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Voting begins in contest to distribute historic preservation fundsBy Frederick Melofmelo@pioneerpress.comUpdated: 09/20/2011 01:36:39 PM CDTIn this corner: a three-story pipe organ in big need of a touch-up at the historic James J. Hill House in St. Paul.And in this corner: the century-old Waterford Iron Bridge in Dakota County, which needs new bicycle-friendly decking.Let the voting begin.An online contest funded by American Express will dedicate $1 million toward historic preservation projects across the seven-county metro, most of them in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Through Facebook, the public is being invited to pick among 25 different potential recipient agencies, such as the Fitzgerald Theater, the American Swedish Institute or the Washington County Historic Courthouse.Depending upon how the votes go, as many as 10 of the 25 preservation projects will receive funding of between $50,000 and $125,000, and top vote-getters could receive more. The other 15 or so sites won't get money, but organizers hope the contest will raise their profile and increase public interest in both well-frequented and lesser-known historic destinations.American Express, Partners in Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation opened voting on Facebook this morning, and kicked off the contest with a speaking event at the James J. Hill Reference Library in downtown St. Paul.Facebook users can vote for their favorite site online once per day through October 12 at www.facebook.com/partnersinpreservation Voters are entered intoAdvertisementa sweepstakes to win four round-trip tickets anywhere in the U.S. via Delta Airlines.St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman told attendees today that historic preservation is about more than respecting the contributions of earlier generations. It's also about economic development - creating an attractive, history-laden city people want to visit, live in and do business with."A lot of us have personal stories, whether you attended Pilgrim Baptist or used to take gymnastics as I did at (Czech and Slovak Sokol Minnesota) Hall," Coleman said, referring to two St. Paul sites enrolled in the contest. "We acknowledge the people who have gone before, but we build for the future....Think about what C.S.P.S. Hall does to anchor that corner of West Seventh Street."The hall is in the midst of a $1 million restoration project, and is looking to the contest for help improving its second-floor theater, including making the theater handicap accessible and upgrading audio, projection, mechanical and other theater systems to modern standards."This is the oldest continuously-used stage in the state of Minnesota, and the oldest continuously used Czech hall in the country," said Joy Tessarek, chair of the C.S.P.S. Sokol hall's budget and finance committee.Pilgrim Baptist Church is seeking funds to restore its brick masonry and stain glass windows, amid other improvements.Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak agreed with Coleman, noting how many old sites in Minneapolis have been torn down, only to be replaced by more modern structures generating little public interest or loyalty. Eventually, those structures, too, are demolished and redesigned in a futile attempt to restore history.Rybak said that's been a problem in the "Gateway District" of downtown Minneapolis, an area his mother told him as a child to take a good look at because it would soon be gone.She was right. "We are losing the historic main streets of Minnesota," Rybak said, while noting hope for the future of old Minnesota. "St. Paul has done a better job of preserving, but we (in Minneapolis) are catching up."The Twin Cities are the sixth region of the country to benefit from the contest. Since 2006, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have given away $5.5 million toward preserving 56 historic places in and around Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans and Boston."We spent an entire year preparing, ferreting out the finalists," said Timothy McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation, in an interview. "We're sort of agnostic about who the winners are."McClimon said the company has been working on historic preservation projects since 1974 when it helped restore the Acropolis in Athens. In the mid-1980s, American Express also funded restoration work on the Statue of Liberty."It's connected to our travel business," McClimon said. "It's an interest our card members have in traveling to historic sites, and quite honestly, the Statue of Liberty is right outside our window."Frederick Melo can be reached at 651-228-2172.
Pipe organ at James J. Hill House chosen to compete for $1 million in fundingAmerican Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today that the James J. Hill House pipe organ restoration project has been chosen to participate in the 2011 Partners in Preservation program.As one of only 25 historic projects selected, the James J. Hill House will compete in a month-long Facebook contest that invites the Twin Cities community to cast votes for local historic projects they would like to see receive funding.James J. Hill organThe 1891 pipe organ located in the art gallery of the Hill House is in need of restoration. Renowned Boston organ-maker, George Hutchings, created the three storey pipe organ when the Hill family first moved into their new Summit Avenue mansion in 1891.Votes in support of the James J. Hill House pipe organ project can be cast at http://www.Facebook.com/PartnersinPreservation from Sept. 20, 2011 through Oct. 12, 2011.Participants may vote once daily. The site that receives the highest number of popular votes is guaranteed to receive funding. At the end of the voting period, American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a special Advisory Committee comprised of Twin Cities civic and preservation leaders will review the public’s vote along with each site’s preservation needs to determine how the remaining $1 million in preservation grants will be awarded.An announcement of the popular winner will be made on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011.James J. Hill House Pipe OrganThe 1891 pipe organ located in the art gallery of the Hill House is in need of restoration. Renowned Boston organ-maker, George Hutchings, created the three storey pipe organ when the Hill family first moved into their new Summit Avenue mansion in 1891.The instrument is a mechanical action tracker organ with 17 ranks and 1,006 pipes—a particularly distinguished example of a residential pipe organ of America’s Gilded Age. The organ was used for family gatherings, concerts and parties. Four of the Hill daughters were married in the house at different times and Hill’s funeral took place there in 1916. Early concerts hosted by St. Paul’s Schubert Club made use of the pipe organ.While the organ remains beautiful to behold, it has deteriorated significantly over the decades. The windchests are defective, pipes are cracked, and interior leather elements badly need replacement. The pipe organ must be carefully taken apart and its inner workings restored or replaced. Then once again it can be properly heard in its glory.The James J. Hill House is seeking enough votes in the Partners in Preservation competition to be awarded the full $50,000 needed to restore the pipe organ. Work will take place over the next year and completion is expected by December 2012.Open House: Oct. 8-9, 2011, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. SundayThe public is invited to visit the James J. Hill House art gallery to view the historic pipe organ free of charge during an Open House on Oct. 8 and 9.In addition to the art gallery, guests can explore the Music Room, Drawing Room and Hallway, used by the Hills for entertaining. Visitors can also see a photography display on the Hill family and the construction of their Summit Avenue mansion, enjoy a short video on James J. Hill, and view the current art exhibit, “76 Faces of the First.”Guest organists will demonstrate the pipe organ throughout the weekend. Guides will be on hand to help explain the voting process for Partners in Preservation to visitors. Regular tours of the house will be available both days at normal rates.During the voting period, Hill House visitors can enter to win a private tour of the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections for up to 10 people, plus free History Center admission. The 90-minute collections tour includes access to areas not normally open to the public including artifact storage and conservation labs.The James J. Hill House is open for tours Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 3:30 p.m. Cost is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and college students, $5 for children ages 6 to 17 and $2 for admission to the art gallery only. Reservations are recommended. For more information, call 651-297-2555.About Partners in PreservationIn 2010, American Express, partnering with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, pledged $10 million over a five-year period toward preserving historic places throughout the United States.American Express has already allocated more than $5.5 million in preservation grants over the past five years, which has allowed recipients to make significant progress in achieving their preservation goals. Through this partnership, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation seek to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of historic preservation in the United States and to preserve American’s historic and cultural places. The program also seeks to inspire long-term support from local citizens for the historic sites at the heart of their communities.About American ExpressAmerican Express is a global services company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. Learn more at americanexpress.com and connect with us on facebook.com/americanexpress, twitter.com/americanexpress and youtube.com/americanexpress.About the Minnesota Historical SocietyThe Minnesota Historical Society is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849 to preserve and share Minnesota history. The Society collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. For more information, visit http://www.mnhs.org
Unhaunted: Touring nooks and crannies in the James J. Hill HouseBy Max Sparber | Published Tue, Sep 27 2011 9:05 amIf ever there was a building that looked as though it should be haunted, it's the James J. Hill house in St. Paul. It's built in a style called Richardson Romanesque, an imposing approach to architecture particularly favored by churches and government buildings. Trinity Church in Boston, as an example, and the Minneapolis City Hall — although it was first used as the architectural style for a madhouse, which is promising.And, in fact, Hill House is the name of a haunted house, in a book by Shirley Jackson. "Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for 80 years and might for 80 more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone," Jackson wrote at the start of "The Haunting of Hill House." But that's a different place. Our Hill House, perfectly sanely, is not haunted.It should be. It has all the right details. Much of the house is covered in carefully hand-carved woodwork, and, if you look in the right places, you might spot a face peering back out at you. There are lights carved to look like dragons, fed by gas jets, which erupt upward and flicker constantly. The house is full of twisting hallways and little rooms, and it seems to go on forever, and up forever. The ceiling of the dining room is gilded in gold, and its wall has a secret door. The basement is marbled, and, for a time, when the building belonged to the archdiocese, nuns would roller-skate there, an image directly out of the works of Edward Gorey. Portraits of James J. Hill, the railroad magnate, the empire builder, stare down from most rooms, a stern-seeming man with a white beard and one secretly blind eye, who is supposed to have once said, "Give me snuff, whiskey and Swedes, and I will build a railroad to hell." Why isn't he still about? How dare he build such a house and then rest in peace?And, like any decent haunted house, the Hill House has a pipe organ. It's not on any of the original plans, but there it is anyway, filling one of the walls of the house's art gallery, its pipes snaking up through the interior of the building. If you open a wall in the Hill House, you find pipes, all thrumming as though alive. Go to the basement, which is bathed in darkness but for the glow from the massive coal furnace (now converted to electric, but maintaining its original facade), you'll find a little side room with a massive bellows system to pump air through the pipe organ. The organ leaks, and so there is the constant sound of air rushing out of it, and it's the sort of thing that in any halfway decent haunted house should spontaneously erupt into Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." Disappointingly, it won't, because, as I have said, this house is not haunted.Superficially, it was the organ that brought me to Hill House yesterday at dusk. It's a nice detail to have a pipe organ that leaks air if you're writing a ghost story, but if you're trying to preserve a historic monument, it won't do. There is a program called "Partners in Preservation" — the partnership is between American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation — and they give away money every year for a preservation project somewhere in America. This year, it's here in Minnesota. And an element of this project is online voting, this being web 2.0, or whatever iteration we're up to. And so they have a Facebook page where interested webizens can visit to log daily votes for projects they want to see funded. The folks preserving the James J. Hill House, perfectly sanely, want their pipe organ fixed.To that end, they invited a small collection of people on what was, essentially, their "nooks and crannies" tour, which peeks into rooms that are ordinarily off-limits to people touring the house. Who were these assembled guests? I don't know — bloggers, folks from Twitter, anybody who can spread the word about the drafty organ. And, properly, when you assemble a group of strangers in Hill House and go exploring its forbidden rooms, one should disappear in each room, and have their mangled bodies show up later. This did not happen.The tour did nothing to relieve my sense that the Hill House is a wasted opportunity, supernaturally speaking. There is, in the basement, a room used for stacking coal, and it's basically just a hole dug into the earth and lined with shelves. Some lunatic has hung the room with police tape, probably to let people know where the low ceiling is, so they don't bump their head. But the effect is that this may have been some subterranean murder scene, the same sort of place Jame Gumb kept his victims in "Silence of the Lambs." And there is an attic with a theater, where, presumably, the Hill children put on their own amusements, or perhaps the Hills had musical guests. The whole attic is lined in wood, like a summer cabin, but push a door open and discover that the whole of it is surrounded by eaves, wide enough to let a man walk the circumference of the roof undetected, and now sprayed with a foam insulation so the whole of it looks vaguely cavelike.Admittedly, many of the rooms on the nooks and crannies tour aren't used for much more than storage, but this doesn't help the sense that Hill House is a sinister place, which it isn't. Mrs. Hill's bathroom, as an example, is used to store realistic mannequins, which is not what you want to see when you go to a bathroom. In the basement, there is an old bathtub filled with plastic sheeting, and one can't help but see it and think, here were are, this is where they store Laura Palmer. But it's not. The dummies are just dummies, and the sheeting is just sheeting.The Hill House does offer actors reading spooky stories in the fall, so obviously they are aware of the potential of the structure. But I am of the opinion that this is not enough. The pipe organ can wait. If they get the preservation money, they should use it to hire themselves a decent ghost.