Jason Church: Welcome to today’s webinar I am your host Jason Church with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we are joined by Preservation Architect Jack Pyburn to discuss preserving African American Historic Properties. Jack it is my pleasure to introduce you not only as a NCPTT board member but as a preservation architect with over 35 years experience.
Jack Pyburn, has worked on two dozen important African American historic sites from iconic and international to local in significance. He will discuss his experiences and lessons learned with the objective of broadening the interest in and for, conserving African American heritage in the United States.
Mr. Pyburn was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, attended Texas A&M University and Washington University in St. Louis and worked for 10 years in St. Louis before coming to Atlanta in 1981. He had his own preservation architectural practice for 25 years before joining Lord Aeck Sargent as Preservation Studio director in 2007.
Jack Pyburn: … it is extremely rich with history. Obviously, and while we are currently in general terms, focused on civil rights history, African American history is obviously much broader and much deeper, and over time will be fleshed out in much greater terms. The new Washington Museum is incredible in terms of setting the context and providing the place for that broader recording and communicating and understanding of history can be discovered.
I think the subject is very timely and important. I think the subject … One reason it’s timely and important is that the civil rights movement in particular is still ongoing. We tend to think of it somewhat being frozen in the ’60s, but obviously like all history, it continues on and change happens at different paces. It is complex, and it is diverse, and it’s part of everybody’s history. History is a collective sphere, and African American history is really a part of everybody’s history, and has wonderful things and important things for us all to learn and understand and experience.
So it’s an honor to have had the opportunity to work on some important sites and facilities, and to share that experience with you. I wanted to say that the examples that I’m gonna illustrate, I think, are significant sites, and have some interesting stories and experiences to transmit to you. It is not an exhaustive survey. It’s not a scholarly study. It is an opportunity to broaden the exposure on the subject.
What I plan to do today is to first … I thought it would be helpful for you to understand where I’m coming from, from a preservation standpoint, so I’m gonna give you a brief orientation to this preservation architect’s perspective of preservation. I want to identify a range of issues and conditions that I think face African American sites, in particular, today. Then I’m gonna go through a series of case studies of different scales of sites and projects, and talk about their characteristics and challenges and successes. Then I hope we have a few sent in questions. I hope to learn as much from you and your curiosity and knowledge as per what I’m able to provide. So I hope we have not only questions, but some capacity for discussion.
So with that, I’d like to … Sorry, just a second. There we go. So, just to start … A little bit of my perspective of preservation. This is how I look at history. It is like a cable, and the various strands make up history. Any given exercise of dealing with an historic site can only deal with it with a few, if not one, strand of history. So it’s a much more complex … And every site has a complex set of histories that generally, I think, include a core. Oftentimes preservation is around a core piece. But it also includes these other components that represent the whole. The important thing about this to me is that when we deal with a historic property in whatever capacity, we’re only dealing with a limited part of it. So it’s critical that our respect for, and protection of, and the fabric that can interpret that largest part of that larger rope is preserved for future generations. I’ll talk more about that.
One of the things that I work off of is that preservation is not in black and white. Preservation is in shades of gray. And it goes back to the understanding of history. We only have a certain amount of history that’s available to us. We have artifacts and properties that are altered and different from what they might be as they relate to the more significant pieces of history. So it requires an intellectual construct in order to shape an approach to treatment that is based on as deep a narrative as one can possibly gain to understand the fabric you’re looking at and how to interpret it.
What is in black and white is what exists, so I think that’s very important. The importance of this is that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. I remember a project we did actually at Oakland Plantation on the doctor’s house. I’ll show this in a minute, but the period of significance ended in 1960. That was the time when the plantation stopped functioning, from an agricultural perspective. In the ’50s, mid to late ’50s, they had actually dry-walled the interior of the doctor’s house, and in struggling with the approach to how to treat that property, the decision was made to keep the dry-wall overlay of an earlier period in that house to preserve its entire history, relative to the agricultural production of the plantation.
That’s a case where every piece of that building needed to be understood. It is a tangible piece, and should be dealt with carefully. So my next perspective is that all treatment to a building is an intervention. I think we think about preservation treatment as being something different, something careful, something sensitively done, and it is. But my point here is that all treatment needs to be considered sensitively, and in the context of the historic setting. So there’s a responsibility for all levels of intervention, from the matching of the mortar and the brick to insertion of a new component that must exist in a historic context. All of them should be dealt with as a thoughtful treatment.
Contributing fabric is precious. That goes back to what I was saying a minute ago, about the fabric that exists. Patina is good. I think as a … Generally, we want everything to look brand new like the structure was built yesterday. If we’re restoring it, in fact, careful securing and repainting patina is a very positive thing to do. Obviously the basic preservation principle of repair, don’t replace, goes along with these others.
So this is my little construct about the context of preservation. We all only exist in the present. So the question is … The present is a fleeting thing, and things are moving from the future to the past in every second that goes by. So I put together this little construct of … So here we have the past in the yellow area obviously is all of history. If we only have a past, and we have no future, then what we have is the end. So the next then, is … Go ahead … is the future. If you notice on the past, we know more about what happened yesterday than we know about what happened last year. And it’s in the future we know what may happen tomorrow better than we know what may happen in two weeks. So we have this phenomenon of dealing with the most information very close to us when we are charged with trying to balance and to examine much longer areas of history.
So if with the future and no past, then what we have is Alzheimer’s. Next. So what we have then is necessity. The past can’t exist without the future, and vice versa. We have a necessity of dealing in a balanced way. That means that to be balanced, we need to bring as much of that past forward, in order to inform the future, as possible. We also need to embrace the future and have it draw from the past and enrich the future by it again.
So this is another way of communicating this. Here we have the same past and the future, and here we have recorded history, as opposed to all of history. We don’t know all of history. We only know recorded history. For a given historic resource, we have a piece of that history, of the recorded history. So in a certain project, we’re gonna be dealing with a slice of that history. In a project to reuse a building, we’re dealing with a little slice of what we think the future might be. The interesting thing about that is that we don’t know, the further out we go, what that future might be, so we’re working off a very narrow band of presumption about the future in making decisions in the historic context that could dramatically alter for very short term gain.
I think this is the struggle and tension in the process of dealing with an historic property, whether that be from an interpretive standpoint, or whether it be from a more functional use standpoint. Here’s what we’re doing it for. We’re adapting for the short term, but we’re preserving for the long term. I think it’s important to keep that in mind as we make decisions, again, particularly when we’re dealing with reuse of historic resources.
So the next … Go ahead. The next thing is about the use of buildings. Typically, in modern terms, the cause of organizational theory and management practice, we’ve gone through a period where certain classifications of work fit in certain physical environments, whether that’s the 8 X 10 cubicle … and everyone that’s doing a certain job has an 8 X 10 cubicle. That kind of thought process has been damaging to reuse of historic buildings. In fact, people are much more flexible than that.
So it’s important to look at functional performance criteria and spatial relationships than just spatial requirements, dimensional requirements, and acclimating people to different types of work settings. Interesting experience for me has been that when I’ve taken up a project where a building has not been maintained for a long period. The people that have occupied it, their view is, “Get me out of this building, and I never want to come back.” That when the project is finished, and they’ve seen the character and quality of the building they left, be brought back, it’s the first place they want to go back.
I think it speaks to this notion of, it’s not about some rigid notion of work environments. It’s more about understanding what work needs to be done, and how you can creatively, within the fabric of the building, insert that ability to function and to perform, and to add an extra level of motivation and energy, by virtue of the environment you’ve created.
This diagram is a kind of the way I look at a project. In a building, I’ve been given a book, a diary if you will, that has had a series of chapters written over time. I’ve been asked to write a chapter. In writing that chapter, I should acknowledge and understand the previous chapters, but also need to be aware of the aspirations for future. To write that chapter in a way that future chapters can be written that are coherent to the overall history of a particular resource. So this is kind of the way I think about how to approach a project and the context for making detailed preservation decisions.
So here … I want to apologize for this being just a page full of text, but I wasn’t sure how to do this otherwise. But I wanted to go through a series of thoughts and observations about historic African American resources that I have learned over my experience. Obviously the first is the huge amount of untapped history. I think the story of Hidden Figures, the recent movie, and Dorothy Johnson, is a good example of the history of NASA. Up until recently, it has had nothing in it about the African American women who were so instrumental in taking us to the moon. I also …
Another example I have is of a man named Emmanuel Brown in Dallas County, Alabama, south of Selma. Emmanuel Brown was a son of a slave. The plantation owner recognized Emmanuel’s interest and drive for education. Helped him get to first manual training school, and he ended up going to Harvard. Emmanuel Brown had a strong connection with the community in Boston, and could have easily stayed in Boston for his career. But he was an educator, and he had a affinity for the community that he came from. With the support of a Mrs. Street in Boston, Emmanuel came back to Dallas County, Alabama, and set up the Street Manual Training School.
The Street Manual Training School functioned until desegregation, and like most African American educational structures, was abandoned. But Emmanuel Brown’s story, and that resource, is sitting in a rural area of middle Alabama now with a desire and need to shine light on what Emmanuel Brown’s values were, and what that resource can do for education in that part of Alabama.
So it’s just an example. Those kinds of stories are everywhere. I think it’s the kind of untapped history that the deeper it’s explored, the more it will come to light, and be of value to, and inspiration for everyone.
The point is, the civil rights period of history is not over. It’s still evolving. I think it’s a particularly interesting way and important way to think about how we deal with particularly civil rights history, because we need to look at it not as a fixed point in time between 1960 and 1968, but an ongoing story. How do we organize and communicate that rich and important early civil rights history? When I say early … the second half of the twentieth century, as it continues to evolve.
The third is about the impact of integration, and I mentioned it as it related to education. You see it across the board, and I’ll show you examples in a minute of where integration basically vacated many important African American sites and businesses that were in existence because of segregation. So how you deal with that set of conditions, I think is a particularly challenging and important one to wrestle with about what … In the future, how do you interpret the conditions in a segregated environment that was driven to achieve integration?
The next one is … Much of the restoration work has been around post Civil War, in part because the records are better and the resources are more … there are more of them, they’re more recent, they were built and developed. The other interesting piece is so much of it is modern history, particularly architecturally. I’ll show you buildings that are modern movement buildings. They were all inspired by modern architecture. So there’s an interesting correlation between modern architecture and twentieth century African American history.
The limited and obscure documentation is something that is difficult, and again, I’ll show you a project in a minute, where that has been, light shined on that recently. It puts more importance on oral histories. Oral histories, many of you know, can be tricky. Our memory is not always rock solid. One person’s observation is maybe taken in different context than another. But it means that oral histories, while they’re still around, are extremely valuable in trying to document conditions that existed.
The next slide is not all African American structures were about Hausbau. Buildings need to be looked at as vessels for an exceptional history. In and of themselves, in the materiality, the way they were constructed, why the materials were selected, are all architecturally quite important and need to be looked at that way, and looked at creatively. So I think it’s important to think about the architectural aspects and the value of the architecture in a different way. That goes to number seven.
That is that … While I’m thinking about it, let me skip to number eight. Eight really is … Populist preservation has been much more about traditional styles and high style buildings. To some degree, the downside of that is sort of the populist preservation entities have been … Their focus has maybe not been as balanced in the past. I think there’s more attention being given to African American properties, but it’s still very much a sphere of interest. A larger populist interest is around traditional and Hausbau buildings. One of the realities, as a result of that, is that much of African American advocacy is grassroots, and much of it is church based. So the church is very much a community entity that is the leader in preservation of African American sites in raising awareness and attention to how to do it and how to do it well.
Number nine is the lack of resources, and it goes along with the fact that a lot of resources go over a broad base of more populist preservation, and how do we grow the resources for preserving African American sites and features. Modernization is an interesting issue. Modernization goes back to the issue of the whole civil rights movement to move past segregation. Modernization is viewed as democratic and right to continue to grow into the future. So there are properties that are meaningful for a period in time, that have been modernized. In order to keep them functioning. In some cases, they represented economic survival if they didn’t do that. So modernization is a challenge. How do you do that, again, sensitively, I think is something that needs to be enhanced, particularly with African American resources.
The loss of, or at risk of loss of development encroachment. Particularly in rural environments and suburban environments, the encroachment of development, the increase in property values, has been a particular risk to important sites. The insensitive adjacent new developments not being respectful of the resources there. This is another area where community land use and development regulations could be more engaged in keeping … having an acknowledgment of the historic context, and a conscious response that … respectful response to it.
Number 13, I think is a particularly … I don’t pretend to know the extent of this, but I do believe it is a phenomenon in some situations. That is for African Americans who have the stewardship of, the ownership of, responsibility for important historic sites, but distrust for outsiders for help. There have been too many experiences where they have been unsatisfactory relationships, or not having had an adequate cooperative and collaborative exercise to produce an outcome. I think this is a particular concern. To the degree that it does exist, finding ways to break that down in a way that … It’s not a matter of breaking down the group that has a concern about trust. It’s a more breaking it down of developing of better relationships that can cooperatively and collaboratively achieve the objective that the community wants to have happen, and achieve their goals.
I think finally, for me, a particular concern is the limited number of relatively small number of African Americans in architectural planning, with historic preservation foundation the focus. It’s been known for some time that African American participation in architecture has lagged way behind. I think in preservation it’s even further behind. There is now one preservation program at a historically black college in University of Delaware State. It is not in the architecture program. The Tuskegee school of architecture is thinking seriously about developing a historic preservation program in their school of architecture. So those are optimistic signs of that changing. Obviously, participation in all preservation programs in an important piece as well. But I think particularly for [HVC 00:29:09] news, there is not only a need, but there’s an opportunity for them to develop a capability that would be very productive and beneficial, both to the institutions and to their students.
So with that, I’d like to now go through a series of case studies. The first one I’d like to just make a comment or two about the Oakland Plantation Slave Quarters, which I had the opportunity to write the historic structure report for some years ago. I think for me, the point to make here is that these two structures, except for privilege and scale, these two structures embody all of the same aspects of humanity and capability and rich history and family stories. There are two different scales, two very different sets of experiences. I just think there is parity in these two structures that is extremely important in how we look at African American historic sites as not a subordinated or subservient kind of structure, but one that is regal and has a richness in its history to be discovered, understood, and experienced.
You can go in this house and feel the context, feel the experience of living in that structure, at that scale, at that time, in that agricultural environment, and what it took to survive, achieve, and persevere, are extremely powerful. Here’s the same cottage, and on the right is the doctor’s house. So I mentioned the doctor’s house for my dry-wall exercise from the late ’50s. In fact, the doctor’s house is seven different iterations. So the piece of this house on the left … This is the image on the right. Pieces of the house on the left is a Creole cottage with French hand-hewed framing, undoubtedly done by slaves, marked in the French nomenclature of log building. Then six other additions, most of which were constructed in whole or part by the folks who lived in that house on the left. To me, when you look at the craftsmanship and the quality and the intelligence that went into building that, by the group that lived in the house on the right. The two sit very close to one another, and to me represent the values of the house on the left, embodied in the house on the right.
The next example is the Modjeska Simkins house. This is a small, little vernacular structure in Columbia, South Carolina. Modjeska Simkins was an educator who got involved in trying to solve the tuberculosis problems of South Carolina in the early twentieth century. Because of her involvement in the NAACP, was fired from that job. And she was doing a very effective job. She then went to work on an education federal court case called Bridge vs. Elliott, which had to do with equalization of schools and the case became an underpinning to the Brown vs. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas.
Interesting thing about this, many African American leaders and scholars came through this house. She was well known, certainly throughout the eastern half of the U.S. During the preparation for Brown vs. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall actually lived in a little, small duplex outbuilding behind this house that still exists. I wish I could have found a photo of it. But Thurgood Marshall came and worked on his case for Brown vs. Board of Education. This is a little, reasonably nondescript house in the middle of a partially remaining street, off of downtown Columbia.
But it is, in fact, an extremely important site, not only to Columbia, South Carolina, and I might say Historic Columbia Foundation now owns this building, has restored it, interprets it, and it’s got a secure future. But it’s also a building of national importance. Again, an example of a little nondescript building that without its story being told, on wouldn’t know.
The Montgomery bus station is a case where really some folks at the state preservation office were highly driven to save this building. It’s a very important building. It was built in 1951 off of standard Greyhound Bus plans. In 1961 was the site of a bus boycott and the sit-ins at the … I’m sorry, the Freedom Rides and the sit-ins that took place here. So what you see behind it is a federal court house. In fact, the federal court house site has encroached up to the back wall, what you can see in the yellow brick. The context has completely changed. Much of the meaningful civil rights history happened in the rear portion where the buses would swing in to an angled parking place and load and unload, and then swing back around the other side as they left. That part is all gone. Much of the interior was lost over time. But there is significant fabric that’s there. And that fabric is sufficient to communicate some of the key pieces of the segregation history and the context in which the sit-ins and the reaction to the marches were carried out.
The folks who were really responsible for, and frankly continue to support and interpret and operate this facility, did an excellent job of creating a historic narrative that you can follow, both along the front elevation of the building, and when you get to the interior, it is an example again of how development has encroached on this resource, and the unfortunate loss of being able to experience and understand how the bus flow and the people flow actually worked where people were attacked and conflict happened in the rear of this building. But it is an important resource, but it also is a case where its context has been dramatically altered.
For the next … Go ahead. The next example … We had the opportunity to work on the Selma to Montgomery Freedom Trail for the Park Service. This was a particularly, it’s a 54-mile stretch. There were five marches that took place along this trail. The conditions that exist today are not the ones totally that existed when the marches happened. The alignments have changed. The people on the walk were staying on sites that are now private property. So some important areas where events took place are not accessible. It is a fast moving, four-lane divided highway now, all the way between Montgomery and Selma. So the pedestrian environment is different. How you can communicate the experience that the people we see in this photo, is extremely challenging.
Fortunately, the park service has built a very good interpretive center there. That is a big help, and I know folks who have biked this route, and that’s a way that one can certainly appreciate the distance that this group covered to make this statement. But it is a particularly challenging preservation and interpretive exercise to communicate what that experience was like. I’ll add that there was an example of the kinds of things that can spin off from this is that the … We had the opportunity to work with a class from Tuskegee’s architecture program, who were trying to address the particular transportation requirements in these, particularly in the older folks in Lowndes County, which you can see on the map. Which is one of the poorer counties in Alabama and the country.
The need for them to be able to get to Montgomery or Selma for medical, for groceries, for other types of … banking services, all types of things. And the difficulty of them doing that now, and how you could tie on a transportation arrangement within Lowndes County that could tie them into the Selma to Montgomery trail, that has regular public bus service back and forth, was a way that the presence of that trail, and the acknowledgment of that trail, has spawned other creative ideas for serving this part of Alabama.
So on the lower left, you see the environment today, and on the right you see the marchers. And there was some four-lane at the time, but not nearly as much as there is four-lane now. Of course, the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge is still there, and still a marker.
This is a project actually that has been done by a very capable and creative preservation group, New South Associates, in Atlanta, a group we work with a great deal. I thought this was Mary Beth Reed and JoJo’s affair. It was first rate. I thought that their experience in Mary Beth telling me about this was worth including. They were asked by Charleston County to survey the historic resources of the African American resources of Charleston County. If this was their first overlay of where African American resources were in Charleston County. The map has been further refined to identify African American communities. But then what they found was absolutely fascinating.
So they found, one, that the communities … that the residents of the communities actually had different names for their community than what was on the county records, and what the community generally referred to in identifying these historic African American communities. They also found that there were settlement patterns that were very different than other settlement patterns in the area. So this is one example of a settlement pattern. Of a Freedman’s Era settlement pattern. What they found was that you would find multiple generations living on these long, narrow, swaths. So you might have the earliest generation living closest to the road and successively, their descendants would live further back in the site, as you can see how it’s been sub-divided there on some of the parcels. So there was an entirely different kind of settlement pattern. And the settlement pattern became what started out as a windshield survey of architectural in styles and conditions, became this completely different exploration of settlement patterns, of which the architectural piece then fit into that.
The other thing they found embraced was that the important buildings were not … They were concrete block buildings. They were basic frame buildings. They were buildings that on any traditional windshield architectural survey would have gotten passed over because it would be deemed not significant, not having architectural character, being basic materials, et cetera. They were the materials, they were the buildings, that represented this community, and therefore deserved the kind of attention that these communities deserve.
I thought this was a particularly interesting and important examination of this kind of discovered, I mean this was a discovery for this group and for the county. Which according to Mary Beth, the county has embraced and is looking at ways how they can be support of these communities, which are being encroached on by suburban development. You can see in the upper right of this photo, where suburban development is rapidly coming up to the edge of the property, and could easily take it over. So they’re under threat from development, as well.
The Pleasant Hill neighborhood is another interesting story. So this is a neighborhood, African American neighborhood, that was developed in the 1870s and ’80s initially, and grew over time. It is the place where the prominent African American lawyers, doctors, musicians … Little Richard lived in this neighborhood … were raised. And when the interstate highway came through, much like many conditions throughout the U.S., they tended to gravitate to, based on land value, and they would go through … and went through and disrupted and oftentimes destroyed many African American neighborhoods. So here you see the interstate highway going through.
On the right … When the interstate highway went through, there was a cooperative agreement to move the houses in the shaded area to the main body of the community. It was viewed as a preservation exercise. It was a commitment to a destroyed community. So to an interesting and philosophical question, and social question for that matter, about the moving of these houses, because in preservation, moving a structure basically in most cases, causes it to be deemed insignificant. So there was a dilemma about moving it under the guise of preservation. Yet it negatively affecting its character from a historic standpoint.
When we got into the exercise, it was every bit as difficult as you can imagine. We obviously couldn’t find a site for each house that had all the same topographic conditions that the one that it sat on originally. So we had to modify the sites to accept the houses, and the houses had to accept a different context than they were in. We couldn’t keep them in the same grouping, because you can see, you couldn’t aggregate an area big enough to keep them in the same grouping. So they then became scattered throughout the community. So how does one rationalize, organize, or understand an exercise like this? For me, it was pretty simple, honestly. We made an effort to be very respectful of each unit, of each house, in preserving its integrity in and of itself, probably more like an artifact than a living object, though they were intended for and they will be lived in again, but once you detach them from the site, it becomes a little different.
There was a commitment to do this. That commitment sat there for years. But then the department of transportation needed to, wanted to alter the configuration of the interchange you see in the upper right corner, and it triggered that memorandum of agreement and caused the bladed exercise of moving these houses to the other side of the street. And it is a challenging exercise, but I think one that is important to live up to the commitments. It was an expensive commitment for the department of transportation, because it had been delayed for so long, but one that deserved to be fulfilled in some manner, and that is an ongoing project that is starting to be implemented. In fact, I think the Little Richard house, which was on the right side in the shaded area, has been moved to the left-hand side of the screen.
Again, a very interesting project, one fraught with dilemma, but at the end of the day for me, I think there was clarity about the importance and responsibility of doing it. Here’s an example again, not unlike the cabin at Oakland Plantation. Here’s two photos of … they’re very simple houses, and many of them have fallen into some level of disrepair, but will be preserved and reoccupied, and become an asset in the community they’ve moved to.
So the next … looking at a few buildings. This is 16th Street Baptist Church. I had the opportunity to work on the restoration of the exterior of the 16th Street Baptist Church. It’s a wonderful Wallace Rayfield, an important African American architect, designed this church. There are a lot of things I could say about it, but there’s really one point I wanted to make. The point I wanted to make was, as we were dealing with the restoration of the exterior, as I’m sure most of you know, the 16th Street Baptist Church was the site of the bombing that killed three young girls and really solidified the decisions to proceed with the civil rights legislation that eventually came about.
What you see in the lower left is the original building, and in the red circle, you’ll see a stairway going up to the second floor. On the image to the right, you’ll see that that stairway is gone. The upper left corner, upper left image, is a photo of where the bombing took place. Basically, the bomb was put under the stairwell on the side of the building. So we were dealing with the question of … Do you restore the side of the building to the way it was before the bomb? Or do you take the condition that changed a good bit that area of the building? When they repaired it, they removed a door, they changed windows. That arrangement on the side of the building is significantly different than what it was when the second upper level stoop and entry was there. How do you deal with that?
The answer to that really was quite simply resolved. The congregation said, “We cannot cope with the presence of that stair and the memory that that stair brings.” And that made the solution quite simple, and quite emotional, in terms of not only its absence, but what that absence means still in today’s terms, to a congregation that is still so … and understandably, moved and affected by the experience they went through. The upper right is the Wales Window. It was a stained glass window given to the congregation in respect for what they’ve been through. It’s a very meaningful piece of international solidarity to the congregation, and I think the larger civil rights movement.
The next project is the Vulcan. So the Vulcan is a very interesting project. The Vulcan statue was constructed in six months for the 1904 World’s Fair to promote Birmingham as the steel city of the country. It’s the world’s largest cast iron statue. They built it in six months, had it at the fair … When they conceived of the idea … built it and had it at the fair in six months. After the World’s Fair in St. Louis, they had no idea what to do with it, so it came back and bummed around, and in 1930s under the WPA, they built this, what was intended to be a lighthouse tower. You can see the rose walk, not rose walk, but the upper walk, and the Vulcan is the beacon overlooking downtown Birmingham.
So in the ’70s, they clad it in what I call the George Jetson skin, and it had … Back to the one on the left, it has an interior set of stairs that goes up 10 floors to the walk. It had become a tradition of people going up to the mountain top and walking up the tower and getting a view of the city. In the ’70s they said, “Oh, it was so popular, let’s put a elevator up there, let’s expand the top, let’s clad it in marble, let’s tear down and expand the base.” So they did that. That’s what you see in the middle photo. So the Vulcan was then designated a National Landmark.
The city wanted to restore the tower and the base and the walk, and we then had to deal with the elevator. So the middle photo … When you are downtown, looking up at the Vulcan, what you see are two towers. You see the elevator tower, and you see the Vulcan’s tower, albeit modified. So we had this issue of … It never intended to have an elevator. From a preservation standpoint, with it being a landmark, could we not have an elevator? Could we just have people have an interpretive demonstration of the base, where people who couldn’t get up there could experience it through a video or whatever, and return it to its more pristine condition?
We had a meeting with the mayor. A very memorable meeting in which the mayor said, “When I was a boy, I could only go up into this tower one day a week.” He said, “We will have universal access to this tower.” And at that point, the issue of whether we were gonna have an elevator or not was no longer an issue. It was really a question of how we did that, and this was our solution. It’s got architectural relevance to the building, in terms of the angles and the scoring is the levels of the interior of the tower, the ways we tried to link the two together. But the fundamental piece of this, is that tower is there as really a statement to African American history, and the fact that everyone be allowed to go up in that tower. I just think it’s an important piece of how African American history is embedded in virtually everything, and should be recognized.
The next one is Paschal’s Restaurant, if any of you know Atlanta, Paschal’s was a African American owned restaurant. It had a lounge. The Paschal brothers on the right there later built a motel. It was a place for the African American community to hang out and to come together. When Martin Luther King was planning activities in Atlanta, and all the civil rights leaders in the community could meet here, and those that were traveling had a place to stay. It was safe. You could come and stay, eat, recreate, all in one spot without risk of being out in the community and someone harassing you. This is the state of it today. Clark Atlanta University is trying to come up with a way to actually capture the importance of this building, while of all things, building a cancer research center around it.
As you can see from the photos, it’s a challenging exercise. There’s a great deal of fabric still there, but again, an exercise of trying to acknowledge and capture again, a modern style important African American site.
The next one is the Alton Avenue commercial district. Next. Many of you, I’m sure, know about Auburn Avenue. It was one of the premiere African American commercial districts in the U.S. It was cut in half by the interstate highway system, so that has had a dramatic effect on the avenue. To the right in the lower band across is the Google map of Auburn Avenue. You’ll see Martin Luther King Center, a national historic site facility. Wheat Street Baptist Church, Big Bethel Baptist Church is along this street. Its retail area, though, is struggling, and it’s one of those areas that very much needs a collaborative, respectful collaborative infusion to understand how to preserve, interpret what was a almost solely African American commercial district, in a more pluralistic environment, and how you do that. How do you tell those stories? How do you communicate the significance of that in a more integrated time? Because the very significant challenge we face in discussing it and coming up with a way to hopefully retain the experience of what it meant to be on Auburn Avenue in its heyday.
This is the Atlanta Life Insurance building on the left. What you see on the right is what it is today. I’m really sad to say that within this building on the right is housed a number of homeless people, who come in through a back window that’s broken. It’s one of the more important architectural icons of Auburn Avenue and of African American history in Atlanta. It desperately needs attention to preserve it.
The next one is the Birmingham Civil Rights Monument, something I’m working on at the moment. What you see in the red baseline is the monument boundary. What you see in the red squares are contributing buildings to that monument area. I’ve taken a little bit of license with that. I’ve included the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, because I think that it is or will be deemed meaningful. Kelly Ingram Park is … yeah. So here you can see St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. You can see 16th Street Baptist Church there. St. Paul’s was every bit a part of the civil rights movement. 16th Street got obviously much more attention because of the bombing, but St. Paul’s was extremely active during that time, as well.
You can see the A.G. Gaston Motel. It is the equivalent of Paschal’s in Birmingham. A.G. Gaston was the first African American millionaire in Alabama. He developed a motel. It’s a modernist motel, modern style motel drive-in, that like Paschal’s, had a restaurant. It had a café. So it, too, was somewhat self-contained. Across the street, you see the Gaston office building, which housed his businesses. The Prince Hall Masonic Lodge is an extremely important building in Kelly Ingram Park, where a lot of the conflicts happen in the civil rights campaign here.
The Finally, I just wanted to comment. If you may know that there is an initiative to designate a group of civil rights structures for the World Heritage listing. That’s being directed under Georgia State University, with the support of the Alabama legislature. They are currently working through a series of investigations about how to construct such a multiple listing, and what properties are candidates for being added. So very ambitious, and I think has implications much broader than just a outcome of the World Heritage designation, but rich with what it can produce over time.
So that’s what I had to offer, and I would love to answer any questions.
Jason Church: Alright, this is the point, if you had any questions, we’ve gotten some really good ones that I’m gonna now ask Mr. Pyburn, but feel free to type in any. So one question that comes in … Can you do amendments to add African American historic resources to an existing property on the National Register to recognize African American or civil rights significance to the structure?
Jack Pyburn: Absolutely. Absolutely. I would suggest you contact your local preservation organization or the state preservation office. I’m sure they will be more than happy to help you through that process.
Jason Church: Do you know of any good funding sources to help survey African American communities?
Jack Pyburn: Well, funding, as I pointed out a couple of times, it was a challenge, and there is no central place. I think, to me the thing to do is to consider whose interest can be captured about the value and importance. Some of that may be family genealogically related. Some of it may be community based. Some of it may be larger scale, meaning national scale folks. There are foundations that if you create a compelling enough story, will consider funding these sorts of things. It’s a matter of doing research to identify those that are candidates. It is a highly competitive world in that sphere, because obviously everybody’s asking the same question.
But it’s not one to be deterred from. I’m just say it’s not gonna come easy. It just takes some digging and some creative thinking and alliances to put something like that together. Oftentimes state preservation offices have … In Georgia, for instance, they have a fund that they fund surveys. So you might start with the state preservation office, and see if they have resources. They’re oftentimes small, relatively small grants, that can with student labor and with some good technical, professional skills supporting them, can achieve some good outcomes.
Jason Church: Can you give a few examples or have you seen successful ways to increase economic development in a traditional African American area?
Jack Pyburn: Well, I think it goes back to defining the outcome, and knowing what the boundaries are, what the context is for development. The Birmingham Civil Rights Monument, I think, is an excellent example. You have all of these development parcels, really across from the Gaston Motel, and there is a very small drug store, but other than that, there’s nothing. It’s vacant lots. So infusing vitality is critical. The main reality is … the main way that’s gonna happen is through investment. So creating an environment where investment can be structured around capturing, and respecting, and using, and interpreting the African American history, I think is critical. To achieving the broader objectives. But I think at least for now, in some part, it’s got to include creating an environment for private investment.
Jason Church: In the neighborhood of Macon that you talked about, were any oral histories done about the feel and the movement and the neighborhood itself before it was moved?
Jack Pyburn: There were not. There was a lot of opportunity for that. I would say it was a robust community participation. I would say that participation was substantially led by folks who had the long view history of that situation, that road coming through, etcetera. I think the neighborhood itself has declined, though the city of Birmingham … the city of Macon, rather … has I think reaffirmed its desire and commitment to reinvigorate that neighborhood. But you know, it goes back to the question I raised before. Is it gonna be an all African American neighborhood, or do you want it to be an integrated neighborhood? The question is, what are your objectives, and how do you retain that importance of African American history? What are the implications for how you approach that?
So the memorandum of agreement was pretty straightforward. So much of the discussion and communication with the neighborhood had to do with the pattern in which these houses would be located. What other kinds … There’s one of the structures, the Masonic Lodge, that was gonna be used for community purposes. Little Richard’s house was gonna become a little museum. So there were discussions around a range of things that might happen there, as well, beyond just moving the houses. But there’s still a task to see that neighborhood restabilized and be sound for the long term.
Jason Church: Any insight as to why African American historic preservation efforts seem more difficult in the north and Midwest than preservation efforts in the southern states?
Jack Pyburn: Well, I can’t speak to that. I did spend a decade in St. Louis, but I’m not sure St. Louis is a good example from a Midwestern standpoint. It may be if you wait awhile. But I really don’t know. I mean, obviously, African American history is deeply rooted in the south, and there’s a large constituency in the south. There was an article in the New York Times a week or two ago, recently … It talked about African American professionals moving back to the south. So I think it’s probably got more critical mass, if you will. Like I said early on, the substance of the civil rights movement is still playing itself out, and some of that may be regional, that it’s not getting the attention it needs. I don’t know the answer. I’m speculating on that. But it’s not a reason not to continue to raise awareness of the importance of the resource. And to do that in a broader way. I mean, the world monuments fund exercise is including properties in Kansas, for example. So there are ways to engage in a broader context.
Jason Church: So in recent years, people have raised concerns about existing Secretary of Interiors standards or guidelines, making it difficult to preserve these sites. You mentioned the challenges of moving buildings. It sounds like there was a good result, that it was resolved, and the project was successful. Were there other challenges posted by the Secretary of Interior’s stance that could not be overcome through discussions with NPS or with SHPO?
Jack Pyburn: Well, let me say, I have some personal challenges with the Secretary of Interior stance, particularly relative to treatment, and how they describe treatment. Because reconstruction, which is a treatment, is not preservation, it’s new construction. Rehabilitation is a vague term. I understand it, and it’s intended to provide some, a bit more flexibility within a historic context for what you can do. But really, restoration and preservation, which actually ties specifically to time, are the key ones. The Secretary of Interior’s standards are not intended to prescribe. They’re only to guide and be a resource for creating this deep understanding of the property, and what in physical terms embody that history.
So I don’t see that the Secretary of Interior’s standards being as much an issue as one of how one deals with change in a historic context. To me, you’ve got to decide what things need to stay. Then you need to be creative to figure out ways to incorporate new uses within that context. It doesn’t mean you can’t have wi-fi. You can have new data. You can have new wine. New kinds of new systems. But it’s important to have the fabric preserved for, as I showed in the graphic, future generations. And the concept of reversibility. So I don’t think the Secretary of Interior’s standards are the culprit. I will say that there are some … because they’re … I’m cautious in using the word they, but because they’re general … they can be interpreted more literally than they maybe should be, to be suggesting that they’re literal or black and white ways of dealing with things.
But generally, I think SHPOs and folks that are doing work views, are pretty sophisticated now. I will say that most people reviewing don’t have an architectural background, and I think that’s a problem for the architecture profession. But it also makes it a little harder for people who aren’t educated so much in the design professions, probably more in architectural styles than in design, to be comfortable making decisions about how you modify buildings.
Jason Church: If everyone noticed, I swapped back to the slide with our three architects that Jack mentioned. I had several questions about their names again, things like that, and one question that also comes up is … Do you know of any other good resources that talk more about the African American architects?
Jack Pyburn: Yes, there’s a whole book. There’s an encyclopedia of African American architects. I think if you go online, you can find it. I’m not sure it’s still in publication, but you might be able to find it through ABE books online, a used book site, or places like that. But that’s the bible, so far, of African American architects.
Jason Church: Do you know the title?
Jack Pyburn: I don’t remember. I should, but I don’t. [Editor’s note: African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945 by Dreck Spurlock Wilson]
Jason Church: Alright. And we’re almost out of time here.
Jack Pyburn: Let me say, I think you can find it if you Google it. I think if you just Google the subject, I think you’ll find it.
Jason Church: And any questions we didn’t get to, we will include them on the transcript of the recorded webinar, and I just want to thank everyone that tuned in. We did record the webinar, so we will be posting that. It’ll take us a little while. We have to send any recordings that we do, we have to get them transcribed for the recorded webinar so we’ll have that transcribed for the video as soon as we can, on the NCPTT website, and we’ll send out a Facebook post, that sort of thing where we do. So thank you again. Like I said, if we didn’t get to your questions, we’ll stick it on the transcript at the end. Thank you again, and we hope that you’ll tune in to future webinars. We wanted to especially thank Jack Pyburn for coming in and giving our talk today.
Jack Pyburn: Thank you.
Jason Church: Thank you, everybody.