Preservation Gone Wrong

I know our reading this week dealt mostly with buildings and environmental sites but I was reminded of this botched fresco restoration that I’m sure all of us recognize from a few years ago.

Here is the link to an article showing how they made the most out a terrible situation. I thought you might enjoy it.

Botched Restoration of Jesus Fresco Miraculously Saves Spanish Town

Historic Preservation I

I think I echo some of my classmates when I say that I didn’t realize it took so much time and effort to preserve a place, and that it takes a lot of private investments and work to make it all happen. The bureaucratic review processes would be enough to make me give up and say never mind, so I applaud those who work in preservation and still have a full head of hair (50-53). In an age in which institutions like the NEH and the National Parks Service are under threat, I can’t help but wonder if organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be faced with a loss of funding as well. What happens then? Will the work become completely privatized?

Conversely, I think I would love to be involved in the process of contextualism (103). The work of matching and compatibility to ensure the aesthetic and historic value of a site is something that always catches my eye, and I always think of my trip to New York City, where you can see stunning old cathedrals contrasted against the modern landscape of Manhattan. You can’t just put anything next to a historic site, and to learn that there are guidelines from the Secretary of the Interior on this very process is incredibly cool (112-115).

One interesting aspect within this list of regulations is the notion of teardowns, and this is where the Preservation Idaho site fit nicely into the rest of the reading (117). On a couple of occasions, I’ve been downtown on a weeknight and was able to witness some of the houses being moved from the Central Addition neighborhood up into the North End. It’s abundantly clear that the Central Addition land is worth a ton of money, seeing everything that’s being built up around it, and so I’m glad to see that effort is being made to preserve these houses, instead of tearing them down at the first sign of an interested land investor. Before I started paying attention to this neighborhood, I didn’t often think of houses as being worth preservation, and I hope that further work is being done to maybe try and teach the local community why saving these particular homes was worth so much effort and time.

At What Cost?

On the back cover of Historic Preservation, the authors’ state, “It is an ideal introduction to the field [preservation] for students, historians, preservationists, property owners, local officials, and community leaders.” I agree, I found it a thorough introduction which answered many questions, often ones I didn’t know I had. I was interested to read how various groups, communities and governmental bodies created and used all manner of laws to achieve their goals. While I am not sure preservation is the area I want to work in, I will keep this book as a reference, just in case.

Production still from Pixar movie, “Up!”

While I generally applaud preservationists’ efforts, and love much of what has been preserved, I am concerned about the increasingly broad definitions of what is historically important. The broader definition, the less historically important the project seems.  In particular, I found that “Heritage Areas” and “Heritage Corridors” stretched credulity.  To paraphrase the authors, are Heritage Areas now preferable to National Parks or National Monuments? I have to ask if economic factors are driving this movement. By this I mean that tourism, tourism-related development and the ability to retain more local control on the appearance, function and activities seem to provide self-interested, economic motivation for applying for this status. I think developing coalitions is useful and I would not want to discourage such efforts, but many of these projects seem questionable.

St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan

From a legal perspective, I think of St. Bartholomew Church in New York is an example of another problem.  In disallowing their proposal to build a commercial tower as a way to generate income, the courts ruled that since the church was still able to function as a church and it could still perform its various missions if it sold off some of its stock portfolio, this was not a “taking.” The property owner was not trying to destroy this historic building but they are not given any latitude on how to raise funds and instead are forced to expend resources against their will. Must they maintain this historic property until their resources are gone? Once the parish has emptied their bank account, does it become the responsibility of the Episcopal Diocese of New York to maintain the property? I note this because I am aware of historic churches from various faith communities facing similar demands. What recourse do they have?

Historic Preservation

I had no idea that historic preservation efforts had to jump through so many hoops to get places of historic significance placed on a registry of some kind. I am continually surprised at the blase attitude the government seems to have toward preserving sites that are powerful reminders of our history. It seems to me that more emphasis should be placed on protecting these important landmarks. I was also not aware that being on a national registry for historic places did not offer protection from private or government projects that would impact the site in some way. It does not make much sense to force preservationists to go through months of paperwork only to have their registered site impacted negatively by someone else’s project.

I had not given much thought to why houses and other buildings tended to be described by their architectural style. Giving a historic building several layers of context is extremely important for understanding why it should be preserved. Knowing that a building is an original colonial style home helps to demonstrate the changes in architecture over time. I feel like the more important contextualization method is that of place. Regardless of what style each building in a particular neighborhood or city block happens to be, there is much to be learned from how those buildings interact with one another. How a city is planned and developed can tell you a lot about its people.

The threatened sites page on the Preservation Idaho site brought home some of these principles in a way that simply reading about them could not. Even if a building is not demolished for the sake of additional parking lots, covering it over with a facade or allowing it to simply fall apart though neglect does the same amount of damage to historic places. I imagine that it is difficult to provide the capital and man-power to maintain these sites when the city itself is actively working against a preservation effort.


Privatized preservation

During the reading of Historic Preservation, I found myself thinking about the ideal of Private efforts to preserve historical sites. Although I prefer the idea that our federal government would not allow our local history to be demolished, I believe that only the local people who actually know and care about it are likely to save a larger number of sites. That being said, I find that there are some companies and groups that are taking this preservation into their own hands. I recently ran into an article that proves this.In the article, getimagephp.jpg__800x600_q85_crop, Smithsonian Magazine shows that even businesses such as McDonald’s are taking some sense of historical responsibility. This idea fills me with a sense of relief. The “George Washington slept here” technique as the book calls it, is one of the few ways that we can actually work to save our history on a local level.(42) I wish that there were better avenues for this but unfortunately all too many people just really could not care less.

The other thing that really intrigued me was the talk about Seattle’s Pike Place Market. It did so because I found myself in awe of the idea that a historical area or landmark could become so popular that “its character would change into that of a boutique center and lose its original character as a somewhat scruffy everyday market run by local farmers and small entrepreneurs.” (23) Not only the fact that a historical site could be so popular but also the idea that someone actually recognized saving it for what it originally was took me back. I wonder how many times that this has actually happened throughout history. Do we truly remember historical sites as they were or simply as what we wanted them to be? Does history tell us more about the people who lived it or those of us that choose to look back at it?JS121409112_Mauro-Consilvio-E-mail-maoconsi40gmailcom-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqek9vKm18v_rkIPH9w2GMNpPHkRvugymKLtqq96r_VP8

If You Build It, They Will Come… If It’s Preserved

Reading about historic preservation prompted me to think about how relevant the topic is in society today.  This chapter brought to mind many different articles and news stories that have popped up recently within the last few years and serves as a reminder that this topic is deeply important.  One such example is the Colosseum restoration project to clean the grime off the façade, that I saw on a 60 Minutes segment.

I agreed with many of the points brought up in the book, one of which is that by preserving different sites, we have the ability to go beyond static representation of artifacts and to present history as a complete environment (pg 18).  Context is a major player within the world of preservation.  I loved the discussion of Charleston’s implementation of historic district zoning ordinance policies in 1931 that made it illegal to build anything that would detract from the architectural and historical setting.  We can see that those same policies have been adopted in many varied places.

I also agreed with the notion that the local level is where historic preservation is the most powerful.  Communities are the driving force behind many efforts to protect historic sites and buildings.  I love the idea that communities deem what is significant, but as with our discussion on museums, I worry about that in the long run.  The pitfalls of relying on communities are in their failure to think long term and concerns about demographics, along with people in power.  Talking of demographics, it makes me think of communities with a small percentage of ethnic diversity.  The larger group could be gung-ho about preservation, but only so far as it applies to their own history, and not the sites of minorities.  Addressing my other concern of longevity, I was reminded of efforts in my hometown of Winnemucca, NV to save a crumbling building.  Last fall the Winnemucca Hotel was demolished and there was an outcry to save it.  Built in 1863, the hotel was a noted Basque landmark as a boarding house and restaurant.  It was left vacant for years to decay.  Only when it was slated for demolition, did people pay attention to it.  A group tried to raise money to buy the property and restore it, but their efforts fell short because they had no plan for the building after they bought the land.  While the demolition is unfortunate, I think that had their efforts been successful, they would have started restoring the hotel, ran out of money, and the building would continue to sit without a purpose.  Maybe I’m being cynical, but I fear that this scenario is an all too common one in other small towns that lack funding and sustained interest/effort in keeping these sites from deteriorating.

images winnemucca_hotel_thumb

I’ll leave off with a few last thoughts. I think it’s important to note that these restoration and preservation projects can even add previously unknown information to our understanding, for instance, the fact that by cleaning cathedral façades people realized that they used to be brightly painted.  This changes how people look at gothic architecture. I was also surprised at how short the list of Idaho Threatened Sites was.  I expected a higher number in different places around the state rather than only 6 sites, 4 of which are in Boise.

Historical Preservation Part 1

I found the reading of Norman Tyler’s Historical Preservation to be enjoyable and educational, as it speaks about the interesting historical sites, and how many organizations have been set up to keep these places intact from construction and/or demolition.  With people becoming more aware and participatory in historic preservation during the past century, the importance of buildings and a building’s historical contribution has come to the forefront of society.  “Preservationists need to recognize that the preservation of historic buildings should include not only the physical structure but also the history of the place.” (Tyler, 15).  According to one passage that I read in Historical Preservation, the practice of “Historic preservation should be seen as more than the protection of older buildings.” The end result in preservation is to preserve buildings not as “inanimate structures . . .”.  (15-16)  Therefore, some buildings become seen as obsolete in the business of construction and development, but it does not mean that historic buildings and items are seen as worthless.  Another aspect to be aware of is the practice of “facadism,” which only preserves the front or the facade of a building.  With the bulk of the building destroyed, any historical significance of the building itself is lost.  There are many lessons and facts of interest that ancient buildings and artifacts can teach, such as museums that store historic items, or preservation offices that study old documents and building sites.

Besides preserving artifacts and historic sites, many people have begun experimenting with different technologies, in an attempt to educate the public, as described by Tyler’s passage from Historic Preservation, “Some exhibits have blurred the line between education and entertainment, leading to a new term, ‘edutainment,’ which combines the two into one presentation.” (16) This form of entertainment can be both useful to amuse and excite, as well as educate individuals on different academic subjects. A perfect example that Tyler describes is the use of animation technology at Disney World’s Hall of Presidents. Holograph technology is another example of these types of exhibits and “edutainment.”  Certainly new technologies and various methods will continue to help historians to not only preserve but to exhibit and share information in the future.

In Chapter two, Tyler describes the two distinct paths that preservation has taken since its earliest beginnings.  He notes that “Private-sector activities tended to revolve around important historical figures and associated landmark structures, whereas government [preserves] natural features and [establishes] national parks.” (27)  The National Trust brought those two paths together with the establishment of the Trust in 1949.  In choosing sites for preservation, the Trust has been very selective over the years, with only “twenty-nine historic sites of exceptional significance that it administers completely.” (43) The Woodlawn Plantation in Virginia was the first site taken on by the National Trust.  Other buildings are the Gothic Revival mansion in Tarrytown, New York and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City.  The Trust also commits its resources to lobbying efforts in Congress as well as “publicizes its Endangered Properties List . . .” (44).  The federal government’s push for economic stimulation following the two world wars provided yet another challenge to preservation.  Urban renewal programs literally left many cities with blocks of emptiness having had many historic buildings demolished to make way for new.  After the publication of Jane Jacobs’ influential book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and the involvement of the National Historic Trust, the National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, which helped with funding and listing of historical places in the United States and allowed for the development of historic district within our cities.  State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) as well as Section 106 procedures now help to protect historical properties.  Thanks to the efforts of preservationists, buildings of such immense historic significance as Independence Hall have been saved for future generations.


Americans had and still have a hard time to keeping historic houses due to urban renewal. “The Housing Act of 1949 and Urban Renewal Act of 1954 were meant to provide such a stimulus by making available federal funds to purchase and clear deteriorated urban neighborhoods.”[1] The federal government at this time felt that the first step to updating a dilapidated area was to tear it down. The government did not realize the historical significance of the buildings. The state and federal government felt that in order to improve an area they had to demolish dilapidated areas. The federal government called these places “blighted” areas. Old was not good therefor needed to be demolished. “The goal of urban renewal funding was to encourage investors to purchase the cleared sites at low cost and launch redevelopment projects.”[2] Destroying history of a certain area takes away from the overall embodiment of the community. The historical value and history of the community and how it developed is eliminated.

Historic preservation allows for the future of a community to understand how their town and city formed from diversity and immigrants. It is an actualization of the American dream being shown through community and historical involvement. “The National Trust, inspired by its English namesake, was created with the purpose of linking preservation efforts of the NPS and the federal government with activities of the private sector.”[3]  It does not matter whether it is post-modern or colonialism type houses or property they need to be protected. The communities should see this as a high priority. The only obstacles I see in preservation of historic places and areas is federal funding. The other issue is whether the community finds it worth saving and historically significant. So many groups and federal regulations to work through also causes issues on whether a site become historic or not. The Federal government does not live in the areas or know the historical significances of places in small or medium sized towns. So, judgement made could be against the saving of historical local sites due to minor populations. Ghost towns, mining towns, and other minor places seem insignificant, but could be a major point of pride and significance to local communities.

[1] Norman Tyler, Ted J. Ligibel, and Ilene R. Tyler. Historic preservation: An introduction to its history, principles, and practice. WW Norton & Company, 2009. Pg. 44.


[2] Norman Tyler, Ted J. Ligibel, and Ilene R. Tyler. Historic preservation: An introduction to its history, principles, and practice. WW Norton & Company, 2009. Pg. 44.


[3] Norman Tyler, Ted J. Ligibel, and Ilene R. Tyler. Historic preservation: An introduction to its history, principles, and practice. WW Norton & Company, 2009. Pg. 42.


The Un-American Historic Preservation

The opening pages to Historic Preservation really struck a cord with me. By calling historic preservation un-American because it is going against the American way of using up space and then moving on really intrigued me. By preserving these houses, these towns, and these buildings, we can breathe life into old spaces and make them live again. This idea on the surface really excites me. “This maturation is evident when we recognize that we must preserve our built heritage because it is part of what we are as a people and as a community.” (Historic Preservation, pg. 14) This to me, is extremely true. To get rid of our built heritage is like ripping up pieces of ourselves. It’s like erasing the past and history of the city. This book really made me think of Todd Shallat’s book, Ethnic Landmarks. In this book he describes the various ethnic landmarks throughout Boise and how a lot of them have been torn down. The histories of the founders of the city has been erased with those buildings. By writing this book, Shallat echoes the sentiment expressed in Historic Preservation about how the preservation of historic buildings should also include the history of the place. By writing his book about the significance of each building, he showcases the history surrounding the building. He provides a more active role for the historic buildings within our community through his book. As seen in the Threatened Sites page on the Preservation Idaho website, many buildings in Idaho have a rich history but are close to being torn down. With the destruction of those sites, we lose the full extent and power of the history surrounding them.

While preserving property can be precarious and hard to maintain, I think it is important because it really does preserve the physical history of towns and cities. Just having photographs or descriptions of the buildings isn’t enough. To truly get the full history and experience of a place, you have to be able to see it and feel it. As talked about in Historic Preservation, having artifacts in a museum is one experience, but seeing the artifact in it’s original home is a totally different experience.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church that has been preserved as a reminder of World War II- showing that historic preservation can be used as a warning and reminder of history:

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Photo by Alisha Graefe

It costs less to knock it down than to keep it up…


This is an extremely sensitive topic for me, because the focus of my research (masonry fortifications dating from the colonial period) are something that serve no purpose today. Clem Levine was quoted as saying that preservation was un-American because “America was built on the concept of the frontier. Land was limitless. Resources were never ending. The pioneer way was to use it up, throw it away and move west”(12). This seems to be even worse out here in the West. That list of endangered places in Boise, Lewiston, and Minidoka was heart breaking.
The part of this reading that I found the most thought provoking concerned the different preservation philosophies. A close reading of the ideas of Viollet-de-Duc and Ruskin’s ideas shows problems with both ideas. For one, I like the idea of restoration. I’ve been to “Colonial Williamsburg” and I liked it. That being said, I don’t think it is a model that should be followed everywhere. On the other hand, I can see why Ruskin, writing in the 19th century thought that ruins were “romantic” and “sublime.” It’s how people thought back then, but if nothing’s done about them, ruins tend to stay ruins. And said ruins, by their ruinous nature, are dangerous. And to be fair, some ruins are beautiful and sublime, like mountain ghost towns, or Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast. But it is prohibitively expensive to repair, renovate, restore, or even stabilize some of these sites.
Personally the hardest part of this reading was the portion about urban renewal and historic districts. Urban renewal has a place. When I was younger my father used to call downtown Boise “downtown Beruit” because of how sketchy it was. Then they opened the 8th Street Market place, and I would challenge anyone to compare Boise to Beruit now. And I think Boise did a good job mixing façadomy with new construction, but I think some of the neighboring communities (mostly Nampa) in trying to follow Boise’s lead fell short of the mark.
This talk of Nampa leads to the title of this post. Nampa had a beautiful old city hall. They tore it down and put a fountain where it was. That fountain has since been torn out and there is a library very nearly on the spot of the old city hall. The city hall is very nearly the same size as the library building which begs the question, why not have just used the old building? The answer, it costs less to knock it down than it does to keep it up.

I’m including this collage form my trip to old Fort Niagra because it represents a good compromise between the two discussed preservational styles. I hope you enjoy.