HOPE Crew Restores Historic Shotgun Houses in Atlanta
Bringing HOPE to Martin Luther King National Historic Site
There are right ways and there are wrong ways to paint a historic house. And the six young corpsmembers who worked on the restoration of a pair of shotgun houses within the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta didn’t make a single brushstroke until they learned the right way.
“Everything was painted by hand. No spray,” says Greg Evans, an Atlanta-based construction professional who trained the young corpsmembers on the project. “Everything was done right, by hand and by brush.”
The restoration of the shotgun houses, which were built between 1905 and 1909, was the 11th project completed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Hands-On Preservation Experience, or HOPE Crew. And it was a project made possible thanks to the close collaboration of the National Trust, the National Park Service, and Greening Youth Foundation, a nonprofit Atlanta-based youth corps and member of The Corps Network.
Through the partnership, young adults from the Greening Youth Foundation’s Atlanta Youth Corps were teamed up with Evans, who served as the craft expert, to repair and repaint the exterior of the houses.
To begin the four-week project, completed late last month, Evans led the corpsmembers through a full inspection of the houses to assess their condition and determine what could be repaired. From there, the corpsmembers learned how to remove and repair damaged pieces of wood by caulking, sealing, and sanding them down. They repaired handrails and learned the basics of reglazing old windows.
“This is one of the best groups of young people I’ve worked with in a long time,” says Evans. “They worked hard.”
While the six corpsmembers came to the project with a basic understanding of construction and carpentry, it was their first foray into historic preservation -- and an opportunity to learn valuable new professional skills.
“Preservation was something they didn’t really think about. They didn’t think that this would be within the scope of what they’d be doing as youth corps members,” says Angelou Ezeilo, founder and CEO of Greening Youth Foundation.
She continues, “Some were quizzical. Others were very excited. In the end, I would say, they all were excited to continue this work.”
In addition to preservation skills, the corpsmembers also learned about the National Park Service and the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. National Park Service representatives gave the corpsmembers tours of the site and taught them what it means to be a historic district.
For many of the corpsmembers -- who all live in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, where the shotgun houses are located -- it was an exciting opportunity to learn about the history in their own backyards.
“Seeing young people engaged in work that provides a livelihood for them, increases their contribution to the economy, and helps [the] National Park Service preserve and restore America's historic resource is a win-win for everyone,” says Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site superintendent Judy Forte. “We are excited about the next project.”
Monica Rhodes, who oversees the HOPE Crew program at the National Trust, was thrilled with the National Park Service’s support and vision.
“They were great partners in thinking outside the box on how to fund and manage this project,” she says.
The project, Rhodes explains, was funded through the National Park Service’s historic leasing funds, in which the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site leases some of its historic properties to private citizens and non-federal partners, allowing them to leverage private dollars for public benefit. This site was included as a case study in a 2013 report about historic leasing produced by the National Trust.
The outcome has been nothing short of extraordinary. Greening Youth Foundation received a proclamation from Atlanta's city council for its contributions to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site’s preservation.
“This really exceeded my expectations,” Ezeilo says. “We look forward to doing more projects with [the National Trust] and the National Park Service.”
Adds Rhodes, “I think this project, like every HOPE Crew project, is a great example of how strong partnerships such as these can connect a new generation to the preservation movement.”
Learn more about the HOPE Crew project, and watch a local news piece, here.