Columns: June 2007

President’s Message

The Trust for Architectural Easements, formerly the National Architectural Trust, is the largest preservation easement holding organization in the nation, holding easements on more than 760 properties. We are working to raise awareness about the need for historic preservation through grants to preservation organizations and community groups, and through education initiatives directed at all ages. Our hope is to foster a new level of support and appreciation for the beautiful structures that contribute to our cities and towns, while at the same time highlighting the environmental benefits of building reuse over demolition whenever possible.

Increasingly environmental considerations are becoming a dominant factor in the preservation of older buildings and the neighborhoods they anchor. America is looking for ways to reduce waste, prevent global warming, and preserve our natural resources. Noted architect Carl Elefante once said, “The greenest building is the one that is already built.” Recycling and rehabilitating existing structures is almost always more environmentally efficient than tearing down and building new. Our new name, the Trust for Architectural Easements, highlights a critical but under utilized tool to protect the sustainable designs that help to define America.

The cause of historic preservation is an important one. It is one that I, as president of the Trust for Architectural Easements, am proud to champion. I hope you find this debut issue and also future editions of Columns to be insightful and worthy of sharing with others.

This debut issue includes articles on green buildings and historic preservation, Wall Street’s recent historic district designation, and a self-guided historic tour of the Washington, DC mall. I invite you to share with us your thoughts on these and other articles presented here. With your help, we can preserve America’s historic architecture and, one building at a time, her history.

Steven L. McClain
President, Trust for Architectural Easements

Historic Preservation

Green Building and Historic Preservation: Not-So-Strange Bedfellows

Boston Rowhouses

Rowhouses like these in Boston are being “recycled”; playing new roles in historic communities.

We have all heard the exclamations – “Green Building!” “Sustainable Design!” “Solar Power!” Architects are rallying around the ecologically-friendly “green building” movement, designing buildings that work with, rather than against, our planet.

But what about the buildings that are already built? Might they, too, be green?

Existing buildings, like these Boston rowhouses, are inherently green in that they already stand and require little additional work or infrastructure such as water and sewer lines, sidewalks and school systems to further their lifespan. True, many old buildings are outmoded, but their rehabilitation can be cheaper and more energy-efficient than their replacement with new construction which involves hauling off their once-dignified carcasses to local landfills and building from scratch in their stead.

The rehabilitation of old buildings leads to yet another facet of “green building” – community revitalization – the recycling of a community at its very heart. Such is particularly the case for historic buildings. Established pillars of the built environment: not only have they stood the test of time, but they are also already integrated into the infrastructure of cities and towns. They boast energy-efficient passive heating and cooling systems such as operable windows, attic vents, cross-ventilating hallways and seasonally-sensitive building materials. Indeed, they represent an incredible building stock, the adaptive re-use of which utilizes precious resources and does not require the wasteful energy, nor result in the massive waste of demolition.

Recycling historic building stock, much of which is located in prime real estate locations, revitalizes downtowns far more quickly than constructing new buildings. Older commercial buildings are ready-made locations for new and small businesses, which often lack the funds to rent larger spaces in newer buildings. Older residential buildings present inexpensive housing alternatives to new construction for home buyers and renters. These arguments have been in circulation since the 1961 publication of Jane Jacob’s seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

The Trust for Architectural Easements is committed to preserving our historic neighborhoods – their buildings are the greenest that we’ve got. To ensure the perpetual existence of a historic, “green” building, consider placing a historic preservation easement on it. That way, your historic building will always be “green.”

Preservation Success

Chicago’s Historic Mather Tower Wins Prestigious Preservation Award

The Mather Tower, second from the left, had a preservation easement placed on it in 2005, preserving the historic exterior of the building forever.

The Mather Tower, second from the left, had a preservation easement
placed on it in 2005, preserving the historic exterior of the building forever.

One of the Chicago area’s most unique skyscrapers is also one of the nation’s historic preservation success stories. The Mather Tower, a Chicago Landmark located at 75 East Wacker Drive, received a prestigious National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in November. The Mather Tower, just a few years before a vacant building with no foreseeable future, was one of only 21 national award winners to achieve this honor last year. The Tower, known for its slender footprint, is protected by a historic preservation easement donation made to the then National Architectural Trust in 2005, the predecessor to the Trust for Architectural Easements. The easement protected the facades of the needle-like tower, and made the building’s owners eligible for tax incentives that ultimately helped them to rescue the structure and provide it with a future.

Completed in 1928 to the designs of architect Herbert H. Riddle, the Mather Tower is Chicago’s most slender skyscraper standing 40 stories in height. It presents a quintessentially “Jazz Age” Art Deco silhouette, clad in Gothic-inspired terra-cotta and rising dramatically against the city’s skyline.

The building’s thin design was partly a response to Chicago’s zoning and set-back ordinances of the 1920s. They not only
lent the building its distinctive silhouette, but also, and unfortunately so, its future economic problems. The floors of the tower were too limited in square footage for practical use. By the 1990s, the building had fallen victim to considerable disrepair. Chunks of terra-cotta fell off of its exterior, and demolition plans were in the works.

The death of Mather Tower seemed a foregone conclusion until 2000, when Masterworks Development Corporation purchased the building, and, utilizing federal tax credits and incentives such as the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, renovated the building to include office spaces in its lower half and a hotel in its tower. The exterior of the building also underwent careful and extensive rehabilitation and cleaning. Today, the Mather Tower stands with its former grandeur restored. It is a shining beacon demonstrating how the economic and the aesthetic values of historic preservation can work together to achieve wonderful results.

Historic Communities Protected

Wall Street Historic District Declared

Pediment of the New York Stock Exchange

Pediment of the New York Stock Exchange

A 36-block area of downtown Manhattan was formally designated as the new Wall Street National Historic District March 5, 2006. The national certification of this historic district was supported by the Trust for Architectural Easements for the area’s  importance to American history. The new Historic District is comprised of over 100 buildings of every style in vogue from 1835 to the present. Its boundaries stretch from Bowling Green to the south, to Liberty Street and Maiden Lane at its northern edge, and from Pearl Street and Trinity Place to the east and west respectively. Some of the buildings within these borders are already designated as New York City landmarks and/or are on the National Register of Historic Places. Listing the entire district is a giant step towards preserving what U. S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the new Wall Street Historic District, has stated is one of the most “crucial” places to our nation’s history.

A ceremony marking the induction of the new historic district was held in Federal Hall, once the U. S. Customs House, and now a national monument. Trust President Steven McClain, speaking at the ceremony remarked, “It is possible that no single area tells the story of America’s progression from a primarily rural nation to a diverse industrial society as well as the Wall Street Historic District.”

Architectural Ambler

Walking Tour:  Washington D.C.’s Historic Mall

The Trust for Architectural Easements is located at 1906 R Street, NW, Washington, D.C. –about five metro stops away from the city’s historic mall. The open space of the mall was included in the earliest plans (dating from the late 18th century) of Washington, D.C. by Pierre L’Enfant, the Frenchman–turned–American revolutionary–turned–urban planner of the nation’s capital. Over the course of the 19th century, the mall fell victim to railroad tracks, military housing and trash heaps. In the early 20th century, however, Daniel Burnham, king of the “American Renaissance” movement in American architecture, re-planned the mall to lend it dignity and grace. Today, it is one of the top tourist destinations in the country. For those of you planning on visiting the nation’s capital in the near future (and even for those of you who aren’t), here is a little bit of architectural history on some of the more well-known buildings of the National Mall of Washington, D.C.

U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Capitol Building

U. S. Capitol Building: The design of this classically-inspired building originated with a contest won in 1792 by William Thornton, an amateur architect and professional physician from the Virgin Islands. Benjamin Latrobe, the nation’s first professional architect, also was hired by then-president Thomas Jefferson to complete much of the detail of the building, including the corncob and tobacco-leaf capitals–American versions of the Greek acanthus-leaf capital. Thornton and Latrobe did not get along, agreeing only upon a low-rising dome. Latrobe quit the job and Charles Bulfinch, architect of the Boston State House, was called upon to finish the building after the War of 1812. Bulfinch’s primary legacy to the Capitol was its high-rising dome, specifically requested by the Congress. Construction was largely complete by the time President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on December 2, 1863. That same day, Thomas Crawford’s 19-foot statue, “Freedom,” was placed upon the peak of the dome. The terraces on the west, Mall-facing front were designed in the mid-1870s by Frederick Law Olmstead, another noted architect of the time.

U. S. Botanical Gardens: The building housing the Botanical Gardens was designed in 1931 by Bennett, Parsons & Frost. The front facade suggests a dignified French orangerie. Behind this austerity, however, rise glass domes ribbed with aluminum, the largest such construction in the world when built, to house the national collection of exotic plants. Catwalks run around the upper levels of the glass domes, allowing visitors to ascend into the upper reaches of the jungle housed within this stunning building.


National Museum of the American Indian

National Museum of the American Indian: Designed by Native American architects Douglas Cardinal of the Blackfoot Tribe, Johnpaul Jones of the Cherokee/Choctaw Tribe, Ramona Sakiestewa of the Hopi Tribe and Donna House of the Navajo and Oneida Tribes, the museum was completed in 2004. This curvilinear building is clad in a golden-colored Kasota limestone intended to evoke natural rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water over thousands of years. The building is surrounded by simulated wetlands and has a theme of organic flow that carries over into the interior of the museum. The walls are comprised mostly of curved surfaces. Sharp corners are rarely found here, just as they are not in nature.

National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Building: This building was designed in 1976 by Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum as a complement to the National Gallery’s East Wing located across the mall. Made of monumental granite blocks and glass sheets, the building emulates the neoclassical style of its sister structure.

Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: This modern art museum was designed in 1974 by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The Sculpture Garden was redesigned in 1981 by Lester Collins. Before the design of this building had even hit the drawing boards, S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian from 1964 to 1984, informed the planning committee that if the final building “were not controversial in almost every way, it would hardly qualify as a place to house contemporary art.” The committee listened.

National Gallery of Art, West Wing

National Gallery of Art, West Wing

National Gallery of Art, West Wing: This museum was completed in 1941 by John Russell Pope, the neoclassicist of the first half of the 20th century. Its somber yet elegant lines sympathize with its neighboring buildings, and its’ interior rotunda is, perhaps, the most awe-inspiring interior space lining the Mall.

National Gallery of Art, East Wing: This addition to the original East Wing was designed in 1978 by I.M. Pei & Partners, with Dan Kiley acting as landscape architect. The building is a sculptural work in and of itself. The modern art collection it houses is world-renowned, but it is the building that takes center stage. The design approach is simple. The trapezoidal site is split into two, slightly overlapping triangles. The larger, isosceles triangle contains gallery space, while the smaller, right triangle, contains administrative spaces.

National Museum of Natural History: The bulk of this building was designed in 1911 by the firm of Hornblower & Marshall. In 1965, the firm of Mills, Petticord & Mills designed the building’s wings. This was the first building erected on the north side of the Mall in the neoclassical style, the Mall’s primary architectural dress code.

Smithsonian Institution Headquarters

Smithsonian Institution Headquarters

Smithsonian Institution Headquarters: The “Castle” was designed in 1855 by James Renwick as the first Smithsonian building. It is regarded as one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in the United States.
Freer Gallery of Art: This smallish gallery was designed in 1923 by Charles A. Platt, one of the nation’s foremost experts of neoclassical design, to house the then-contemporary American art and ancient Asian art collection of Charles Lang Freer, who bequeathed his collections to the United States government.

Washington Memorial: Construction on this monument lasted from 1848 until 1884. In 1783, the Continental Congress voted to erect a statue of General Washington on horseback at the site of the new capitol. The monument’s final plan, however was very different and the result of a competition held in 1836. Robert Mills, one of the country’s great mid-19th century classicists won. It is his design that stands at 555 feet and 5 1/8 inches in height, and is one of the tallest free-standing masonry structures in the world.

World War II Memorial: Designed by Friedrich St. Florian and constructed between 2001 and 2004, this memorial consists of 56 pillars arranged in a semicircle around a central circular pool with two arches on opposite sides. Each pillar is inscribed with the names of the states and territories under the jurisdiction of the United States during World War II: the first 48 states, the District of Columbia, the Alaskan and Hawaiian Territories, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Samoa and the U. S. Virgin Islands. The arches are inscribed with the words “Atlantic” and “Pacific” respectively, representing the two oceans across which World War II was fought.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial: Built on reclaimed swampland, this monumental Grecian-inspired memorial counterbalances the heavy mass of the Capitol building at the opposite end of the Mall. It was designed between 1911 and 1922 by Henry Bacon. Lincoln’s statue was created by the highly acclaimed neoclassicist sculptor Daniel Chester French, while the murals “Reunion” and “Emancipation” were painted by the Parisian-trained muralist Jules Guerin. Plans to erect such a monument to President Lincoln had been in the works since Lincoln’s assassination, but arguments over the type of monument and location stalled the project for several decades. Bacon’s design is loosely based on the main temple on the Parthenon of ancient Greece. Bacon’s deviations from the ancient prototype include a replacement of the classic pedimented roof with a squared and recessed attic and the placement of the entrance at one of the long sides of the building, rather than at one of the short sides of the building, as was done in ancient Grecian architecture. Bacon loved using architecture to symbolic advantage. He gave the memorial exactly 36 columns, symbolizing the number of states in the Union when Lincoln was elected president, and 48 festoons, symbolizing the number of states in the country when the memorial was completed.

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial: Built on landfill and overlooking the man-made Tidal Basin, this Pantheon replica was designed in 1943 by John Russell Pope, at this time the foremost neoclassicist in the United States. The dome, portico and Pantheonic reference suggest the favored architectural motifs of Thomas Jefferson himself, the man who brought classical architecture to the United States in the first place.

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