Preservation Magazine, Winter 2022

Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Winter 2022 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 Winter 2022.

The exterior of the Ropewalk Apartments in Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard

photo by: Bruce Martin

Restored: Ropewalk Building

The transformation of a circa-1838 rope factory into an apartment complex was completed last summer in Boston’s Charlestown Navy Yard. The granite-faced factory, one of the few remaining structures of its kind in the United States, produced rope for the U.S. Navy before the Navy Yard was decommissioned in 1974. A few years later, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (now known as the Boston Planning & Development Agency, or BPDA) took control of the site, but there was never much momentum when it came to reviving the Ropewalk, and it sat empty for decades. Not only did the building need a hefty number of repairs, but its unique design—it’s more than a quarter-mile long and only 45 feet wide in most sections—also meant it wasn’t suitable for many new uses.

Eventually, the late developer and former Massachusetts State Sen. Joe Timilty sought to turn it into housing, which Gary Kane of The Architectural Team, the Chelsea, Massachusetts–based firm that designed the adaptive reuse project, describes as the “most valuable possible use” for the site. Timilty died in 2017, but a new developer, Vision Properties, came on board to purchase the site from the BPDA and finish the project, which was partly funded with state and federal historic tax credits. The ribbon-cutting for the Ropewalk apartments took place in June of 2021, and the first residents moved in last August. Thirteen of the 97 units in the complex qualify as affordable housing, and the number will rise to 24 over the next seven years. An exhibition detailing the history of the building is on display in the corridors.

Exterior of the Karnofksy Tailor Shop pre-destruction.

photo by: GBX Group

Lost: Karnofsky Tailor Shop

When Hurricane Ida struck New Orleans this past August, it destroyed the brick Karnofsky Tailor Shop on South Rampart Street, the former business and home of a Jewish immigrant family whom Louis Armstrong befriended as a child. Armstrong worked for the Karnofskys, selling items from their junk wagon. As he later recalled, Armstrong would blow a tin horn to attract customers, which inspired the Karnofskys to loan him money for his first real horn. The shop building collapsed due to heavy winds, despite having been retrofitted with bracing and structural support meant to protect it from Ida-like storms.

The extra fortification wasn’t enough, but there is hope for a comeback. The building’s owner, a subsidiary entity of GBX Group (a real estate firm from Cleveland that specializes in historic properties) sent a contractor the day after the storm to secure the area and salvage bricks, aiming to use them to reconstruct the building on the site. GBX has been working closely with the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, the preservation easement holder for the shop, since buying the entity that owned the lot in 2018.

The company envisions the rebuilt tailor shop as part of a larger development centered around the South Rampart block, the site of at least three historic buildings that played a role in shaping New Orleans’ early 20th century jazz scene. The goal is for the future site to pay homage to the city’s musical history—with new venues, a recording studio, a jazz hall of fame, and a music education center—while retaining the architectural feel of the block.

The exterior of Nome Schoolhouse in Nome, North Dakota.

photo by: Teresa Perleberg

Restored: Nome Schoolhouse

North Dakota fiber artists Teresa Perleberg and Chris Armbrust were looking for a site to house a nonprofit fiber arts center and boutique hotel when they discovered Nome Schoolhouse, a disused 1916 structure marked by its brick edifice and a large, half-moon window above the front door. Enrollment had dwindled during the 20th century, as Nome—a small but formerly thriving community—was no exception to the state’s declining rural population. The high school closed in 1966, followed by the elementary school four years later. After it was sold, the building became a storage space for decades.

When Perleberg and Armbrust came across it, the structure had a punctured gymnasium roof, leaking ceiling, and damaged floors. But the artists say they were enticed by the fact that the schoolhouse was structurally solid and had largely escaped vandalism thanks to being tucked away in the woods. They purchased the building and the surrounding land in 2018.

The renovation that followed included installing a new roof and windows, which are replicas of the originals, and polishing the original hardwood floors, some of which had to be taken up and relaid. The facade, interior woodwork, and interior doors are all original. The building reopened in July of 2021, and visitors can now take fiber arts classes, host events, and stay overnight. Remnants of school life are still evident, with chalkboards on the walls and mementos such as textbooks, athletic trophies, and school newspapers on display in glass cases throughout the building.

Exterior of St. Mary by-the-Sea in Cape May Point, New Jersey.

photo by: Joseph M. Evangelista

Saved: St. Mary by-the-Sea

It wasn’t long ago that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, thought they would lose St. Mary by-the-Sea, their coastal retreat house in Cape May Point, New Jersey, to erosion. But in recent years, the sisters learned that engineering feats such as the design of protective sand dunes meant the property could survive intact for several decades. While that was good news, managing St. Mary—a former hotel built in 1889 and purchased by the order in 1909—had grown difficult, in part because of the sisters’ declining numbers. They sought a buyer for the red-roofed building who would preserve the property, rather than redevelop it, and struck an agreement this past fall with the Cape May Point Science Center, a local nonprofit formed by businessman and civic leader Bob Mullock. Sister Karen Dietrich, who oversaw the sale, says it could be finalized in early 2022.

The Science Center will operate out of the house and aims to focus on nature conservation advocacy, education, and research amid a rich marine ecosystem. Dietrich says there will be no significant exterior alterations to the building itself after the handover, and if St. Mary does eventually succumb to erosion, there will be no further development on the property. It’s the sisters’ wish that their longstanding center of contemplation and restoration, beloved by the order and Cape May locals alike, “returns to nature,” Dietrich explains.

The exterior of the Eckstein School in Cincinnati.

photo by: Helen Adams

Saved: Eckstein School

Alumni and descendants of alumni of the Eckstein School—where Black students in the Cincinnati suburb and National Historic Landmark Village of Glendale attended elementary school from 1915 to 1958—have been fighting to preserve the Mission Revival–style building for about a decade. They’re finally rounding the corner after the Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) agreed to purchase the site (which was slated for partial demolition and redevelopment) in September of 2021 for $55,000, thanks largely to funds provided by the 1772 Foundation and the Haile Foundation. CPA Executive Director Paul Muller says that, in recent years, his organization realized it hadn’t been telling the area’s full story and is now committed to working with sites such as the Eckstein School that are related to greater Cincinnati’s Black history.

When built in 1915, the school took its name from Eleanor Eckstein, a local teacher of Black children. (Some of her students escaped from slavery to Glendale via the Underground Railroad in the 1860s.) In addition to serving as an educational space, the building was a gathering place where Black community members would often discuss Civil Rights issues, including the integration of the school system, Muller says. As has long been the alums’ and descendants’ plan, the Eckstein School is now on track to house the Eckstein Cultural Arts Center, which will eventually assume ownership of the property. Muller says CPA still needs to conduct a structural report, but he expects renovations to be straightforward because the site is already a good fit for its future use.

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Tim O'Donnell is the assistant editor at Preservation magazine. When not writing about historic places, 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.

todonnell@savingplaces.org @T_S_Odonnell

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