The 2023 Winners of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards
On the surface, the three winners of the 2023 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards appear to have very little in common. But all share a consistent theme: Each project addresses a major challenge facing society today.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, the Tate, Etienne and Prevost (TEP) Center, a former school building made famous in the 1960s during the fight for integration, takes on the dual issues of racial injustice and rising housing costs. Its adaptive reuse includes former classrooms redesigned as a Civil Rights history museum and apartments for low-income seniors. The transformation of a sprawling department store in downtown Peoria, Illinois, into headquarters for OSF HealthCare (shown above) focuses on the decline of downtowns by bringing much-needed jobs and economic development to a once-thriving business district. And an online toolkit developed by the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Cultural Sustainability (UTSA-CCS) addresses the increasing threat of climate change–induced natural disasters and shows how historic houses of worship can best prepare—and recover—when catastrophe hits.
All three projects also took shape during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, when meetings via Zoom, exploding raw material costs, and supply chain issues were routine. “Each of the projects faced more than the usual number of challenges,” says awards juror Patricia O’Donnell, founder of the landscape architecture firm Heritage Landscapes. “I think it’s especially important that they pushed through the barriers to the finishing line and produced some truly exceptional work.”
Tate, Etienne and Prevost (TEP) Center, New Orleans
On November 14, 1960, federal marshals escorted 6-year-olds Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost through a crowd of shouting protesters to attend McDonogh 19 Elementary School. The girls became the first African Americans, along with Ruby Bridges, to attend formerly white-only schools in Louisiana. Outraged parents withdrew their children from the school, and the McDonogh Three, as Leona, Gail, and Tessie were known, attended classes alone for months.
The 1929 Italian Renaissance Revival–style school, located in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward, educated students until 2004. A year later, floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed it, and the city’s school board eventually deemed the deteriorating structure surplus. There was talk of its demolition. Many in the community were unaware of the role it had played during the struggle for civil rights.
But not Leona Tate.
In a storyline right out of a Hollywood movie, 60 years after Tate helped integrate McDonogh 19, her nonprofit organization, the Leona Tate Foundation for Change Inc. (LTFC), and a partner, Alembic Community Development, purchased the property. After a $16.2 million renovation, it reopened in May of 2022 as the Tate, Etienne and Prevost (TEP) Center, which houses nonprofits and an interpretive center run by the LTFC and also named for the three women. The building also includes 25 affordable apartments for low-income seniors.
Now Tate’s nonprofit co-owns the same building where she made history. “It’s a dream,” she says. “I have to remind myself it’s real.”
The adaptive reuse of the site, totaling 39,700 square feet across two structures—the school and separate cafeteria building—was not easy. Funding for the work came from 16 different sources and included federal and state historic tax credits and a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
Floodwaters and time had devastated the lower floors. The buildings required all new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Some of the wooden floors were able to be saved, but both roofs were lost. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic struck just a month after construction began, creating long delays. Hurricanes in 2020 and 2021 caused further damage.
With renovations complete and the apartments fully leased, the campus houses anti-racism training and educational spaces for two nonprofits, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and Beloved Community, as well as exhibits from the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum. Plans call for using parts of the school building as exhibit space for the TEP Interpretive Center, highlighting New Orleans’ Civil Rights past. Tate says visitors will be able to follow tiny footprints along the floor as they tour, tracing the McDonogh Three’s steps through the building on that monumental day.
“It’s the ultimate in redemption,” says Driehaus juror Juan Self, managing partner of Self+Tucker Architects. “The throughline of those girls who integrated this school and endured acts of discrimination and bias … now coming back and preserving this institution really made this one stand out for me.
“Preservation requires resources, time and money,” he continues. “And often in the African American community, there are so many assets that need preservation, but resources are not available or hard to come by, or there’s not a champion. For this to happen in the Black community is just awesome and invaluable.”
OSF HealthCare Ministry Headquarters, Peoria, Illinois
The Schipper and Block department store building, later known as the Block and Kuhl building, was once the jewel of downtown Peoria, Illinois. Opened in 1905 as the city’s first steel-framed structure, it boasted seven gleaming stories of white-glazed terra cotta with sweeping banks of Chicago windows. Locals simply called it “The Big White Store.” Undergoing several ownership changes and a major expansion, the building thrived as a department store until the mid-1970s, and a series of banks occupied the space until 2015. The construction equipment company Caterpillar had bought the building, planning to raze it and build a world headquarters, but the plan fell through, and the deteriorating behemoth sat vacant.
Around the same time, the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, the congregation that owns and operates OSF HealthCare—Peoria’s largest employer—was looking to centralize its dispersed workforce. It had a choice between renovating the neglected downtown icon or building anew, and it believed the former would be the best way to help the broader Peoria community.
In 2018, the city of Peoria and Caterpillar struck a redevelopment agreement for OSF HealthCare to acquire the building and several adjacent structures for $1. The Big White Store would be returned to its former glory and become the organization’s central administrative office.
But first, it was up to preservation architects to piece together the much-altered space. A series of midcentury interior and exterior renovations had added square footage but removed or covered many of the upper windows and other features. “It was empty and very hard to see at first glance what it had ever been,” says Meg Kindelin, president of JLK Architects, the preservation consultants on the $150 million project. “There had been so many modifications, and we had to dig behind so many different layers to piece together a coherent story. From the preservation level, it was very challenging.”
JLK and architecture firm Dewberry oversaw efforts to restore and re-create the terra cotta exterior, reframe and replace 250 windows of varying sizes, and bring back the signature canopies and storefronts. Inside, crews restored 212 floor-to-ceiling columns, conserved and replicated ceiling moldings, and restored historic floor finishes wherever possible. All mechanical systems had to be redone throughout seven floors and three sublevels. All told, more than 800 tradespeople from nearly 60 separate contractors participated in the restoration of the 275,865-square-foot space.
“Of all the projects, it really is the most dramatic in terms of the start of the project and the finish,” says juror Adrian Scott Fine, senior director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy. “The other aspect is that reusing this building is a catalyst for bringing back the workforce and contributing to the revitalization of downtown.”
The new headquarters can accommodate roughly 750 employees, plus many more at a new OSF OnCall Center down the street. That means potentially hundreds more people will be working downtown than when construction began.
“A project like this brings a huge amount of awareness to the preservation movement as it becomes an epicenter for economic growth for the surrounding area,” says juror Juan Self. “And of course providing healthcare in a downtown area is icing on this preservation cake.”
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UTSA-CCS Toolkit for Historic Houses of Worship
When a natural disaster strikes, a house of worship often becomes a refuge for a community. It provides emergency food, clothing, shelter, and information-sharing, and serves as a vital gathering place. But what if that building has been damaged or flooded in the disaster? And how does a congregation with a historic structure even begin preparing for the worst?
In the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, architect and professor William Dupont, his colleagues at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Cultural Sustainability (UTSA-CCS), and other researchers began asking these questions. Armed with funds from a federal disaster relief grant awarded by the Texas Historical Commission, Dupont and his team created the UTSA-CCS Toolkit for Historic Houses of Worship, a website outlining ways that congregations can evaluate risk factors, prepare their buildings, and recover in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
More than 150 survey questions prompt congregations to start thinking about disaster preparedness: How many of your building’s windows have storm-protection material, such as shutters? Do any of your building’s exterior doors open inward? How far above sea level is your building’s first floor?
The toolkit provides guidance for evaluating potential risks to interior and exterior spaces and outlines steps to protect structures and cultural assets (books, archives, paintings). It also makes suggestions on whether improvements can be done in-house or by a professional and lists potential funding sources for frequently cash-strapped congregations, including state and federal historic tax credits.
“One of the biggest things with preservation, particularly for houses of worship from a congregational standpoint, is where to start?” says Juan Self. “This gives a roadmap on how to evaluate and prioritize.”
“The implications for this particular [project] are very widespread,” says Patricia O’Donnell. “That was one of the discussions the jury had: ‘What was the impact?’ This one had the potential for a much broader impact.”
Dupont says expanding the toolkit’s influence is now the primary goal. The website was developed in tandem with Partners for Sacred Places, and he hopes to leverage the national nonprofit’s connections to congregations throughout the country before climate change takes a toll on more of America’s heritage sites.
“Resilience of heritage is one of the grand challenges of our time,” says Dupont. “I believe professionals who engage in the business of historic preservation need to pull together and deal with the ramifications of climate change.… Having ways to enhance resilience is just super important for all heritage structures in all communities.”
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