Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bonneville, Part 2

As noted earlier, Bonneville has LOTS of resources, spread out over 15,000 circuit miles of transmission lines, seven states, hundreds of substations, and all sorts of overlaying regions, maintenance districts, transmission line maintenance districts, offices, and more. Next week I head out and about into the field to see a "representative sample," or at least a hopefully representative sample, along the Columbia River, into Idaho and Montana, and across Washington. There is a LOT to see.

The point of this is continue the process of documenting the BPA Transmission System from a historic standpoint, in this case to update the current status of portions of the "Master Grid" as being eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. That document, prepared in 1986-87, determined some transmission lines significant, some substations significant, and many others not so, all within the original loop of the BPA system, the "Master Grid," that was completed by 1949. Everything else, by definition, wasn't historic. The scatter-shot approach created a huge management issue for BPA and, given that everything is connected and works as a "system" didn't make a lot of sense, at least from my standpoint.

Last year, in the first phase of my BPA work, I researched and wrote Corridors of Power, a historic context statement that essentially attempted to answer the research question "Did BPA do anything of historic significance after 1949 and, if so, do their resources effectively relate that significance?" [That's how we CRM people speak....pretty stilted, isn't it?]. Anyway, of course, as a major Federal agency with impact on virtually every sector of the Pacific Northwest, BPA did indeed accomplish much of significance after completing the Master Grid. More about that later. From a management standpoint though, the fact that much of its system could be considered historic, and so eligible for the NR, creates something of a challenge for an entity like BPA. As with any Federal undertaking, all their projects are subject to review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. But as a key element in the energy infrastructure in seven states (and, depending how you look at, in parts of western Canada and California as well), BPA has frequent need to update, modify, change and potentially impact every aspect of its "system" in ways that don't exactly mesh with normal historic preservation intent. Trying to craft a management plan that both honors the significant history of the Bonneville Power Administration and allows them an ability to continue to provide safe, efficient, and cost-effective service to millions of Americans, is the endgame in this year long project.

In the meantime, I will be driving around the PNW, craning my neck through the windshield, following T-lines to substations, and puzzling over questions such as "how many towers can you relocate before you adversely effect a corridor?" or "Are insulators important to integrity?" or "Does changing the loading door in an 1965 "Beautility"-designed substation constitute a loss of character?"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wickiup Dam

Oregon, with all its streams and rivers, was a major focus for government investment during the 20th century. Hydroelectric dams, like Bonneville or John Day, get most of attention, but other major projects developed by the Army Corps of Engineers or the Bureau of Reclamation focused on flood control, recreation or irrigation. Given the typically effusive names of the era, the "Willamette Project" consists of a series of about 15 separate dams that were designed to control flow in that basin, mostly for flood control. The stories of the streams breaching their banks as late as the 1930s and 1940s are pretty amazing.

On the other side of the Cascades, storing water for irrigation offered the potential of huge agricultural development in an area that lacked an economy. The Wickiup Dam, one of the first elements of the "Deschutes Project" (there are those creative Feds again) was built west of La Pine beginning in the late 1930s by the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. That's the water outlet construction, in a National Archives image (See, I told you can find all sorts of things on the Internet). When the irrigation canal was finally thrown open, in 1946, it was a cause for huge celebration. "The joyous welcome to the water, which theoretically came from the 180,000 acre foot Wickiup reservoir more than 100 south of Madras, opened at 11:00 am with a parade at the Madras airbase, where Queen Evelyn Kelley and her court served as royal hostesses" effused the Bend Bulletin. Jefferson County sure knew how to throw a party.

Today the Wickiup Dam is still operated on behalf of the US Government by the Bureau of Reclamation. As a part of a project that is considering the viability of a low-power, seasonal, generation facility that could be constructed at the Dam, we are evaluating whether or not the Wickiup Dam and Reservoir should be considered historically significant. Should be interesting to learn more about how this project developed, and how it changed Central Oregon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Wonders of the Internet....

Living where I live, a long way from any large university (apologies to SOU) or a really really great used bookstore (apologies to all the fine local used bookstores) I rely heavily on the Internet for research materials. Over the years this has gotten much easier to do, as more and more public entities at both the Federal and local levels put maps, assessor information, historic photographs and now even the entire texts of early reference material on the web. Google Scholar, if you have not yet discovered it, is like having the Bancroft Library at Cal Berkeley in your office. Really. OSU has digitized much of its fine photo collection and along with the Salem Public Library and the National Archives (which generously posts most its huge HABS photo collection) it is really incredible what you can find sitting barefoot at your office desk. Given the funding issues that are now impacting historical societies all over Oregon (something I really ought to write about in more detail), finding these always-open sources on the web is extremely helpful.

And that doesn't even start to touch the wonders of eBay and Bookfinder. Historic postcard images, so evocative of their period, are of great research value. Over the years I've found that if you are willing to search (and willing to pay) there are few books on Oregon's history (or on bridges, or dams, or roads, or neon signs, or early millwork, or....) that you can't find in some used bookstore that has kindly posted its entire catalog on a web search engine. I am now to the point and a new book almost assures that an existing book goes to the used book store, or more likely to storage. I wish my office was larger! (or at least that its WALLS were).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spreading the Word!

Of history and preservation, that is. Yesterday was the latest in what is becoming a much anticipated annual event, Medford's "Taste of History," the brain-child of some of that community's downtown property owners/boosters, local food purveyors (both restaurants and manufacturers) and the area's ever-growing winery and local breweries. Focused on more than a dozen historic buildings, participants tour the town, wine-glass in hand, and sample offerings at the various stops. To kick it off the day begins with (free) walking tours of downtown, led by Ben Truwe and me. WHAT FUN! The weather was perfect (it didn't rain and it wasn't 107 either) and 25 intrepid history buffs followed me around on the narrow sidewalks beginning at 10:00 for an hour of architecture and restoration tales documenting how Medford started and changed. Ben took over at 11:30 and regaled us all with stories about some of the more interesting people associated with downtown, including Madames and opium addicts as well as a glimpse into Medford's connection to Walt Disney's character "Goofy," based upon a crossing guard that intrigued "Pinto" Colvig, a Jacksonville boy who created Goofy for the Disney studios. (That's Ben in the image, dressed the gallant part!)

After my "shift" we got to enjoy the food, the music, and the libations along with everyone else, bumping into all sorts of friends and acquaintances, each with a glass in hand and smile upon their face. Next year, always on the second Saturday in June, they will do it all again!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Managing Built Resources

Many years ago, in working with a large corporate client that was responsible for literally dozens of historic resources, it struck me as being incredibly inefficient to subject each proposed action that might impact those resources to the Section 106 review process. I mean really, if you replace one roof on a historic workers cottage and SHPO concurs your action had no adverse effect, why should you have to go through the entire process again when you want to put the same roof on another cottage at the same site? Thankfully, Oregon's SHPO, which has always had a good reputation for working to protect properties in a reasonable way, agreed with me. Out of that came what has now evolved into the "Manual for Built Resources," a sort of management plan for dealing with all the typical aspects of historic resources, specifically developed for a project, and establishing standard approaches that maintain character and ease the pain for clients. They have become near-standard, particularly within the utility sector. I am pleased to now see them working their way into other settings as well.

Earlier this year, in partnership with Steve Smiley, of Peck Smiley Ettlin, we began to develop an MBR for the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, located in White City, Oregon. SORCC is located in what was originally the Station Hospital at U.S. Army Cantonment "Camp White," a monster training facility built on the Agate Desert, east of Medford, at the start of World War II. The hospital, mostly built of brick, is the only element of the Camp to survive and has been owned and operated by the Veterans Administration since 1949.

A NR-eligible property, the VA is surely aware of its facility's significant history but, like most private clients, has a primary mission to address (in this case patient service) that means historic preservation isn't exactly their top priority. What the MBR will do, with luck, is provide reasonable and cost-effective solutions that can guide the VA's actions at SORCC so that they can balance patient service with historic preservation in a manageable way. Historic Preservation was never intended to turn properties into museums but rather to help owners continue to occupy and use them in a way that respects their history. And that is true whether the "owner" is the United States, a large corporation, or your neighbor that wants to open a Bed and Breakfast.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Greene and Greene Style?

Today, listening to the local NPR affiliate, I heard a "sponsor announcement" from a local construction firm that boasts it offers designs in, among other things, the "Greene and Greene Style." Being somewhat familiar with the work of Pasadena brothers Charles and Henry Greene, I was amused.

The Greenes developed a practice in southern California in the early years of the 20th century that quickly established a reputation for fine integration of materials and site to create a nearly natural style of architecture. The best of their homes, the most famous of which is the Gamble House, now a museum owned by USC, is essentially a piece of furniture that you live in, so fine is its construction and detail. Walnut, Maple and other fine wood built-in cabinetry, walls and flooring are surrounded by a sprawling wing-swept structure with detailed shingle work, stonework and other materials that harmonize with the environment. Custom built doors, light fixtures, even textiles and furnishings are found throughout, creating what some have called "the ultimate bungalow." In fact the AIA gave the Greene's a prized Gold Medal in the 1950s that essentially dubbed them the instigators of the entire bungalow movement.

Charles Greene, in particular, was legendarily detail oriented. Stories abound of his getting down in the muck with the masons, guiding the placement of every single foundation or porch pier stone to assure the best effect, of choosing the wood for door trim to take best advantage of the grain, and of demanding that work not up to his high standards be removed and redone (you can do things like that when you are working for the Gambles, of Proctor and Gamble fame).

There have been houses in Ashland before labeled as "Homage to Greene and Greene" and while they are nice enough houses, they basically amount to standard homes with shingle siding and some river rock, perhaps a fine stained glass door and some high priced, but still stock, exterior lighting. In any event there is not, in my mind, any such thing as the "Greene and Greene" style unless that style is the incredible use of imagination and care in building a custom home. I rather doubt that whatever is being represented as such is work the Brothers Greene would recognize as their own.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bonneville Power...

In what is likely the single biggest project I've ever been involved with, this Summer I will be touring throughout the PNW to gain a better understanding of the built resources of the Bonneville Power Administration, BPA. For those that have never thought about it, here's an eye-opener....BPA does not generate any power. Not a watt. By law. BPA was set up during FDR's "New Deal" to transmit and market the power generated at the Bonneville Dam, operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Later BPA was given authority to transmit and market the power generated at Grand Coulee, operated by the US Bureau of Reclamation. At the time it was assumed by everyone that BPA, the Corps, and the Bureau would combine their activities in the Northwest under some large umbrella entity modeled after the Tennessee Valley Authority. It didn't work out that way and today BPA operates more than 15,000 circuit miles of transmission line, hundreds of substation, control rooms, a microwave system, and all of the infrastructure required to keep it working in parts of SEVEN states. Oh, and their system forms the backbone of the Northwest Power Pool, meaning it is integral to the entire electric grid of the Northwest and beyond, including major connections from Canada to California.

And they still don't generate a watt of their own.

I will be working for BPA trying to help the Administration streamline its requirements under Section 106 of the NHPA for what quite literally will be years and years. Rest assured, this won't be the last post on the topic as I begin to become more knowledgeable about towers and what all that electricity meant to the development of the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Warehouse to Winery Rehab, Medford

Built in 1924, the Cooley-Neff Warehouse is a rare surviving example of the Spanish Colonial Revival Style in Medford, Oregon. Spanish Colonial shares little history with the southern Oregon region but that area, like much of the West and even much of the nation, got caught up in the popularity of "Mission" design as a result of the impact of the novel "Ramona" and, more importantly, the success of the Panama-California Exposition, held in San Diego in 1915. Bertram Goodhue, an architect of some note, adopted the arched and stuccoed style for the master plan and created nationwide interest that swept through Medford by the mid-1920s. Of the many, many, commercial and public buildings built or remodeled in form that would have made "Ramona" proud (Google Helen Hunt Jackson if you don't understand the reference) pretty much only the Cooley-Neff is left. That's not because it was the best example, per se, but rather because it was located on the periphery of downtown and nobody ever got around to remodeling it, or razing it, as happened to most of the other such buildings.

Vacant for years and subject to the indignity of neglect and vandalism (steel sash windows are such an inviting target!) the building was purchased in 2005 and listed on the NRHP the next year. It's currently in the process of a major renovation into a commercial winery.... a first step toward the revitalization of this entire section of downtown Medford.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

You say McMansion....

In today's paper there was a column, from Froma Harrop, on the demise of the McMansion, and the effect that the current economic crisis is having on the American home. ( It was hard not to read it and gloat, just a mite, as she repeated arguments that I and others made several years ago to the Ashland Planning Commission and City Council. We were pushing for the adoption of what has since become known as the "Maximum House Size" ordinance, a provision that limits the size of a dwelling within Ashland's National Register listed historic districts. At the time a certain segment of this enlightened community acted as if even a generous limit on their house (about 3000 square feet) was a near socialist act, the first step on the road to total government control of private property.

Of course, as predicted, nobody really NEEDS a special room for gift-wrapping or to play video games (or a roof that was to slide back and reveal a telescope...really) and now that their stocks and 401K have tanked those that built such monstrosities are struggling to unload them, often at huge losses. All of which is fairly predictable. If I have enough capital to chase my wildest dream, I am unlikely to want to purchase YOUR wildest dream, aren't I?

Harrop even talks about the fact that these monsters are often in just those portions of a community where their charm is based on a small scale, a walkable terrain, and an established neighborhood. Maybe the downsizing of the American home, to match the similar reduction in family size, will be one silver lining in the economic situation we now find ourselves.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Parvin Covered Bridge Rehab, Lane County

Today I am writing a "baseline" report for the area surrounding the Parvin Covered Bridge, in Lane County. This bridge, built in 1921, is one of about 50 surviving examples of the 450 or more covered bridges that once carried traffic over Oregon's rivers and streams. Like most covered bridges, Parvin has legions of supporters who treasure these examples of the wooden bridge builders art in Oregon. Parvin is somewhat unusual in that it still carries vechicular traffic over Lost Creek (many covered bridges are pedestrian only).

Just west of the bridge, which connects Parvin Road to Lost Creek Road, sits the circa 1865 house of James and Selenia Parvin, along with two early barns that were also built by the family. On the west of the bridge is another house, built and long occupied by James' son.

None of these resources will be impacted by the current project, which will rehab the Parvin Bridge to assure it survives for a long long time, it's just interesting that this little neighborhood, centered on this bridge (and the one that stood here before it) has changed so little in the past century and half of Oregon's history.