Earlier this month, I attended Preserving Historic Places: Indiana’s Statewide Preservation Conference in Whiting, Indiana. Before the conference, I had never visited Whiting, nor did I know anything about its history, size, architecture, or economy. My journey into Whiting took me past the large BP Oil Refineries of Northwest Indiana. Little did I know at the time the importance of the refineries in the development of Whiting. Driving into town, I welcomed the small town feel of the community, similar to so many other cities and towns of Indiana.
The majority of the conference took place in the Whiting Community Center and the Whiting United Methodist Church. The Whiting Community Center is an absolute gem, built by Standard Oil of Indiana in 1923 and it is an adorable Renaissance Revival building. The plenary sessions and some workshops were held in the United Methodist Church. Both historic buildings brought a unique ambience to the conference. One reason I love attending preservation conferences is the opportunity to hold sessions in unique historic places, instead of the drab of a conference center.
The conference began on Wednesday morning. During Wednesday’s lunch, we were treated to welcoming speeches by the conference organizers, the City of Whiting Mayor Joseph Stahura, and a bit of Whiting history. The lunch was held in the historic gymnasium within the Whiting Community Center. During lunch, we learned that the area Whiting is located went undeveloped for many years because of the poor land quality of sand and swamp. However, Standard Oil Company began buying land in the area during the 1880s and eventually built up the City for its refinery operations. Wednesday afternoon included a plenary session on Natural and Cultural Resources by Phillip Scarpino of IUPUI.
Wednesday evening was the Awards Ceremony. I accepted an award on behalf of the Military Department of Indiana for the National Register listing of the former Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home campus. It was a real treat and a site well deserving of the honor!
Thursday was full of all kinds of fun! Thursday morning featured a plenary session by the popular author, James Kunstler. Kunstler’s speech definitely gave the audience something to think about – whether it was positive or negative. “Skyscraper condos have no potential for adaptive reuse.”
During the day on Thursday, I had the opportunity to catch up with so many friends, former classmates, and colleagues I don’t regularly get to see. The extra downtime between sessions really helped facilitate some great conversations. Thursday evening was my absolute favorite part of the conference – the City of Whiting pulled out all the stops to allow us to experience the true culture of the community. Prior to dinner, we had the chance to peek inside the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The Stained Glass work inside this structure was stunning. For dinner, we had a traditional polish cuisine in the St. John’s cafeteria. The dinner ended with a few games of Bingo… but after dinner was when the real fun began! The City of Whiting opened the basement bowling alley at the Whiting Community Center. The evening was filled with fun bowling (I bowled a 102 in my second game!!!) with food and drinks. For me, I absolutely love a vintage American pastime housed in a historic building.
Friday morning kicked off with a plenary session bright and early (8am) with Dr. Stephanie Smith Toothman, Associate Director for Cultural Resources, of the National Park Service. Dr. Toothman’s session, titled “Partnerships for the Future,” discussed how the National Park Service partners with federal, state, and local governments and organizations to promote and continue historic preservation. I am most looking forward to the revised Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitation Standards, which she mentioned.
On Friday, I also attended an educational session about Modernism and the National Register of Historic Places, featuring Patrick W. Andrus from the National Park Service. This session really shows the wide variety of Modernist resources listed on the National Register, from a national, state, and local level. Of course, the mention of fallout shelters made my ears perk up quite a bit!
If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed the Preserving Historic Places conference in Whiting. Not only were the educational and plenary sessions of a great variety and great value, the town really immersed the participants into the culture and history of the community.