The American Grand Hotel

By Kate Killeen

Some of the greatest architectural treasures in American history were produced in the Gilded Age, including grand hotels, which would ultimately attract a certain social class and grand hotels are considered an American concept and invention. These grand hotels were built to accommodate America’s wealthy, and their construction coincides with America’s industrialism, and the expansion and growth of incredible wealth that was seen in the gilded age. These hotels were also meant to be efficient, well-managed machines that provided timely meals, clean rooms, and an attentive and inconspicuous hotel staff. These grand hotels were built to attract wealthy businessmen, socialites, political leaders, and even some unsavory characters.

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Mount Washington Hotel, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Built 1902

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A Journey Through Myanmar’s Architectural Heritage

A Guest Post by Jennifer Lang

In February during the Chinese New Year holiday, my family spent a week visiting Myanmar including Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay.  A cruise on the Ayeyarwady River (the lifeline and spine of the country) provided a perfect opportunity to experience this beautiful country.

Blooming tress

In advance of and during the trip, I read three historical fiction novels about Myanmar that I highly recommend: George Orwell’s Burmese Days originally published in 1934 in the USA after Orwell spent five years living in Burma serving with the Indian Imperial Police; F. Tennyson Jesse’s The Lacquer Lady, originally published in the 1930s in England about the true story of a love affair that precipitated the annexation of Mandalay and Northern Burma by the British; and The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason published in 2003.  All three novels helped to set the stage for understanding more of what I would see and experience during the trip.

ruralvernacular-JLang

Life on and next to the Ayeyarwady River is busy – there are many boats (some loaded with teak logs, others with construction materials) and men women and children bathing and playing in the water, washing clothes, fishing, tending to crops growing in the fertile fields next to the river shore and there are simple small huts along the banks and shores of the river adjacent to the agricultural fields.  As you pass along the shores in a boat, everyone waves and smiles!

Typical vernacular residential buildings in rural Myanmar are simple wood frame structures, often raised up off the ground on stilts, featuring woven bamboo walls and rush/thatched/corrugated metals roofs.  The woven bamboo walls are often covered in a black-colored coating (possibly creosote) for protection.

The Htilomini Temple in Bagan

Bagan is a vast archaeological zone and historic region of the ancient and former capital of the first Burmese Kingdom.  Some 13,000 temples, pagodas, monasteries and other religious structures were originally built here in a 26 square mile area in the 11th to 13th centuries. Palaces, many monasteries and private dwellings were built from wood, and all temples and stupas were made of fired brick – and only these non-wood structures remain. Today there are about 2,000 extant monuments that cover the landscape. The temples were inspired by the rock-hewn caves of Buddhist India and were sometimes large multi-storied places of worship one could enter and can feature decorated frescoes and barrel vaults and pointed arches.

The pagodas or stupas are Buddhist temples that have a variety of forms including bell-shaped pyramid brick structures set on square or octagonal bases with knob-like domes with square caps. Shwezigon Pagoda They are constructed of brick, covered in stucco and adorned with fine carvings, or gold.

Mandalay was honestly a bit of a disappointment – today it seems like a typical dusty Asian city with many “modern” buildings; only the palace walls and moat and a number of religious monuments remain today to document the story behind the city’s history as the former Myanmar capital. The magic, mystery and intrigue found elsewhere in the country appears to be missing here and indeed there is ongoing trading and contact with nearby China (the overland trade route to China begins here and evidently has recently been active since the 1980s) that may partially account for Mandalay’s present appearance. We did visit some interesting religious sites. It was interesting to note that Mandalay, unlike Yangon, does not have any evidence of colonialism.

Kuthodaw Paya

Mandalay’s Kuthodaw Pagada was built in 1857 by King Mindon as a copy of the Shwezigon Pagoda in Bagan.  This pagoda houses the “biggest book in the world” – 729 white marble mini stupas inscribed with the Tripitaka texts surround the main pagoda in grid neat lines.

The Mahamuni Paya is a site of pilgrimage where families groups bring their costumed children for “coming of age” celebrations. The interior of the Pahamuni Paya in Mandalay has a 2,000 year old 13-foot high seated Buddha image with applied gold leaf (a six-inch layer of pure gold) – only men are allowed to enter the Buddha area and apply the gold leaf to the statue!  This monument was originally built in 1784, destroyed by fire in 1884, and then rebuilt.

The former Yangon Currency Department

Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial and diplomatic capital is a large, busy city that displays a combination of significant substantial western buildings left from the days of colonial rule by the British (1852-1937) when it was engaged in significant trading activities in the port, along with Buddhist temples and other traditional Burmese structures.  Yangon is a fascinating city today because it has one of the most intact collections of 19th and 20th century colonial buildings in Asia, composed of administrative government and state buildings as well as buildings from significant commercial enterprises.

The former Sofaer’s Building – built by a Baghdadi Jewish trader in 1906. This is where you could buy fine liqueurs and commodities such as Egyptian cigarettes, Munich beer, and English candles (Jennifer Lang).

In 2005 when the government moved the capital of Myanmar from Yangon to a nearby suburb – Naypyitaw – most of these state-owned buildings were abandoned and remain empty today with no care or maintenance.  Yangon, like the rest of Myanmar, has yet to be introduced to the many western chain stores that one sees all over the world today, such as McDonald’s, 7-Eleven and Starbucks – and this is a welcome reprieve!

With the backdrop of many substantial yet partially derelict buildings, the sidewalks of Yangon are filled with locals working, patronizing and socializing at the markets and eating spots the cover the sidewalks and spill out into the roads.  The colorful fresh fruit, vegetables and street food looked fresh and delicious!

The Sule Pagoda in central Yangon is the city center, with an 1850s grid plan of wide tree-lined boulevards around the pagoda created by Scottish engineer Alexander Fraser.  The earlier buildings constructed just after the British arrived in 1852 are more Victorian or eclectic in style.

Yangon City Hall

Later in the early 1900s, professionally trained architects from England and Scotland (such as James Ransome and John Berg) were hired to design key government buildings and to inspect plans prepared for all buildings. Yangon City Hall, constructed in 1925-1945 by McClumph, Brey and Bermese U Tin architects in the British Myanmar style with three-tired pyatthat roofing and traditional Myanmar iconography of peacocks and serpents.

Jennifer Field Lang is an architectural historian and building conservationist who has worked and studied in the field for over 25 years, primarily in North America. She has been living in Asia for the past three years.

In the fall of 2012 Jennifer assisted in the planning and teaching of a Common Core Curriculum class to undergraduates at HKU entitled World Heritage and Us. Jennifer obtained a BA degree from New York University, an MS in historic preservation from Columbia University, and an MS in conservation from Hong Kong University. Currently Jennifer is beginning her studies as a PhD candidate at HKU focusing on the Taikoo Sugar Refinery and its role as an example of a company town in Hong Kong.

local woman at U Bein teak bridgeAll photos copyright Jennifer Lang. Read the original post

What Buildings Are On Your Bucket List?

I love architecture, both old and new, though I have an obvious bias for older buildings.  When travelling I really enjoy seeing buildings that I have, until then, only heard or read about, or seen photos of. There’s just something different about seeing a building in person, because no matter how good technology and virtual reality get, they just can’t replicate the tingly feeling of actually, finally, seeing and experiencing a site for real.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia: You really need to be there to fully understand Gaudi's design and intent

Sometimes, a space just needs to be experienced in order to truly appreciate it. This was certainly the case with La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece of a cathedral in Barcelona. Photos just can’t convey the feeling you get standing beneath the leaf-vaulted ceiling and seeing how the light comes through. It was truly an “Aha!” moment in recent travels.

More than spatial experience, there is the sense of being among history when you see iconic buildings, whether it’s walking along the Great Wall of China or gazing up at a Greek temple. And of course there’s the “wow, cool!” factor that  comes from standing on the special spot and seeing the four rows of columns become one in Bernini’s great architectural illusion at Piazza San Pietro. You can’t try that at home!

Much as I have seen, there are many places I’ve missed and still want to see and experience. At the top of the list is Ravenna, and its Byzantine mosaics. Also on my list in Italy is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’ve been so close so many times I am confident I will get there soon. One of the benefits of seeing buildings in Italy, of course, is the food that accompanies them!

Flickr photo by Joan Vila

Round House in Hukengzen, Fujian Province (Flickr photo by Joan Vila)

Further away, but equally fascinating, are the round houses of Fujian.  Though I have helped arranged for people to go and see these magnificent structures, I have yet to see them myself. Someday soon I hope.

Those are the top three sites on my Building Bucket List. What buildings do you most want to see?

Exploring Lima’s Architectural Legacy

  A Guest Post by Roselle George

Our group of six just spent 17 days in Peru, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine. I majored in Latin American Studies with extensive work in South American architecture and archaeology before going to graduate school to become an urban planner. Our group included two retired urban planners/designers, our husbands, and two friends from Mexico.

One of the few restored buildings, dated 1865, now a photographer's studio

I was put in touch with a Dutch architectural journalist, Ronald Elward, who moved to Lima several years ago and now leads architectural walking tours. In addition to studying Peruvian architecture, he is writing a series of articles for the Lima newspaper about the current lives of Incan royalty survivors. He is extremely knowledgeable and with him we saw a very different view of Lima than most tourists.

The first day we walked from 10 to 4 with just a short lunch break in old downtown Lima. During the 1980s the upper and middle classes fled the downtown, thus there are many beautiful old buildings in ruins with a few in reuse. Renovations are just beginning. Even the museums and government departments fled to the outskirts. The remaining population downtown is primarily poor; the greater Lima area has a population of 9 million! Next add in the strange climate – it hasn’t rained in Lima since 1973! But it is always misty and foggy and cool even though we are near the equator. This results in very dirty air, buildings, streets – no rain to clean it. Anything growing must be watered and they water it all daily – often from trucks. There are rivers so they have water. But it is a desert.

Nicely preserved Art Deco building in central Lima

Few buildings downtown have survived since Colonial times. A large earthquake in 1746 and a war with Chile destroyed much of central Lima. The Plaza de Armas was rebuilt and many of the most beautiful buildings date from the late 1800s. The balconies on the city buildings reflect the Moorish influence of the early buildings – a place where women could watch the street life but not be seen. The San Francisco Church and Monastery survived the earlier earthquakes but suffered severe damage in 1970. It is an excellent example of Spanish Baroque style. An economic boom coincided with the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles, reflected in a photographer’s studio from the early 1900s and a building now housing McDonald’s.

We walked for hours around beautiful decaying buildings in crowds of people – and horrible traffic. Then we returned to our nice hotel in a lovely part of town, Miraflores, that is very Spanish and walked to a restaurant with fabulous food, part of the Gaston Acuria group.

The next morning we fought traffic, demonstrations and confusion to go to la Mistura, a big food festival (with 600,000 people expected, we went early before it got too crazy). Then we went way out in the suburbs to the National Museum, built in the Brutalist style. In the evening we strolled to the beach and had seafood.

deserted mansion in Barancas

A deserted mansion in Baranco. The facade is pretty but the building is bad shape and there are no plans for reuse.

Friday we met our Dutchman for another walking tour this time through Baranco, built as a summer retreat in the 1800s for the wealthy, artists, and writers. Very few of the buildings have been restored or torn down so it was lovely and quaint. Since it still attracts artists, there was very interesting street art as well as creative paint jobs on the houses. Several lovely old mansions are deserted, waiting for restoration and reuse if possible. We then explored more of the city’s culinary heritage, taking a food tour back in the heart of Lima, sampling the fare at four local restaurants.

Miraflores also had a lot to offer; we spent quite a bit of time there strolling around looking at the buildings and beach.

Lima Central Square

Lima Central Square and Plaza de Armas

Roselle George recently retired after 20 years of urban planning for local governments in the Washington, DC area. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.

More info:

Lima Walks

  A Guest Post by Roselle George

Our group of six just spent 17 days in Peru, fulfilling a lifelong dream of mine. I majored in Latin American Studies with extensive work in South American architecture and archaeology before going to graduate school to become an urban planner. Our group included two retired urban planners/designers, our husbands, and two friends from Mexico.

I was put in touch with a Dutch architectural journalist, Ronald Elward, who moved to Lima several years ago and now leads architectural walking tours. In addition to studying Peruvian architecture, he is writing a series of articles for the Lima newspaper about the current lives of Incan royalty survivors. He is extremely knowledgeable and with him we saw a very different view of Lima than most tourists.

The first day we walked from 10 to 4 with just a short lunch break in old downtown Lima. During the 1980s the upper and middle classes fled the downtown, thus there are many beautiful old buildings in ruins with a few in reuse. Renovations are just beginning. Even the museums and government departments fled to the outskirts. The remaining population downtown is primarily poor; the greater Lima area has a population of 9 million! Next add in the strange climate – it hasn’t rained in Lima since 1973! But it is always misty and foggy and cool even though we are near the equator. This results in very dirty air, buildings, streets – no rain to clean it. Anything growing must be watered and they water it all daily – often from trucks. There are rivers so they have water. But it is a desert.

Few buildings downtown have survived since Colonial times. A large earthquake in 1746 and a war with Chile destroyed much of central Lima. The Plaza de Armas was rebuilt and many of the most beautiful buildings date from the late 1800s. The balconies on the city buildings reflect the Moorish influence of the early buildings – a place where women could watch the street life but not be seen. The San Francisco Church and Monastery survived the earlier earthquakes but suffered severe damage in 1970. It is an excellent example of Spanish Baroque style. An economic boom coincided with the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles, reflected in a photographer’s studio from the early 1900s and a building now housing a McDonald’s.

We walked for hours around beautiful decaying buildings in crowds of people – and horrible traffic. Then we returned to our nice hotel in a lovely part of town, Miraflores, that is very Spanish and walked to a restaurant with fabulous food, part of the Gaston Acuria group.

The next morning we fought traffic, demonstrations and confusion to go to la Mistura, a big food festival (with 600,000 people expected, we went early before it got too crazy). Then we went way out in the suburbs to the National Museum, built in the Brutalist style. In the evening we strolled to the beach and had seafood.

deserted mansion in Barancas

Friday we met our Dutchman for another walking tour this time through Baranco, built as a summer retreat in the 1800s for the wealthy, artists, and writers. Very few of the buildings have been restored or torn down so it was lovely and quaint. Since it still attracts artists, there was very interesting street art as well as creative paint jobs on the houses. Several lovely old mansions are deserted, waiting for restoration and reuse if possible. We then explored more of the city’s culinary heritage, taking a food tour back in the heart of Lima, sampling the fare at four local restaurants.

Miraflores also had a lot to offer; we spent quite a bit of time there strolling around looking at the buildings and beach.

Lima Central SquareLima Central Square and Plaza de Armas

Roselle George recently retired after 20 years of urban planning for local governments in the Washington, DC area. She lives in Potomac, Maryland.

More info:

Lima Walks

The Bounty of Ballenberg

One of the farmhouses in the Bernese Midlands section of Ballenberg

Two weeks ago I visited the Ballenberg Open Air Museum, a place that had long been on my list of architectural places to see.

These types of open air museums, which are quite common in Europe, present wonderful opportunities to see a full range of architectural styles and be close enough to compare and contrast them. Though preservationists often shudder at the thought of moving buildings – their context, their context!! – we also have to admit that sometimes moving buildings is the only way to save them.

When they are curated as well as they are at Ballenberg, the buildings and their stories are preserved, and that’s a good thing.  Such museums also generate jobs for building conservation specialists, also a good thing!

Ballenberg Open Air Museum covers 66 hectares and contains approximately 100 buildings from all the regions of Switzerland. For such a small country, the styles are quite diverse, reflecting the variety of cultural influences that you see in the country even today.

Ballenberg also affords opportunity to examine architectural details – both construction and ornamental – up up close.  I really enjoyed being able to go into farmhouses similar to those I’ve sped by on the train and understand how their interior spaces are arranged.

Ballenberg is extremely well maintained. It was also nice to see that they stick to their principles – a house that burned is left as a foundation ruin since they do not want to introduce new materials into the scene.


The sawmill at Ballenberg, from Switzerland’s East Midlands

The museum offers plenty for industrial heritage fans, with fully functioning dairies, lime kilns, mills, and more, with demonstrations throughout the day.  I stayed and watched the water-powered sawmill for a good 20 minutes; it was fascinating to see how a single person could maneuver and cut the massive logs into planks.

A number of artisanal products are produced and available, from weaving, to sausage, cheese and bread making, and – most important for me – chocolate. It is in Switzerland after all!

If You Go:

Ballenberg is located in central Switzerland, easily accessible by car and public transportation. The museum is open year round. Interpretation is in German, French, Italian and English. For information see ballenberg.ch.

Preserving Poetry, One Home at a Time

April is National Poetry Month!

We therefore decided to look to our poetic roots. And by that we really mean our poets’ roots. Many artists have been inspired by their homes and, if nothing else, were subconsciously affected by the places they lived before and while writing. Here we have a sampling of homes of famous poets. Fans of poets, and historic architecture,  can visit the birthplaces of poets the world round. If you feel inspired, perhaps you can share with us the home of one of your favorite poets… or a poet who lived near you.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford upon Avon

William Shakespeare spent many years of his life living in this aged Tudor home. It has definitely seen many years but it has seen many visitors, too. Think we’re getting ahead of ourselves to choose William Shakespeare as our British representative? The visitors to Shakespeare’s birthplace include Charles DickensJohn KeatsWalter Scott, and Thomas Hardy.

Emily Dickinson’s home, referred to as “the Homestead,” was probably the first brick house in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was built in 1813. Emily Dickinson grew up here and lived here for her adult life, as well. The house, now part of the Emily Dickinson Museum, is undergoing restoration to look as it did to Emily Dickinson, herself. Even the hemlock hedge has been restored. (Emily Dickinson was often inspired by the landscape around her home; View from Federal Twist has a nice post about it).

Happy Poetry Month!

Finding Family HIstory

Link

9 Things I Learned Tracing My Roots in Romania

Square in Timişoara, Romania

Streets in Timişoara are lined with tall apartments, heavily ornamented facades and colorful bricks. Those that have been restored are truly breathtaking. Photo: Maya Strasser

This post by Maya Strasser so perfectly captures a historic journey it’s worth sharing, plus I love the point about the buildings of Eastern Europe. In fact I did a double take at the photo of Streets in Timişoara because it looked so much like square in Zagreb, Croatia where I used to live, right down to the benches!

One Tome or Two? Tea with a Side of History

historic buildings Bristol England

A "folly" built in the 1700s remembers an era when castles were actually lived in. Blaise Castle, Bristol. Photo: Susie Trexler

England is a country steeped in history. You can hardly walk a hundred feet without running into something that is older than the United States. In Europe, this is average. To a Nevadan (a state since 1864), this is fascinating. On my flight home I was sitting next to a young man from Stockholm, Sweden, who confessed that his parents had just bought a summer house that was three hundred years old.

And that was normal. Adaptive re-use of historic structures seems to be a burgeoning trend in the United States, where buildings are for the first time phasing out of their original uses. In Europe, adaptive re-use is not a preservation choice, it’s a lifestyle.

adaptive reuse, trail conversion, England heritage travel

A canal tow-path has become a walking and bike trail for locals and visitors. Near Bath, England. Photo: Susie Trexler

Reusing buildings that are already there is a given. They’ve served several different purposes since their construction; what’s adding another?

On my visit to Bradford-on-Avon, we ate at a tea house  – the Bridge Tea Rooms – that has been standing (impressively) since 1675. The building had the appearance of being duct-taped together with pieces of metal. When we stepped inside we were offered space upstairs. I was not only impressed that the second floor could sustain a group of five, I was giddy at the thought of being in a building that was 336 years old. If there is anything that old on the West Coast of the United States, I can assure you it’s off-limits. You can’t touch it, and you certainly can’t use it.

historic buildings, Bath England travel

A 18th century statue commemorates the earlier Roman presence in Bath, England. Photo: Susie Trexler

The tea and scones at the Bridge were delicious, but I will always remember the building, itself. There is forever a debate in preservation, whether it is best to stop the historic clock to preserve its gears or keep it running… whether to let people walk on floors, touch things, use things. There is something to be said for continued use: these buildings were meant to be used, and it’s only through their use that you can fully appreciate them and the history they have witnessed. In a way these buildings have become windows, windows that let us leaf through the pages of history.

Author Susie Trexler is an ace intern at Adventures in Preservation.

Two Sides of the Geocoin

Are geocaches at historic sites a good idea? Maybe, maybe not.

On the one hand, being a strong believer in the importance of learning about history, I think bringing visitors to historic sites in any way, shape or form is a good thing, at least for sites with an education/outreach mandate. Geocachers are by nature explorers and learners, and how cool would it be to follow a trail of caches that traces Paul Revere’s ride or the route of slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad? (If these exist, please let me know!) A code of conduct among geocachers helps ensure sites are left as they are found, so impact would be minimal.

We followed a trail of caches placed along the historic Farmer’s Ditch in Boulder, Colorado, this summer and used it to explain about irrigation, water rights, and a host of subjects to our young cachers. A great experience for all.

However, I can easily see why resource managers would not want the general public crawling around delicate sites looking for the prize. Years ago, the USGS removed the “archeological site” labels from its topo maps in order to protect the sites, and GIS systems often hide that information from the public for the same reason. Geocaches are also not permitted on US National Parkland.

Geocaching in Bhutan

Have GPS, will travel: geocache crew in Bhutan

In Bhutan this spring, we found several geocaches, including one at a mani wall and one in a stupa,  i.e. sites that were not only historic but sacred as well. Our guide and driver were intrigued by the concept and joined our “treasure hunts” with great gusto. Nonetheless, I got a slight sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach the day we searched along the backside of a temple. It seemed wrong somehow to disturb something sacred. And that’s what got me thinking about this post.

Maybe the best thing is to encourage independent geocachers to share historic sites with the world but place their caches just outside the site or near interpretive panels. Earth Caches, where you prove you were on the spot with a photo or by answering a question rather than finding a physical cache, could be another option.

What do you think?

Don’t know what a geocache is? Learn about geocaching