What is your professional and educational background? Diverse! I studied Communications and Peace Studies at Elizabethtown College for undergrad, followed by work with Disney, the National Park Service, and as a college admissions counselor. I then set up a two-year volunteer adventure in Germany at a World Heritage Site, Israel on an archaeological dig, Central America with wildlife, and New Zealand doing all kinds of work. Returning to the States, I worked at libraries, historic cinemas, and with adults with developmental disabilities before settling into preservation. This led me back to the Park Service, where I did communications for the National Heritage Areas program followed by the Essex NHA. After moving to Vermont, I became VP of the Society for Commercial Archeology, a national roadside heritage nonprofit. Wanting to expand my impact led me back to grad school at the University of Oregon, Portland, where I received my MS in Historic Preservation in June. There I had a position at the State Historic Preservation Office, managed a National Historic Landmark modernist home, highlighted modern commercial buildings through photographic postcard art, completed National Register and HALS documentation, and wrote a thesis on neon sign preservation. After so much movement, my wife and I are very excited to settle down!
What got you interested in historic preservation?
I’ve always been drawn to the power of distinctive places to tell stories, give communities character, and make life more vibrant. Historic places are the cornerstone of thriving communities. Growing up in a rural community just outside Akron, OH, I watched the fields across the street disappear for generic new suburban sprawl. It baffled me that such a process would take place while buildings full of character and usefulness sat empty downtown. In college, I drove Route 66. Seeing these unique towns, so beautiful and haunting in their architecture and rich cultural history, yet often so empty, really instilled in me the power of place. Since then, I’ve just fallen in love with historic places. I love cultural and architectural history and how these two intersect to make places special. I have also become very passionate about the ways preservation can be a tool for social justice and equity, bringing the stories of disinvested communities to the forefront. The preservation field has not always been good at this, but it is changing to embrace cultural significance, elevate diverse voices, and create a more equitable society.
What is your first impression of Milwaukee? What stood out to you?
Leon’s! There’s just nothing better than a giant neon sign on a custard stand. I’m also struck by everyone’s friendliness. There is a genuine warmth and welcoming here that is very special. Of course the architecture is just phenomenal. There are so many gorgeous buildings, not just along the lake and downtown but throughout the city in every size, style, and condition imaginable. Just as enticing is the cultural vibrancy of the city - not just things like the Art Museum and Summerfest, but the corner bars, the fish fries and cheese curds, the historic cinemas, and the incredible ethnic diversity. This city is a treasure! Growing up in Ohio, I have always considered the Midwest my home and felt a strong sense of pride in coming from the Rust Belt. Milwaukee has some of these same elements but is unique as well. This is a place where things are happening! It’s an incredibly exciting time to be a Milwaukeean, but we have a responsibility to make sure that the positive changes here neither sacrifice the places that make the city so special nor leave out the majority of the city’s residents.
What are your goals for MPA?
Our primary responsibility is to listen to the community, find out what is important to those who live and work here, and do whatever we can to make sure the places that matter to people continue to tell their stories long into the future. I want us to be a partner with anyone who cares about Milwaukee being a great place to live for all its residents – historians, planners, nonprofits, businesses, developers, government leaders, you name it! We all want Milwaukee to be a great place to live, and I believe preservation can provide a win-win that is economically advantageous, environmentally friendly, and just. People want to live in cities like Milwaukee not despite our older and historic places but because of them. I definitely want to continue the impactful work we’re already doing with the Domes, the Soldiers Home, legislation, and education to make preservation mainstream. Central to my vision is creating a preservation movement that is fun, effective, and equitable. I want everyone in this city to think of us as a friend and ally and to feel like they have a place in our organization and our movement to celebrate Milwaukee!
What are some ideas to make preservation more relevant?
There are many people who love the restaurant down the street that hasn’t changed in 40 years, are charmed by the blue police call boxes that pepper our sidewalks, or have felt powerless to stop the demolition by neglect in their neighborhoods. These folks might not call themselves preservationists, but they are! We need to do a better job of connecting with the creative workers moving into Third Ward lofts in historic warehouses, the communities frustrated by buildings crumbling from disinvestment, and the artists photographing neon signs.
We do this by expanding our narrative to include a wider diversity of places to include more modern and vernacular buildings and landscapes as well as a wider definition of preservation to include cultural significance. If a historic building is preserved but a long standing family business is forced out by rising rents, that is not a victory. We need to expand beyond architecture. We need to find the city’s untold stories – celebrate them and sometimes wrestle with them. From legacy business programs to young preservationist groups, designating historic cultural traditions to innovative artist partnerships, podcasts to ghost sign tours – we need to listen, think creatively, and take risks. What are some good books you've read or movies you've seen recently?
I really enjoyed Signs, Streets, and Storefronts: A History of Architecture and Graphics Along America’s Commercial Corridors by Martin Treu and Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture by Chester Liebs, both of which highlight the significance of signage in the development of the American landscape and the importance of buildings that we so often overlook. On a non-preservation topic, The Weird Accordian to Al by Nathan Rabin is my pick for the best book of 2020. It’s a tribute to pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic that dives into his 40 years of adding laughter to our entertainment landscape.
As for movies, I loved Little Women recently. Greta Gerwig did an incredible job directing, and the locations were so evocative. Bohemian Rhapsody from the year before also blew my mind. I love movies, and especially movie theaters. I made it my goal to visit every movie theater in the Portland area when I lived there. I hope to do the same here and am super excited to check out our great historic theaters!
What do you like doing in your free time?
My cats - Thutmose, Ptolomy, and Iiti - never cease to fill my free time with joy. They’re just endlessly adorable. I love exploring and getting to know new places as well. Experiencing the small businesses and cultural landmarks of a city is my favorite way to do that. I’m a scooter junkie too and try to bicycle as much as possible. It’s so refreshing to get out of the car and walk, bike, or scoot around. And when it’s safe to do so again, I’d love to get back into playing baseball or dodgeball. Basically, I love life and try to find beauty in everything around me 😊