America is a country that likes new things. We like new faster cars, new and better technology, and new buildings with all the conveniences that can be added. The downside of this love of the new is that many beautiful and historic places are lost in this mad rush to “new and improved”. The Eastman Building in Boise is one example. It was scheduled to be torn down, ignored, fell into disrepair, and then burned to the ground. Replacing it for 20+ years was a lovely hole in the ground. How is that progress? Downtown Boise did not need another mall, which is what was supposed to replace the Eastman. Nothing remains of the once vibrant Chinese community that lived in Boise. The buildings that housed them are long gone along with anything that could be learned from visiting them. The Basque culture, on the other hand, managed to preserve many of its important sites. Many people recognized the significance of the Basque history in Boise. Because they did people can visit the Basque Museum and Cultural Center and see how this unique population lived and played in Boise in the 19th and 20sth centuries. Acknowledging and understanding why a building or site is important is the first step toward preservation.
The thought of Mt.Vernon or Independence Hall being torn down is chilling. It would be like tearing down Notre Dame to build a mall. While many sites have been preserved due to the interest and diligence of the communities involved, there are many more that need attention. In this city alone there are many buildings that are subject to destruction in the name of progress and most in Boise don’t know or care. While the situation has improved from the 1960s era of plastic replacements, it is still not at a level that keeps historic buildings safe. If the tide had truly changed then all historic sites would be fully funded and repaired. The public likes the idea of preservation, but not the realities. History is often learned through research at a site. Digging at the pueblo sites in New Mexico and Arizona has been invaluable to providing knowledge of the indigenous people of the southwest. Had those sites been lost through looting or neglect or the need for a new parking lot then the history of a people would also have been lost. What we build today is so temporary we have a name for the massive homes that are thrown up in a month: McMansions. Being able to visit, see, and touch a piece of our past is vital to understanding that past. Writing about an object is great, but being able to put your hands on it brings it to life.
I loved reading about how other cultures deal with their past. I found in fascinating to read about how different nations view preservation. Japan’s rebuilding of the Ise Shrine every 20 years is a great way to preserve the history of a building and the reason for its being while at the same time making sure that it can still be used. I am going to have to research it online and find out when they will be tearing the old building down and putting a new one right next door.
One question that I do have is to what era does a building get restored? How does that choice get made and how do we preserve the other histories of a site?