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

2 thoughts on “The Un-American Historic Preservation”

  1. I thought of Todd Shallat’s book as well and how Boise demolished many of it’s old buildings in the 1950s. It fits right in to the discussion of Modernist architects that largely ignored older buildings. I like the idea of preservation serving as a warning. It’s one of those daily reminders that you can’t ignore.

  2. The Kaiser Wilhelm Church is a wonderful example of why something should be saved and how to use it in a powerful way. I walked the grounds of the church in 2006 and was very moved. I had a similar reaction to the newspaper building in Sarajevo. I thought it would be left as a memorial to the war, but it has been completely rebuilt. Sometimes the economic, or maybe emotional costs, are too much.

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