Tuesday Selection: A New I Speak Vintage Column

A recent post from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Sarah Heffern is the first in a series about preserving religious buildings.

As you may be able to tell from the article, this is a very broad topic that varies from building to building. Sarah does well at breaking up the topic into ten digestible questions and answers.

I Speak Vintage is starting a new series, running on Tuesdays, that engages with blog posts related to building preservation, appearing online some time in the past week. We have noticed that PreservationNation Blog has been posting quite frequently lately with some really great articles. Lucky for us, their new 10-part series started this week and it deals with a topic that our new blogger knows quite a bit about.

There is a certain sect of preservationists who believe that religious buildings display the highest integrity of any style of architecture. Gothic churches have flying buttresses, dramatic pointed arches over each window and door, and ribbed vaults on the interior.

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris
Trinity Church in Boston allowed H.H. Richardson to stretch his Richardson Romanesque style to the fullest.

Trinity Church, Boston (2008)

Frank Lloyd Wright contributed to Modernism with Unity Temple, a masterpiece with very little ornamentation, cubic forms and clean lines.

Unity Temple

Unity Temple

In addition to aesthetics, each religious structure has a unique history of the folks who raised the money to have it built, and every successive population surrounding it since. The economy of a place changes – think Detroit, a city whose population shrunk from 1.8 Million down to 700,000, between 1950 and 2012. Fewer Detroiters means fewer congregants or parishioners. Fewer attendees means fewer contributions and smaller budgets. Smaller budgets for religious structures often means trying to keep the heating bill down in the winter and small to no budget for yearly maintenance. This is the sad truth of too many religious structures in the United States, which his why this series from the National Trust has grabbed the attention of I Speak Vintage.

The first example that popped into my head while reading through the Trust’s article was Unity Temple, the great early modern structure by Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1909, the Unitarian Universalist edifice was built out of poured-in-place concrete left exposed to the elements and without expansion joints. The building has more than a dozen flat roofs and two large skylights. Not unlike other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, Unity Temple has had its share of struggles over the years. The infamous (at least to the congregation) “bucket brigade” of the 1950s and 60s would rush into the building during torrential downpours to place buckets under the many leaks. A structural analysis and master plan for the restoration of Unity Temple, completed in 2008, estimated a full restoration at $25 million dollars. A restoration foundation was founded in 1973, whose sole purpose was to raise funds that would support the structure. Being a world class building and a National Historic Landmark – a distinction given to only the most important historic buildings in the United States – you would think that the building would have supporters across the world. The truth is, it does, it just hasn’t been able to draw enough money out of its supporters to undergo a large restoration.

Unity Temple should be slotted at the top of the list of historic religious structures in the United States that need to be rescued. It has a healthy congregation, is situated in an affluent and highly-artistic near-west suburb of Chicago among other Frank Lloyd Wright buildings that draw tens of thousands of tourist and their dollars to the area. If this building is having a hard time coming up with a large enough chunk of money to even get started on restoring the building, how will other, less significant religious structures accomplish full restorations. There are many factors that contribute to the viability of a large building. Houses of worship are often large and their sensitivities to programming further complicate usage issues. Hopefully this series from PreservationNation will shed some light on the creative ways that religious structures are being reused while preserving their historic character.

Before we go we would like to share a great resource for historic religious structures – Partners for Sacred Places. Based out of Philly with offices in Chicago and Texas, this organization is wide-reaching and works to help religious buildings with all levels of occupancy and use. After all, that is the thing the is the best for these beautiful buildings – using them!

We hope that you enjoy the new weekly posts. Please feel free to leave comments and share our post among your communities.  We would love to hear from you.

Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.2


Building your vintage brand.Set goals for image and public perception.

A brief summer vacation. I’ve taken a little time off to refresh, re-tool and re-energize.  Time to get back at it.   Too much rattling around in the old noodle to remain idle.

Back in February I started a series of posts focused on building and managing a brand. In my case, a “vintage” brand,  positioning myself as an expert in historic and vintage homes. It’s been on my mind throughout the spring and into the summer as I attempt to follow my own sage advice in further developing my brand.  I have been reading a lot (I mean a lot) this summer, and now I remember why my Mrs. Pender, my 5th grade teacher made such a big deal out of reading.  Perception, expansion, self awareness, growth, understanding…on and on.  I have gleaned some pretty good perspective on how others manage their public personas – good and bad. 

Because our personal brands are built from the thoughts, words and reactions of other people, it’s shaped by how we present ourselves publicly – in person or online. This is something we have absolute control over.  Whether branding our own identity, a service, or a product, clarity and simplicity are critical.  It’s how we define who we are to the public.  It’s our reputation.

By deciding how I would like people to see me, I can work on publicly being that image. What are my goals for my brand? 

How do I want potential customers/clients / audience  to think of me?

How many job interviews have we sat through being asked to describe ourselves in three words?  Not an easy task, unless we’re REALLY self aware.  Even then, it’s a tall order.  It’s so much easier when if we view ourselves from a “public”  perception. What have we put out there illustrating who and what we are?  

As a real estate broker and historic preservationist, my goal is to present myself as a successful, educated, and accomplished “go-to” guy when it comes to selling or buying a vintage or historic property – approachable, friendly and efficient. Vintage is certainly not all I do, but it’s a niche…a specialty.   Bottom line, I sell houses, I am an expert in old houses and I’m successful at what I do – all of this accompanied by the delicious adjectives by which I want my audience to perceive me.   That’s all nice and good but it’s not enough. 

How can I publicly ‘be’ that brand?

This question is an important one, but a tricky one.  I look at personal branding defined by public composition of actions and output in three areas:

    • What we’re ‘about’. Think about the key ideas you would want people to associate with you. Seth Godin is about telling stories, being remarkable. Leo Babauta is about simplicity and habit forming. Jonathan Fields (btw…I try to read every word these guys put in print) is about finding ways to build a career out of what you love doing.  I am about providing exemplary client service (mixed with a little fun during the process) in the real estate industry.  Creating memories. 
    • Our Expertise. Every good brand involves the notion of expertise. Nike brands itself as an expert in creating quality and fashionable sportswear. Jeremy Clarkson (host of Top Gear) is an expert on cars. No matter what you do or sell, you need to create the perception that its the best, the brightest and everyone’s got to have it. I am an expert in vintage and historic homes, their construction, care and integrity. 
    • Our style. This is not so much what you communicate about yourself, but rather, how you do it.  Are you witty  and raw, like Naomi Dunford? Are you confident and crusading, like Michael Arrington? Hopefully you’re none of these, or at least, not in the same way. Your style of delivery should be as unique as any other aspect of your personal brand.  If you don’t actively imitate anyone else, it will happen naturally. Read widely and write a lot. I use humor and feigned  formality (that is quickly found-out) as my communication and presentation style.  If you know how to mirror your clients’ urgency, your style can be totally adaptive to your brand. 

With so many to-do’s, there are also a few ways to screw it up.

  • DON’T exaggerate.
  • DON’T put off your online image management.
  • DON’T be lazy.
  • DON’T become outdated.
  • DON’T get stale on what the competition is doing.

So, who are you and what do you do?

Next up:  Building a VINTAGE Brand; 1.3   Logo Design and Recognition. Gotta’ Get a Gimmick!