National Preservation Award Winners Range From An Urban Farm To Health Center

Real Estate

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently announced winners of the 2020 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards, which recognize excellence in historic preservation, adaptive reuse and the re-imagining of historic buildings for the future.

The awards are given to distinguished individuals, nonprofit organizations, public agencies and corporations that have redefined communities by preserving their architectural and cultural heritage.

This year’s recipients range from a New Deal-era health center updated into a state-of-the-art medical facility, to a rare Federal-style farmstead brought back to life to create greater food access and green space, to the Egyptian Revival-style headquarters of one of the largest Black-owned insurance firms continuing its legacy of economic development.  

The Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards are presented annually following a juried competition process. This year’s recipients were honored in October at the virtual National  Preservation Awards ceremony, hosted by television host and preservationist Bob Vila.  

“We are excited to be able to support these National Trust awards, especially during a year that  has presented unpredicted challenges for many of us,” said Anne Lazar, executive director of  the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. “This year’s winners show the brilliance and breadth of  architectural excellence and the deep commitment each winner has to preserving historical  spaces, so they may be appreciated for generations to come.” 

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Fowler Clark Epstein Farm: Honored for its innovative adaptive re-use and partnerships, the Boston property is a rare surviving Federal period farmstead that now serves as a residence, greenhouse, space for educational courses and productive urban farmland. Historic Boston Inc. (HBI) purchased the property in 2015 after it was the  subject of litigation between the Epstein estate and the City of Boston over “demolition by neglect.” 

To develop a natural re-use for the site that satisfied both historic building  preservation and contemporary needs for agricultural uses, a symbiotic partnership  among four non-profit organizations evolved that brought the best of each’s expertise to the development and construction of this unique enterprise in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. 

HBI, the Urban Farming Institute, the Trust for Public Land and North Bennet Street School worked together to carry out the transformation of this distressed 18th century farmstead. The result is a creative urban farming solution that proves the preservation field’s value to important community initiatives, such as reducing unemployment, increasing food access and building new green space.

Chelsea District Health Center. Honored for its reimagining of  a crucial community medical center, this was one of 14 New Deal-era district health centers formed to bring care to underserved communities and now serves the same mission in an improved space in New York City.

In the early 2000s, steps were taken by the NYC Department of  Health and Mental Hygiene to transform several of the health centers into 21st-century facilities that would accommodate sexual health clinics to combat the growing incidents of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HIV/AIDs. 

Commissioned by the City of New York, Stephen Yablon Architecture transformed the aging Art Deco Chelsea District Health Center into a state-of-the-art medical facility, which reopened for use in March  2018.

Inspired by its location in a public park, the center’s design reinvented the typical sexual health clinic experience by creating a welcoming, reassuring and destigmatizing space that is safe for all patients. The project was funded by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and was managed by the New York City Department of Design and Construction under their Design Excellence program. 

Universal Life Insurance Company Building in Memphis, honored for its restoration of an architecturally unique site with a long tradition of community empowerment, was once home to the largest Black-owned business in Memphis and now continues this legacy as an economic development resource for its diverse community.

Designed in 1947 by the renowned African American architecture firm, McKissack and McKissack, the Egyptian Revival-style building’s original owner was the rapidly expanding  Universal Life Insurance Company (ULICO), which was established in 1923 by Dr. J. E. Walker, A. W. Willis and M. W. Bonner. 

The Walkers also founded Tri-State Bank to “constructively change community conditions” for African Americans in Memphis. By 1973, ULICO had become the largest Black-owned business in Memphis and the fourth-largest Black-owned insurance firm in the nation. The building was also used as a meeting place for organizers of the civil rights movement, such as Jesse Jackson and Sammy Davis Jr. 

After decades of service, ULICO began terminating its operation in 2000, and Self Tucker Properties, LLC purchased the building from Tri-State Bank. An innovative public private partnership with the City of Memphis yielded critical funding for the restoration, and the city committed to a 10-year lease for approximately 48% of the available space in the building. The City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity Compliance and Self + Tucker Architects now occupy the building. 

“We are deeply honored to partner with the Driehaus Foundation to recognize outstanding  projects that demonstrate historic preservation’s potent combination of architectural  innovation, economic power, and cultural enrichment,” said Paul Edmondson, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This year’s recipients vividly demonstrate  that activating historic places through partnerships and creativity supports the health and vitality of individuals and their communities across the country.”

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