Monday, November 21, 2011

Preservation Blues

An interesting post by far away friend John D. Poole on his preservation picks for this past week got me thinking about how the preservation world changes, and how it remains the same. There are some abiding principles for historic preservation that are embodied in "the Secretary of the Interior Standards and Guidelines" developed by the National Park Service decades ago. About when I started my career in architecture. These have morphed over the years to include Standards for preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, reconstruction, cultural landscapes, and energy efficiency (the newest).

A long time ago, and many miles from here, I had the opportunity to work on the North Carolina Governor's Mansion. I wrote a little blog piece on that experience. Some time before that, while still in architecture school, I worked on the North Carolina State University campus. In English vernacular, I caused "a nine days' wonder". The buildings I spent my first summer in construction working on were Berry, Becton and Bagwell dormitories. It appears that they have been rehabilitated again. I find internet links by two firms with photos of the buildings, possibly an architecture and landscape architecture firm.

After applying for construction labor jobs at 17 companies, including the one my father worked for - I found myself still without a construction job the summer before my senior year of architecture school. I had the rather naive thought that since many of my classmates (all men) worked for higher wages outdoors instead of cooped in a massive underground bunker of a drafting room, that I would do the same thing.  I did not realize that no women had yet broken the gender barrier in construction in North Carolina. With Clancy & Theys Construction Company, I decided to make my stand. I was rejected by the General Superintendent after two visits to the field office. As I departed the office on the second visit, it occurred to me that the administrative office was upstairs. I walked up the drive to the upper level of the building, in the front door, and encountered Linda. I told Linda that I'd like to see Mr. Clancy or Mr. Theys. She smiled and showed me right to Mr. Theys who was discussing labor for the NCSU dormitories project with with job Superintendent, Mr. P. Against his every instinct, compunction or religious belief, Mr. P. ended up with the first woman on his crew. By end of summer he took the newspaper crews and photographers in stride. Clancy & Theys got some good publicity, and I got the kind of experience that a pioneer receives.

I learned a few lessons that summer. One of our best laborers was a man the same age as my father. John A. was illiterate, but could operate any kind of equipment and fix things with tie wire that looked unfixable. He taught me how to do heavy labor all day without killing myself. He worked on all the subsequent projects I worked on, and was one of my mentors in the field.

By 1977 I was the Superintendent, and he worked on my crew.

We worked on the rehabilitation of McNider Hall, University of North Carolina School of Medicine. It has probably been renovated again since then. Mr. Theys asked me one day when I was "back at the shop" putting gas in one of the trucks what I wanted to become in the construction business. I answered "a superintendent".

He said, "Do you think men would take orders from a woman?"

I said,"If she's the boss they will."

Within a month I was Assistant Superintendent, and in a few more, I was Superintendent. The men did take orders from a woman.
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