A belated Preservation post….

I got entirely too caught up in the excitement of making a slideshow on my nerdy vice, that I forgot to post a weekly ‘reflection’…

I wanted to touch upon the argument on which is more relevant while deciding if a building needs to be preserved or not; the person that lived there, the event that occurred, or the style/era it was constructed in.

Growing up in a suburb of Boston, I saw many places (Paul Revere’s house, etc) that weren’t structurally impressive, nor did any specific event occur there. The mere fact that a founding father used to sleep there (think – ‘Abe Lincoln slept here’ for Boise…) makes this otherwise unimpressive structure, historically significant. Since a non-profit organization runs the Paul Revere house, I don’t have any quarrels with this site being preserved. If it were a state owned facility, I would be singing a different tune.

In working with the Idaho State Historical Society, there were many projects, sites, etc. where our resources were exhausted in trying to even maintain certain areas. One is the Stricker House and Rock Creek Station located outside of Kimberly, Idaho. I originally wrote a long article on this for my blog post, so be grateful that I deleted it (no one wants to hear a former Historian complain). In the case of this site, it annoyed me that the ISHS was spending time and money on a site where the yearly visitors barely numbered in the hundreds – with no attempts to improve the patronage.

Without going into a long rant, my view is that the buildings, sites, etc should be viewed in their cultural context. Is the site THAT significant, where it needs to be maintained and preserved for future generations to immerse themselves. Or is it just us being entirely too sentimental about a place that is only important when someone suggests it being otherwise?

Public history round-up

I just wanted to share a few (admittedly disconnected) bits of public history I’ve stumbled across around the web:

Remember the Triangle Fire may not in itself be a particularly stunning or easy to navigate website, but it offers a wealth of links to organizations marking the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. (The factory burned 100 years ago this Friday, March 25.) Women’s historians, fire safety organizations, and labor unions are but a few of the groups marking the event in their own ways. It makes for a nice case study in the ways the public and the academy shape and participate in public history.

Here’s something to brighten your day (as seen at Retroist):

You can read a brief history of the Oregon Trail game–it started out as a board game 40 years ago and has sold over 65 million copies. (It’s still a fun game, but some days I can’t get the mobile version’s damn soundtrack out of my head.)

Scripto allows members of the public to volunteer as transcribers of analog documents. It’s an interesting crowdsourcing model. (And–surprise!–it’s a project of the Center for History and New Media.)

Place Matters offers a toolkit to help the public “identify, promote, and protect” places people care about.

What public history resources or projects have you discovered lately?

A shame

It really is a shame that so many of Boise’s old buildings were taken down with such recklessness. Looking at all of the different architectural styles in Historic Preservation makes me realize how many identities Boise encompasses, and I really like that that history is reflected in the architecture we have chosen to “save”. There are so many different styles of building, home, park, and communities here. I’m glad it’s not Santa Barbara. It’s hard for me to feel inclined to stop the development that might be ‘out there’ or ‘odd’ on the block, because someday that building will be a historic relic, of an idea, belonging to an individual or a group of individuals who thought it worth their time in creating. And so where do we draw the line?

So along these lines, I have answered one of the first questions I had in this class. My group went on a walk, we inquired after a small lawyers office, but we ended up at Pioneer Park on Fifth, west of the Basque Block. We filmed it, and noticed that there were a lot of what looked like cornerstones and title-stones for buildings. It is very much like a cemetery, and it turns out that it kind of is! The free-standing arch is from the Eastman building, it’s inscription and I believe the plaque were saved. (the Eastman building stood where the Boise Hole now resides). There is a block for Central School. This school was located on Grove Street, among some of the finest Boise residences. The children from the River Street neighborhoods attended Central School, including two black children. There are several other stones that I recognized, and the giant waterwheel is a relic of systems of canals that used to run on Grove Street, transferring water up the bench.

I had all of these questions the first week of class. Interesting, who knew there was so much to know?

Boise Wiki quirks

I just wanted to point out a couple of things that have made me laugh as I’ve watched you all develop the Boise Wiki.

1. The first three people profiled on the wiki are an assassinated governor (or, rather, his statue), Shawn the Baptist, and Todd Shallat.  What a crew!

2. The most active page right now is about Canada Geese.  (Bob Barker makes a cameo appearance.)

That is all.  Keep up the good work!

Can a museum save city?

Can a museum save a city? yes.

Well in light of my weekend workshop on the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao it can. Dr. Joseba Zuliaika has written several books and articles on the museum. So here is how you make this work:


– 2 egotistical playboys (Who are very good at their jobs.)

-1 depressed city that is obsessed with urban renewal (With a lot of money)

-1 museum that wants to become an international franchise

 -1 extremely well rehearsed cover story to smooth out the museum politics


Blend together for a couple of years and hope the price of titanium goes below the price of stainless steel

Bake using incredible (for the time) computer technology for wanted architectural design


Tourist driven resurrected city complete with river/museum view downtown condos.

*Here is the story as argued by Zulaika, who has had personal interviews with the people involved in the project. Thomas Kerns came to be director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum was in terrible debt when Kerns came on to the scene. His solution to the problem was to make the Guggenheim an international franchise to take the museum out of debt and double the art display (the current shown art is only 2% of the collection owned by the Guggenheim doubling that to 4% for any museum is quite a feat) . Enter Kerns playboy attitude. In Zulaika’s book he quotes Kerns, “Seduction: that’s my business. I am a professional seducteur. I don’t’ earn money but I raise it, and I do it by seduction. I make people give me gifts of twenty million dollars. Seduction consists in getting people to want what you want without having to ask for it. It is a transfer of desire. I am in a way the greatest prostitute in the world.”[i] Kerns traveled Europe searching for place to put his new museum. In the cover up story he did all of this without the help of the architect Frank Gehry. Gerhry came only after a competition between him and two other architects for the design of the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum (so the cover story goes). Bilbao came to Kerns. Bilbao was city that constantly attempted to remake itself. For over century plans had been in drawn up for new projects. Several that never came to life. It was beautiful well structured 18th city. The city’s ambition was to change with the times. It took hold of the industry age and become a factory city. A river runs through the city one side 18th century style and the other a black chimney of smoke form the factory. In the 1980’s the factories shut down and the down suffered from 25% unemployment. With nothing to lose they were willing to gamble the all their money for the museum. The government promised the money to Kerns and the building project began. Ego’s aside both men are extremely good at what they do. The beauty of the titanium plated Guggenheim Bilbao museum is creative, controversial, and has a shock value that paid off of the city. It has now become a well know stop on European trips. It has house art exhibits of Armani and motorcycles. Zulaika argued that Guggenheim Museum saved the town of Bilbao form economic ruin.


Bilbao 18th Century Cityscape


Bilbao Industrial Ruins


Now what does any of this have to with historical preservation?  It is an example of preservation, although the museum is art museum it illustrated for example from Historical Preservation. The first painfully obvious connection was the quote on page 7 “Therefore, when we build, let us thinks for ever. Let it not be for present delight, not for present use alone: let it be such a work as out descendants will thank us…” This quote is the very intention of the design of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. It also encompasses the matching, compatibility, and contrast. It does not disrupt the 18th century city that come down on one side of the river, it replaced the old factories that stood across from the historic part of the city and yet did not complexly destroy the “ugly” history industrial history that still stands in “ruins” beside the museum. The museum, also, stands in sharp contrast to the old city and the new. It blends all three opportunities for preservation in one city. We argued in class that a poor economy generates revenue for museums. The book illustrated the boost for preservation pushed by the depression and Bilbao launched multi-museum that paid for itself within five years of it’s opening.

Guggenheim Museum aside, I am very critical of historical preservation. I do not think a building should be “preserved” empty space because the first someone once resided there. If a building is to be persevered it should be used to benefit the people of the present and the future. Whether for education on its historical importance or new economic needs it has to an occupied space. I am annoyed by the “historical sites” the litter the highways of the west that could be potential stopping a useful freeway. I love the idea of historical city ordinances as long as they do remain within a community’s needs and wants.  I am a complete sucker for the “edutainment” of Colonial Williamsburg, but I am also aware that it is “cute” picturesque showing of history.


[i] Joseba Zulaika, Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa: Museums, Architecture, and City Renewal, (Reno, Nevada: Center for Basque Studies, 2003), 93.


*Guggenheim argument is taken from notes on the Guggenhiem Museum workshop and according to Dr. Zulaika can be found in his book Cronica de una seduccion: el Museo Guggenheim-Bilbao (Nerea, Madrid, 1997)

Geggenhiem Museum picture from thebesttraveldesinations.com

Bilbao 18th century cityscape picture from art.com 

 Bilbao ruins picture under creative commons found on flickr under by Red Castle

Preservation and technology at odds?

After completing the reading I found it interesting that most of the chapters focused on preserving historic buildings, however there was a brief mention of the importance of National Parks, and historic battlefields.  When I think of preservation, I think of all areas that include; ocean/river ways, land areas, as well as historic buildings.  I assume most of you do as well.  I’ve been to a few tide pools along California’s coast and the coastal communities there are very involved with preserving their tide pools for future generations.  They organize volunteers to clean the tide pools, and community members even volunteer to educate visitors and help with class field trips.  The connection I saw in the reading is the importance of being involved in your community and fighting for preservation.  Some examples included, the ladies association to preserve Mt. Vernon, as well as Clete’s example in saving Wallace, Idaho.  Local organizations, and donations make a significant contribution to preservation.  However, even some wealthy preservationists do receive negative comments.  For example, Henry Ford’s preservation efforts at Greenfield Village were “criticized as too much a product of Ford’s personal tastes…” pg.38.

Our government has made efforts to preserve historic buildings, and the National Parks Service also does great work in preserving buildings, land, and trails at our national parks.  Last week on PBS there was an interesting documentary about Idaho fire lookouts and cabins that are being preserved, and people are able to rent them out.  The program was organized by the Forest Fire Lookout Association or the FFLA.  Here is their website http://www.firelookout.org/lookout-rentals.htm Many cabins have been restored, however it is expensive, and other cabins that have been deserted for years are falling apart.  The longer they are left empty the further in disrepair they become.

I was also interested to learn how Japan, and China deal with preservation.  Preservation is important in terms of their language and culture, but not so prevalent in the age of their buildings.  I was surprised to learn about the Ise Shrine in Ise city, Japan; and that they rebuild the shrine every 20 years.  Japan and China have an abundance of historic shrines that locals and tourist often visit.  The Ise Shrine reminded me of an article I read about the Three Gorges Dam in China that was built across the Yangtze river.  The intention of the dam was to control flooding, and provide electricity.  However, the construction forced at least 1.4 million residents to move, and it altered the course of the river which flooded several archaeological sites.  Some historic shrines were relocated, however it was too expensive to move everything.  The river dolphins are also being threatened and may face extinction.  It is a difficult decision to make when it is time to modernize, but that may threaten or destroy historic sites.

Progress vs. Preservation

I enjoyed reading about the history of preservation this week. As many people who have already posted have mentioned, the details of different architectural styles have always eluded me (and will probably continue to do so despite Tyler’s valiant efforts at making me more architecturally literate). Thus far, though, the book has focused on preservation of buildings. I would like to know more about views and approaches towards preservation of historic sites that do not include buildings.

The infamous “Wilderness Wal-Mart” is a situation that I have been following for the last few years, since Wal-Mart proposed to build a supercenter on or next to the Wilderness (Civil War) Battlefield in Virginia. The corporation was granted permission to build (albeit with certain restrictions) back in the summer of 2009, but the battle by preservationists raged on, and Wal-Mart finally renounced its plans just a few months ago. (See http://blog.preservationnation.org/2011/01/26/breaking-news-national-trust-for-historic-preservation-commends-wal-mart%E2%80%99s-decision-to-withdraw-plans-for-supercenter-at-wilderness-battlefield)

This twenty-first century battle over a nineteenth-century battle brings up issues that were mentioned in the book regarding what should be preserved and to what extent. (Somehow I don’t think that Wal-Mart would apply a Contextualist approach to its building plans.) Space is often scarce in cities, and thus some historic buildings must be renovated to accommodate modern functions; likewise, land is becoming a precious commodity in our increasingly urbanized and suburbanized nation–even if it has historical significance.  Preservationists can ask, “Do we really need another Wal-Mart?” But on the other hand, proponents of commercial “progress” can question–probably with reason, though I am loath to admit it–just how much of an expansive battlefield really needs to be used to exhibit its historical significance. Is land equally as worthy of preservation as buildings?

(Here is an interesting article about the “development versus preservation” debate. Apparently it is going on at other battlefields and historic sites as well: http://www.newsweek.com/2011/01/12/battle-over-the-battlefields.html)

How the National Register of Historic Places Saved Wallace, Idaho

This is the story of  Harry F. Magnuson and his leadership in the battle from 1970 to 1986 to save the Town of Wallace from destruction at the hands of State and Federal highway officials. Born in Wallace in 1923, Harry became a legendary business leader and philanthropist in the Northwest and beyond who never forgot his roots in his beloved hometown. The Federal Highway Administration and the Idaho Transportation Department planned to route Interstate 90 directly through the center of Wallace. Slated for the wrecking ball were blocks of historic buildings, including the iconic Northern Pacific Railroad Depot, that linked the Town to its storied past.  Harry Magnuson sued the FHA and ITD, alleging that they had failed to file an Environmental Impact Statement. A Federal judged concurred, entered an injunction, and halted the imminent bulldozers.  Harry [together with Nancy Lee Hansen] secured placement of the entire Town of Wallace on the National Register of Historic Places, creating insurmountable roadblocks in the agencies’ paths.  The stoplight at the corner of 7th and Bank Streets, the last on I-90 between Seattle and Boston, became a stirring national symbol of Wallace’s fight for survival.  As a result of Harry’s efforts, a compromise was struck, preserving Historic Wallace. A new overhead freeway was designed to bypass the Town. The Depot was moved across the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River to its new location on 6th Street.  The battle won, the Townspeople conducted a ceremonial funeral for the storied stoplight in 1991. Media from around the world reported the event. Charles Kuralt of CBS News wanted to know how a town of 1,000 people could stand up to the Federal government. The answer was “Harry.”  Historic Wallace is Harry Magnuson’s legacy to the Town he loved so deeply. Without his efforts, the elegant historic district you see today would be nothing more than four lanes of concrete. With this in mind, a grateful citizenry has dedicated the original routing of I-90 through Wallace as the  “Harry F. Magnuson Way.” 

Preservation Reading

While reading this week’s chapters from Historic Preservation I kept thinking back to Dr. Lubamersky’s presentation to us about Sweden and her observation that the Swedish are not afraid to mix the old with the new. I love to see old buildings preserved, but…. I appreciated that on page 18 of the introduction there was a listing of several perspectives held by preservationists: “Some see their role primarily as saving old buildings, some as preserving a cultural heritage, some as fostering urban revitalization, and some as contributing to sustainability and an alternative approach to current development practice.” I would like to think that all those views are important and taken into consideration. I’d also like to believe there is an option that sometimes a building might not be not worth saving.

I had very mixed feelings about one of the Boise Architecture Project’s picks for their endangered list, the Googie style Japanese Restaurant. I remember when it was a Sambo’s. That’s right. A shortening of the name Little Black Sambo. It may be kind of like a slave cabin in its historical and cultural significance. It might be really important for Idaho to have an example of that kind of architecture. Or we could question its deteriorated state and say bye-bye. Recently, I suggested to a friend who was having trouble purging useless, old knickknacks that he should take digital photos of them and save the images, not the actual items. I might be okay with a digital photo of that restaurant in a digital archive.

Hey everyone!!

So, Dr M-B is having me talk for a little bit on the preservation work I’ve done… the site I’ll be talking about will be a 1939 CCC building at the first YMCA camp in the country, in Silver Falls, OR.

To get a feel for the CCC and their place in history (and thus why it’s important to remember through preservation), here’s a VERY well done PBS documentary on the CCC… Less than an hour long, and available either through the link below, or if you have streaming Netflix, do a search for “American Experience: Civilian Conservation Corps”