Historic Preservation

Although I had a lot of the information on federal preservation policy pounded into my head between interning at SHPO, a cultural resource management class here at Boise State , and in the actual process of reaching Section 106 compliance in the historical guard tower reconstruction at Minidoka, I found this a highly engaging piece that covered the basics of preservation pretty well.

Was anyone else blown away that Independence Hall was one of the first examples of American Preservation? I am constantly running across Independence Hall in readings for this class as well as personal reading, and they really do seem to have a lot going for them in terms of setting precedents for historic preservation and interpretation. I was surprised to see how far back that legacy reaches. I think one of my favorite sections of the text was on matching, contrasting, or compatible addition designs. The Church Court Condos and Greenwich Village townhouses were fascinating case studies. I loved the treatment of both, and would find it exciting to live in an apartment with the shell of a historic church built into it, though I think many would easily find this an inappropriate adaptation of a historic structure. I think it is inspiring to see the ways in which the architects considered the historic significance of the townhouse, and symbolically represented it in a compatible design that still stood out. It is never a guarantee, though, that architects will value the significance or context of a building, or that developers will find anything worth saving after considering their impacts through Section 106 compliance. Local examples of this are obvious with the urban renewal that wiped out Chinatown and so many amazing structures. A contrast, then, would be the Owyhee renovation, which has turned out to be very engaged with the community and uses so many beautiful and original structural and design details.

As an aside, if this interested you in any way I highly recommend Tom Green’s CRM class. It’s a graduate anthro class but it covers all of the history of preservation law, actually navigating the policies, ethics and philosophies  of cultural heritage preservation in the US and how it differs in other countries, case studies of Section 106/NEPA/NAGPRA compliance, advice for pursuing careers in federal agencies, etc. Dr. Green used to be the Idaho Deputy SHPO and directed the Arkansas Archaeological Survey so he has a lot of interesting experiences and advice. Really useful stuff, hoping it comes in to use for me someday in the future.

That said, I really do enjoy the idea of working in preservation. Reading this stoked an old flame and kind of got my wheels turning. I even started googling historic preservation professional certificates. As much as I want to be done with school forever, things like preservation, conservation, archiving, etc. seem to involve such specific, technical skill sets that you can’t really learn unless you’re in a practicum/field work type situation. Similar to Michelle, it is pretty disconcerting to think I would have to do an additional MA or MS to have enough of a practical background in preservation to be employable. Architectural history seems pretty simple to study, and could be condensed into a short course. Most of the styles here in Idaho I’ve picked up just by reading NRHP nominations.I would also like propose a conversation in class to discuss the options for breaking into this field or what exactly one does when working in preservation… Having seen a small corner of what happens at SHPO, it seems like a lot of lobbying, paper pushing, and bureacracy, so not all that appealing. Although that comes from someone hoping to secure employment within the umbrella of Department of Interior…I’d rather be involved in a more hands on way. Not by chaining myself to an old building that is about to be razed, but perhaps in the field working on actual restoration and preservation. Maybe I actually could draw on some of my construction management skills… Another aside, if anyone is really interested in learning more about character-defining features, Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation, or some really cool examples of different types of properties around the state, I know both Tom Green and SHPO have presentations they do for different agencies/partners/tribes/firms etc.

As far as pres here in Boise, I think the Boise Architecture Project is a very cool initiative. To involve students at such a young age in a public service project that directly benefits the city, and gets them interested in and learning real skills in preservation seems like such a win-win. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn on that resource when I find myself curious about different buildings around the city. It’s interesting to see how things differ between 2010 and now with those “Endangered in Boise” listings, one of the most disconcerting being the Central Addition homes. Right now there is an entire block of Queen Anne houses all boarded up, and I can only think that they’ll end up being razed. Preservation Idaho tried/is trying to raise funds to purchase/preserve them, but they have a long way to go… Check out their site on this here.

Preservation Idaho also considers Minidoka to be a threatened site. Though it is a National Park, meaning any development in the area or using agency funds must follow Section 106 compliance, as many of you noticed not all preservation policy actually has teeth. Since receiving monument, then park status, and recently benefitting from federal grant programs for Japanese American Confinement Sites to restore some of its structures, Minidoka is in very high danger of losing everything. This is because they are currently fighting a huge CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation being established within a mile of the park. This could mean nearly 10,000 head of dairy a mile upwind, completely eradicating any visitor experience value and very negatively impacting the ability of the park to serve its mission. Friends of Minidoka and NPS are working together, along with the support of community members, in reaching land trade agreements to move it elsewhere or otherwise mitigating the effect of the CAFO. This has been an ongoing battle for almost 5 years. See what Friends of Minidoka are working on at their website.

Tyler’s book noted that National Historic Landmark nominations can be accessed in person in DC, but you can also access them here in Boise at SHPO’s office. They also have most of them scanned and linked online as PDFs. I actually pull these up on my phone all the time, to tell the poor people around me about the buildings we are in/near/passed on the way to get lunch. Here is a link if you’re interested. 

One thought on “Historic Preservation”

  1. Mia –

    I followed your link to see what, if anything, was on the Historic Register from my wee little hometown of Ririe, Idaho. To my surprise, two railroad trusses are on the list. I never before thought about their historic significance; they were just railroad bridges to be taken for granted. Thanks for the link. It has inspired me to take a closer look at things and see how they have contributed to our history.

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