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New transportation history book

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Norm wants to share his excitement about his new book. For years he has had had a special interest in the history of transportation, both because he likes the study of history in general and because for many years he taught a Transportation Planning course at Eastern Michigan University. The new book currently has a working title of Crossing the Continent: Pioneers of Transcontinental TravelThis story is told through the perspectives of individuals significant in each era of transportation development. Some of the protaganists of this drama are familiar, but in unfamiliar roles—George Washington as a young surveyor trekking to new western territories. Some were entrepreneurs who were ruthless in their quest—Thomas Durant, as master schemer and scammer in charge of building the Union Pacific Railroad. Others were larger-than-life figures now largely forgotten—Carl G. Fisher, an eccentric businessman who instigated and prodded construction of the country’s first coast-to-coast highway as a way to sell more of his automobile headlamps. Other biographical sketches reveal inconceivable feats—Annie Kopchovsky, who in 1894 left her husband and two children for fifteen months to successfully ride a bicycle not only across the country, but around the world. The stories of these individuals and others are marvelous, intriguing, and sometimes unbelievable. A reflection on these individuals and their roles in “Crossing the Continent” provides the focus for this history of American daring and determination during the historical, and historic, evolution of systems of transportation.

Norm is now looking for an agent and a publisher. Stay tuned and you will be the first to know when the manuscript has become a published book.

nortoncoversmallWe are also excited to have been asked by the publisher of our book, Historic Preservation, to update it for a 3rd edition. Written by Norm and Ilene and Ted Ligibel, it remains one of the bestselling books on the topic. For this edition, Ilene has agreed to lead the editorial effort.

University of Michigan Master Planning

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A Conversation with Sue Gott…

Thursday, May 9, 2016

During my one-hour meeting with Sue Gott and Jim Kosteva, I gained an understanding of the University’s priorities for development of sites they currently own on all five of their Ann Arbor campuses. I also learned that they are working off 8 and 9-year-old planning documents for the medical and north campus, and have no working plans for central or athletic campuses. That’s not to say they do not plan, because they do. General goals are to consider sites that are vacant, properties that are in poor conditions, and opportunities to achieve greater density as part of responsible stewardship of their property.

Philosophical goals that guide University decision-making regarding property use, and that were listed in the North Campus Master Plan Update of 2008, are:

  1. Create strong connections, within and at the edges of the campus,
  2. Promote campus vitality, and a quality experience for everyone,
  3. Optimize development capacity, and
  4. Respect and incorporate environmental features.

Beyond that, specifics are hard to come by. Looking at site plans for all of these areas, no sites jumped out as earmarked for changes that would generate alarm in the preservation community, although that is often in the eye of the beholder. On central campus, most sensitive to preservationists, Ruthven is intact, the Arthur Miller House (439 S. Division St.) is visible next to ISR, and there is no infringement into the Martha Cook garden, protected by a legacy donation.

State Street, north side, south of E. William St.

State Street, north side, south of E. William St.

When we looked at a larger scale map of State Street, however, I noticed a yellow circle in the lawn area in front of Betsy Barbour and Helen Newberry dormitories. What the University is considering, at this early stage of discussion, is building something for Trotter House on central campus closer to a hub of student activity than they currently are on Washtenaw Avenue. This is viewed as a potential site for development, regardless of the integrity of the original dormitories having or needing a front lawn. No timetable was given, but this seems to be something to watch out for.

Summertime at the manse…

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Maintenance done together is better than toiling alone. After a year of waiting for the fabrication of a new torus base for column #1, we were finally ready to complete minor filling, sanding, cleaning, and painting of all four column bases at the front porch. While we all hope our maintenance projects stay “maintained,” it doesn’t happen that way. Maintenance is ongoing and requires vigilance in some cases to avoid spiraling out of control. Our columns are that kind of albatross, if you will, that always need attention and treatment. So, we are in another final round of care that should buy us a year or two of simpler monitoring and enjoyment without excessive work. We shall see…

Four column bases, 2016

Four column bases, 2016

Northland Shopping Center Memories

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I am just old enough to remember an annual trek in the early 1950s to Hudson’s Department Store in downtown Detroit, buying clothes for school and the Jewish Holidays. Maybe we would go into another store, but I only remember Hudson’s. Arriving at the store, we always took the elevator, greeting the gentleman operator with an excited smile, to the top (8th floor, if memory serves me well) for the full experience. Coming down one floor at a time on the escalator, we stepped off at each level to inspect the store’s offerings, increasingly interesting as we got closer to ground level. Lunch or dinner after shopping was at our favorite deli on the corner of Seven Mile and Livernois, before heading for home in Bay City. That was a long day with a two-hour drive at each end, plus having the energy to shop with purpose at our destination.

In the late-1950s we gradually shifted the entire experience from downtown Detroit to the newly developing suburb of Southfield. We still shopped mostly at Hudson’s, but now treated ourselves to lunch and sweets at Sander’s, bringing home their fabulous Almond Tea Ring for another day. Throughout the early 1960s, until starting college in the fall of 1965, our family repeated this annual ritual.

In the heart of Southfield, our destination was the new Northland Shopping Center. In spite of confusion about these names, we found the Northland Center convenient and a bit closer to, so a shorter drive from, Bay City. It still offered what we wanted in our beloved Hudson’s, and it just seemed so easy to drive right up to any one of the mall entrances. There always seemed to be some kind of circus-like festive atmosphere in the spaces between the buildings, and we delighted in the charming sculptures. We were very non-judgmental, though, and accepted this new type of shopping in stride. I do not remember where my father and brother settled, but my mother and I had a grand time.

Never living in the Detroit area, I did not retain a loyalty to this or to any other shopping destination, and gradually forgot about Northland and Sanders and the two-hour drive.

Historic postcard, Kim Silarski Collection

Historic postcard, Kim Silarski Collection

Northland Center, south side, double level, main entrance. Photo by Ilene R Tyler.

Northland Center, south side, double level, main entrance. Photo by Ilene R Tyler.

Then, in the spring of 2015, it was announced that the old Northland Center had been shuttered for the last time, and that developers were looking for new ways to redevelop the site. This would mean demolition of the original Victor Gruen structures and clearing the site of the original parking lot surrounding it. In order to document the site before its demise, volunteers from the docomomo-US|Michigan chapter offered to prepare a statement of significance and existing conditions that contributes to the archive of information on the site and raises awareness for discussion of the site’s importance and its legacy. This document is attached for reference and for circulation.

Northland Center: Statement of Significance & Existing Conditions (PDF)

Should It Stay or Should It Go

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Historic properties are recognized for their place in a community and for their importance to a period in time, in addition to other details, like the architecture and/or persons associated with the property. Where the resource was originally constructed is inexorably linked to to its historic integrity, such that moving the resource to another location raises questions about loss of this integrity. If the foundation is new, does this change perceptions about the resource? Were the old foundation materials significant, or perhaps was the basement or crawl space significant to the history and use of the resource?

Historic properties are recognized for their place in a community and for their importance to a period in time, in addition to other details, like the architecture and/or persons associated with the property. Where the resource was originally constructed is inexorably linked to to its historic integrity, such that moving the resource to another location raises questions about loss of this integrity. If the foundation is new, does this change perceptions about the resource? Were the old foundation materials significant, or perhaps was the basement or crawl space significant to the history and use of the resource?

In most cases, if the resource is threatened with demolition, then moving the structure may be the only option to save any of the memory and physical evidence of the original structure. So, consider the decision with this larger view in mind, but admit that moving the above-ground portion of a building to a new foundation forever changes the building’s larger history. Usually, the history associated with a property can still be told if the structure is still evident, even if relocated and the surrounding context is changed.

Documenting historic properties threatened with demolition captures historical and physical information in a logical and consistent manner for a permanent record of the structure at a particular point in time. Ideally, this would only be to temporarily “mothball” the structure until a productive use and funds can be found, but this can also be extrapolated to include documenting those buildings at risk for complete removal. Preservation Brief 31: Mothballing Historic Buildings, by Sharon C. Park, describes this process. I have clarified and simplified the process for use in our local community of Ann Arbor, Michigan so volunteer preservationists can complete the documentation and put the information in a community archive available to future researchers.

Arthur Miller House

439 S. Division Street

Our first project has been to investigate and document conditions at 439 S. Division Street, a property owned by the University of Michigan. In just under two hours, two of us performed a visual survey of the first floor, second floor, and attic, as well as a walk around the exterior. The basement was not available for visual survey. Sketches of the floor plans provide the general layout at each level, with photo locations indicated. All of the photos are listed in a log with a notation of photo locations and conditions observed.

Separately, an architectural description and statement of significance complement the hard data and provide a larger context for the historic resource. Ultimately, this documentation of the structure will have little impact on its fate. The task for the volunteer preservationists has been primarily to gather readily available information and to create a record of the structure. If discussion should open up about an alternative strategy to save the structure, even if saving it means moving it, then these documents provide a useful reference.

That gets back to the original question: should it stay or should it go? If staying is NOT an option, and if going means moving rather than demolition, should that be viewed as a good thing? I like to think so, as moving provides more options than losing the resource entirely. Although not reversible, everything else can be preserved. It is easier to tell stories about the house, the people who lived there, the details of its design, and any events that took place there, if physical evidence of the house remains. Explain what is lost but be proud of what remains.

Kerrytown Bookfest 2015

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We came, we saw, and we survived. We even sold books! It was a different perspective to participate as authors, instead of perusing the sellers’ stalls and sitting in on author talks. While we were pleased with the response to our offerings, we missed the same engagement with others, and will likely return to being a patron/customer next year. The Kerrytown Bookfest is an excellent event that highlights local talent, and we were proud to be in the mix and to share our books. Many thanks to the Board and volunteers who make the event a success for the entire community.

Tyler table at Bookfest 2015

table 109 display before the opening bell