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What we did on our summer vacation….

August 20, 2013

flowers and rear facade of John Quincy Adams' birthplace

Our summer expedition took us to the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts. The site includes the birthplaces of two presidents: John Adams (second President of the United States) and John Quincy Adams (sixth president).  And, just as Abigail would have demanded, the interpretation remembers the ladies and tells the stories of the savvy women behind the men.  Visitors also meander through “Peace Field” — the home John Adams retired to following his presidency, and home to four generations of the Adams family.

The teenager rating?  He says that he learned a lot and was amazed by the Adams family’s long legacy of public service and scholarship.  The visit changed his estimation of John Adams and his descendants.   He was impressed by Peace Field and feeling of experiencing the many generations who lived there through the objects, the changing technologies, and the stories about the individuals.

It was one of the most muggy of summer days and we were thrilled to discover air conditioning inside the library barn.  Don’t leave the structure without finding out the secret of the tile floor.

Philadelphia takes the Fourth of July quite seriously

July 4, 2013

Mid-century architecture you can carry in your pocket

June 10, 2013

Philadelphia Mint coin/medal, architect Vincent Kling

Mmmm. Minty. But not fresh — this is a commemorative medal/coin dating from 1969. (Buy it now: click here.)

I bought this souvenir while on a church youth group trip from York Beach, Maine, to Pennsylvania. We toured from mining country in the western part of the state, to the minister’s family home in Lancaster County (his parents’ house nestled among Amish farms), to Philadelphia. There we toured the University of Pennsylvania’s museum, saw Independence Hall (with the Liberty Bell on display in the hallway), and toured the new Philadelphia Mint. I bought this coin/medal, encased in its snazzy plastic display stand with faux bois detailing.

The first mint was built in Philadelphia in 1792. The building pictured on this coin was the fourth Philadelphia mint, opened on August 14, 1969 and designed by architect Vincent G. Kling. It was the largest mint in the world until 2009, covering a full block, from North 4th to North 5th Streets, from Race to Arch Streets. You can still tour the building today, though I’ll bet you can’t get a nifty souvenir coin like this one anymore!

From Philadelphia Architects & Buildings database at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia

Born: 5/9/1916

Vincent Kling, who would head the largest architectural practice in the Philadelphia region in the 1960s and 1970s and shape much of downtown Philadelphia in the post-World War II era, was born and raised in East Orange, NJ. The son of a builder, Kling worked for his father’s construction firm in the summer during high school. He began his architectural training at Columbia University and earned his tuition through a variety of jobs during the lean years of the Depression when his father had little work. Kling was an outstanding student at Columbia, winning numerous prizes and completing a B.Arch. in 1940. This degree was followed by an M.Arch. from M.I.T. in 1941. Kling enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and served as a pilot in the Atlantic fleet naval air force until the close of the war. Flying has remained one of Kling’s life-long interests: he was a licensed commercial pilot into the 1980s.

After the war, Kling returned to New York, where he entered the office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a designer. The corporate organization of the growing firm undoubtedly served as the model for the practice Kling would later build in Philadelphia. He left Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1946 to establish his own office.

As SOM also did, Kling grew his firm into a group of studios, each headed by an architect supervising a team of designers and draftsmen. In the 1970s, this process was further refined by the corporate subdividing of the firm into architecture and related specialties (including engineering and landscape design). This highly organized and efficient system was a key element in the successful completion of a prodigious number of projects, many on a large scale, in the Philadelphia region and beyond. One of the earliest of these was the creation of Penn Center in Philadelphia in the 1950s, for which Kling was the principal architect and planner. By the late 1960s, Kling’s firm had become the largest in Philadelphia, and by 1973, Kling was at the head of the largest architectural practice in Pennsylvania, with an office of nearly 400 employees.

Kling became a member of the national AIA in 1948, and was named a fellow in 1960. He served on many AIA committees between the 1960s and 1980s. Kling was a director of the Philadelphia Chapter between 1959 and 1961, and its president in 1965. The projects accomplished under his direction have been recognized many times by the profession: he received national AIA honor awards in 1954, 1966, 1967, and 1969; the Philadelphia Chapter bestowed 11 awards on the work of the office between 1949 and 1980. In addition to these honors, he was awarded the Samuel F. B. Morse Medal by the National Academy of Design in 1968 and 1972. He served on the Philadelphia Art Commission between 1968 and 1972, and was a trustee of Columbia University in 1965-1971, among other involvements.

Kling retired from practice in 1987.

Written by Emily T. Cooperman.

More about Kling and his “architecture for the people” was posted by my historic preservation classmates at the University of Pennsylvania, David Artigas and Fon Wang: “Vincent Kling and the Penn Center”

This bronze coin was valued at $8 — selling for less.

Foto Friday: Seneca Knitting Mill

May 31, 2013

exposed timbers of mill ruin

It’s Memorial Day, which has me remembering….

May 27, 2013

Governor’s Island with Manhattan skyline (Photo donated by a participant in the Oral History Program, January 1954. U.S. Army Signal Corps) Click image to visit oral history website.

I’ve been reading about the evolution and transformation of Governors Island in New York Harbor for some time now — about proposals for giant ferris wheels with views of Manhattan, of the fate of officer’s housing and bachelor’s quarters — I’ve gazed at photos of an empty ghost street through housing where probably, if you stood listening very carefully on a day with no wind, you could hear the echoing sounds of metal rollerskate wheels on concrete, calls of “Red Light!  Green Light!” and “Red Rover, Red Rover,” before the back door calls to come in for dinner and the bugled notes of “Taps” as the sun set.

The New York Times wrote about a reunion of the military brats who once lived there.  And, as I anticipated, the quotes from these grown children reveal they are haunted by their childhoods and drawn back to a place they once called home, even though they called many places home in the course of their “careers” as children of a military family.

My dear friend grew up the daughter of a British army officer and sometimes we compare notes on life in the service,  Though our fathers commanded different war machines for different countries (tanks, submarines), our experiences have more commonalities than differences.  We know the feeling of being the perennial outsider.  And we served at a time when the word “hero” was never much used in connection with the military.  We figured out how to live in a place, but the idea of “home” was generally connected with grandparents who never moved, or the dream of some place where we’d someday settle and put down roots.

We became the children taught not to miss what was, nor to complain about what is.  We made the best of it, we muddled through, we waited for the next move to a place we didn’t know.  For my friend and me, these words by Pat Conroy always make us misty.  They tug at a broken heart we stuffed into a dented moving box a long time ago.


Yup, that’s me looking on as my mom pins something on my dad.

THERE ARE NO CEREMONIES TO mark the end of a career as a military brat. We simply walk out into our destinies, into the dead center of our lives and try to make the most of it. After my own career as a military child ended in 1967, I received not a single medal of good conduct, no silver chevrons or leaves, no letter of commendation or retirement parade. I simply walked out of one life and into another. My father cut up my ID card in front of me and told me he’d kill me if he ever caught me trying to buy liquor on base. I had the rest of my life to think about the coming of age of a military child.

But imagine if all of us–all the military brats–could meet on some impeccably manicured field in a gathering so vast that it would be like the assembling of some vivid and undauntable army. We could come together on this parade ground at dusk, million voiced and articulating our secret anthems of hurt and joy. We could praise each other in voices that understand both the magnificence and pain of our transient lives.

At the end of our assembly, we could pass in review in a parade of unutterable beauty….   I would put all of our fathers in the reviewing stand, and require that they come in full dress uniform and in the prime of life….

US Naval Academy Graduation June 4 1950_with roommate

My dad, graduating from the U.S.Naval Academy.

In this parade, these men would understand the nature and the value of their children’s sacrifice for the first time. Our fathers would stand at rigid attention. Then they would begin to salute us, one by one, and in that salute, that one sign of recognition, of acknowledgment, they would thank us for the first time. They would be thanking their own children for their fortitude and courage and generosity and long suffering, for enduring a military childhood.

But most of all, the salute would be for something no military man in this country has ever acknowledged. The gathering of fighting men would be thanking their children, their fine and resourceful children, who were strangers in every town they entered, thanking them for their extraordinary service to their country, for the sacrifices they made over and over again to the United States of America, to its ideals of freedom, to its preservation and to its everlasting honor.

This piece is excerpted from the introduction to “Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress,” by Mary Edwards Wertsch, introduction copyright 1991 by Pat Conroy, Harmony Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc.

I do still imagine someday feeling at home, though I don’t know when or where that will ever be.

The Rusty Pipe

January 14, 2013

The Rusty Pipe

Note the little scrap of wallpaper visible in the background? One can often find little bits of history tucked in behind built-ins, moldings, or furniture too heavy to move.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2012

I share with you a postcard with a New Year’s greeting — a greeting for a year that was new over 100 years ago.  This colorful card was sent in 1909 to my grandfather from his cousin Violet Belz.

As a comparison, I can’t resist sharing the photograph below, showing the five members of the Thomas White family of Tylersport, Pennsylvania, with Cousin Violet visiting from Camden, New Jersey, taken in 1913.  That’s 100 years ago.  I wonder what they were thinking about on their 1913 New Year’s Eve Day?

White Family of Tylersport, PA, from l to r, Paul White (my grandfather), Thomas White, Esther (in driver’s seat), Anna White and daughter Ruth, Violet Belz

In 100 years, I wonder how people looking back will remember us?  And what they will remember us by now that our photos and writings are mostly ephemeral digitized data that may be largely inaccessible in 100 years.  (Print out a few photos and write a message from 2013 that you can leave behind!)

Here’s to 2013 — I hope it’s a great year for all of us.  Let’s continue to shift the perception of historic preservation from a narrow-minded effort to impede progress toward a more accurate, broader understanding of its benefits for community revitalization, economic development, neighborhood identity and so very much more.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas!

December 24, 2012
Christmas in New York City

Christmas in New York City (Photo by Sabra Smith)

What’s wrong with this picture?

December 15, 2012

You know those puzzles, where you are challenged to find as many things as you can that don’t fit?  See how many you can spot that show the evolution of this house over time.  And here’s a freebie — those new windows on first floor are just WRONG.  Lots of little faux divided lights instead of just sticking with what’s in the rest of the house.  They probably thought it was more “historic” that way.  I think there needs to be a mascot for historic preservation, and his/her name should be Secretary Standard.  And s/he would do a public service campaign doing actual case studies of when wooden windows are lovely and should be kept, and when wooden windows should be taken out and what they should be replaced with.  Any artists out there that want to take a crack at creating “Secretary Standard”?

Victorian house gets remodeling work

Where’s Secretary Standard when you need her? (Photo by Sabra Smith)

Finale: The “I Love Lucy [the Elephant] Memory Contest”

December 14, 2012

plush Lucy the ElephantThis brings to a close the “I Love Lucy [the Elephant] Memory Contest” that invited you to share memories of place and time.  Thanks to all who entered for sharing your wonderful recollections.  This was such fun, we might have to do it again next year.

Jeff Wood entered not once, but twice.  If you want to read more, his novella “Groceries” is featured in Isotope Fiction.  You can follow his work on Facebook at Clowncar Publishing.


I spent my first Father’s Day as an actual father in the Sand Dunes National Park with my wife and two newly adopted daughters, Shay and KK. Shay was four, KK two, and they had been with us for nearly a year. I am easily besotted by fatherhood, and so memories of the day are as bright as fireflies, as plentiful as dandelions.

Here is one.

KK had learned to smile perhaps a month before the trip. She had smiled before, many times, but always spontaneously; by “learned” I mean that she could control it now, turn it on by choice, return a smile from someone else. And so all weekend that is just what I did, I smiled at her–while building castles in the wet sand, walking in the bright water, eating hot dogs in the motel room that night–just to watch her return it. I was greedy for the dazzle of it, the effortless sunbeam of her face, shattering my fragile glass heart over and over and over again.

And his second entry:


My memory paints the sky as deep blue, sunny, cloudless.  It was a summer day.

My friend Kyle and I and some other kid whose name I can’t recall were hunting for a feral cat in the fields outside the city limits of Ottumwa, Iowa.  Kyle lived on a farm, and the cat had killed three of his baby chicks.  He was going to cut off its tail, in revenge.

We found the cat after a long search. Kyle grabbed it tight, by the tail.  The cat was wailing and clawing, but Kyle held fast.  He pulled out his penknife and brought it toward the cat’s tail.

I screamed, “No!”  Loudly.  Kyle dropped his knife, let go of the cat’s tail, the cat ran off into the fields howling.

After a long moment I looked into Kyle’s eyes.  I was expecting anger, or disdain, or perhaps no eye contact at all in response.  But he met my eyes.

He looked relieved.

We both looked to the other kid, who had been standing behind us.  He stepped forward.  Kyle picked up his penknife, slipped it in his pocket, and together the three of us walked toward Kyle’s house, where his Mom had lunch waiting for us.