Preservation Magazine, Summer 2023

Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Summer 2023 Issue

In each Transitions section of Preservation magazine, we highlight places of local and national importance that have recently been restored, are currently threatened, have been saved from demolition or neglect, or have been lost. Here are five from Summer 2023.

The exterior of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens' Rose Garden Tea Room.

photo by: Joshua White/ Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Restored: Rose Garden Tea Room

For the first time in three years, visitors can enjoy the historic Rose Garden Tea Room at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The 1911 Myron Hunt–designed Tea Room—which was originally a billiards room and bowling alley before the Huntington estate opened to the public in 1928—temporarily shuttered in 2020, along with the rest of The Huntington’s buildings, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Architectural Resources Group (ARG) then began a rehabilitation and expansion of the Tea Room in 2021, completing the $11 million project in April of 2023.

Architect Stephen Farneth says his team peeled back various alterations to interior finishes and restored the original ceiling and wall trims. While the exterior had retained its basic appearance over the last century, crews repaired the original cornice, balustrades, windows, and stucco. In addition to restoring the Tea Room, ARG created two new dining spaces—a pavilion on the eastern side of the Tea Room building and an Herb Room that replaces a non-historic addition on the western side. Farneth says the 7,400-square-foot Tea Room is a key piece of Hunt’s larger vision for the Huntington estate: “Rehabilitation of the Tea Room was really important in the landscape.”

The Belmont Chapel in Newport, Rhode Island, is undergoing interior restoration work.

photo by: The Belmont Chapel Foundation

Saved: Belmont Chapel

After decades of deterioration, the historic Belmont Chapel in Newport, Rhode Island, is undergoing a multiyear restoration. August and Caroline Belmont, a prominent New York couple who resided in Newport during the summer months, funded the construction of the 1888 brownstone chapel in Newport’s Island Cemetery. Local architect George C. Mason Sr. designed the building, which was meant for funeral services.

After August Belmont’s death in 1890, the cemetery took over the maintenance of the chapel. It began to decline in the 1970s, falling victim to vandalism and overgrowth. “The building was just completely encapsulated in plant growth,” Belmont Chapel Foundation President Harry Eudenbach says. In 2014, Eudenbach and two colleagues formed their nonprofit and signed a 99-year custodial lease with the cemetery with the aim of restoring and maintaining the chapel.

Fundraising efforts started slowly, Eudenbach says, but they picked up in 2020. A year later, the organization, in tandem with a new management team at the cemetery, launched a $2.5 million capital campaign that is now in its final stages. Eudenbach anticipates the restoration of the stained glass and interior artwork will finish in 2024; roof, flooring, and exterior stone repairs are already complete.

Restored: La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners (BBB) completed a $24 million rehabilitation of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club’s building in New York City in February of 2023. The nonprofit theater’s founder, pioneering artistic director and producer Ellen Stewart, purchased the 1873 building—which initially housed the German-American orchestral society Aschenbroedel Verein—in 1969, saving the then-abandoned structure from potential demolition.

Stewart and the East Village theater became major influences on the Off-Off-Broadway scene. The building earned New York City landmark status in 2009, but it needed a comprehensive and historically sensitive renovation. Work began in 2018, driven largely by public funding and private donations. BBB architect Chris Cowan and his team stabilized the four-story building, including the late-19th-century brick-and-cast-iron facade and cornices; replaced brick infill with glass windows, as shown in a 1934 photo; and retained the original interior brick walls.

The firm also expanded the building’s lobby to create an indoor waiting area, made the structure ADA-compliant, and worked with theater and acoustic consultant Charcoalblue to isolate sound on each floor so multiple productions can occur at the same time. La MaMa put on its first performance in the newly renovated space in March.

The exterior of the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club building New York.

photo by: John Bartelstone

The SS Nenana in Fairbanks, Alaska.

photo by: Matthew & Jenny Truch

Threatened: SS Nenana

Preservation Alaska named a wooden-hull sternwheeler the state’s most endangered historic property in May of 2023. Community members, led by Friends of SS Nenana President Patricia De Nardo Schmidt, are working to save the boat, which is owned by the Fairbanks North Star Borough. The Nenana, the last vessel of its kind in Alaska and a National Historic Landmark, was a workhorse during its heyday. From 1933 to 1954, the boat would traverse 858 river miles on the Tanana and Yukon rivers, bringing goods to villages, gold mines, and military bases along the route. Planes became the primary means for shipping cargo in the region, and the changing times put the Nenana out of commission.

After being moved to Fairbanks in 1957, it underwent significant changes. Preservationists restored it in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the boat—now on dry land in Fairbanks’ Pioneer Park—has suffered years of deferred maintenance. The wood and paint have endured weather damage, leaks abound, and the sternwheel is sagging.

The borough has requested bids for restoration and stabilization work, but so far estimates have exceeded the budget. Lee Williams, the superintendent who oversees Pioneer Park, says the short-term plan is to make the cargo deck accessible again so the Nenana (shown above, in 2016) can serve as an advocacy center and boost the Friends group’s fundraising efforts.

The exterior of the Landmark housing complex in Wausau, Wisconsin.

photo by: Gorman & Company

Restored: The Landmark

Developer Gorman & Company completed its rehabilitation of The Landmark in Wausau, Wisconsin, in March, three years after purchasing the building. The brick-and-Bedford-stone Landmark, designed by William Holabird and Martin Roche in the Classical Revival style, was constructed as the upscale Wausau Hotel in 1925. It has served as a mixed-use affordable housing complex since the 1970s.

During the $18 million rehabilitation project—which was aided by state and federal historic tax credits—Gorman & Company remained faithful to the original design of the eight-story building, says Ted Matkom, the developer’s Wisconsin market president. In the lobby, crews repaired ornate moldings and terrazzo floors; on the mezzanine, they reopened and restored areas that had been cordoned off. The building’s former ballroom, located next to the original dining room and bar, is once again an event space. The facade was in good condition but required tuckpointing and repainting.

While the most visible aspects of the project took place at the street level, the 94 affordable apartment units also received significant upgrades: Gorman & Company modernized the building’s HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems, all of which dated to 1924. “The building was dying a slow death,” says Matkom. “People just literally couldn’t use the water, the electric, and the heat … We’ve extended the useful life of the building for another 50 years.”

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Tim O'Donnell is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He spends most of his time reading about modern European history and hoping the Baltimore Orioles will turn their fortunes around. A Maryland native, he now lives in Brooklyn.

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