"If there's a book that you want to read,
but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it."
   Toni Morrison

Authors Blog

Let it age or restore?

By | Norm's Author Blog

An article in the February 4, 2024 Sunday New York Times described how one of the three pyramids at Giza had originally been clad in granite to create a smooth, rather than a stepped, surface. Egyptologists were not sure what had happened to the surface stones of the smaller Menkaure Pyramid over many centuries. Some were laying at the base, some were likely buried in the sand, and some were scavenged for reuse at other sites. The museum leaders are now debating whether the granite should be collected and returned to the site to recreate a “restored” pyramid.

This has been a classic argument among preservationists for many decades. We discussed it in the Introduction of our book Historic Preservation: A Guide to Its History, Principles, and Practice. The following excerpts recount the diverse opinions of nineteenth century preservation philosophers John Ruskin and Viollet le Duc.

“Writer and critic John Ruskin posited older buildings should not be restored. A society has no right to improve, or even restore, craftsmanship of another era. As he explained in his classic book, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, “It is impossible, as impossible as to raise the dead, to restore anything that has ever been great or beautiful in architecture. Old buildings should be left to look old….The greatest glory of abuilding is not in its stones, or in its gold. Its glory is in its Age.”

“In contrast, Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration philosophy was based on the principle that important monuments should be rebuilt….To restore a building is not only to preserve it, to repair it, or to rebuild, but to bring it back to a state of completion such as may never have existed at any given moment.”

We reflected further in our book with a classic case from early America: “It could be argued that the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg subscribed loosely to Viollet-le-Duc’s philosophy in the sense that all post-1775 changes and additions to the original town were planned to be removed. Whether Williamsburg is an example of a site being brought back to a state of completion such as may never have existed at any given moment has been the subject of debate for many preservationists.”

Should we restore or grow old gracefully? An interesting question we could apply to ourselves personally as well.

Harriet Quimby book

By | Norm's Author Blog

Norm has completed a draft of his biography of Harriet Quimby, a captivating, independent, and adventurous woman who by 1912 had become an international celebrity as a globe-traveling journalist and one of America’s earliest pilots. Through researching her life story, I have enjoyed getting to know this intriguing historical figure.

An introduction to the book is included below. If you are interested in reading and sharing your general impressions of the book as an informal reader (not editing), contact me: ntyler (at) emich.edu. I would be pleased to send you a .pdf copy.

No Reason to Be Afraid:

The Indominable Spirit of Harriet Quimby 

I had recently completed the manuscript for a book on the history of transcontinental travel in America. Ilene served as my initial reader and after reviewing it she innocently asked, “Why are there no women in your book?” I quickly recognized an obvious fact: In America, men have had predominant roles in the development of transportation systems – whether highways, canals, railroads, or air travel. Or did they?

Ilene’s comment spurred me to look further and I found many women have played significant roles. The one that most intrigued me was the largely forgotten story of Harriet Quimby. Born in rural Michigan, she went to New York City where she gained international celebrity as a journalist and aviator. During her career she would achieve an improbable number of firsts ­– one of the first American women to gain a driver’s license and purchase her own sportster; the first travel journalist to regularly use a camera; the first silent-film actress to write screenplays for D.W. Griffith; the nation’s first woman to earn a pilot’s license; the first female pilot to fly solo over Mexico and the English Channel; and the featured pilot who in 1912 was paid $100,000 to headline the fateful Boston Air Show. Harriet Quimby was a courageous, attractive, and captivating New Woman who in many ways mirrors one of the most interesting eras of American history.

Diag Sensibilities

By | Norm's Author Blog

What should we do on a lovely autumn evening after dinner? This question often leads us to interesting encounters at the Diag. Students are always out recruiting participation in various causes with tables and chalk and amplified speakers. Although we see ourselves as outsiders, we feel welcome. Choosing a seat on an empty stone bench, we watch the stories unfold in front of us like movies on a very wide screen. Two anecdotes are worth sharing.

One evening we encountered a peaceful protest, and we happened to sit between two students who were similarly intrigued. On my right was a young man from China, and on Norm’s left was a young man from Pakistan. They sought a relaxed conversation, in English, with Americans who were not part of the University. Although we engaged in separate conversations, neither of us talked about politics or academics. We encouraged them to grab every opportunity during their time in Ann Arbor. Eventually, we left the Diag and walked home, feeling good about our casual conversations.

On another evening, we walked over to the Diag to see who and what were on display. We stopped at a table promoting the Michigan and State theaters, curious about why they were there. The volunteers hoped to engage with students and encourage attendance at our beloved historic theaters. They even offered free popcorn. What caught my eye, though, was their t-shirts. I loved the new design with both theaters rendered architecturally and advertising features “coming soon” to both theaters. I took their picture, and asked how I could get one of these t-shirts. It would take a special request, but they said I could pick one up at the member service counter inside the Michigan Theater. Later I posted this photo on Facebook.

The story continues. I posted the Diag photo on Facebook to share the encounter. I am “friends” with Zach Evans, son of David Evans, my former partner and founder of Quinn Evans Architects, who was instrumental in restoring the Michigan Theater almost 40 years ago. Zach had grown up in Ann Arbor and he knew this theater intimately. He graduated from the UM Film Department and has pursued a film career in Los Angeles. Zach never lost contact with the theater, and unbeknownst to me, he had accumulated a vast collection of Michigan Theater memorabilia. My photo on Facebook resulted in an inquiry about this newest item that he coveted for his collection. Tout suite, the Michigan Theater staff popped one in the mail to Zach.

When I wear my t-shirt, I savor my memories about the Michigan and State theaters. I associate it with yet another serendipitous experience on the Diag, and hope for many more such experiences in the future.

Cemetery Jar

By | Norm's Author Blog

Today we present an unsolved mystery.

   We go on many walks around our neighborhood—to campus, to the river, to downtown. But occasionally we walk to Forest Hills Cemetery, a beautiful landscape that gives us a peaceful nearby destination. When we are finally laid to rest there someday, we will be amongst old Tyler gravesites at four locations.

   On a recent meander through the pathways of Forest Hills, we passed by the largest Tyler gravesite and found a small glass jar partially buried in the ground. We were curious about it but decided to leave it there. However, in a few days our curiosity got the best of us, and we returned to find the bottle still protruding from the ground. The top was tight, so took it home and carefully opened it. Inside we found the following—a dollar bill torn into four parts, strings holding together faded and torn copies of contemporary faces, and some beans that were likely serving as a desiccant. The photo below illustrates what we found.

   But the mystery remains regarding why it was buried at the Tyler gravesite. Was it meant to be a remembrance? Was it meant as a hex, a charm, some geo-tagging, or just some kids fooling around? We would really like to hear any thoughts on what was behind this surprise discovery.

   We created a YouTube movie showing the opening of the jar. You can find it online at:



Preservation Podcast

By | Norm's Author Blog

   We invite you to learn more about historic preservation through a podcast discussion we had recently about our two careers as preservation architects, historians, and authors. Urban planner Stephanie Rouse and professional preservationist Melissa Gengler, both from Lincoln, Nebraska, invited us to discuss how we created the content for our book, Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice. The questions were varied and comprehensive and they were interested in how the content had changed over twenty-five years through four editions. We noted first that preservation seen only as preserving old buildings is very limited in scope; it’s much more than that, much broader than that. They asked us to describe some of the most memorable and exciting experiences we have had in preservation.

   We invite you to take a break in your day or weekend and enjoy our banter during this 51-minute podcast. It describes well our lives and careers as a couple of ardent preservationists. The host’s closing teaser: “As our final takeaway, Norm talked about ‘temenos.’ Listen to figure out what temenos has to do with historic preservation.”


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