To Learn Something New (About Old Places), Bring in New Partners with Different Perspectives

Cooper-Molera Garden

Garden View at Cooper Molera prior to the beginning of rehabilitation (credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

At the National Trust for Historic Places, where I work, we believe that historic sites are fundamentally places of intersection. When we allow them to share their stories, historic sites are dynamic spaces where past, present, and future meet in a variety of ways.  One very important way they intersect is with community.

About ten days ago, I visited Cooper-Molera, one of our National Trust historic sites where delight and enjoyment are at the heart of our community intersections.  Cooper-Molera is a two and one-half acre property in the heart of downtown Monterey, California’s historic commercial district. There we are implementing a new model that combines commercial uses and interpretation in creative ways.  We will have a bakery, restaurant, and event center in adaptively used historic buildings operating in collaboration with museum uses in one of the adobe residences to reinvigorate the site, sustain it financially and engage audiences that might never visit a historic site or house museum. Those are the people we should all want to meet at this intersection.

We call this a shared use model for historic sites, because the commercial, for profit, museum, and nonprofit entities all share the same space and support each other.  This shared use model itself is an intersection with the local community, developed through intense engagement with local preservationists and long-time supporters of the site and with unexpected partners including a for-profit developer and community institutions like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Rehab at Cooper-Molera

Rehabilitation and New Construction underway at Cooper-Molera


Rendering of Cooper-Molera as a shared use site

Rendering of Cooper-Molera as a shared use site

There is a great story that emerged from one of our recent conversations with a group of Latino leaders in Monterey.  The “Cooper” in Cooper-Molera was an American sea captain, John Cooper, who moved to Monterey when it was part of Mexico and developed a robust business as a trader and merchant.  In the past, we would have focused almost exclusively on his story and we were surprised when this focus group of Latino leaders said we should focus on it again as one of the main stories we tell.  But they had a different spin on it.

John Cooper, they reminded us, immigrated from the US to Mexico when he came to Monterey and he did so without papers—as an undocumented immigrant.  He came in search of economic prosperity, he converted to Catholicism and married a woman named Encarnación Vallejo, who was the sister of General Mariano Vallejo, arguably the most powerful man in Mexico at the time.  He and Encarnaciόn had children and in 1830, John Cooper became a naturalized citizen of Mexico. We’ve been telling this story for years, but never framed this way.  Our focus group urged us to tell this old story in a new way that would highlight its ironies in the current political climate, focus on the central role of Encarnaciόn de Vallejo Cooper, and allow Latino audiences multiple ways to see themselves in the history of this place.

As is true in so many aspects of life, we never fail to learn something new—in this case about old places—when we bring in partners with different perspectives.

Have a good week.

More to come…


Check Off Another One!

With Claire at Church and State

Celebrating week’s end with Claire at Church and State in Los Angeles

My goodness, it has been a busy week of travel!

  • Attend the Main Street Now 2016 conference on Monday and Tuesday in Milwaukee and get energized by all the work going on in downtowns across the country – check.
  • Stop by and visit the amazing Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes in Milwaukee – check.
  • Catch a bad head cold and endure a 4 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to San Francisco – unplanned, but check.
  • Have lunch in Carmel with one of the elder statesmen of preservation – the indefatigable Knox Mellon and his wife Carlotta – check.
  • Celebrate the beginning of the construction phase of our work at Cooper-Molera historic site with more than 100 people from the city staff, California State Parks, our local stakeholders, and our development partners in Monterey – check.
  • Over a wonderful dinner celebration in Monterey, talk baseball with the wife of one of our partners at Cooper- Molera, who has the perfect marriage…she’s a Red Sox fan and her husband is a Giants fan…so on the west coast with the MLB package they can start watching the Sox games at 4 p.m. and follow that with the evening Giants game (how amazing is that!) – check.
  • FINALLY begin to shake the head cold and take off to Los Angeles for two days of family R&R with my Claire, where we celebrate on Friday evening with some of her housemates in the Jubilee Consortium at the wonderful Church and State bistro – check.
  • Make a return visit to the Huntington Gardens with Claire, and spend all day wandering through that amazing landscape – check.
  • To top it off, Claire and I take in a LA Angels game in Anaheim (after finding a great local craft beer brewery) to check off another stadium from the old bucket list – check.

Let me hit a few highlights:

The Shaw Neighborhood in Washington, D.C. was one of three Great American Main Street Award winners in 2016.  They were featured in this amazing video, which I encourage you to watch.  Congrats as well to Audubon Park, Florida, and Dahlonega, Georgia, the other GAMSA winners.

Mitchell Park Domes

The incredible Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee

While I was in Milwaukee, I made a stop by The Domes.  Located in Mitchell Park, these three conoidal (bee hive shaped) glass structures are the first and only domes to house plants in different climates. The shape allows for an excellent angle for efficient solar heating and it also gives more height for taller plants.  The Domes were designed by local architect Donald Grieb and drew accolades from around the world when completed in the mid 1960s.  No less than Lady Bird Johnson – then the First Lady of the U.S. – officially dedicated The Domes in 1965.  It just goes to show that  Calatrava wasn’t the first to design amazing modern architecture in this Midwestern city.

Interior of the Show Dome

The interior of the Show Dome


Show Dome Ceiling

Show Dome Ceiling

Speaking of modern architecture…

I’m staying at the historic Biltmore Hotel while in LA, which is just a few short blocks from the new Broad Museum and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I took a stroll down the street after arriving to check both out up close.

Broad Museum detail

Detail from the Broad Museum on Grand Avenue in LA

The Broad is a new contemporary art museum founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. The museum is designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler.  It sits next to the already iconic Disney Concert Hall, which has won accolades from its opening in 2003. The mix of landmark contemporary and historic buildings (such as the LA Central Library) has helped revive this part of downtown in a city that is not known for a strong core.  I don’t have time here to go into all the different aspects (positive and negative) of this new development in LA, but I’ve tucked these images and thoughts away for future mulling.

Church and State with the Jubilee Gang

Caroline, Edgar, Claire, and Gracie (l to r) at Church and State Bistro

Claire and I also explored another part of LA – the revitalized Arts District – when we went with friends for dinner at Church and State bistro.  Good friends and good food – always a treat!

For my last full day in Southern California before heading home, Claire and I decided to revisit the beautiful Huntington Gardens, which we first visited a couple of years ago. As usual, Claire captured some wonderful scenes with her camera.

Desert Garden

The Desert Gardens at the Huntington (photo credit: Claire Brown)


Huntington sculpture

Huntington Garden sculpture (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Claire and I wrapped up our weekend by taking in a baseball game at Angels Stadium in Anaheim – which allowed me to check off another MLB stadium from my bucket list. On the drive down, Claire went online and found a microbrewery within walking distance so we could sample some local IPA.  We succeeded – drinking IPAs at Noble Ale Works and making new friends in Brooks and Jen.

Angels Stadium

Angels Stadium (photo credit: Claire Brown)

Then it was off to the stadium.  We found a local favorite food – the grilled cheese sandwich – at The Big Cheese.  Though not traditionally a ballpark food, the grilled cheese is hugely popular with fans. I had mine with short ribs, while Claire had arugula and tomatoes with her sandwich.  The home team looked to be on a roll when Mike Trout and Albert Pujols hit back-to-back jacks (or homers, taters, four baggers, dingers, you name it) in the first inning, setting off an impressive fire display in the waterfall just beyond the center field fence, but that was about it for the offense and the local nine fell to the Houston Astros 4-2.

With Claire at the Big A

With Claire at the Big A

We realized that with her joining me tonight at her seventh stadium, Claire has been my companion at more stadiums that anyone else.  (By my count, I have been to five stadiums each with Candice and my former work colleague Dolores McDonagh.)  For those keeping score, here is the list of ballparks visited:

  • Atlanta Braves – Fulton County Stadium (multiple visits in 1980s; never got to Turner Field before they tear it down, but this counts given my rules)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s)
  • Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park (1988)
  • Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012)
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (2013)
  • Cleveland Indians – Progressive Field (2014)
  • Colorado Rockies – Coors Field (2008, 2013)
  • Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium (2009)
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angels Stadium (2016)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park (2005)
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field (2014)
  • Oakland A’s – Oakland Coliseum (2008)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park (2008)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park (2013)
  • San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park (2012 and 2014)
  • Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (2009)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Busch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012)
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field (2012)
  • Washington Nationals – RFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group since 2012)

And here is the ballparks remaining to visit list:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park (Another park I’ve seen but haven’t made a game.)
  • Houston Astros- Minute Maid Park (Which I am planning on visiting later in June)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium (This is the only park that a family member – Claire – has seen before I have had the opportunity. Three or four times, no less. That’s just not fair!)
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • New York Mets – Citi Field (I think this is an easy one to do, but it never works out.)
  • New York Yankees – Yankee Stadium (I know – how can I not have made it to Yankee stadium yet?!  Just goes to show I’ve never been a big Yankees fan)
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Park (our new friends Brooks and Jen were raving about this stadium)
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

Hopefully, by the end of the season I’ll be at 10 or less left to go!  If I keep traveling as much as I have this week, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Heading home on Sunday, and ready to check off another Memorial Day holiday.

More to come…


NYC: Continuing a Spring Break Tradition

This is a tradition that begins with an oft-told story.

When Claire was in fourth grade, she returned home from school one day to announce that the teacher had asked everyone to tell the class what their parents did for a living.  So I asked Claire, “What did you say?”  She replied, “I said my father signs papers and goes to meetings.” In her own straight-forward, fourth grade sense of the world, she was correct, and I told her so.  But I also said that meetings and papers were not why I worked.  And from that conversation, the annual Spring Break trip to get to know Daddy’s world was born.

A few weeks later I spoke to my then-boss and said I’d like to take one child with me on a trip during Spring Break to see the work of the National Trust.  Dick blessed the idea, saying he had done something similar when he worked in the White House.

My rules:  it had to be a legitimate work trip where they could see some on-the-ground preservation work, it had to be to some place the children were keen to visit, we had to be able to use frequent flyer miles for the children’s plane tickets, and we would take an extra day to visit things the children really wanted to see in the city or region.

Claire was up first in fifth grade (since she was the inspiration), and as luck would have it I was attending the National Main Streets Conference in Albuquerque that year.  Claire had never been to the Southwest, so off we went.  It was the perfect first Spring Break trip.  Claire wanted to visit Santa Fe, so we took the Turquoise Trail up from Albuquerque and spent the day in that wonderful city.  She learned a lot about Main Street.  We had a magical tour of Acoma Pueblo, our National Trust Historic Site.  And she even got to skip out of the plenary session where I was speaking to go with a friend to see the Albuquerque Isotopes (best minor-league name ever) play on “Homers for Heritage” day.

Next year it was Andrew’s turn.  I had a trip to Seattle planned to introduce Anthea Hartig, our then-new director of the Western Regional Office, to our partners, so to the Pacific Northwest we flew.  The reception for the event was at the renovated Sears Building in Seattle that is world headquarters for Starbucks (the first time they’d opened their doors to an outside party), and Andrew hit the jackpot.  While I was shaking hands and chatting up partners and supporters, our host took him on a basement-to-tower tour of the building.  I also discovered that he was a natural at cocktail parties, charming the ladies and talking like an adult.  And when he got tired, he went over to one of the many big chairs Starbucks has scattered all around the building, curled up, and fell asleep.  Later that trip we took a one day drive down to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument – something I’d never have done on my own but it was fascinating for both of us.

Andrew has a two-week spring break, so that same year we went down to James Madison’s Montpelier, our National Trust Historic Site in Orange, Virginia, for a day trip and a hard hat tour of the restoration of the mansion.  Mike Quinn and his staff were incredibly generous in answering a sixth-grader’s questions, and I often wonder if that was the impetus for Andrew’s love of architecture.

Claire was up again for seventh-grade and had always wanted to see San Francisco.  I scheduled my first-ever visit to Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey to see first-hand a proposed project at this National Trust Historic Site.  We also met with the director at our other California site, Filoli, and had an all-around marvelous visit to the west coast.  (I have wondered if this was the trip that eventually led to Claire’s pull to California and her acceptance at Pomona College.)  We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel (getting a staff rate at our Historic Hotels of America was another key part of the trip) on historic Nob Hill.  We toured preservation projects in the city and Claire got her first taste of gourmet vegetarian life with a dinner at Greens.  (As I’m recognizing trends, perhaps this was influential in Claire’s later decision to become a vegetarian.)  A real treat of this trip was an invitation to a lunch at Random Ridge Winery, owned by good friend and award-winning preservation lawyer Susan Brandt-Hawley and her husband Bill.  They invited us and the National Trust Western Regional staff and their families out for a great day of food and wine.

For eighth grade, I needed to go to Denver for a series of meetings with the regional staff in our Mountains/Plains office and then on to Seattle for the National Main Streets Conference.  Andrew (he of the two-week spring break) was up, so we went to Denver.  Andrew toured the city on his own during my meetings (boasting later that he’d taken every form of transportation available to visit the sites – from light rail, to bus, to taxi, to walking).  The next day we drove to Georgetown, Colorado, to tour the Hotel de Paris, our most recent addition to the portfolio of National Trust Historic Sites.  In Seattle, Andrew went on neighborhood tours with the Main Street conference attendees before we headed home.

When they entered high school, I worried the tradition would end.  However, in their freshman year the twins came up with a scheme so both could go!  I had work in Boston that year and Andrew and Claire were both eager to go to the Northeast.  Claire agreed Andrew could join us so we could “see a few colleges along the way.”  I did my work in Boston (while Andrew and Claire explored the city on their own…things were changing), and then we headed west, stopping at Concord for a tourist visit (see the shot at left) and then out to Chesterwood for meetings with the head of our site advisory board.  And yes, we stopped to make our first visits to potential colleges.

The “Daddy’s world” tradition really ended with the sophomore and junior trips, and we dropped the work-related aspects of our spring break tradition.  All three of us went to Tennessee during the sophomore year to visit with family, and last year we became serious with the college visits.  Claire and I went to Southern California where Claire first visited Pomona College.  She heads back this fall as an incoming freshman.  When we returned to the east coast, Candice and Andrew joined us and we made Andrew’s first visit to Brown University, where he’ll enroll this fall.  So even with the changes, spring break trips continued to have a special resonance for us.

All of this is a VERY long preamble.  As Andrew and Claire approach the end of their senior years in high school, we decided on a trip to New York City for spring break – a place we’d never visited as a family.  We’ve been in the city the past three days on a wonderful visit that, while personal, still resonates with trips from the past.

Traveling with family takes you to places you wouldn’t normally visit.  Dylan’s Candy Bar, for instance, or the 8th floor of Saks (where the express elevator takes you to the women’s shoe section – a party place complete with thumping music and champagne that has its own zip code!)  But traveling with adult children also let’s you enjoy fine dining (a fabulous meal at Blue Hill) and the theatre (where we saw the New York production of War Horse, a show I was lucky enough to see last year in London).

And while this wasn’t a work-oriented trip, we still saw some great preservation work.  On a terrific tour of the Empire State Building, the project manager told us of the restoration of the lobby (a 2010 National Trust Honor Award winner) and the building’s incredible sustainability effort (which captured the attention of Claire the environmentalist and Andrew the preservationist).  We saw the work of some old friends from little ole’ Staunton, Virginia, when we visited the beautiful Taylor and Boody organ at St. Thomas on Fifth Avenue. It is also great to see the family live out their passions in the city.  Andrew went to an Evensong at St. Thomas.  Claire has worked hard not to take “tourist” photographs as she’s captured the city on film.  (Yes, she is old school.)  Andrew and I went for a walk on the High Line this afternoon, to scratch his urban planning itch, and we all made a pilgrimage to Greenwich Village to pay homage to Jane Jacobs.  Candice has found great food offerings for every occasion (including a neighborhood bistro, Serafina, this evening).  In my love for history, I heard that the 100th anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was being honored on Friday.  Later in the day we walked by the demonstration/remembrance as we visited Greenwich Village.

We are living in the moment…trying not to think about future Spring Breaks when the children are in college (and may not want to learn more about Daddy’s world).   Thank God for traditions that live on. Here are pictures from this year’s trip to New York City.  Enjoy.

More to come…