December 6, 2021

Sustaining a Future for Preservation Trades at the Odd Fellows Building

When you watch Ariana Makau, founder of Nzilani Glass Conservation, at work, it is not hard to be awestruck. There is an assuredness as she walks through the various steps required to glaze and restore a historic window, a fluid certainty that emphasizes the importance of safety and deliberate action to the students seated before her.

In summer 2021, a group of people gathered at the Odd Fellows Building in Astoria, Oregon, as part of the first majority-women HOPE Crew project. Makau, who is the second person in the world—and the first woman—to receive a master’s degree in Stained Glass Conservation from the Royal College of Art in London, was one of an all-female-led team that focused on training this crew on the restoration of the Odd Fellows windows over a two-week period in July.

A view of an individual restoring a window. The view is from the ground looking up along some scaffolding with the individual doing the work at the top.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Jacob McClary and Elizabeth "Liz" Blalock remove old putty from the Odd Fellows’ clerestory windows.

HOPE Crew, which stands for Hands-on-Preservation Experience, is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation dedicated to empowering a new, younger, more diverse generation of preservationists in the training and practice of historic trades. The project in Astoria was part of a partnership with the National Trust’s campaign for Where Women Made History, which in addition to emphasizing women’s history within the American story, seeks to recognize that women are essential to all facets of preservation.

Making History at the Odd Fellows Building

In December 1922, a fire began in Astoria that destroyed up to 30 blocks in the center of the city. Following that devastation, where up to 2,500 residents lost their homes, the city started rebuilding with the Odd Fellows Building. Originally designed by architect Charles T. Diamond to be a fraternal lodge, the structure transformed over time into a community space that housed a series of nonprofit organizations.

A woman performing one of the tasks needed to restore a historic window.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Brittany Hobbs removes old putty from the Odd Fellows’ storefront windows that serve one of the women-owned businesses.

A group of people standing in front of some scaffolding and a building painted a deep purple with large ground level windows.

photo by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Trainers and participants at the HOPE Crew Odd Fellows project. Back Row, L-R: Molly Baker, Aracely Alejo-Zambrano, Brittany Hobbs, Jeric Baker, Jacob McClary, Milan Jordan. Front Row L-R: Ariana Makau, Elizabeth "Liz" Blalock.

In 2017, the Odd Fellows Building went up for sale, and a year later three women—Andrea Mazzarella, Nancy Mazzerella Tish, and Jessamyn West—scraped together more than $400,000, with community support, to purchase the site and maintain the four women-owned businesses (including one where West was an owner and executive director) from possible eviction by another prospective buyer.

A key structure in this Main Street community, the Odd Fellows Building received a grant in 2019 as part of the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets program that focused on sites of women’s history. Then in 2020, to mark the centennial of women’s suffrage, it received a paint donation from Benjamin Moore to refresh the building’s exterior. In both cases, the Odd Fellows Building was selected because it emphasized the role women play in the work of preservation, from the places being saved to the people saving them.

Keeping the Preservation Trades Alive

This focus on women who preserve—from the property owners to the women-owned businesses within the building—made the Odd Fellows Building the ideal choice for the first majority-women, women-led crew. Milan Jordan, director of HOPE Crew, said at the time, “Gender equity is a huge goal of what we're aiming to achieve. And changing the narrative of women in the trades is going to take us all working together to move the needle. Together we can do it."

In this way, the project’s importance extends beyond this single building and becomes part of a broader conversation about the importance and future of historic trades. Because as preservationists look to the future, a troubling statistic has become apparent: The number of skilled workers in the preservation trades is dropping.

In September 2021, the Preservation Priorities Task Force, a joint partnership between the National Preservation Partners Network and the National Trust, released an issue brief focused on Preservation Trades and Workforce Development. The brief states that there is a clear labor shortage when it comes to having experienced craftspeople “that are often needed for historic preservation projects, such as window restoration, plaster repair, and carpentry, and that the average age of workers skilled in preservation trades is rising.”

Odd Fellows Building, Astoria, Oregon

This generational transition is a future barrier to the work of historic preservation. Over the years the Preservation Trades Network has been a strong voice and advocate for those working in historic trades. In addition, other organizations have developed programs—from the National Trust’s HOPE Crew, to HistoriCorps, to the National Park Service’s apprenticeship programs and recent partnership with Preservation Maryland on the Campaign for Historic Trades—to not only train people, but also expand the opportunities and remove barriers to this work.

And in an already struggling sector, the number of women is even lower. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, prior to the pandemic women made up a mere 3.4 percent of construction trades workers. Yet the opportunities for women in this field are significant given that the gender pay gap in the construction industry is much narrower than the national average. Plus, with the infrastructure bill’s recent passage and its potential to create jobs and projects, the Odd Fellows experience offers a glimpse of what a female-led historic trades field could look like.

Restoring the Windows at Odd Fellows

If you look at the exterior of the Odd Fellows Building, you’ll notice that one of its character-defining features is the series of windows that make up a large part of its ground-level facade. The second floor is equally gorgeous with a line of arched windows that allow an incredible amount of light into the offices of the Astoria Arts and Movement Center, apothecary, gallery, and coffee shop.

During the two-week project period, under the supervision of Makau, HOPE Crew director Milan Jordan, and manager Molly Baker, the HOPE Crew participants walked through the basic steps needed to restore historic windows. They removed old caulking, cleaned the glass surfaces, identified and removed rotten wood, then replaced those sections with new wood after treatment with epoxy. They finalized the work by adding in filler and putty around the windows before painting.

In addition to restoring the windows, Makau, Jordan, and Baker developed the first in a series of learning labs, focusing specifically on the steps required to re-glaze a historic window. This learning lab provides needed instruction on health and safety considerations, how to remove brittle and failing glazing, how to install new hardware, and more. Sponsored by the TAWANI Foundation and the Kinsman Foundation, the National Trust’s HOPE Crew is hopeful that this is one more tool towards increasing access and instruction to historic trades.

University of Oregon student and HOPE Crew participant Brittany Hobbs said of the project, “I think that creating a space, especially for women, is so important, so nurturing, and so needed in both the trades, and for the future of preservation.” Hobbs emphasized the value of having a training that was specifically designed with a woman’s perspective in mind, rather than a standard training that happened to welcome female participants. That shift, she said, “made all the difference.”

Today, the rehabilitation efforts at the Odd Fellows Building are nearly complete. The efforts of Andrea Mazzarella, Nancy Mazzerella Tish, and Jessamyn West have not only protected this landmark in Astoria, but also ensured that the women-owned businesses within will continue to have a place to call home.

As for the future of historic trades? Much work remains, but projects like this one will help pave the way forward.

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