David and Susan Millstein are no strangers to preservation — over many decades, their efforts have led to the successful preservation of multiple downtown Lawrence buildings and businesses, including 803 and 804 and 803 Massachusetts Street. Indeed, in 2015, Lawrence Preservation Alliance awarded David and Susan the biennial Lawrence Preservation Achievement Award for their efforts.
1501 Learnard, however, is a little different from the downtown buildings the Millsteins have preserved over the years. Spread out over 2.9 acres straddling the Barker and East Lawrence neighborhoods, 1501 Learnard served as a garden center from the 1920s through the end of 2013. When the last garden center owner put the property up for sale, Sunrise Green LLC, led by the Millsteins and the Sunrise Project, purchased the property with the intent to keep not only the historic 1920s buildings and greenhouses but also to use the property as a space to promote social justice, gardening and community.
Today, 1501 Learnard houses the nonprofit Sunrise Project, One Heart Farm, Lawrence Organics and Seeds from Italy. The Sunrise Project, whose stated mission is to “provide space and opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to build an equitable community through good food and social connection.” hosts regular events, workshops and plant sales. It also maintains a community orchard in East Lawrence. It uses the original 1927 buildings and the hoop houses that have served many plants, people and communities over the decades.
As a result, 1501 Learnard is an example of literal historic preservation in the sense that the property is being maintained for future use and its current use preserves the history of the space. Additionally, 1501 Learnard’s role as a hub in the community paired with the social-justice-oriented work that the Sunrise Project focuses on effectively preserves and seeks to strengthen another key component of preservation — the community it serves. The fact that it is doing so in a modern way is an essential plus.