Silver Spring’s Perpetual Building may be historic …

Former Perpetual Building Association building, 8700 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Md.

Former Perpetual Building Association building, 8700 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, Md.

… But not necessarily for the reasons preservationists suggest.

In 2007 Montgomery County, Maryland,  historic preservation advocates asked county leaders to add the former Perpetual Savings Association bank building in downtown Silver Spring to the county’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation. The designation would have ensured the 1958 building’s presence along Georgia Avenue in perpetuity. Instead, the proposed designation led to litigation and recriminations. The Perpetual case was precedential, examining the pitfalls of preserving buildings of recent vintage and the minutiae of due process in county master plan legislation.

The Perpetual Building Association was a Washington banking institution founded in 1881. It built branches throughout the District during the early 20th century and expanded to Montgomery County after World War II.  The bank became one of the leading local mortgage lenders, helping provide the capital for homebuilding in Washington’s rapidly expanding automobile suburbs.

Continue reading

Designing a wealthy white suburb

Residents of Decatur, Ga., who question whether their elected and appointed leaders have a genuine commitment to preserving affordable housing in the Atlanta suburb can find the answer to their query among the crop of 2015 Decatur Design Award winners.

Decatur Design Award plaque, downtown Decatur.

Decatur Design Award plaque, downtown Decatur.

Last month, a home at 156 Feld Ave. was one of six recipients of a Decatur Design Award. The awards, doled out by the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission, recognize projects “that promote excellence in preservation, design, sustainability, and advocacy.”

Over the years, the Decatur HPC has given awards to teardown projects in the “sustainability” category. Under Decatur code, the Feld Ave. project is considered a “substantial alteration” to an existing building — an “addition” — and that’s the category in which it was recognized. In other jurisdictions, the Feld Ave. project likely would be considered a “teardown.”

Continue reading

Decatur, Georgia’s monument to white supremacy

In part, it’s a case for historical knowledge: the world of Jim Crow seems increasingly distant and incomprehensibly foreign to blacks and whites born in the wake of the civil rights movement. In part, it’s also an issue of relevance and public policy: the segregated history of the United States is inextricably intertwined with the state of modern race relations, one of the most significant unresolved items on the nation’s political agenda. Few would go as far as the man in St. Louis who suggested that every American community should preserve at least one site associated with segregation in order to remind us that there are two racial universes in the United States and that we are not a single unified nation. Whatever the merits or practicality of the proposal, his larger points will resonate for many, both white and black: the country remains divided by race, and historic preservation has a potential to inspire reform. — Robert Weyeneth, The Architecture of Racial Segregation: The Challenges of Preserving the Problematical Past (2005).

BeaconMarker-then-now

Between 2013 and 2015, the City of Decatur, Georgia erased the final reminders of its “problematic past.” In what could have been an opportunity to teach about the city’s history — preserving the city’s historic African American schools — Decatur leaders and residents instead chose to build a monument to enduring white supremacy: the Beacon Municipal Center, which the City officially dedicated last month. Continue reading

Black History Month 2015: African American heritage in the city of homes, schools, and churches

The historical, cultural and aesthetic heritage of the city is among the city’s most valued and important assets, and the preservation of this heritage is essential to the promotion of the health, prosperity and general welfare of the people. — “Historical Preservation,”  Decatur Municipal Code, § 58-1.

Much as Jim Crow racism served as the glue for defending a brutal and overt system of racial oppression in the pre–civil rights era, color-blind racism serves today as the ideological armor for a covert and institutionalized system in the post– civil rights era. — Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America (4th ed., 2013).

 

The Decatur Focus, Jan.-Feb. 2004.  Original posted on the City of Decatur website.

The Decatur Focus, Jan.-Feb. 2004. Original posted on the City of Decatur website.

Color-blind racism is a tough nut to crack. Americans in recent months have confronted some uneasy truths about how race influences the way we see the world around us. It is easier to see and perhaps explain when it’s police racial profiling or some other symptom of structural racism that has immediate and almost always deadly consequences. Racism is less visible and harder to understand when it involves a city’s approach to preserving and communicating its history. And yet, a community’s public history conveys key messages about its values and identity.

Over the past 25 years, Decatur, Ga., has slowly and almost imperceptibly worked its way into a situation that appears to reflect racial bias and duplicity in the ways history is conveyed and preserved. In the 1980s, city history documents were as diverse as Decatur’s population: the city’s black history was commingled with its white history. It was integrated. A generation later, official history and historic preservation documents present Decatur’s history in segregated narratives: one set of documents and sources for white history and another for African American history.

No matter how many image consultants Decatur hires or self-nominated accolades it wins, the city cannot break from its long history of ethnic exclusion. Each February Decatur’s soul is exposed as various municipal organizations observe Black History Month. They hold public programs and and publish articles celebrating how well Decatur observes African American history.

But how well does Decatur do when it comes to preserving African American history?

City officials have all but erased African Americans from Decatur’s official histories and from the landscape. Whether it’s the all-white Decatur history page on Decatur’s official website, the all-white historic resources survey for which the city paid $35,000 in 2009, or the all-white histories published in the city’s strategic plans, there is compelling evidence that Decatur doesn’t much care for black history. And, there is ample proof that Decatur’s citizens have failed to hold their elected and appointed officials accountable for slowly and surely editing the city’s black residents from the historical record. Continue reading

New tools, old tricks save Atlanta industrial building

Update: Read the Fall 2014 Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter article on the effort to save the Trio building: Social Media and Shoe Leather Save Historic Dry Cleaning Plant.

Trio Steam Laundry dry cleaning building shortly after its construction. Credit: The Atlanta Georgian Sept. 26, 1910.

Trio Steam Laundry dry cleaning building shortly after its construction. Credit: The Atlanta Georgian Sept. 26, 1910.

The two-story brick former Trio Laundry Dry Cleaning Building is located in Atlanta, Georgia’s gentrifying Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. It was constructed in 1910 in a light industrial district that included a shoe factory, mattress manufacturers, and machine works.

The Trio Steam Laundry Company was was Atlanta’s first large-scale commercial laundry business. In the summer of 2014 city contractors began demolishing Trio’s dry-cleaning building and community activists organized and mobilized to save the historic building. Read about their efforts in my new History@Work piece, “New Tools, Old Tactics Deployed to Save a Historic Atlanta Building.”

North Facade with "Save Me" written across, Aug. 2014.

North facade with “Save Me” written across it, Aug. 2014.

Original Trio Steam Laundry Company building (built 1905) at 19 Hilliard Street.

Original Trio Steam Laundry Company building (built 1905) at 19 Hilliard Street across from the dry cleaning building. The building was sold in 1945 to the Atlanta Brush Company and in the 1990s it was converted into lofts. Photo Aug. 2014.

A construction worker loads part of the building's crumbled cornice into a front end loader Aug. 29, 2014.

A construction worker loads part of the building’s crumbled cornice into a front end loader Aug. 29, 2014.

Affordable housing was one person's wish for the former Trio building's adaptive use.

Affordable housing was one person’s wish for the former Trio building’s adaptive use.

© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein

Auburn Ave. ghosts

A tornado ripped through downtown Atlanta, Ga., the evening of March 14, 2008. It damaged and destroyed buildings and urban landscapes as it swept through the city. Historic Oakland Cemetery and the former Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill (undergoing rehabilitation as lofts) were among the damaged properties. Several buildings in Atlanta’s twentieth century African American neighborhood, Sweet Auburn, also were damaged.

Herndon & Atlantic Life Building, 229-243 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Fulton County, GA. HABS GA-1170-A. Library of Congress:  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ga0208.color.572056c/

Herndon & Atlantic Life Building, 229-243 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, Fulton County, GA. HABS GA-1170. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division

Continue reading

The 1,000 year house

Decatur, Ga., builder Clay Chapman boldly claims that he’s building what he calls a “Thousand Year House” in a project he has dubbed Hope for Architecture. I first reported on Chapman’s project in a December 2013 post, Day Zero: Brown is the New Green.

@1000yearhouse tweet.

@1000yearhouse tweet, May 14, 2014.

Chapman’s construction project is part publicity stunt, part marketing campaign for architect Steve Mouzon’s “original green” concept. Since breaking ground last year Chapman has published regular blog posts and tweets illustrating progress at the site. And, he has hosted high profile visitors, including noted new urbanist architect Andres Duany and local leaders.

Chapman describes the new 5,300 square foot house built where he demolished a 1,541 square-foot home as “sustainable” and affordable. To date, the new house has required more than 124,000 pounds of concrete and has taken delivery of more than 100,000 bricks.

I rode by the “1,000 Year House” earlier today and here’s what I saw:

241 Maxwell St., Decatur, Ga. May 11, 2014.

241 Maxwell St., Decatur, Ga. May 11, 2014.

Continue reading

Scenes of resistance: Druid Hills and Clifton Ridge

CliftonRidge-00Last week I had a conversation on gentrification with a couple of historians who teach in Atlanta area universities. At one point the conversation turned to a residential development project in Atlanta’s historic Druid Hills area.

For the past several years, an Atlanta attorney and property owner has challenged the DeKalb Historic Preservation Commission’s jurisdiction over the subdivision of undeveloped properties in historic districts. The property owner was unable to find relief in the state’s courts so he turned to the Georgia legislature in several consecutive years in an attempt to amend state’s historic preservation and zoning laws. Continue reading

History at face value (Updated)

Antioch-2014-01

Former Antioch AME Church, Jan. 2014.

Decatur, Ga., blogger Dan Whisenhunt has been covering the impending demolition of a former African American church by a developer who proposes to build 20 townhomes on the site. Built in 1965 by Decatur’s oldest African American congregation after it was displaced by urban renewal, the building housed the former Antioch AME Church until 1995.

The church was not included in Decatur’s 2009 citywide historic resources survey despite widespread knowledge of its transcendental historical significance among the city’s longtime African American residents. Whisenhunt has been reporting on residents in nearby homes – many of them built during and after the 1960s urban renewal project – concerned over the new density coming to the parcel as well as the developer’s plans to cut down an old tree on the property to comply with City stormwater detention requirements. Continue reading

The hex on our sidewalks

Sidewalks: we’re lucky that we have them. Just ask people who live in America’s sprawling suburbs and some of the Atlanta, Ga., region’s new cities. Author Jane Jacobs considered them essential to the urban fabric. Sidewalks move people, connect places, and they are key, wrote Jacobs, to healthy neighborhoods and cities. Although Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood is connected by sidewalks as old as the neighborhood itself, they don’t always work well because many stretches have been damaged by vehicles and roots or have not been well maintained.

Damaged sidewalk, Atlanta's Candler Park neighborhood. Photo by author.

Damaged sidewalk, Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood. Photo by author.

Continue reading