Tagged: University of Kentucky

Preservation Is…

Architecture has been called the art of building beautifully, a fixation of man’s thinking, and record of his activity…  Keep in mind that last phrase. It is important.

-Ernst Johnson, architect, professor, colleague of Eero Saarinen
The Wenner Gren Building on the campus of the University of Kentucky, designed by Ernst Johnson, was constructed in 1941 to house the university’s aeronautic engineering lab. It was later used to train chimpanzees for NASA. It is slated for demolition next year. Image via the Lexington Herald Leader

June 6, 1944


I had planned to post a re-cap of last evening’s BGT deTour today, but then I received a really special e-mail. It was written by a gentleman who would have been about 14 years old 69 years ago.  Simply entitled June 6, 1944, the e-mail detailed his experience in Lexington, Ky on D-Day when he learned 155,000 troops stormed the shores of Normandy.

He wrote:

I remember the morning was cool and cloudy. I was awakened early by the newspaper carriers going up and down the street yelling “Extra, Extra” then some words about the invasion.  From then all ears were glued to the radio to hear about the invasion and its progress and the causalities.  Most families had some loved one who had been waiting in England  for this day.  There was no TV so if you wanted to see the warfare, you had to go to the theater and watch the MovieTone  news, which played between features.

Families  waited for the dreaded telegram telling that their loved one was killed or missing in action, although some mail got through from the front.  The mail was censored, photographed to reduce the weight and sent as V-Mail.

I remember there was a detachment of military personnel living in  the old Phoenix hotel and they marched to class at UK every morning.

Lexington was wide open and MPs patrolled the streets.

It was a turbulent time and after D-Day, I  think everyone worked harder because they felt  that the end of the war was in sight.  It was a patriotic and unified effort time for the country.  I am fortunate to have experienced it.


Sixty-nine years after the fact, his memories are sharp and clear. And they are tied to place. His description brings to mind a busy downtown with paper boys on the corner. Families pacing the floors of their homes waiting for news. Listening. Or sitting in theaters, not for the entertainment, but for the news reels in between films. Young men posted at an old hotel, neat and proud in their uniforms, marching up the hill to the University of Kentuckyeach the morning,  wearily returning each afternoon. Waiting, waiting, waiting.


Ben Ali Theatre located down the street from the Phoenix Hotel (ca. 1942), D-Day newspapers (via Google), Military group at the University of Kentucky (ca. 1947), the Phoenix Hotel (n.d.), Ben Ali (ca. 1933). All images via The Kentucky Digital Library unless otherwise noted

I hope we all take a few minutes to reflect today on the sacrifices of servicemen and their families everywhere. We owe a debt of gratitude to this generation (at home and abroad) beyond anything we can repay, but at least we can honor their memory.

Does Historic Preservation Have An Image Problem?

In this economic climate, there is one word on everyone’s lips: jobs.  So it’s no surprise that the University of Kentucky’s 7th Annual Historic Preservation Symposium hosted by the school’s historic preservation program and the College of Design (COD) focused on just that.

Entitled “Preservation = Jobs,”  the two day event highlighted the ways in which preservation leads to job creation through economic revitalization, environmental sustainability, entrepreneurship and the building trades.  It also highlighted something else:

Historic preservation has a perception problem.

Several of the four speakers who graced the stage at Lexington’s Carnegie Center acknowledged that they were “preaching to the choir,”  and they were right. Though the symposium was free and open to the public, the audience was largely made up of historic preservation professionals (state and non-profit employees, developers, tradesmen, etc) and HP students. In other words, people who already know that historic preservation generates jobs and can bring money and investments to flagging communities.

Many people with no ties to the preservation world, however, believe that historic preservation is elitist, time -consuming, difficult to accomplish, complicated legally, expensive and a drain on resources. A lot of people truly believe that it is easier and less expensive to replace something old with something new, whether that means knocking down a building to make way for new construction or replacing historic windows, and that these activities are better for the economy than preservation.


General Broadwater at the American College of the Building Arts. Image via ACBA

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Colby Broadwater, the president of the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC, compared this perception of preservation to wine.  When he was a kid, if you wanted wine there was the red jug or the white jug.  And people didn’t mind because they didn’t know any better. But as people learned more about wine, they began demanding better quality and a larger variety. Today, you can purchase an infinite variety at a wide range of price points and the industry earns over $32 billion dollars a year in the US – all because of the educated consumer.

Therefore, the questions that the presenters and subsequent panel discussions kept coming back to over and over revolved around education.

How do we get our message out there and start correcting misconceptions?

Unsurprisingly, there were as many opinions about this quandary as there were people in attendance!

Broadwater, whose graduates have a 100% employment rate has watched Charleston rise to become Conde Naste’s number one travel destination based on seven square miles of preserved historic districts. The people who come to see old Charleston have a $3.22 billion economic impact on the city each year. Those dollars generate jobs for craftsmen like his graduates, the hospitality industry, city and state employees (taxes ya’ll!), retailers, and the list goes on and on. Numbers like that are their own advertisement.


During the panel discussion that followed Broadwater’s presentation, Patrick Kennedy, the former Kentucky Heritage Council Restoration Project Manager, cited his belief that we are on the cusp of a second Craftsman revolution.  His evidence – growing movements to eat local, be local, and value quality and new television programs on networks like HGTV that feature craftsmen and preservation, both of which create a more educated consumer and better steward of the built environment. They are able to make smarter choices about their property and are less susceptible to the salesman (who probably doesn’t know any better himself) who shows up at the front door with a magnetic sign slapped on the side of the truck to convince homeowners that spray insulation (which can cause moisture problems in older buildings) or new windows (which aren’t necessarily more energy efficient or less expensive) or vinyl siding (which becomes brittle over time, blows away in strong winds, and can’t be maintained) will improve their house.

Joe Pierson, Executive Director of The Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation warned that in our effort to educate and advocate for historic preservation, the message is changing too often.  “Stop piggy backing on the green movement and jobs… HP looks wimpy for doing it! We need a full-throated preservation argument!”


Image via Ziger/Snead

Because historic preservation is an umbrella term that encompasses so many disciplines, it is easy to hop-scotch around with the message. The past three symposium themes are a perfect example: jobs, adaptive reuse, and diversity. Nevertheless, Pierson’s opinion earned a quick rebuttal from the UK COD Abell Chair, Doug Appler, who emphasized the importance of learning “all the languages and learning who to use each one with, ” whether that language be numbers (money, jobs, percentages, etc), cultural value, how HP fits into other movements (like the green movement), or arguments that find a personal connection with the business owner, politician, or homeowner with whom you are trying to educate about the benefits of preservation. It is dangerous to assume that everyone has the same value system.


David Feldman on his porch in Merion with his cat Panther. The house needed work when he bought it in 2000, but he was impressed by the stone walls, woodwork, and fine neighborhood. It was a home worth nurturing. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer) Image via Philly.com

Learning to communicate with and build relationships with the leaders of other movements, city leaders, and entrepreneurs is the key to unhinging a lot of misconceptions about preservation, according to David Feldman, the founder of Right Sized Homes, and Todd Barman, the Senior Main Street Program Officer at The National Trust for Historic Preservation.  By building relationships with these business and community leaders, preservationists can educate about the benefits of historic preservation and work together with the leaders to create preservation positive policies and opportunities and to build stronger communities.

According to Feldman and Barman, by creating strong communities we can attract more people and more jobs to our cities. Cities with sustainable and vibrant city centers, strong communities, and historic walkable neighborhoods close to transit are the fastest growing cities in the United States, because the millennial housing trend has turned the traditional formula on its head. Rather than finding a good job and moving to the place where that job is, millennials are picking the city or neighborhood where they want to live and then finding a job.


Image via North Carolina Main Street Center

At the top of his presentation, Feldman (whose company aims to improve the quality of life in existing urban neighborhoods through sustainable renovation and infill), outlined what he called the jobs/people paradigm, “Jobs attract people. People attract jobs.”  By working with policy makers, community leaders, and by educating the consumer we can shift the perception of preservation so that more built and cultural history can be preserved in our communities (which creates jobs), thereby creating the kinds of places people want to live (which attracts jobs) and the kind of place people want to visit (which creates even more jobs).


Pansy’s Handpainted Suite

Pansy’s Suite at Spindletop Hall as it looks now. (The gray marble mantle is from a French Chateau).

A few weeks ago I did a couple of posts about Spindletop Hall, the former mansion of oil heiress Pansy Yount (here, here, here and here).   When the University of Kentucky bought the property in the 1960s, it converted the mansion into a club house. Most of the furniture, especially from the bedrooms, was no longer needed when the house was re-purposed.  Some pieces were put into storage and others were removed from the house for use at other university properties.

Pansy’s hand-painted canopy bed at Maxwell Place

The bedroom furniture that was designed for Pansy’s suite of rooms (sitting room, bedroom, dressing room and bathroom),was moved to  Maxwell Place on UK’s campus, the home of the president of the university. In June of 2011,  then President and Mrs. Lee Todd graciously allowed BGT deTours to tour both the public and private rooms of the house, including the bedroom that now boasts Pansy’s bedroom furniture.

Hand-painted murals in Pansy’s Suite at Spindletop Hall

Pansy’s suite of rooms was decorated in the French style of Louis XV and XVI.  It featured beautifully detailed murals (many of which included the faces of Pansy and her daughter) hand-painted by an Italian artist who lived on-site during construction. The furniture meant for those rooms was hand-painted by the same artist.

Pansy’s dressing table at Maxwell Place

Viewing images of the room and the furniture designed for it side by side makes it easy to imagine how  luxurious and richly-detailed the suite was when Pansy lived at Spindletop.  The overall effect is delicate, feminine, sophisticated and elegant.

Pansy’s Chaise Lounge at Maxwell Place

Currently, the CEO of Spindletop is trying to collect pieces that were designed for the house so that they can be restored to the mansion. While the bed is probably a no-go for the club, it would be wonderful to see the vanity or chaise back in Pansy’s suite.

Miniature portrait detail from Pansy’s Suite murals.

For more information about the history, architecture and interior design Spindletop Hall, check out its National Register of Historic Places nomination.

Yesterday, BGT deTours celebrated Halloween and Fire Safety month by touring the Old Episcopal Burying Ground and Lexington’s historic Fire Station #1. Check back next week for posts about these two Lexington treasures!

deTour: Spindletop Hall (cont’d)

This is a continuation of deTour: Spindletop Hall. If you have checked out Part I, find it here!

Rumor is Pansy couldn’t decide which spindle she liked best so she used them all.

Over the Top Interiors

In addition to the innovative use of materials and technology, Spindletop featured unique and opulent interiors.  Each room was decorated with authentic and reproduction elements to reflect a different historical period.  This interesting choice of interior design may have been inspired by the DuPont estate in Delaware, Winterthur.

Most of Spindletop’s original furniture was removed to accommodate the functions of the club (and some of it was destroyed in a fire in the 1970s).  According to Marvel, they are slowly re-accumulating original pieces with the hope of returning them to their proper place.    Except for the original custom hand-woven wall to wall rugs that were located in each room, and the suite that was gutted by fire, most of the house’s original interior details  like  hand molded plaster ceilings, murals, wood work, etc. are intact today.  Deferred maintenance has caused water damage to moldings and paneling in some rooms, but management is working to fix these problems and repair any damage.

Grande Entrance Hall – the original rug mimicked the hand molded plaster ceiling

The grand entrance hall brought the Georgian Revival exterior inside.  It features a mantel and molded ceiling in the Georgian style. A hand-woven carpet mimicked the pattern of the ceiling. Fret-work in the ceiling and walls of the ovular room were designed to carry the sound of the Kimball organ.

Spindletop Hall Library

The library was decorated in the Tudor style and included a stone mantel salvaged from an English estate, a hammer-beam ceiling, Gothic oak paneling and Gothic arched windows and doors. The porter-cochere off the library was oriented to the setting sun.  Every evening, the sun sets behind an ornate wrought iron window cut into the wall of the porter-cochere and through the library’s opened double doors. Scenes from the Disney film Secretariat were filmed in this room.

Sunset through porter-cochere wrought iron window

Sunset in Library through the Porte-Cochere

Spindletop’s formal living room is now reception and dining space.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The 30×60 foot living room (the largest in Kentucky when constructed!) is Elizabethan.  The walls are hand carved oak panels. The paneling is incomplete due to the untimely death of artisan.   A Flemish Renaissance tapestry from the 16th century hides the missing panels. The ceiling was reproduced from an Elizabethan room in an English country house.   The imported salvaged mantel is carved with the motto, “East, West, Home is Best.”

16th century tapestry hides unfinished paneling in formal living room

The French Powder Room had a marquetry floor, a French mirror and French furnishings. The draperies were Louis XV silk brocade and were made in Lyon. Paintings of French courtesans once decorated the walls.

Mildred’s Music Room

The William and Mary Music Room has burled mahogany (or according to recent controversy, burled walnut) paneling and plaster moldings.  The original draperies were a William and Mary design.  The ceiling is decorated with plaster molding with a musical motif including harps. A climate controlled niche once stored a world-renowned collection of Stradivarius violins collected by Frank Yount for Mildred. The organ is located in the music room, as well as the Welte, which is housed within a hand-painted lacquer Chinoiserie cabinet.

Formal Dining Room

The dining room is painted Adam green with gold leaf outlining the panels. The ceiling has a Georgian patter of scrolls and flowers. The motif was once mimicked by the design of the carpet.  Currently, the oak floors are exposed.  The circa 1770 mantel was imported from England. The dining room has a niche for the display of china and two automated swinging doors (with an electric eye! It and the doors still work! and, ahem, are quite startling if you don’t realize they are there…), which was another state-of-the art technology at Spindletop.

Clockwise: Hand-painted cabinets in linen closet (sheets were changed everyday regardless if they had been slept on; detail from Mildred’s bathroom; hand-painted panels in Pansy’s suite; detail of Mildred’s face in Pansy’s suite

Many of the rooms feature murals painted by a resident artist (and rumored lover of Pansy) from Italy.  Many of the paintings and custom textiles incorporate the image or initials of Pansy, Mildred, or Spindletop Hall.

Saddlebred Lounge

Saddlebred Lounge with original furnishings – note the horse theme including carriage lamp chandeliers.

The basement was used for casual entertainment as well as utilitarian purposes.  It included the Saddlebred Lounge,  a horse themed den. All of the original furnishings are still in the lounge. Currently, the art displayed was painted by Elizabeth Shatner,  William Shatner’s wife. Before the installation of the elevator, a gentleman’s lounge with humidor, shoe shine, valet, etc was adjacent to the lounge. The New Orleans Ballroom, also off the lounge featured an octagonal wooden floor designed to keep you dancing without the slightest fatigue all night long.  A butcher shop and climate controlled fur storage room were also in the basement.

And if that wasn’t enough- the grounds!

Spindletop Hall – Rear Elevation

Despite the personal touches on textiles and in murals the house, the hobbies and personality of Mrs. Yount were most evident in the design of the grounds.  She was an avid animal lover (a grooming room was located in the basement, along with accommodations for guests’ pets!),  gardener and indulgent mother.  The auxiliary buildings dotting the property reflect her interests. She was mocked for locating her private stable mere yards from the main house, but wanted them nearby for her daughter.  Her kennels, which were also located near the main house, sported fashionable pagoda roofs and bordered her Japanese inspired garden.  She also had several aviaries constructed near the kennels. She constructed a pool with a bath house and tennis courts.

But the most unusual landscape element for a mansion of its size and opulence is the eight feet tall chain link fence that surrounds the entire property.  When Mr. Yount died, Mildred inherited half of her father’s estate making her one of the wealthiest children in the United States. Terrified of a kidnapping attempt (possibly because the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932 was still fresh in her mind), Mrs. Yount had the security fence installed around the property.

Thank you to the BGT and to Mr. Marvel for such a thorough and wonderful tour!  By the oohs and aahs from the crowd that gathered for the evening, I know they enjoyed this deTour as much as I did!