Historic Preservation, Part II

This week’s readings showed me just how much I do not know about historic preservation. It doesn’t help to begin with that my knowledge of the subject was very small to begin with. What caught my eye early on in chapter 4 was the Penn Central decision and how the author stated how “it forms the legal justification for most historic preservation ordinances” (pg. 123). To understand how historic preservation laws have both grown and stayed in existence is important for historians and many others also. We must understand how these ordinances and laws have grown and existed in order to both effectively use them and explain them to others, to the public. By this point, I think we all understand that the local and federal government is involved in historic preservation; they’ve both helped to create the laws, fund portions of historic preservation, and enforce them. The important fact that the Penn Central decision demonstrates to us is how the government is able to enforce these laws in the face of private ownership. From the Penn Central case we come to understand that historic preservation laws or ordinances are an appropriate tool used by cities to accomplish a government goal, in this instance preservation of a building. At the same time, this case shows the conflict between private owners of recognized historical sites and the government; especially private owners who fall under a more direct historical preservation ordinance. Both entities exist with their own goals in mind. One wants their revenue increased and the other wants a space saved for current and future generations. At the end they both managed to achieve their goals within the defined city ordinance. The Supreme Court upheld the historic preservation law which led to the owner of Penn Central to abandon one plan and institute another, which proved successful. Some people may view this as government stepping across some line and enforcing its will upon the private landowning citizen, but in this instance it was needed. The owner knew what kind of property Penn Central was and I am sure they were fully aware of the preservation ordinance in place; the only thing I do not know is when the station was designated as a historical site and who the owner was at the time. Penn Central demonstrates how grassroots support and historical preservation laws can help to save landmarks that are both representative of a people and time. If people look in Boise in the Basque block it’s evident. With both local support from the people and government funding/support, a piece of Boise culture has been both restored and preserved for everyone to enjoy.

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