October 26, 2016

The strange Trump and Progressive Review connection

Sam Smith - Everytime I read about Donald Trump's Washington hotel- formerly known as the Old Post Office Building -  I think of the late John Wiebenson. For 23 years, the Progressive Review sublet from the architectural firm of John Wiebenson who was later joined by Kendall Dorman. Wieb has passed but the Wiebenson & Dorman continues and in 2015 won Washington City Paper's award for the best architecture firm in the nation's capital. Admittedly, your editor contributed nothing to the architecture but did share his copying and fax machines as well as the floor's bathroom. Further, Wieb was the longtime urban planning cartoonist for the Review, then known as the DC Gazette. He was also one of the founders of Don't Tear It Down, forerunner of the DC Preservation League. Now for the ironic connection with Trump:

DC Preservation League -  Alison Owings, a news writer and producer for WRC, was distressed at the steady destruction of many of Washington’s historic buildings. She wrote eloquently about losing her sense of history and place through the gradual destruction of the cityscape. Owings felt a sense of urgency, a sense that the time had come to look at the city in a new way. Armed with little more than encouragement from legendary architectural critic Wolf Von Eckhardt, and an idea for a catchy name (praised by legendary New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable for its “wonderful, direct, hortatory explicitness in a time of cheesy euphemisms”), Owings thought that an advocacy group was needed. Meetings in Owings’ living room on Cortland Place, NW and other members’ houses gave birth to Don’t Tear It Down, the predecessor of the DC Preservation League. Early on, Owings was referred to Terry B. Morton at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, whose work had led her to conclude similarly that Washington needed a purpose-specific advocacy group. Together, Owings and Morton developed a plan of action and were joined by other National Trust staff, interested professionals, and various like-minded souls.
Morton focused the group on the fate of the Old Post Office and suggested a rally to help save it. A list of city lovers and incipient preservationists was developed and invited to attend. On the first day of the second annual Earth Week, April 19, 1971, Morton led a march from National Trust headquarters to the steps of the Old Post Office, where the marchers joined an enthusiastic crowd of about 250 well-mannered placard-carrying preservationists, historians, planners, architects, and local residents, some of whom wore black armbands. “We don’t want ivory towers-save the whole Post Office!” they proclaimed, urging that the building be spared and that it be converted to new uses to serve the community.

It was Don’t Tear It Down’s first street action, and it received a lot of publicity.Within two days, Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) convened a previously scheduled hearing of the Senate Public Works Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds to determine the Federal government’s overall preservation policy as well as the fate of the Old Post Office. Among those testifying on behalf of preservation were James Biddle, Sen. Vance Hartke, Richard Howland, Charles Conrad, John W. Hill, John Wiebenson, and Arthur Cotton Moore, who later designed the renovation of the spared building. The force for preservation had become entrenched. The Old Post Office was saved over a period of years ....

Sam Smith: One memory I have of the Old Post Office Building, when it was just that, has a nice Trump flavor to it. As a radio reporter in the 1960s I went to interview an assistant postmaster general at a time when the Post Office was raising controversy over its censorship of publications, heightened by the rise of popular sex magazines.

As Jed Birmingham describes a part of the story, "I found Postal Service Decisions concerning the availability of second class mailing privileges for three literary magazines: Eros, Big Table and Aspen... Periodical status grants special privileges such as reduced rates and various delivery services. As a result, periodicals are subject to the most complex regulations of all mail, including regulations concerning obscenity."

What was remarkable about my interview - carried out in one of the largest and most historic looking offices I had ever seen with the assistant postmaster general sitting in a well over stuffed chair - was that right next to the interviewee (and totally unmentioned by him) was the largest pile of sex magazines I had ever observed.

I wonder if they were still there when Trump  bought the place.

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