Executive Director’s Blog

Small Buildings Can Have Big Stories

June 20, 2017
Posted June 20th, 2017 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog

By Guest Blogger, Myrick Howard

Most preservationists would agree wholeheartedly with these two statements:

  • Small buildings are often the toughest to preserve; and
  • Historic buildings provide a tangible link to our past.

When you lose a historic building, you also effectively lose its stories. Thus, all too often, the stories of “regular folks” get lost because small buildings are not treasured.

For several decades, Preservation North Carolina (PNC) has used its Endangered Properties Program (a revolving fund, by any name) to save many small properties. At the Edenton Cotton Mill Village, we sold 57 mill houses with preservation covenants, and at Glencoe Mill Village, we sold 31 more! We restricted the size of additions to 30% of a house’s original size. Descendants of mill employees were so grateful for our highlighting working-class history that small mill museums were established at each location to dig deeper.

In East Durham, we again worked with small houses built for mill workers. There we explicitly touted the virtues of small houses:

  • More affordable to own and operate
  • More environmentally sustainable
  • Consistent with the small household size (1 or 2 persons) that make up more than 60% of American households
  • Good starter homes for Millennials, who are going to dominate the work force by 2020
  • Attractive for downsizing Baby Boomers

We like to think of small houses as “workforce housing” for another generation.

PNC doesn’t just work with small houses. We worked for more than a decade to save the 660,000 square foot Loray Mill in Gastonia, a landmark of Southern labor history. To put its enormous size into perspective, the six-story mill has two acres of roof.

The Loray story is well known. The 1929 Loray strike is featured in history books, magazines, graduate courses, plays, poetry, television shows, etc. The University of North Carolina’s largest digital history archive is about Loray, thanks to recent collaboration with PNC. But, we felt that our business at Loray wasn’t done with the sale and $50+ million renovation of the mill.

The nationally-significant National Register district includes nearly 500 mill houses (four of which are shown above), and the neighborhood was hemorrhaging badly. With a PRI from The 1772 Foundation, we are working in the Loray Mill Village, where most of the houses are between 800 and 1100 square feet, conducive only to one-bedroom floorplans. Our goal is to sell a total of forty houses there by 2022. Small mill houses are integral to the story of Loray Mill, which would be so much less evocative if only the mill survived.

Most recently, a very different convergence of buildings and stories came our way.

Four times we’ve moved our Headquarters Office to save a highly endangered building, and we’re looking to do it again. We are currently downtown in a four-story commercial building, only a block from the State Capitol. Its renovation by PNC and a local foundation helped catalyze the renaissance of Raleigh’s main street, so our mission has been achieved.

For several years, we’ve been looking for another “poor dog” that needed love, and we found not just one, but two: the homes of Willis Graves and Rev. Plummer Hall in Oberlin Village.

The story of Raleigh’s Oberlin Village has nearly been lost since so many of its buildings have disappeared. Established as a freedman’s community around 1870, Oberlin ran about twelve blocks. By 1880, the town had about 750 residents, mainly former slaves. Many went on to remarkable careers.

For decades, Oberlin was a thriving community with churches, schools, businesses and homes, but it has been largely wiped out since the 1940s by a shopping center, highway project, urban renewal, public housing, and recent development. Out of several hundred Oberlin structures, only 34 remain. Sadly, it’s a common story with tragic racist overtones.

Willis Graves House

The Hall and Graves Houses are two of only five Oberlin structures individually listed in the National Register. The Graves House, which looks like a large Queen Anne-style house, only has 1,400 square feet.  The six rooms are modest, and ceiling heights are relatively low.   It’s as if they shrunk the house, so it still looks impressive from the street. The strong street presence of these exuberant Victorian houses belies their modest size. They vividly tell remarkable post-Civil War, up-from-slavery stories where former slaves optimistically embraced the importance of hard work and education as the means to provide a better life. Due to the continuation of centuries of racism, that path was not easy, but they and their descendants overcame relentless obstacles with remarkable achievements.




Francis Dent, Thurgood Marshall, Orsel McGhee, Willis Graves, Jr., & Minnie McGhee

Born into slavery, Willis Graves was a brickmason. His son, Willis Graves, Jr., went to Howard University School of Law and became a major Civil Rights attorney in Detroit. He worked with Thurgood Marshall on a US Supreme Court case that invalidated racially restrictive covenants. Grave and Marshall are shown in the photo to the left with the McGhees, the defendants in a Michigan racially restrictive covenants lawsuit that was merged with a similar Missouri case (Shelley v. Kraemer) and resulted in the landmark US Supreme Court decision. Another son, while getting a Master’s Degree from Cornell, was the first initiate into Alpha Phi Alpha, now the largest and most prominent African-American fraternity; he moved to Harlem at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance. A grandson was appointed by President Kennedy to head Voice of America in Latin America.



We didn’t know these stories until we started working to save the two houses as our future headquarters. The National Register nominations are bland and incomplete, having been done pre-Internet. We now are working with Graves descendants spread all over the country to unearth more – for their edification and ours…and ultimately for history.

We’ve only scratched the surface. The preservation of these two modest houses will have significant and inspirational educational value as these stories are told and new information uncovered. Further, these highly visible houses will help tell the remarkable story of Oberlin. Without PNC’s direct property intervention, these important houses – and their stories – would be lost.

Small houses may have outsized stories. We’ll never even learn about these stories unless we first save the buildings.


For 39 years, Myrick Howard has been President of Preservation North Carolina. He’s still in his first job.  To learn more about PNC’s work, go to www.preservationnc.org.








Is heaven in Iowa?

April 7, 2017
Posted April 7th, 2017 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog
Photo credit:  Seed Savers

In 1863, a three-year-old Irish toddler named Elizabeth Donnelly left County Leitrim. It is unclear whether she was accompanied by her parents, both children of farmers, or if she was orphaned and sent to live with relatives in America.

What we do know is that roughly a third of Leitrim had died either from starvation or disease or had left to make a life in North America in the years prior to Elizabeth’s emigration. The organism Phytophthora infestans caused widespread potato blight in 1845, which in turn propelled an unsustainable food system into the catastrophic Great Famine.

British land rule already had fractured Irish farmland into smaller and smaller parcels, which forced many farmers into a potato monoculture as it was a crop that provided both enough calories to feed a family and enough money to pay rent to British landlords. When a large percentage of the potato crop failed, the situation quickly became precarious. British rule did not allow the Irish to hunt or fish.  Relief was nonexistent.  There was no seed bank to improve biodiversity.

Landlords evicted already-starving tenant farming families into crowded workhouses, where cholera and typhus found ideal conditions to further the tragedy. It was not unusual for a corpse to be found with a green mouth, as desperate citizens attempted to fill their bellies with grass.

What Phytophthora infestans and British rule had started wasn’t the final chapter of the tragedy—about one third of the “fortunate” ones who attempted emigration died on what became known as “coffin ships,” overcrowded and barely seaworthy, with disease an unwelcome passenger.

The Irish toddler, Elizabeth Donnelly, is my great-grandmother. In considering the circumstances by which her family, and mine, came to be here in New England 153 years later, it strikes me that awareness of agricultural politics and the importance of genetic diversity to our food supply are not lessons we have fully learned. In an echo of 1841 Ireland, our food system is dangerously lopsided, tipped very heavily toward industrial farming practices and national farm policies that favor genetically engineered soy and corn monocultures.

There is hope, seeded by another immigrant.

112 years after my great-grandmother left Ireland, Diane Ott Whealy and her husband, Kent Whealy, sat at their kitchen table in Missouri and thought about Diane’s great-grandparent, who had emigrated from Bavaria to Iowa in the 1870s. He brought precious cargo in the form of seeds: ‘German Pink’ tomato and ‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory.  From these two varieties, Diane and Kent started a living collection that would grow to more than 25,000 seed and plant types, as well as a community of more than 12,000 members.

Their non-profit, Seed Savers Exchange, now is headquartered on 890-acre Heritage Farm in northeast Iowa, a magical place that has been accurately described as the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark wrapped into one. Heritage Farm actively promotes seed distribution to not only safeguard genetic diversity but also remember the stories of how these seeds were grown, saved, and passed down through generations—family treasures far more valuable than gold, treasures that we now know could have saved a million Irish lives.  They may yet save many more. The magnitude of their efforts is yet to be fully understood and is, to my mind, of biblical proportions.

Why does their work to preserve biodiversity in the form of heirloom and open-pollinated plants matter? These climate-ready varieties have the ability to adapt and regenerate themselves year after year. These seeds (and tissue cultures or other plant materials, depending on how a plant reproduces) have the power to withstand unforeseen pestilence and plant disease, climate change, and habitat limitations, even as they increase the diversity of flavors offered at the dining table. (www.seedsavers.org)

Consider this alarming twist: our current farming system heavily favors genetically engineered seeds. About 170 million acres of genetically engineered crops were planted in 2013.  Farmers are beholden to the corporations who control the seeds.  Their seeds are terminal—one year and done. Because of these modern “improved” farming techniques, we have lost 75 percent of edible plants varieties— and plants make up over 80 percent of the human diet. We are vulnerable in much the same way we were when immigrants like Grandpa Ott and Elizabeth Donnelly arrived in this country so long ago.

Seed Savers’ critical dual mission is to preserve genetic diversity and the living histories of each variety—the DNA within each seed contains its own rich and breathtaking memory of immigration, family farms and gardens and recipes. Take a look at the ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon, ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato, and ‘Mayflower’ bean. They are beautiful, historical, and delicious. They are also the antidote to genetically engineered crops and treacherous farm policies. These seeds are tiny, robust foot soldiers in the war against future famines. This is historic preservation of the most urgent type, and I can say without exaggeration that there is not a more important historic site I have visited in my 14 years at The 1772 Foundation.

Twelve years ago, my 10-year-old son Jack (Elizabeth’s great-great-grandson) and I made a pilgrimage to Heritage Farm to meet Grandpa Ott’s descendants. One line from the movie Field of Dreams kept running through my head—when Shoeless Joe Jackson appears on the Iowa ball field and asks, “Is this heaven?” and Ray Kinsella answers, “No, It’s Iowa.” To Elizabeth Donnelly and Grandpa Ott, their descendants, historians, environmentalists, and all who eat, Heritage Farm is heaven.


Photo credit:  Seed Savers


Thinking Big & Bold: How the Kendall Foundation Is Transforming New England’s Food System

March 2, 2017
Posted March 2nd, 2017 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog

Originally posted to Exponent Philanthropy’s PhilanthroFiles blog

In late summer of last year, Andy Kendall put foot to pedal on a Trek bicycle in Portland, Oregon. Forty days and 4,000 miles later, he rolled into Portland, Maine. At the 1772 Foundation, we were not surprised to learn of his feat: a two-wheeled version of the significant accomplishments he has made at the Boston-based Henry P. Kendall Foundation. Though established in 1957, this foundation crackles with the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of a start-up company.

Five years before the cross-country trek, Andy and his staff began to put pedal to the metal to meet monumental challenges in the New England regional food system. We have been following Kendall’s success with great interest as he exemplifies what we believe are the best qualities of effective, dynamic philanthropy.

UMass dining hallOne of the best examples of Kendall’s impact is at UMass Amherst where the foundation is behind a bold transition, made possible by one of the many strategic food system grants they have made throughout New England. This campus has a total food budget of more than $21 million. With help from the Kendall Foundation, they have made a firm commitment to sourcing food thoughtfully, using local whenever possible, with back-up defaults to regional sources and those using “sustainable, humane and organic sources.” This effort resulted in a 38% increase in local sustainable food purchases by the largest university in Massachusetts.

This project and others funded by Kendall exemplify the aspects of dynamic philanthropy that we try to emulate:

Food VisionVision with a strong footing. Recognizing the merits of, and providing support for, a report entitled A New England Food Vision, Kendall Foundation embraced the vision of “50 by 60” (from Food Solutions New England). That is, by 2060, 50% of New England food will come from New England. This document is a thorough, pragmatic look at what it will take to reach that goal in terms of acres of farmland, types of food, dietary requirements, etc.

Understanding systems dynamics. Andy and his team went into the field and sought to fully understand the entire system. In the Vision, this includes production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste return. Kendall believes that both visionary grants (top-down grants with a bold vision for the future) and reality grants made “in the trenches” (bottom-up grants) are necessary and inform each other.

Harnessing the for-profit market. Food systems change cannot be sustainable or financially feasible without working at the speed of the market and involving for-profit players. With a full understanding of the system and the players, Kendall was able to become what Andy calls a “catalyst organization,” one which could work within the ecosystem of all the players, while bringing the nimble, flexible, unbound nature of private philanthropy to connect the dots.

Immersion, connection, and flexibility. Andy and his team understand from their research where there are gaps and opportunities that can be addressed, where introductions need to be made, convenings organized, funds leveraged, and case studies developed. Smaller, experimental “orientation grants” were made to test assumptions and get to know the players. These grants helped the foundation understand the issues and the landscape more thoroughly in the early “research and development” phase. As their depth of knowledge and experience grew, larger grants were made to strengthen the system as a whole. Recognizing the value of philanthropic dollars as “risk capital,” Kendall was willing to make informed grants in potential, eschewing the “safe bets” to focus on the creative, emerging spaces where new ideas were being nurtured, developed, tested and where higher risks and complexity may have deterred more traditional funders.

Understanding the multiplier factor. Kendall is willing to make the riskier grants in order to pave the way for other foundations to fund food systems efforts. The dining service investment at UMass will have a major ripple effect: Colleges and universities spend $5 billion on food purchases each year. Through a grant to the Real Food Challenge (20% of food “from local, fair, humane and sustainable sources” by 2020), Kendall is leveraging their impact. Kendall reports, “Since 2012, 18 colleges and universities in the Northeast have taken the pledge. This translates to more than $10 million in university spending directed at local, sustainable farms and food businesses, up from $2 million three years ago.”  

Andy and his colleagues at the Kendall Foundation are striving for excellence using the best practices of dynamic, catalytic philanthropy and have made major, measurable gains towards a sustainable New England food system as a result.

Some of the most compelling quotes in philanthropy come from Tom Tierney, co-author of Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results. My favorite is from an interview he gave to Huffington Post: “In philanthropy, excellence must be self-imposed. And no one achieves excellence without pushing themselves on the fundamental dimensions of strategy, execution and continuous improvement that underpin the best philanthropy.” Kendall Foundation has pushed themselves on these fundamentals, and we seek to be as energetic, thoughtful, thorough, creative, and bold as they are. We may not hop on a bike in Portland anytime soon, but we can strive to make our journey as important as theirs.

The most powerful word in the English language is…

December 7, 2016
Posted December 7th, 2016 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog





This past spring, I joined a group of friends to cycle the Natchez Trace Parkway, 444 miles from Nashville to western Mississippi.  On day 2, we arrived near Florence, Alabama and stumbled on Tom Hendrix, an older gentleman who has dedicated the last thirty years of his life to building an incredible meandering stone wall through a peaceful woodland – a monument to his great-great grandmother, Te-lah-nay.

As a young member of the Yuchi tribe in the early 19th century, Te-lah-nay was part of the what we now call the Trail of Tears, a forced 1,000-mile march westward of native people to Oklahoma, a painful chapter of ethnic cleansing in American history and more accurately described as a death march. Andrew Jackson’s  Indian Removal Act of 1830 “re-appropriated” millions of acres for use by white settlers by nullifying any native right to the land and banishing wave after wave of original people to an unfamiliar world. Though thousands perished on the freezing cold trail, Te-lah-nay survived the brutal trek.

Te-lah-nay believed she would die anyway, living so far from all she loved and one day simply walked out of her camp to return home to where her heart still lived, near the singing Tennessee River.  Against all odds, and despite deadly conditions, she succeeded in walking for five years until she arrived at her beloved homeland.

Te-lah-nay’s great-great grandson, Tom Hendrix, built the wall we saw in Alabama as a memorial to her – one stone for each step she took to come home.  It is a very, very long wall.  This sacred space has become a place of sanctuary for many.  People from all over the world send stones to add to the wall, which has a mystical, otherworldly quality to it. Even my sweaty, bike-geared group -mostly scientists- fell into hushed voices while meandering around the woodland gardens that surround this unlikely memorial to the sanctity of home.

Many miles north, and much less remarkably, the cottage above has belonged to my family for four generations.  We have fished and paddled and swum the waters, watched a thousand sunsets, spent time with dying parents, celebrated birthdays and babies and tended broken hearts and occasionally limbs.  It is the heart of our family life.  It is home to us.

Everyone has such a place, and we can become truly heartsick when removed from it.

Ask anyone and they will tell you about the place that nourishes them.  Where is your sanctuary- that particular special spot where it all makes sense? As Maya Angelou wrote in All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

There is not a single building or place that the preservation or conservation worlds care about that does not mean home in some way, to someone: a place of worship like the First African Meeting House in Boston, Thoreau’s cabin, a lighthouse in Maine, a row house in Baltimore, an old movie theater, a family farm.  A place for which one would make sacrifices to return, like Te-lah-nay.

I worry that the field of historic preservation too often “re-appropriates” properties and sites to fit one version of history and that we too often miss the organic, native connection between heart, home and place. Perhaps we have become too academic – floating too far away from the hearts of most people and loftily telling them why “this place matters” when there are others who can tell us so much more about why it does matter, why it is home, to them.

Breathing Lights

October 10, 2016
Posted October 10th, 2016 by maryalbro and filed in Executive Director's Blog

For one sparkling minute each night, skyscrapers, tugboats, hotels, a yacht club and police cruisers send a blinking goodnight message to sick kids inside a children’s hospital. A gesture that began with a single light six years ago has become a nightly display along the Providence River — and a highly anticipated ritual — inside Hasbro Children’s Hospital.” ~ Matt O’Brien, Boston.com

The messages are exchanged each night at 8:30 PM – four flashes “Goodnight Hasbro” come from as far as a church group in East Providence, 2 miles away.

The return message from the kids is two flashes- “Thank you.”

The real message- we haven’t forgotten you.

Check out the full story by Matt O’Brien here- it will make you a happier person.

Just a few days after this story was published a captivating piece on a public art installation came out in the Albany Times Union, “The Art of Bloomberg-funded Breathing Lights.”  Like the lights flashed between Providence and the children at Hasbro, lights come at dusk on in old structures in Troy, Schenectedy and Albany- a coordinated effort to bring attention to dark, abandoned buildings and disenfranchised neighborhoods. From 6-10 each night through November, using a Breathing Lights map (www.breathinglights.com) you can visit these neighborhoods and see this art installation in person.

Amy Biancolli’s article about this project is so beautifully written, I encourage you to read it in its entirety at: http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Biancolli-The-art-of-Bloomberg-funded-Breathing-9611606.php?cmpid=fb-desktop

Here is a snippet: “On Locust near Chestnut, a gathering of adorable clapboard homes breathe in companionable silence. According to (artist Adam) Frelin, the team worked hard to find L.E.D.’s that echoed the incandescence of occupied homes, and their efforts paid off: the light beaming from within is warm and human, asking poignant questions in the darkness. What happened inside these houses? Why are they empty? Where did everyone go?

The lights humanize as they illuminate. In North Troy, the neighborhood around River Street has several lit structures, including an enormous, 20-window building on 7th Avenue and a tiny white clapboard house covered in vines on 6th. On River, sitting at the intersection with Smith, sits an empty shop with a winking storefront. Imagine the bustle that once marked that corner.

My friend once told me she knew her marriage was over when she returned home from a business trip late one night and the porch light was not on, again.

It’s a little thing but it’s everything, isn’t it?

Perhaps this is why this project is so special. Amy writes “Art always invites us to see, but good art challenges us to see in a new way — to notice something that’s been squatting in plain sight all along. Most of the buildings in “Breathing Lights” are just such ignored and invisible objects. Many are ramshackle houses that most of us, if we’re being honest, drive past with a blind eye. We turn from their weathered faces in the same way we look past the homeless. We’d rather not see them, so we don’t see them at all.

That’s why we should shine a light on, and for, them- sick children, old buildings, disengaged family. It is so easy to look past them, to leave them to the dark.

It’s a simple but profound gesture- leave a light on.  The breathing lights remind us, and them, that they are not forgotten.

Yet to Come: The Most Important U.S. History Makers

September 4, 2016
Posted September 4th, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog

 The L'Enfant Trust_side by side

Home for a future history-maker? photos courtesy of the L’Enfant Trust, Washington, DC

There is some serious stuff going on right now in the world. Racial tensions, Zika virus, an angry election, unsustainable energy demands, environmental degradation and climate change happening much faster than we thought it might.

And on a much smaller and more selfish level, I had my own challenging stuff this week. The first day of my vacation landed me in the hospital for major emergency surgery. (Because, vacation.)

These forced groundings – snowstorms, airport layovers and hospital visits- do have a benefit.  They allow time and brain space for serious reflection. (And this one also came with narcotics, so I took some bad pictures of the historic homes on Friendship Sreet from my window. Because, still vacation.)

Reflections on my work at the 1772 Foundation always point back to the 1772’s focus on historic properties redevelopment programs: preservation that puts people and community at the forefront and values entrepreneurial approaches to saving buildings and neighborhoods.

We focus on this area at some expense to more traditional architectural and historic gems, since our limited funds must be used in a highly strategic way to make an impact in an underfunded field and we can’t fund it all.  It is fair to say that a significant percentage of 1772 money is diverted from some of the more classically important and beautiful historic buildings to this redevelopment work, and it is something we constantly question and reevaluate.

My grounding gave me time to question and reevaluate and I was reminded of a simple truth: so much of the great arc of U.S. history is yet to come. To stand firmly in 2016 and only look backward- at buildings and historic figures fixed in the past- is to ignore this elementary but profound fact.  It hasn’t all been done yet. We have astonishing challenges before us- as difficult and as critically important as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the New Deal, etc. We need spirited, brave, innovative leaders to take us into the next 240 years.  Perhaps our preservation work should always be focused on the future.

The efforts of our future leaders deserve to be nurtured in rich and vibrant communities; in places and spaces that cherish indigenous character, beauty and history but still leave room for revolutionary new growth and the great and good history-making that will take root in these incubator spaces.  This is people-based preservation; the very type of preservation on which we focus through our historic properties redevelopment funding.

So, my narcotic-filter hospital window pictures of the historic homes turned out to be meaningful to me. During my forced grounding, I reaffirmed my belief that we need to save these neighborhoods and communities for the history-makers yet to come- those who will create new sustainable energy methods, who will teach us how to be kinder to each other, and who will find cures for disease and global warming. Because that is what preservation is really for- to provide an enriched environment for the history yet to come. 

Pokemon, Popcorn and Public Spaces

August 1, 2016
Posted August 1st, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog


It started the night before at the public tennis courts, when a mismatched gaggle of young people skipped straight through our game, clutching cell phones, laughing and oblivious.  They were heading for the cemetery. In relaying the story to my son later that night I added that I thought they were looking for a place to smoke pot.  “Uh, no, mom.  They were looking for Pokemon.”


I downloaded the app and was hooked in five minutes.  The next night found me at Queen Anne Square at 10 PM “walking the dog”.  (I was looking for Pokemon. Newport is lousy with them.)

The Square is lovely; beautifully landscaped and sloped gently towards Narragansett Bay under the lights of the Trinity Church steeple, a church built in 1725 and a familiar landmark to those walking, driving, or boating.

Strangers were connecting quickly to get updates and learn strategy.   A sweet young man, Gerald, helped me and another middle-aged newbie with strategy.  We had an easy conversation while the dog waited patiently.   It turns out we are work neighbors: Gerald at Inpopnito, a place that my family loves, and me at 1772 down the street at IYRS.  I pass him every day.

The square and the surrounding area are rich Pokemon hunting grounds.   The streets and public spaces (including many historical sites and markers) are the framework of the game, which uses GPS and local landmarks as touchstones like the historic Redwood Library and the League of  American Wheelman Monument.  Outside of a historic preservation conference I have never heard this many historic places being discussed with such intensity.

The Pokemon Go phenomenon reminded me why the board and staff at 1772 have been thinking so much more about the importance of public byways and places to preservation- how we navigate and use the connective tissue of our historic cities.  We are increasingly aware of the value of getting out of cars and moving by bicycle and by foot- how these modes of transportation clearly promote human-scale interaction and deeper appreciation of place.  

It was evident last month on my trip to Copenhagen as we were gliding by bike through the incredible medieval city and I was surprised to feel a similar response while enjoying a little childish adventure in Queen Anne Square with Pokemon Go, a smashing success at enticing people out of their houses and into the streets and public spaces to explore the richness that has been there this whole time.  

When we think of restoring historic cities, we have to pay serious attention to the role of the “arteries”;  spaces where the energy of residents and visitors should flow freely.   Car-free byways and public spaces are where we connect face-to-face and where community bonds are formed.  This is both the historic use and the promising future of public byways and spaces.  We have coined a term at 1772- “integrated historic revitalization” and these spaces are what integrate all of the historic pieces.  A little Pokemon Go on a warm summer night reminded me why.    After a horrifying week of escalating worldwide violence it was especially uplifting and reassuring to find so many strangers connecting on a warm summer night under the glow of the Trinity Church steeple.

My Pokemon Go career ended at level 5.  I still don’t really know how to use it.  But, I had a blast for a day or two and I got out of my house and rediscovered parts of my home city that I had missed or forgotten about.  I also got to meet my neighbor Gerald and that was great, too.  Go see him at Inpopnito: Popcorn in Disguise at 387 Thames Street in Newport, RI.  



Historic Cities After Cars…

June 22, 2016
Posted June 22nd, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog


New York, Philadelphia, DC, Milwaukee and Richmond were all on my travel docket within the past month which wrapped up with a week-long Citybuilders Symposium in Copenhagen, Denmark. The first thing I noticed, on the first morning in this medieval city of 600,000 was the noise- or the lack of it. Even at the busiest time of day, in the busiest part of the city, there was more of a hum than the cacophony I had recently experienced in other cities.

Most people cycle or take public transportation in Copenhagen. Over the past 30 years, automobile traffic has been relegated to a more appropriate place in the transportation food chain. The streets have been systematically reconfigured over the years to favor thoughtful protected bicycle lanes that make cycling the fastest, cheapest, most efficient and pleasurable way to get around the city.

While none of our lecturers stated this as one of the desired impacts, it was my observation that the emphasis on bicycles actually has been an incredible boost to historic preservation/revitalization there.

Why? Bicycles have a much smaller footprint than cars. Check out how big a difference at http://indy100.independent.co.uk/image/29187-m4oqnr.gif Far fewer parking spaces, garages and square feet of road are needed for them. They pollute less, make less noise, and allow commuters and tourists to move along at eye-level, at moderate speed, unwalled off by glass and chrome, and in concert with other humans.

Citizens shop, dine and live very locally in Copenhagen, as was the case for hundreds of years in historic cities before cars choked out this historic way of life. Public life is rich and varied and connected and very local- the way it was before cars became the priority.

Better transportation options make the streets, which comprise a very large percentage of public space, public again. All over the world, we have let cars devour ancient roads and lifeways. Our most important public spaces (and this is key) were not built for cars. They were built for people and horses. Streets were where much of daily public life unfolded, before cars made it too noisy and dangerous in most places to serve that critical function.

In short, historic revitalization of cities is strongly supported by the bicycle- they do not require huge amounts of public space and they have a gentler, more fluid interaction with old buildings and with the historic uses of the street- the connective tissue that makes the historic city whole.

The return to my home city of Newport, RI reminded me that the needs of people here have been taken over by those of cars in this beautiful city and made me wonder if a better transportation system here could be as successful as in Copenhagen. Both are historic cities, with a significant seasonal tourist influx. They are vibrant, creative, densely populated places with museums, libraries, and scores of unique architectural gems. Their histories are shaped by the sailing and the sea and thus know old connections with the rest of the world. People are drawn to these cities, for their historic charm and natural beauty.

But, in Newport, the car is still king. This is truly unfortunate. We can do much better and, in doing so, we could serve as a great example to other historic cities. It is not easy to challenge the cherished theory that cars are the only way to get to the heart of Newport and that cars are the best way to move people. A better way to reach the heart of this city is to go back to the future, when the needs of people were more important than those of cars. I look forward to the day when the paradigm shifts to allow people to safely move through this historic city without creating noise and air pollution and in a way that honors the historic buildings and streetscapes.

Brent Runyon: 60 Years of Preserving our Past

April 8, 2016
Posted April 8th, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog


We are reprinting an article written by our colleague, Brent Runyon, which was published today in the Providence JournalThe image above is of Brent at the Wedding Cake House on Broadway in Providence…

Brent Runyon: 60 Years of Preserving Our Past

April 8, 2016

A little more than 60 years ago, on Feb. 20, 1956, a group of Providence residents incorporated a new nonprofit organization: the Providence Preservation Society. The group was formed, in part, to protest a proposed urban renewal plan for the College Hill neighborhood. Like many such plans at the time, the proposal called for demolition of numerous 18th and 19th century buildings in an attempt to improve the area.

In response, PPS brought together planners, policy makers and preservationists to produce the iconic College Hill Study, which became a model for preservation as a means of community renewal. For the first time in national history, urban renewal funds were used to save old buildings — rather than to destroy them.

PPS’s “founding feat” preserved the past, but also contributed powerfully to the future. Walk down Benefit or Main Street today for a vivid picture of the lasting impact of that effort. Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design, College Hill and Providence would simply have far less appeal — appeal that is now recognized worldwide, and that has attracted and will attract investment in our city — had it not been for PPS’s forward-thinking founders who valued the past and believed that our future depends on it.

That kind of forward thinking is still one of our institutional values. It runs through all of our present day education and advocacy efforts, from a conversation on building livable neighborhoods at last fall’s Providence Symposium, to our 2016 Most Endangered Properties list, which features a collection of industrial, educational, and religious buildings that could net tremendous returns to Providence if repurposed.

We also recognize that Providence’s future success hinges not only on preserving the past but also on our city’s environment, economic development, and neighborhood vitality. There is an intrinsic relationship between these concerns and the quality of the places where citizens live, work, learn and gather.

That is why we introduced Jennifer Bradley, at the time a fellow and senior adviser of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, to Providence in 2014, when she discussed how Providence’s assets — chiefly our cultural heritage — can be used to build a bright economic future. Her former colleagues, Bruce Katz and Mark Muro, reinforced this notion in a Providence Journal Commentary piece, in which they cited Rhode Island’s “historic industrial character … and quality of place” as assets that “are investments in the fundamentals of economic development.”

Taking the long view is particularly critical as the city considers its single greatest present-day opportunity: the former Route 195 land. On the surface, development of the land is not primarily about historic preservation; it is about the city’s future. The future of this city has been a clear concern of PPS’s since our founding; in fact, it is stated in our mission to improve Providence by advocating historic preservation and the enhancement of the city’s unique character through thoughtful design and planning.

To that end, we concur with the recent Rhode Island Innovates report, which stressed the importance of including Downtown and nearby areas in the innovation district, which would help knit together Capital Center, Downtown and the Jewelry District, producing a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

And even while we crave “cranes in the sky,” we should demand high standards for architecture and siting, knowing that what is built on the land must be excellent for this generation and all to follow. Where there is any lack of political will, or laws that do not ensure excellence, PPS will advocate, as it has since 1956.

Like our founders, we envision a Providence that celebrates and preserves its past, building a vibrant and sustainable future where people and the economy thrive. This vision is only realized with a breadth and depth of partnerships with our members, donors, volunteers, and event-goers. Please visit us often at our new headquarters at The Old Brick School House (24 Meeting St.) and on the web at www.ppsri.org. We hope you will join us for an education program, advocacy effort, or signature event in 2016, our 60th anniversary year.

Brent Runyon is the executive director of the Providence Preservation Society.



Four observations about black history

February 23, 2016
Posted February 23rd, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog


If you are like me, born white in 1964, chances are your exposure to black history is limited and maybe a little skewed.  Mine was both, but I’ve been playing catch-up and here is a quick synopsis of what I’ve learned.

First, it is fascinating and inspiring.  Read about the brilliant entrepreneur Madame CJ Walker, The Periwinkle Initiative which strives to locate and mark the graves of enslaved Americans, Joseph McGill’s narratives that bring history to life through the Slave Dwelling Project , Garrett Morgan (you can thank him for traffic lights, among other inventions) and other incredible historical figures at Black History mini-docs. Visit the first, second or third African meeting houses in Boston, Nantucket and Portland, ME: Museum of African American History  Abyssinian Meeting House.  Read about The Green Book and what it was like to travel during Jim Crow. (with thanks to Dr. Gretchen Sorin, historian and 1772 trustee, who has studied and written extensively on this topic.) Tip of the iceberg- fascinating and inspiring.

Second, I learned it is too easy to avoid the reality of how a thousand threads of historic injustice permeate the fabric of our current world.  Inequity is an ecosystem and it is analogous to the environmental movement; my recycling does not mean the air and water everywhere are clean and pure. If I don’t attend to the bigger system of pollution/injustice, I am not doing enough. Check out this video about the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, the first slavery museum in the U.S.   In particular, I was struck by the importance of the answer to the (rather dumb) question, “Why can’t they just get over it”?  We have to know (all of us) the magnitude of what “it” is.  Understanding “it” is not for the lazy or those who avoid being uncomfortable.  I am both, but I try anyway.  Black history is our history- learn about it, discuss it, understand its importance to all Americans.  As one of my teachers reminded me, “sunlight is a powerful disinfectant”.  No one is lazier than I and I’ve learned first-hand that it is worth the effort to bring our history into the sun for a good, long clarifying discussion.  See #1-it is also fascinating and inspiring.

Third, and this isn’t fair at all, I learned that there are African-American history scholar-angels among us who continue to do more than their fair share to bring all of us to a greater understanding.  I have been privileged to learn from some of these amazing teachers.  They know their subject matter cold and they have the added burden of patiently walking me and others through history so that we can well and truly get it.  When I think about what will move the needle on the much-hyped and much-needed “national discussion”  I know these chosen ones probably hold the keys to success and, with it, they carry the added burden.  I for one am grateful for their bridge-building and patience with a remedial student. Let’s support these history heroes whenever possible:  Joseph McGill of The Slave Dwelling Project, Sandra Arnold of the Periwinkle Initiative, Dr. Lonnie Bunch and staff at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Leonard Cummings at the Abyssinian Meeting House to name a very few.   There are many, many more which leads me to my last observation: I have much more to learn- a lot more listening and reading to do.  But, I want the opportunity to be a tiny part of a better ecosystem and I welcome the chance to learn from and support the scholar-angels who will lead us all through history to a more just, richer and sunlit place.  It is a fascinating and inspiring journey.

P.S. There is always a For Dummies book- ISBN-13: 978-0764554698

Volcanos, bicycles and moving forward

January 13, 2016
Posted January 13th, 2016 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog


Copenhagen photo from Great City.org

Art’s Brief History of the World

13.5 BYR ago Big Bang
~4 BYR ago- Life begins
65 Ma-Mammals begin to take over
~100 Ka-Homo sapiens start to ruin the world
1815- Mt Tambora Erupts- bicycle invented
1869- ball bearing patented
1869-now- Everything else is a footnote* 


If you haven’t seen How We Got to Now, check it out.  In this series, Steven Johnson takes a fresh, wide-angle look at history and puts together seemingly disparate pieces to show us what really happened.   Think skimpy bathing suits have nothing to do with the Chicago sewer system?  Think again.  Unlike the straight-arrow timelines we endured in history class, this is the real history deal- messy, haphazard, exciting and sometimes explosive.  How We Got To Now

At the 1772 Foundation, we have been thinking a lot about how our field has become too much like a straight-arrow timeline.  We know that there are architectural and historic gems that need and deserve care- they are the jewels in our built history collection and they are well-suited to the timeline approach to history.  But they only account for a small fraction of the historic building stock in this country.  The entire spectrum of historic structures needs attention and it is messy and exciting business.

Like repairing a bicycle, historic preservation is not just getting the paint color right, but contributing to dynamic system in which the gears, wheels and brakes work together to propel us forward.  We need to consider the whole bike if we are to propel this preservation puppy to a successful and sustainable place.  Urban planners, low-income housing developers, environmentalists, city officials, transportation experts,  business owners and residents all need to work together if we want historic preservation to become a true historic revitalization movement.

And, interestingly, bicycles might be one of those disparate pieces that helps move us forward – one of the slices of the of the historic preservation pie of collaborators that will help historic revitalization evolve.

Historic cities lend themselves beautifully to the incorporation of non-motorized transportation options.  Like my home city of Newport, older cities were not built to accommodate the huge influx of car traffic that is dealt with every day. Parking in the summer is a competitive sport, the fragile colonial houses and churches shake when big trucks thunder through, and pedestrians must brave cross walks in a man vs. car situation that has ended tragically far too many times.

But it could look more like Copenhagen, where about 55% of daily trips are by bicycle.  This is holistic, sustainable systems change and it directly serves the preservation needs of fragile historic downtowns.  Check out Cycling Copenhagen, Through North American Eyes for a little inspiration.

Creating protected bicycle lanes in historic cities greatly reduces pollution, congestion, and frustration.  Bicycles are efficient, compact and quiet.  They promote human-scale interaction.  They take up far less space than cars.  Construction costs for protected bike lanes are a fraction of that eaten up by building car infrastructure.  As my friend Bari Freeman of Bike Newport summed it up- bicycles are gentle on our fragile historic cities.

Economically it makes sense, too.  Comprehensive bicycle infrastructure would expand historic downtown residential options because it could relieve would-be developers of the burden of providing unnecessary parking spaces.  Typically hard-to-develop second floor lofts above businesses could be created with greater flexibility for the millennials and baby boomers who overwhelmingly want to live in places where cars do not dictate how their daily life unfolds.

Bicycles gliding through the tight narrow streets of historic cities looks and feel right, because it is.  It is an inspiring image that reminds us that we can be more involved as preservationists than just guardians of crown jewels.  As preservationists, we can and should support this type of wholesale change that makes cities more livable and lovable.  (If the word lovable sounds too mushy, a must-read is How to make smart growth more lovable and sustainble by F. Kaid Benfield.  Fantastic.)

Fresh looks at history and historic preservation remind us that it not a topic that can be reduced to a straight arrow.  Like maintaining a working bicycle, preservation needs to contribute to a cohesive system that works across disciplines to propel true change, change in which the bicycle itself may play a key role. Steven Johnson and Art Spivack remind us that hitting the refresh button on history once in a while is healthy.  So is a historic city with protected bike lanes.


  • Dr. Arthur Spivack explains, “The 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora was one of the largest in recorded history and put a bunch of aerosol into the stratosphere.  This led to the “year without a summer” in Europe due to the reflectivity of the aerosols blocking the sunlight. As a result of the associated crop failures due to the lack of a summer, there wasn’t enough feed for horses in Germany. This inspired Karl von Drais to invent the first proto-bicycle as an alternative  means to get from town to town. About 50 years later, the ball bearing was patented as a device to be used in bicycles which were then fitted to the winning bicycle ridden by James Moore in the world’s first bicycle road race, Paris-Rouen, in November 1869.  The ball bearing ultimately enabled much of the Industrial Revolution.”

Beowulf, Bread and Car Wrecks

November 30, 2015
Posted November 30th, 2015 by maryanthony and filed in Executive Director's Blog


Detail of the opening words of Beowulf, beginning ‘Hwæt’ (‘Listen!), from Beowulf, England, 4th quarter of the 10th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 132r. – See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/03/monsters-and-marvels-in-the-beowulf-manuscript.html#sthash.otwMznqQ.dpuf

“Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga,  þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas  ellenfremedon!”

(traditional translation: “Listen! We have heard of the might of the kings”)

Hwaet! (rhymes with sat) is the first word of Beowulf, written about 1,200 years ago. But Jonathan Brown reports a challenge to its meaning in the Independent (Tuesday 5 November 2013) in his article, “Listen! Beowulf opening line misinterpreted for 200 years” 


In graduate school, most of us used a “Listen up” approach to Hwaet.  But Brown reports that since it was first published in 1819 “it has variously been translated as “What ho!”  “Hear me!” “Attend!” “Indeed!” and more recently “So!” by Seamus Heaney in 2000.”

And there shouldn’t be an exclamation point.  Oops.

According to Dr. George Walkden at the University of Manchester (U.K.), the better translation of the opening line is “How we have heard of the might of the kings.” Subtle, but important in the world of Beowulf.

Historical scholarship is hugely fascinating and sheds a light on pieces of the past- Walkden’s scholarship shows us, for instance, that the original listeners probably weren’t unruly. His work and the really fascinating work being done around African American history in this country matter- their scholarship enriches our lives by helping us understand how we came to be the people and civilizations we are today.

But Hwaet! (old school) Let’s go from the 1,200 year-old Beowulf kerfuffle to today.  Five people see a car wreck from different vantage points- various ages, eyesight, experiences.  Ask them what happened five minutes later.  Five different accidents.

So, how do we treat historical scholarship?  If one event can produce a multitude of responses minutes later and a 1,200 year-old text still has a misinterpreted FIRST WORD, then what should we think of history in general?  There are some very big reasons to look at all of documented history with a very cautious eye.

First, it’s history, rarely herstory, kidstory, or enslaved peoplestory.  All of our forebears had stories worth telling; most are forever gone.  Until fairly recently, you had to be able to read, write and be chosen for publication by a small group of outlets to have your story told.  We also should consider that most of written history focuses on wars, politics, major social upheaval, not the story of routine life.  So, we only have a sliver.  It is important, but we should know it will never be whole.

In the field of historic preservation, I often hear that buildings tell a story- told through architecture and placement and the narratives of the lives spent within.  I would respectfully suggest that like car wreck testimonies and Hwaet!, this is where our approach falls apart a bit and leads to what I believe is The Big Question for historic preservation – Are we spending equal time looking forward or are we stuck over analyzing the sliver of the past we have documented?

Once a building is preserved and its story told it is like baked bread.  Done. Preserved in its final format. We can spend earnest hours discussing the subtleties of the preserved history, the Hwaet! of the house, but it would be a true revolution if we in the historic preservation field instead spent fully half of our time looking forward. Unlike an ancient transcript, we have a whole usable building.  In fact, we have hundreds of thousands of buildings in this country that are historic and still very much needed, now.  If we restore and use them thoughtfully and artfully, they will do much for the future- they will keep an incredible amount of wreckage from our landfills, they will contribute to vibrant downtown cultures, economic revitalization, provide needed homes and spaces to create art and, yes, they will still tell a historic story.

So, perhaps we need to stop trying so hard to bake history and begin to employ a sourdough bread starter approach- bake some, but leave some to feed the future. Perhaps we should focus fully half of our historic preservation efforts on historic revitalization, preservation with a future.

In Paterson, NJ, the historic brick Paterson Silk Machinery Exchange building on Spruce Street has been turned into transitional housing for kids “aging” out of foster care. http://www.njcdc.org/housing/independence-house/ It is a very cool contributing building in a historic area that has recently been named an urban National Park.

“New Jersey Community Development Corporation worked with the New Jersey Department of Children and Families to create William Waldman Independence House, a safe, inviting and inspiring place which provides housing and supportive services for young people in their final years in the foster care system. The residents are supported 24 hours a day by NJCDC staff and receive assistance in building independent living skills and in developing vocational interests. This assistance includes creating Individual Success Plans that measure regular progress in attaining personal goals. During their time at Independence house, the ten residents pursue educational opportunities (high school diploma, GED, college courses, vocational training) as well as regular employment, preparing them to face the world of juggling various responsibilities as adults.”

Hwaet!  Listen up! Yo! Oi! Indeed! What ho! Attend!  The Paterson Silk Machinery Exchange tells an important historic story AND provides a little starter dough for a better future.   Let’s hope that the next 1,200 years give historic preservation and revitalization equal time because maybe one of these Paterson kids will become a dragon slayer.  Maybe he or she will become the most important story ever told by this building. We don’t know, because their stories haven’t been baked yet.