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RISE Fundraiser at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company

Trivers is excited to bring together two great clients -- RISE and Urban Chestnut Brewing Company -- for a happy hour - fundraising event on November 5th. Click here to register.

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Boldt Castle - When Things are Better Left Untouched?

Back in 1985, before a few Trivers employees were born and I still thought pegged acid-washed jeans were a good idea, a future college professor of mine wrote an article called “The Ruin of Ruins: Preservation and the Loss of Value” in Oz: Vol. 7 – the journal of the Kansas State College of Architecture and Design.

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Clearly not a good idea

Ray Streeter, the author, applies the arguments of Alois Riegel (from his essay “The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Origin”) to the restoration of Nichols Hall on the K-State Campus. The old Nichols Gymnasium, reminiscent of the US Army Corps of Engineers logo, burned in 1968, leaving only a scorched and decaying limestone shell. After a protest against a threatened demolition in 1979, the building received a 6-year renovation, culminating in new computer facilities, a 288-seat experimental theater, library storage, and a skylit atrium/lobby.

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Nichols Hall Fire

Streeter argued that the renovation of Nichols failed to preserve its character as a ruin and failed to acknowledge its unique history and role in the campus. The restoration treated Nichols as a void on campus to be filled and occupied. Using the categories developed by Riegel, the preservation dismisses the three values modern man applies to monuments: Age Value, Historical Value, and Commemorative Value.

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Nichols Hall Today

That article came to mind this summer while on my family vacation. After visiting family in Vermont and New York, we went through the Thousand Islands region of the Saint Lawrence River on our way home. Our main stop was Boldt Castle, which I had toured a few years before Professor Streeter wrote his article. At that time Boldt Castle was nothing but a shell.

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Boldt Castle


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The Family in Boldt Castle

In 1900, George Boldt, the General Manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, started construction of a huge masonry structure on Hart Island - what was to be one of the largest private homes in America. In addition to the six story castle, the four story Alster Tower, Power Plant structure, Gazebo and Entry Arch all exhibit turn-of-the-century masonry skill and craftsmanship. The entire island was to be a present from George Boldt to his wife as a symbol of his love and devotion.

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Boldt Castle Power Plant

With significant portions of the main castle nearing completion – including furniture – all construction stopped abruptly in 1904 after the death of Louise Kehrer Boldt, George’s wife. He never returned to the island and abandoned the structures as a monument to his grief.

For the next 73 years, the castle and other structures were left to the elements and vandals, before the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977. When I visited in the early 1980s, the structure was still a ruin. Fundraising was underway and much of the building was under roof, but windows were still open and every conceivable surface was covered with graffiti. The island was a beautiful shambling mess.

In 2015, Boldt Castle is still a long way from a finished restoration. All windows are installed, the first floor has restored or recreated interior finishes, and period furniture has been collected for a number of rooms. The majority of the upper floors; however, still have concrete or bare wood subfloor and plaster walls with sections of exposed wood lath. The upper floors are still covered with graffiti – scratched into the plaster for the old and Sharpie markers for the recent. Despite signs of warning that defacing the building is a crime, I found graffiti dating from the current year. I even found markings in a stairwell indicating the same couple had returned to the building over the last several years. There is a certain irony that this monument to a broken heart has become a canvas for expressions of love.

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Boldt Castle Graffiti

Beyond the concern that the restoration is erasing these marks of age - this recognition that two thirds of the life of these structures was in a state of abandonment - the results of the efforts at times amount to little more than a caricature of Boldt Castle. Contemporary materials and construction techniques cannot recreate the historic, nor should they try. While certain spaces have been painstakingly recreated, like the main interior stair (based off original construction documents and photos), other spaces like the main dining room fail to meet the measure of the original. Drywall window returns and faux-wood beams do not measure to the original plaster and wood detailing. I see a qualitative difference between the results at the entry hall and stair and the dining room, with one a faithful reproduction of the original and the other not significantly different than a modern McMansion.

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Boldt Castle Entry Stair Before and After

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Original Dining Room

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Renovated Dining Room

I am left to wonder if the reality of the present with the imagination of the past surpasses false assumptions of the past shown in the present. For instance, would the Dining Room be better left untouched, and does a poor result in one area diminish the whole? As it stood in 1983, Boldt Castle met Riegel’s three values – Age, Historical, and Commemorative. Now, various portions of the work enhance while some detract from these values, and on a structure functioning as a museum and monument. There is no dining in that Dining Room. As an architect who has spent a considerable portion of my career in Preservation and Adaptive Reuse, I must determine where to draw that line, and it is seldom clear. At what point does restoration become the ruin of ruins?

Posted by James Roseberry, AIA, CDT, LEED AP, Project Architect

What's Next

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Every day I look out from our 18th floor window to observe the transformations taking shape below us along the Arch grounds.  Of course, being involved with multiple CityArchRiver projects, we know what's coming, but to see it come to fruition is truly energizing.  What's even more so, is the increased traffic and pedestrian flow of tourists along 4th Street and beyond that enliven once seemingly desolate sidewalks of the City, proving even before the project is complete, that the visions of CityArchRiver are already underway.

Now I'm left to wonder what the next chapter will be for the development of St. Louis. The work that CityArchRiver has done is really quite remarkable for our community and most St. Louisians won't fully realize it until 2017 when they come back to the Arch grounds and the Arch museum, some for the first time in decades. At this moment we must not just take the time to enjoy the progress that surrounds us, we must also ask: "What is next? What is left to be done?"

Not a native St. Louisan, it took some time before I fully understood the City. Through my education and experiences, I began to quickly understand the history that resides here and see the greatness that lies within. This City has so much to offer. Like a home that has "good bones" but has been neglected for decades, there is a lot of work still to be done. Along with extensive grassroots efforts that have sprung up in all corners of the City, we need those big ideas, energetic leaders, thoughtful politicians, and of course capital. All of those ingredients are here, but need to coalesce behind an idea, just as simple as "City","Arch", and "River".

The north riverfront development (with or without the stadium), the downtown streetscape, Chouteau's Greenway, MetroLink expansion, and the extension of the Gateway Mall, are just a few that have the possibility of launching into transformative spaces. But on paper these ideas will stay if they are not met with the same drive, the same desire, the same respect for intelligently designed spaces as the CityArchRiver foundation. These philanthropic, public/privite initiatives have the ability to transform blocks of our downtown and City. Initiatives such as the Arch Grounds, CityGarden, and even the Washington Avenue Streetscapes, drove private investment along their borders. There are many ideas out there, but we must coalesce to gain momentum and not let individual agendas deviate from the end goal in order to be truly transformative. Our City has many beautiful and unique nodes, but we must find a way to unite these isolated pockets of success.

Chicago has just opened yet another transformative public space this year. The "606" opened earlier not as a Midwestern version of the High-Line, but as a federally funded alleviation to traffic congestion and a pedestrian transportation corridor. Northerly Park transformed Meigs fields into a natural oasis along Lake Michigan, giving the city with “broad shoulders” a softer connection to the Lake, a recreation of the natural dunes and marshes that once propagated preindustrial northeast Illinois. These are just two more examples of the continued development of Chicago's lakefront that has been ongoing for decades at this point. Chicagoans have recognized that they must keep improving and are looking ahead to what will continue to make their city better tomorrow.

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Our neighbors to the north, and others comparable cities nationwide have the ability to build on their momentum of successful works and is one aspect in what makes these cities so desirable to live. Our city has all the elements it needs. We just need to recognize it and capitalize on this amazing transformation happening on our riverfront and not let this moment slip away without doing what's next.

Posted by Joel Fuoss, AIA, LEED AP, Principal