Historic Preservation at Columbia

HP students share their summer internship experiences.



Sarah Reddan: US/ICOMOS International Exchange Program [Vilnius, Lithuania]

This summer I have been living and working in Vilnius, Lithuania as a 2016 US/ICOMOS International Exchange Program Intern (IEP).  ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) runs an exchange internship program where they match your skills and interests with an international host organization who has an internship placement available.  This year, there are eleven interns; four from abroad who have been placed with organizations throughout the US and the remainder from the US placed abroad to Jamaica, India, Istanbul and Lithuania.  I have been placed Lietuvos Paminklai (Lithuanian Monuments), a state enterprise that restores important sites including individual buildings, castles, museums and churches.  In addition to restoration work, Lietuvos Paminklai creates Special Plans for managing and restoring the heritage in cities and towns.

My internship started in Washington DC with a three-day orientation along with the other IEP interns before we departed on our separate journeys for the summer. During the orientation we learned more about ICOMOS’s work and goals, received tours of the restoration work of landmarks including the Washington National Cathedral and the US Capital, and met with amazing heritage professionals from the National Park Service, the American Planning Association, and other ICOMOS members.  We were also given our summer ICOMOS assignments, which includes tweeting our activities (follow me here: ).

At Lietuvos Paminklai my task for this summer has been to assist with the Special Plan for Trakai, which is on the World Heritage Tentative List. Trakai is a historic town about a half-hour from Vilnius that is known for its beautiful 14th century, red-brick castles surrounded by lakes.  In addition to the castles, monasteries, and religious buildings, the town of Trakai has an assortment of small, wooden houses which were inhabited by a mix of ethnic groups, most notably the Karaites.  My main assignment has been to collect and organize data on all the buildings in Trakai (over 400 buildings and out-buildings).  I have been documenting their addresses, styles, façade and roof materials, dates built, and gathering photographs of each building. In addition, I have been measuring their lengths, widths, heights, and distance from the street by using a mix of existing maps, photos, working in the field, and looking through the archives.  This information will be used for Paminklai’s Special Plan, which will help protect the natural and cultural resources in Trakai and form a policy for additions, changes, and development in the area.

In addition to documenting Trakai, I have met amazing people who dedicate their lives to saving Lithuania’s heritage.  I have been given personal tours by the architects of the reconstructed Lower Castle of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius and the Paliesiaus manor.  I spent a few days in Kaunas with a colleague, which was the capital of Lithuania during the Polish occupation of Vilnius.  There we looked at the city’s Art Deco architecture (a potential World Heritage Site) and visited nearby manors, which have been abandoned after the Soviets nationalized them. I have received a tour of the restoration of textiles, paper, pottery and painting at the Pranas Gudynas Restoration Centre as well as many of Vilnius’s museums. Another highlight of my time here has been meeting Jonas Glemza, the ICOMOS Vice President of Central and Eastern Europe from 1981-1990, who has been an integral part of heritage protection in Lithuania through his books, lectures, associations, and restoration work.

My experience so far has been amazing. Vilnius is a beautiful and interesting city and everyone I have met is friendly, helpful, and proud to show off their country; I have been invited into people’s homes, attended dinner parties, invited to concerts, and taken to festivals, often alone with people I hadn’t even met yet (including my landlord’s sister!).  I’ve also had the chance to visit the historic cities of Tallinn, Estonia, Riga, Lativa, and will be in Sweden next week.

After I leave in early August, I’ll be heading back to D.C. for the final ICOMOS program. There, each intern will put together a board of their summer experiences, give a speech and participate in a panel discussion.  I’ve been assigned to the Climate Change panel, however since none of the heritage professionals I’ve met in the Baltic States have experienced nor worked with climate changes issues in relation to the built heritage, my research is proving more difficult than I thought!

A traditional wooden house in Trakai, a historic town outside Vilnius


Tania Alam: National Parks Service – Governors Island National Monument

Governors Island National Monument, established as a unit of the National Parks Service in 2001 encompasses 22.78 acres of the 172 acre island in New York Harbor. Two fortifications, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, are its primary historic resources. Though a quiet place throughout the year, the island comes to life during the few months in summer when it is made open to the general public. The monumental gateway of Fort Jay surmounted by an exquisitely carved sandstone sculpture, the trophèe d’armes, is believed to have been built in 1795-96. The sculpture, simply referred to as the “Eagle”, is an ensemble of various elements of artillery with an eagle at the center, supporting a shield with the state-seal of New York, flanked by a mortar and gun, with four flags, and a liberty-cap set on top of the fasces as a backdrop.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy toppled a large portion of this sculpture. At the moment, the gateway is covered in a veil of scaffolding while a group of people work relentlessly towards its restoration. I have been fortunate enough to be a small part of it. As the summer intern for the project at Fort Jay, I have been involved in a number of tasks ranging from hands-on work in the field to researching in front of a laptop. Doing things like splitting a stone using feathers and wedges, boasting the surface with a chisel and hammer, making plaster molds for the stones to be carved have all been very educational; simultaneously inspirational for me. I have come to realize that not everything we work with at this age needs to be “high-tech”; simple acts like using apiece of lumber as a lever to move a block of stone requires quite a lot of thinking (and hard work!). No matter how uncomfortable I felt with a respirator on or how tedious to regularly wear metal-toed shoes, or how annoying to take a detour and get a hard-hat when going up the scaffold, working in the field with my colleagues have reinstated in me the absolute necessity of maintaining physical safety at all times. I have also been exposed to the process of making the right choices, and reaching a consensus that supports the ultimate goal of the project (for instance when I observed a meeting between my colleagues and the structural engineers). I have been creating a number of drawings of the stones being worked with, which can help to document the restoration process. I believe this is critical for the project since we are still struggling to collect information, owing largely to a lack of proper documentation, regarding earlier repair works carried out on the sculpture for better understanding of its originality.

In the remaining weeks, I hope to find further information on the nature of earlier repairs while, more importantly, look forward to spend more time in the field working with sandstone, going up the scaffolding to clean the sculpture, helping in making drawings, do some mortar analysis to match the color of filler materials, or simply observe how the work is done!

3D view of Eagle
A 3D view of the trophee d’armes from the west, showing the existing condition of the sandstone sculpture


Fei Teng: Pasadena Heritage

This summer I worked as an intern at Pasadena Heritage (PH). It is a community-based, non-profit organization that was founded in 1977. Its mission is to identify, preserve and protect the historic, architectural and cultural resources of the City of Pasadena through advocacy and education.

As the summer intern, I have been exposed to several projects in various stages of completion. The main project I have been involved in is preparing for the Nomination of Pasadena Avenue Historic District. The goal of this nomination is to prevent the State Route 710 North project. As a major transportation project, it has the potential to seriously impact scores of residential and commercial properties in historic districts and historic transportation corridors like Old Route 66 and the Arroyo Seco Parkway (the oldest highway in the United States and a National Scenic Byway).

My work focused on the research and documentation of 126 properties within the district and mainly contained three parts. First, I read the Historic Resources Evaluation Report written by California Department of Transportation and found the discrepancy between it and the record of the PH. Then I gathered information about original and current owners, architects, builders and historic photos and maps. I have done the research in Building Permit Center, Public Library and Historic Museum of Pasadena. The varieties of tools I have used include city directories, Sanborn Maps, building permits, archives in the different forms and online systems such as ParcelQuest. Last, I wrote descriptions for most of the properties within the district.

Through the process, I have received a good exercise at describing different architectural styles including Mediterranean Revival, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Arts and Craftsman, American Foursquare and Ranch. The hands-on work experience not only gave me a good opportunity to apply what I have learned from class, but also made me learn a lot.

Beyond the office work, field research work and board meeting, I have participated in several field trips. Creatively designed by my supervisor, they offered me great opportunities to sense the historic preservation work in greater Los Angeles area. I have visited South Pasadena, Heritage Square House Museum, Getty Villa, Anaheim Packing District and Downtown L.A. These field trips enriched my knowledge and offered me inspiration for thesis.

I give thanks to all very friendly staff at Pasadena Heritage for including me in their process, and giving me an opportunity to experience how a leading NGO work in the preservation field. I especially appreciate my supervisor Jesse Lattig, who has taught me a lot and opened my eyes by letting me experience different types of preservation work in the charming place, Los Angeles.

Building Permit Center
The City of Pasadena Building Permit Center

Mayssa Jallad: Li/Saltzman Architects

It’s been an exciting six weeks so far interning at Li/Saltzman Architects on 50 Broadway near Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. I’ve been working on a few projects simultaneously and moving from one to the next quite dynamically, which I’ve enjoyed very much.

A large portion of the work I’ve been doing might be qualified as “forensic”, meaning digging through Landmarks permits to figure out if the work was properly executed on a building, or how new architects could use the Landmarks recommendations to execute new designs based on older permits. A few landmarks I’ve worked on with these kinds of tasks are the Cipriani Building on 42nd Street, as well as the Brill Building on Broadway and 49th Street. It’s impressive how much say the LPC has over the built environment of New York. It would be incredible to have such a powerful legal entity in Beirut, monitoring the evolution of the visual landscape in the city. Architects and owners hire Historic Preservation firms such as Li/Saltzman, with experts such as Meisha Hunter my supervisor, to lead them through the hurdles of Landmarks in order to get an approved permit, or Certificate of Appropriateness (CofA).

An engaging project I’ve been involved in at Li/Saltzman is the Highbridge Water Tower, a 200-foot high structure located at the Highbridge Park in Washington Heights, Harlem. The structure, no longer used as a water tower since 1949, was designated a landmark in 1967. The New York City department of Parks and Recreation, who are the clients for this project, have been meaning to open up the structure to the public. Its beautiful exterior and interior are being renovated by Gandhi Engineering, Inc, with a few elements of the interior falling within the scope of Li/Saltzman Architects, such as the railings. These railings are not up to safety codes, and need to be modified to comply with current norms.

A site visit with my co-worker Nick Kazmierski entailed documenting the missing and/or damaged parts of the wooden railing, which winds  all the way up until a 7th floor landing where the water tanks previously stood. We made a detailed survey, with photographs and measurements, and I produced technical drawings of that survey overlaid on the original plan.

One of the most fulfilling part of producing the documents for this project was being offered the opportunity by my supervisor John Favazzo  to design a railing extension to the already existing railing at each of the landings of the winding stair. I developed a simple detail with a discreet metal plate which would be lazer-cut and bent to contour the existing rail, and bolted to its steel structure, offering an extra foot of height to comply with current safety codes. I applied that same principle of bending metal plates to add necessary handrail posts between the existing handrail and windows, preventing a small child to fall through an unsafe landing.

While I was completing the Design Package for the Highbridge Water Tower, I received notice that the Parks Department was interested in executing my design! We are now looking into scheduling a meeting with them to further discuss it.

I’m grateful for Li/Saltzman for this opportunity. The work they have entrusted me with so far has been very exciting and the people I have met here have been wonderful. I look forward to the rest of my internship here and to learning more from these experts in the field, whom I hope to stay in touch with throughout my stay in NYC.

Looking up at the atrium at the Highbridge Water Tower, b. 1866-72


Elizabeth Canon: Joseph Pell Lombardi & Associates, Architects

This summer I am interning at Joseph Pell Lombardi & Associates, Architects in Soho. The firm specializes in adaptive reuse and historic preservation in New York City. My first few weeks of the internship I helped with the opening of Chateau du Sailhant, located in the Auvergne region of central France. The firm recently completed a ten-year conservation project on the Chateau, which will now be accessible to the public. From the New York City office, I helped layout the tour of the Chateau and worked on various logistics for the July 1st opening. Several weeks into the internship I started working on Part 2 of the Historic Investment Tax Credit for the Armour-Stiner Octagon House, built in the 1860s. For the past few weeks I have been working on the description of rehabilitation for the application. Joseph Pell Lombardi acquired the house from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and he has been restoring the house, interior, grounds and outbuildings for the past few decades. After we finish the application I will be working on ancestral research and building conservation on historic lodges in the Valhalla Highlands.

The Armour-Stiner Octagon House (c.1860) in Irvington, New York


Mengjie Zhan: Historic Real Estate Finance Workshop

I attended a specialized workshop held in Providence, Rhode Island sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as the 1772 Foundation. As the first half of a two-part certificate class, the workshop covers the basic and essential knowledge about how to manage and develop historic properties in a way that makes most financial sense, while simultaneously satisfying the stewards of the properties, the investors/developers, the community, and in some cases, local governments.

It is worth pointing out that revitalizing an aging and endangered structure is often a labor, and cost-extensive task. Not-for-profit preservation organizations, especially those younger and less affluent ones, are unlikely to tackle such real estate projects on their own. In order to finance the restoration, maintenance, and marketing costs, voluntarily or not, historic-building-aficionados have to bring investors and developers on board. Compared to standard cookie-cutter projects, the risk and uncertainty that are inherent to the nature of historic real estate can easily turn away potential investors and developers. To solve the dilemma and save our building heritage, I believe that preservationists need to speak the language of the developer, understand the mechanisms of real estate investment, and utilize all the available tax benefits and low-interest loans.

During the course, through a series of case studies (adapted from real world projects throughout the country), I learned about the detailed requirement for a project to be qualified for the Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Deducting numbers from formulas and filling out spreadsheets help me putting the concept into context. The hard numbers give me definite answers, rather than an ambiguous impression, about who can use them, for how long, and for how much (e.g. the value of each one dollar of tax credit is often discounted due to the syndication process). By improving the Pro Forma and cash-on-cash return rates, I see the huge difference tax credits can make by turning a reluctant developer into an active one while transforming a financially impossible rehabilitation project into a somewhat lucrative one.

My experience in Rhode Island went beyond the classroom and extended to a visit of five rehabilitation works under the supervision of the Providence Revolving Fund (PRF). During the special tour, I got inside several beloved but endangered historic properties in Providence. I was inspired by the stories about how the PRF managed to secure sources of funding and by their master plans of designated new lives of those building. The visit completed my learning experience, for the hard numbers were once again converted back to bricks and mortars, and by so giving the project some human touch, and hence, less like a heartless business.

I am thankful to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the 1772 Foundation for providing me the scholarship. I have benefited a lot from not only the instructor but also my fellow students, 20 experienced preservationists from all over the country that have spent an average of 5-10 years struggling to fight for a better future for our irreplaceable architectural heritage. It is my wish to finish the second half of the course in the coming month and contribute more to the preservation field with my newly equipped knowledge.

Wedding Cake House
The Providence Revolving Fund is seeking to save the long-abandoned 1867 Kendrick- Prentice-Tirocchi House (“Wedding Cake House”)


Katrina Virbitsky: Marmol Radziner

One of the projects I’m working on over the summer is the restoration of the Century Plaza Hotel in West Los Angeles with Marmol Radziner Architects (MRA). The hotel, which was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki and completed in 1966, sits at the center of a large area of urban development called Century City. (Yamasaki also designed the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing (1954), an infamous project in St. Louis, and the World Trade Center (1976) in New York.) 

The iconic building is known for its crescent shape and its use of architectural aluminum. It features aluminum panels between the vertical columns of balconies, on the ends of bays, on the elevator towers, and in the delicate aluminum screen cornice on top of the building. Like Yamasaki’s other work, it integrates structural engineering and material detail unlike any of the other buildings in the New Formalism style.

image 1
The Century Plaza Hotel – view of the east facade from the parking lot

In 2009 Marmol Radziner, was contracted by Next Century Associates for the preparation of a Historic Structure Report for the Century Plaza Hotel. MRA is a design-build firm made up of about 110 architects and designers, as well as field employees including superintendents, project managers, carpenters, and laborers on jobsites all over the California coast. It has also been the go-to for preservation house calls in Southern California since their restoration of a 1950 Neutra house (Kun House #2) in 1992, and Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann House in Palm Springs, California.

As an intern, I’m helping to accomplish the impressive goal of renovating the hotel, a truly massive project involving dozens of architects, conservators, and engineers from many firms over the past seven years, and one that will be realized when the project goes into construction this summer. Here at MRA, the in-house team consists of three architects working primarily on the restoration of the door openings, which encompass over 90% of the building’s East and West façade.

I’ve also been working on a Feature Conditions Summary of a small complex of modernist buildings in Palm Springs, California, which will provide detailed descriptions of the buildings and their historic features and materials, alongside treatment recommendations. But historic modern architecture restorations only account for about one-third of the firm’s work, there are also institutional and commercial projects, new houses, non-historic renovations, and my desk is cluttered with drawing sets, redlines, and programming spreadsheets for new development projects in Malibu, West Hollywood and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Along with many site visits and meetings, I’ve enjoyed the daily perks of the California weather and a typically-Californian hard-working but laid back office environment. The firm was recently invited to visit the new residence of one of the partners, an incredibly beautiful house in Mandeville Canyon in West LA, a project several people here in the office worked on. I’m thankful to learn about preservation and architecture from such a unique firm, and for the rest of the summer, I’ll continue to explore the California coast from my home-base in LA, scouting diligently for Lookup Collective posts, and working on a small project documenting buildings and writing for docomomo-ny with Teresa and Mayssa.

Sara Menegus: The New York Landmarks Conservancy

This summer I am participating in a ten-week internship at Sacred Sites, a branch of the New York Landmarks Conservancy which deals specifically with religious organizations. Our project this summer is undertaking a cumulative survey of historic churches in Queens. This project is the continuation of a survey that was started in the summer of 2008 where Queens Synagogues and Catholic Churches were documented. The focus for this summer will be Queens Protestant Churches. Data we collect from the survey will be housed in the Conservancy’s database for eventual conversion into a website.

The project is two-pronged: First we are seeking to locate, visit, and photograph every historic Protestant Church in Queens. Specifically, we are interested in ones that are neither landmarked nor currently listed on the National Register. We will then select ten to twelve churches that are strong candidates for the National Register (and would likely also qualify for Sacred Sites grant funding for building upkeep), and work to get them listed.

The internship has consisted of a combination of field work (trips out to Queens), office work (where I have been contacting churches of interest), and outside research. I have been collaborating with fellow interns MJ and Brian (a Columbia undergraduate). The three of us have been working under Sacred Sites Director, Ann Friedman and Glen Umberger, Manager of Special Projects. They are both incredibly knowledgeable and have graciously given us much insight into their work as well as expert advice about the preservation field.

The project so far has been fun and informative. We’ve been using historic Sanborn Atlases to locate many of the churches in Queens, and it is amazing how many of them are still extant. We have surveyed some churches that are real gems, and I am confident they will find their way onto the National Register soon. The internship has also been eye-opening to the realities of preservation work. While all the churches we have surveyed are old (some even retain their original interior elements such as original wood floors and curved wooden pews), there are many which fall outside the scope of the Conservancy’s aid. Churches where too much of the historic character has been altered are not good candidates for the National Register and are therefore also ineligible for Sacred Sites funding. Unfortunately, all we can do in such cases is document. Some of these churches are in disrepair and have dwindling congregations. It is sad to think that the structures might not be there in a few years’ time, but it makes the documentation process all that much more important.

Queens Village Church
A beautiful church we surveyed in Queens Village that we are hoping to list on the National Register



Alexander Ray: Building Conservation Associates

Building Conservation Associates, Inc. (BCA) is a historic preservation consulting firm that provides a wide range of services, including field documentation, construction administration, materials testing supported by an in-house lab, archival research, rehabilitation tax credit applications, and cultural resource management. As the summer intern at BCA, I have been exposed to a variety of projects in various stages of completion. The main project that I have been involved with so far is in Montclair, New Jersey. BCA is working with the Township of Montclair to produce an updated Historic Preservation Plan Element for the Township Master Plan. The previous HP Element was adopted in 1994, so there are many opportunities for the new plan to have a significant impact on historic preservation efforts in Montclair. We will be conducting a historic resources survey in July, as well as evaluating existing policy in Montclair and at the state and federal levels, in order to arrive at a set of recommendations that the Township can use to meaningfully involve historic preservation in its overall development. It’s great to see how the research that I am doing is being put into action through our work with municipal staff and other stakeholders in Montclair, and it’s also been great to get to know the town.

I also contributed to the building documentation section of a rehabilitation tax credit application for a property in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. I photographed the site and also did historic photo research at Brooklyn Historical Society. Seeing hands-on how the application process works has added a lot to what I had learned in class. I give thanks to all of the extremely talented and friendly staff at BCA for including me in their process, and giving me an opportunity to experience what it is like to work in preservation and also see how a successful firm is run. As my internship progresses I am excited to continue working on different projects as I get more of a sense of the many professional roles that are out there in historic preservation. Beyond the meetings and informal conversations that we have in the office, my work this summer will also take me to the New Jersey HPO, out in the field on site visits, and to installations of epoxy dalle de verre in New York City for a research project. I’m looking forward to the rest of my time at BCA, a unique firm that offers the full spectrum of historic preservation services under one roof.

Ray_BCA Photo
View from a historic apartment building in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

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