.

Monday, January 19, 2015

10+ Years of Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites Program: A Report Card

The Town of Pamplin City, listed in 2014.

Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites list has helped focus the advocacy and field work of its staff each year for the past decade.  The list includes buildings, archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, and viewsheds across the Commonwealth that face imminent or sustained threats to their integrity or their very survival. The list is issued to help raise awareness of Virginia's historic resources at risk from neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.  The intent is not to shame or punish those responsible for the stewardship of these places, but to bring attention to the threats described and to encourage citizens, localities, and organizations to continue to advocate for their protection and preservation.

Early on, the first several years of the program were administered bi-annually (in 2000 and 2002) by the Preservation Alliance of Virginia.  Following the merging of that organization’s mission with that of   Preservation Virginia in 2004, annual lists became the norm from 2005 to the present.  Selected by a committee comprised of staff, board and committee members, and experts in the field from around the state, the aim of the list is to raise awareness of a diverse range of historic resources from communities around the Commonwealth.  Once selected, each year’s list helps guide staff for how best to engage with and advocate for sites.  With limited staff resources, focusing efforts on resources previously identified through the listing process helps us to better leverage our work in localities statewide.  Of course, preservation emergencies or new issues brought to the attention of staff are always addressed, too.  Finally, it should be noted that once listed, a Most Endangered Historic Site never truly gets removed from the list or our consideration.  Unless definitively “saved,” listings are monitored and lines of communication with the site’s nominator or contact are kept open.

Current Status

As of the current writing, updates and status reports for each listing from the beginning of the program in the year 2000 through 2014 have been added to Preservation Virginia’s website.  Where available, pertinent links to news stories and reports are included with the listings to help contextualize them but are in no way exhaustive.  For the purpose of exploring the success of the program and the nature of threats that Virginia’s historic resources face, as well as providing a quick way to reference their current status, each listing has also been “graded” into four categories.  While the particulars of each site are unique and nuanced, the following four categorizations can be used to characterize each listing:
                
SAVED:  The immediate threat to a resource has been overcome and is not likely to reappear in the foreseeable future

LOST:  The resource has been demolished or its integrity altered enough to jeopardize its register eligibility

STILL ENDANGERED:  The threat present at the time of listing is still active, unresolved, and/or could likely reappear in the foreseeable future
                
WATCH LIST:  The resource is not currently, actively endangered but may still face threats and should continue to be monitored

In order to create a type of “report card” for assessing the success of the Most Endangered Historic Sites program, we’ve categorized the current status of listings up through 2013, as above, and have identified the types of threats as well as the leading factor or reason that a site is now considered to be “saved.”  Some very clear patterns develop from this way of looking at the reasons for a site’s current status and how it came to be saved.  For this exercise, each “saved” listing was only counted once, for the most prevalent reason it was saved, though it should be noted that many sites have successfully avoided harm due to multiple factors enumerated below. 

Since the beginning of the Most Endangered program (through the 2013 list), approximately:

·         51% of listings are SAVED
·         25% are on the WATCH LIST
·         13% are LOST
·         11% are STILL ENDANGERED

Types of Threats

Overwhelmingly, if one were to assign a singular reason for a site being threatened, the biggest danger for historic resources in Virginia comes in the form of encroaching development.  Whether an old building threatened with wholesale replacement or a site facing a fate of being swallowed up by new development, 43% of listings cited development and expansion as the main reason for inclusion on the list.  Demolition by neglect or abandonment was the next most popular threat, at 33%.  Roughly 10% of listings can be seen as threatened because of transportation expansion or infrastructure-related projects.  Approximately 6% of listed sites cited unavoidable external threats like damage caused by weather, while the remaining 5% cited a lack of funding for the reason the site was in jeopardy.  Most Endangered listings often face multiple threats, some of which unfold over time.  For the sake characterizing the general trends in Virginia over the past nearly 14 years, each site’s main threat was counted once.

Encroaching development: 43%
Demo by Neglect: 33%
Transportation/Infrastructure expansion: 10%
External threats/weather: 6%
Lack of funding: 5%
Other: 3%

How Sites Were Saved

Much like the multiple and varied threats that have and still face historic sites in the Commonwealth, the reasons or factors behind the more than 50% of listings that we consider to be saved are numerous and often intertwined with one another.  That is, any combination of grassroots efforts, funding sources, governmental intervention, or other factors could be responsible for a site being saved.  In order to characterize the overarching reason that a listing was successful, we have attributed to each listing one predominant factor, with the understanding that others apply as well. 

Almost 50% of the successful listings since 2000 can be attributed primarily to the grassroots efforts of local supporters, whether individuals or groups, however formally organized.  From concerned citizens to friends groups to fully-incorporated 501©3 private non-profits, it becomes clear that work at the local level is the most effective way to save a site.  Whether influencing elected officials at the locality level, private interests, or others, the power of a coalition of people with a shared interest in a resource is not to be underestimated and forms the approach for how Preservation Virginia works with Most Endangered listings.  By helping local groups to organize, strategize, and raise awareness of an issue, Preservation Virginia can help save sites across the Commonwealth.  In 24% of listings, securing funding from non-governmental, private, or corporate sources has been enough to turn an endangered site around.  Also at 24%, some kind of governmental action, whether funding or more often a zoning change, has helped save an endangered listing.  In only a couple instances, less than 5%, larger or more global external factors, like the economic downturn in 2008, can be credited with effectively stalling or tabling development or expansion plans.

Grassroots/local efforts: 48%
Funding (private or corporate): 24%
Governmental intervention/action including funding: 24%
External factors (economic recession): 4%

Why lost?

On the other hand, the main contributing factor for more than 50% of the sites on the list that are considered LOST was the realized threat of development.  In almost all cases, the listed resource was demolished to make way for a new structure (whether it was ultimately built or not).  Finally, approximately 30% of those properties or sites LOST are attributable to external factors like severe weather events or fire.  In a few cases, a resource was lost because of governmental action (8%) or a dire funding situation (8%).   

Development: 54%
External factors (weather, fire): 30%
Governmental action: 8%
Lack of Funding: 8%


Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered program has proven to be an effective tool for helping to save sites across the Commonwealth.  It focuses Preservation Virginia’s work in the field and has yielded multiple thematic projects across the state, like the Tobacco Barns Preservation Project and the forthcoming Saving Virginia’s Rosenwald Schools initiative.  Most Endangered listings help to strengthen existing and create new partnerships and collaborations, from the most local level to the national.  For example, two high-profile Most Endangered listings- Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom and the James River viewshed- have also been included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s national 11 Most Endangered list; Preservation Virginia has been working with the Trust to coordinate advocacy efforts in Virginia, much like local non-profits or groups of citizens do at the local level with our statewide listings.  Taken on the whole, it is clear that the success of historic preservation is the result of the people involved in the effort, from the nominators and supporters of listings at the most local and intimate level, to leveraging the input and sway of organizations and other entities at the statewide scale and beyond.

The complete graphic representation of the program that accompanies this narrative can be found at the following link: http://preservationvirginia.org/docs/FULL_INFOGRAPHIC.pdf

For more detailed information on past and current Most Endangered listings and for information on how to nominate a resource for the 2015 list, see: http://preservationvirginia.org/programs/most-endangered
       

Monday, September 15, 2014

Raw Deal for New Deal-Era School?

South Loudoun Citizens Group Asks Supervisors To Save Historic Arcola School  


Dedicated in 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Arcola School is threatened with destruction. The Arcola School, one of Loudoun County’s few projects under Roosevelt’s New Deal Public Works Administration initiative, may face the wrecking ball if Loudoun County Supervisors decide it is not worth saving. 

“This brick building represents a time when our nation experienced unprecedented social change,” said Jane Covington, member of Friends of the Arcola Community Center.  Covington added, “If Roosevelt were alive today, he would surely be dismayed that Loudoun County is considering selling the site without consideration of the historic building.”  

The building housed an active school until 1972.  It then became a community center from 1977 until early 2006.  Many citizens in South Loudoun County, as well as The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Preservation Virginia and state delegates Randy Minchew and Scott Surovell urge an adaptive reuse for the historic Arcola School, whose appeal is not only its historic value but also because it is needed by the community residents. 


The village of Arcola has been the center of major residential development.  Currently, there are four developments in the immediate area totaling 12,000 residential units.  Citizens have been circulating a petition in these communities asking for a community center.  Denise Kloeppel, an adjacent resident, said, “There is no community facility for clubs, HOA meetings, picnics, after school activities, dances, social events, and the diverse needs of a growing community.  [The] petition was started to show support for a community center.”

The Board of Supervisor's Finance, Government Services & Operations Committee met on September 9th to discuss the fate of the Arcola School.  Chairman Ralph Buona stated: “My elementary school is gone, my middle school is gone, and my high school is gone.  Fact is times change and we have to move on and build new.”

The Friends of the Arcola Community Center group challenges county estimates for rehabilitation.  Between 2003 and 2014, the County's cost estimate for renovation has increased over six times, from $1.9 M to $12.9 M.  The Friends group requests that the County allocate $25,000 paid from Arcola Center proffer for the purpose of hiring an independent consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the adaptive reuse of the building.  The study would provide guidance on future capital facility needs and a strategic estimate for rehabilitation including public/private partnerships, grants and rehabilitation tax credits. 

Laura Tekrony, Founder of the Friends of the Arcola Community Center, said at the very least the building should be preserved.  She questions why the county spent time and money having the building listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places just to have it demolished.  Tekrony supports a public/private partnership that would work with the Friends Group and County to rehabilitate historic school for the community.  The Friends group was started in 2007 to renovate and reopen the historic building to the public.

For more information, contact the author of this guest blog post:

Laura Tekrony
Founder, Friends of the Arcola Community Center
703-727-6534
ltekrony@verizon.net


On May 22, 2014, Preservation Virginia, Friends of the Arcola Community Center, the VA Dept. of Historic Resources, Delegates Minchew and Surovell, and other community members met at Arcola School to announce its place on Preservation Virginia's 2014 Most Endangered Sites list.




Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Longwood University and the Demolition of the Historic Cunningham Residence Halls

Longwood University has a rich history. The college, first known as the Farmville Female Seminary Association, was established in 1839 and is the third oldest public institution of higher learning in Virginia. It is also the first state institution of higher learning for women in Virginia. Longwood has always cared about its history and traditions and has shown good stewardship of its historic buildings.

That is why I was surprised to find out that Longwood University’s Master Plan called for the  demolition of the Cunningham Residence Halls in order to build a new student union. The Cunninghams have been a central part of Longwood for over 80 years and many students, faculty, and alumni clearly do not want them demolished.  College campuses are home to many of our oldest buildings, and these historic buildings contribute tremendously to their character. 
Cunningham Residence Hall

Below are two very articulate quotes on this subject from Gale and Associates, an Engineering and Planning Firm from Herndon.

“It’s the historic buildings that dominate marketing materials and draw students to campus. They convey an image of a solid, lasting institution appealing to both the students and the parents paying tuition. These iconic historic buildings are often what alumni think of as they remember the campus.“

and

“While it may seem that older buildings require more work compared to newer buildings, the reality is that these buildings were constructed to last and now having aged a century or more, are in need of maintenance. Buildings much younger (post‐War to present), on the other hand, are exhibiting premature failure due to inferior design, materials, and workmanship and may require as much, if not more work, than historic buildings. As universities consider new construction projects, they need to ask themselves, will the proposed assemblies and construction details last 100 years or more?" Link

Why Demolition?
Longwood’s Master Plan is somewhat perplexing because while it calls for the proposed demolition of an important historic building on campus, it also establishes several guiding principles for itself including: “keeping Longwood ‘like Longwood’; architectural compatibility; a compact, convenient campus; on-campus student life; gathering spaces; making the campus more pedestrian friendly; preserving, enhancing, and expanding campus green space and lastly, including sustainability.”

Demolishing the Cunningham Residence Halls does not fit into several of these guiding principles especially “keeping Longwood like Longwood.” It also doesn't fit with  the “sustainability” guideline. One of the most often undervalued methods of achieving overall resource efficiency is to adaptively reuse our older buildings. Unlike demolition, reuse does not produce the tons of wasted building materials that end up in landfills each year.

A new student union seems to be needed, but why demolish a historic building (and incur the costs) to do so? Why not build it somewhere else?  The reason given to demolish the Cunninghams in the Master Plan is, “The cost of retaining and renovating these buildings was judged to be excessive, and the choice was made to explore other uses for the site.”  However; I saw no financial analysis of demolition verses reuse in the Master Plan, so how do we know if the cost of renovation will be excessive?  

Architectural drawing of new student union

2011 Endangered Sites Listing
Preservation Virginia has invested a great deal of time and effort into encouraging the reuse of historic college and university buildings.  In 2011, after receiving several nominations that highlighted threats to historic structures on college campuses, Preservation Virginia listed “Historic Structures on Virginia’s College and University Campuses” to our annual Most Endangered Sites list.  

In 2006, five years before the Endangered Sites listing, Preservation Virginia supported legislation calling on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to provide a tool for recognizing and assessing the critical needs of state owned historic buildings including those on colleges and universities.  Because of this legislation, public colleges and universities now have additional information to help them meet stewardship goals for historic buildings while maintaining their functionality.

Examples exist in Virginia and elsewhere of successfully renovating and reusing historic campus  buildings. Also see.

Some Quotes
Some quotes I have read by students and teachers include: “The Cunninghams are a part of Longwood history that should not be forgotten. Longwood students have a connection to their residence halls that is hard to explain, and the connection to the Cunninghams is apparent when you talk to alumni, and you hear the genuine love of their ‘home’ when they tell stories about the fun they shared with friends. So, yes, it is sad to see them go.”   

“I have an emotional attachment to this building. It was the first building that I lived in as a freshman, and now I’m an RA for the same hall that I was a freshman on. This building pretty much houses the majority of my college career” 

“It’s upsetting to know that we have to say farewell to the Cunninghams, but again, I understand why they can’t remodel them. But overall I will be sad that I am losing one of the most important and integral parts of my college career.”

“I’m going to miss the Cunninghams, but I understand the reasons they have to tear it down.”

I have a feeling that the “reasons they have to tear it down” have not been fully vetted, at least not by the students and alumni who seem to genuinely care about their former dormitory. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Time For a Real Compromise: The View from Libby Hill



The Richmond City Council purchased Libby Hill Park in 1851 for the then unusually large sum of $5,000.  The land was set aside by the city leaders specifically for its views of the entire City, “because it affords a commanding and picturesque view of the lower portions of the City, the river, the falls, the railroad bridges.”                   

It seems like a miracle that we can still enjoy that extraordinary view today, but it’s not.  For more than 150 years Richmond’s leaders have been guarding the City’s birthright.  Surely we can’t let it be destroyed on our watch.  

Of course developers see the profit potential of building in this historic viewshed.  The high-rise condo being proposed by Salomonsky and White would take this spectacular view from the people and sell it to wealthy residents.  All they need to do is convince City Council to ignore the Downtown Master Plan, to ignore the will of the people, and to ignore inherent responsibility.   Then they could have it all to themselves.

But City Council members know that tourism, second only to agriculture, is the industry in Virginia that brings in more money than any other business – than any other business.  Libby Hill Park and its famous view of the James River is the top visual destination in our Capital City.  The trolley and Segway tours, large bus groups, wedding parties, romantic dates, family reunions, birthdays and traditions for large gatherings at the Libby Hill view all reflect the value people place on the park and its panoramic views.   And they all bring money to the City.

In early May, Edwin Slipek wrote an insightful article in Style exposing this proposed structure as a massive intrusion on the park and on Tobacco Row, and advancing the idea that this land should be left open to facilitate the flow of nature from the river to the park above.  That vision is reminiscent of urban park connectivity as pioneered by Frederick Olmsted, designer of Central Park, and is shared by many who want it to remain in its natural state. 

The Downtown Master Plan, adopted in 2008 by City Council after two years of research, planning, and extensive public involvement (a process that cost close to half a million dollars in tax payer money) reflected many compromises.  It identified the parcel in question not for a park, but for building up to five stories in keeping with its historic surroundings.  

Salomonsky and White want more.  They are asking for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow them to construct a 16 story building, and to change the zoning from light industrial to residential, and for the City to sell them a right-of-way at what appears to be a discounted price.

Voting on this decision has been postponed twice by City Council member Newbille, who has been meeting one-on-one with the developers.  The result is a false compromise.  The developers are willing to drop the penthouse one and a half stories down.  Unfortunately, shaving off one + floors solves nothing.  And presenting it to the public as a solution is disingenuous.

Our elected representatives on City Council are smarter than that.   They understand the economic value of this public asset.  They hear their constituents and they see the growing strength of its supporters.  Just within the last few months, over 1600 citizens have signed a petition supporting the Downtown Master Plan’s vision for this property, which is the true compromise.  It is a waste of time and money to revisit a decision that already has an overwhelming public stamp of approval.

So this is the compromise: It’s a 5-story building. All of the units would have wonderful views - for some the river, for others historic Tobacco Row, and for others, beautiful Libby Hill Park. To further this compromise, it should include the City’s sale of the Cary Street right-of-way needed to develop the land, but at an assessed market price.

A park would be lovely, but that’s not the Downtown Master Plan.  The plan is a structure of up to five stories that would protect the view, while allowing the builders to profit.


Eugenia Anderson–Ellis:  On behalf of all concerned Richmonders