PART 2 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

LAST WEEK WE PRESENTED PART 1 on Why Preservation Matters. Part 2 of this series focuses on preserving or saving a building. It’s one thing to read and learn about preservation, and it’s a whole other thing to actively do it. While there may be limitations as to what one can accomplish, there is also so much that grassroots efforts can achieve. As the often-repeated quote attributed to Margaret Mead goes:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s assume you’ve noticed a building that needs an intervention, or someone has announced plans to develop land a historic farmhouse sits on … all is not lost. Read on to explore steps you can take to preserve a building.

Denn House, prior to restoration.

 

GUIDELINES FOR SAVING A BUILDING:

  • Manage your mindset. It’s important to note that saving a building is not easy and not always successful; therefore it is best to know this and the intensity of the process going into it so as not to set yourself up for disappointment if your attempts to save a building are ultimately unsuccessful. First, consider why the place matters to you and why it matters to others; The National Trust for Historic Preservation includes information on the philosophy of why old places matter, and tips on managing your expectations. Determining the practical reasons to save a building can strengthen your own resolve and provide practical arguments when presenting the plan to others.

 

  • Be a history detective and know the threats. It is also essential to know the history of the building, its significance, and anything that poses a threat to its preservation. That National Trust discusses steps to researching, and Wolfe House and Building Movers Guide for Saving a Historic Building also provides suggestions to determine a building’s significance and discern types of threats.

 

  • Determine the building’s future/ongoing purpose. If you have the power to help decide a building’s future or ongoing purpose, or simply want to share reasons the building could benefit the community so that others can see why it’s worth saving, Wolfe House and Building Movers’ Guide recommends determining its possible uses and proposing a plan. The previously-mentioned guide from the National Trust can assist here as well. It is likely much easier to determine the building’s purpose if you are the owner, but even if you do not own it, you can help provide suggestions. It’s also important to decide how to save the building. Wolfe’s Guide also includes information on methods for saving a building.

 

  • Be an advocate and find help. The National Trust first recommends seeking help and support and getting the word out at the grassroots level before taking it to community and government leaders. They also share other ways to spread the word, including the This Place Matters campaign. Gathering community support strengthens the stance that the building is worth something to the community, and therefore carries more weight when you finally do present the project to leadership. Once grassroots support is established, the National Trust and Wolfe’s Guide both share information on sources of assistance, including agencies and governmental organizations at the local, state, and federal levels. The National Trust also includes a list of resources for preservation. Finally, sharing past successes, such as sharing videos of other successful preservation projects, as offered here by the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, is another way to support your stance on preserving a building.

 

  • Secure funding. The National Trust and Wolfe’s Guide also both include information on how to secure funding or raise money to finance a preservation project. 

 

  • Apply for historic designation AND/OR seek to establish a preservation easement. If you determine that historic designation is an option in the case of your building, the National Trust provides information on many benefits of historic designation at local, state, and federal levels such as protection, funding, and tax credits, as well as suggestions on how to go through the process. If you have the power to do so – usually if you are the owner of the building – seek establishment of a preservation easement as well. The National Park Service discusses easements in detail, and the National Trust indicates that these can be in place in addition/act as a supplement to designations, as they use private legal rights of property owners unlike designations that act at the level of government. Easements – if designated as perpetual – are the only guarantee that the building cannot be demolished or altered significantly in the future. These terms go beyond the protections that a designation can provide. 

 

  • Amplify your reach. Preservation is local. It is also best done as part of a group of like-minded individuals, in a way that works with systems that are already in place.  If you want to ensure that buildings are saved, getting involved with your local preservation group and/or local government is the best way to make certain there is a review process before demolition is allowed to proceed.  You can check your local municipality’s zoning ordinances to  see if historic structures are addressed.

 

 

 

Next week: PART 3 OF THIS SERIES focuses on the Economic Benefits of Preservation.

PART 1 PRESERVATION MONTH 2020 SERIES

It is officially Preservation Month. In honor of this, we’ll be sharing a series of blog posts specifically related to preservation and the spirit behind it. But, what does preservation mean? And where does Preservation Month come from? As to its formal inception, the National Trust for Historic Preservation shared information last year about the establishment of May as Preservation Month. In 1972, Donald T. Sheehan first proposed a preservation week as a “means of relating local and state preservation progress to the national effort for the mutual benefits of both.” Preservation week was signed into law by President Nixon on May 5th, 1973. In 2005, the National Trust extended the celebration for the entire month of May to provide more opportunity to celebrate the nation’s heritage. However, we’ve previously discussed how the history of formal preservation efforts in the United States extends at least as far back as the 1700’s. Preservation needs have certainly changed in just the last half-century. The future of preservation is less clear, particularly given issues like climate change and COVID-19, which has triggered the National Trust for Historic Preservation to create a virtual Preservation Month for the first time in its history. In keeping with this virtual learning, read on for more of why preservation matters.


Interior of Franklin Street Station, beautifully restored and saved from decay or demolition.

WHY DOES PRESERVATION MATTER?

The best way to answer this question is by turning to the positive benefits and contributions of preservation.

Tom Mayes – attorney and preservationist at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who started a popular series of essays on Why Old Places Matter on the National Trust’s Preservation Leadership Forum and compiled those into his bookshared a photo essay highlighting the main reasons old places matter. Some of his most compelling points in the essay include that old places offer a sense of continuity in a world of constant change; they relate to our individual and collective identities; and they give one a sense of the history that occurred in that place.

These points may be seen as merely sentimental by some. However, they hold even more validity in light of practical implications, especially when contrasted with negative misconceptions about historic preservation. Rhonda Sincavage dispelled some common myths in her Ted Talk, and discussed how much of what people do on a daily basis could be construed as preservation without their even realizing it. Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner and Manager of the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources, also highlighted some of the benefits that can come along with preservation, including things that are often misconstrued in a negative light. To name a few comparisons by Bernstein (and echoed by Sincavage):

  • Property Value. Instead of reducing property values, studies show that historic designation and historic districts tend to increase property values.

 

  • Diversity and Inclusivity. While we do agree that there is still much work to do in increasing preservation’s diversity, preservation has evolved to become more inclusive, and is no longer reserved for the “rich and elite.” Many buildings and neighborhoods associated with ethnic minorities and people who were not wealthy have been preserved for their social and cultural relevance.

 

  • Business Impact. Historic preservation is actually good for business in many cases, supported by heritage tourism and revitalization efforts by programs like the National Main Street Center. These programs have created jobs and contributed to economic reinvestment.

 

  • Cost. While Bernstein acknowledges that historic preservation can be quite costly at times (and regular readers of this blog and our other resources will note that Danielle frequently acknowledges that costs generally increase for skilled labor, etc.), he notes that it is typically more cost-effective than new construction. The reason is that upgrades needed are usually cheaper than building entirely new buildings.

 

  • Development Impact. Despite popular belief, preservationists are not simply trying to save everything at the cost of all new development. Their goal extends beyond pure sentiment, and focuses on saving relevant historical places in ways that work with transition and change. This is concretely evident in adaptive re-use projects that are commonly seen today.

 

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT PRESERVING?

It is often helpful to be aware of known consequences of not preserving things in order to truly see the value of preserving them in the first place – even if we already know the potential benefits of preservation. Many people are aware of the now-infamous razing of New York City’s Penn Station in the early 1960’s. This was only one of many losses in the U.S., as well as the world. Although a positive consequence of this – as pointed out by the National Trust’s former president and CEO Stephanie Meeks in an excerpt from her book – was that preservationists and preservation-minded law-makers worked together to create a movement to learn from past mistakes, create more avenues for protection via new landmark laws, and to bring greater attention to these issues. Essentially, this marked the beginning of the modern preservationist movement. Beyond these positive impacts, many lament the loss of an architectural icon and gorgeous gateway to the city, as others compare the current underground station as somewhat deplorable in comparison to the old one in terms of functionality. In this and other cases around the U.S., we not only lose buildings that cannot be replaced, but also historical information, and even a sense of identity for people who live in the community associated with these buildings. Expanding our scope outside of the U.S., we can examine the extent of losses involved for everyone in world heritage sites (you can read more here, here, and here). No matter the cause, whether due to profit, bids for “progress,” war and terrorism, or environmental damage caused by humans, any type of lost heritage can be devastating to human communities. Stephanie Meeks underscored the value of preserving our built and cultural history in her speech at the Saving Places Conference in Denver, Colorado, in 2011. In responding to an oft-repeated question as to why someone should consider donation to historic preservation in the same way they would to food banks and homeless shelters, she asserted: 

“Preservation matters for the same reason those other causes matter—because it addresses a very fundamental need. Of course, food and shelter are the most basic needs. No one would argue with that. But just above them on Maslow’s hierarchy, and nearly as fundamental to our survival, is community. Preservation speaks directly to that need. It binds us to one another and to the past.”

This is why preservation matters and why we do what we do. 

Next week: PART 2 OF THIS SERIES focuses on How to Preserve a Building.