Know Your Standards!

By standards, I mean the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.  Essentially, rehabilitation takes a historic building and adapts it for modern use. However, it is more complicated than that.

First, why would you want to follow the standards? The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards are used in determining if a project will qualify for a historic tax credit. So, you can get the tax credit if you follow the standards. Second, as of right now, the tax credit can only apply to income producing properties; in other words, not your private home (but a rental home counts).

Alright, so when talking about tax credits and standards, you should also know that in order for a property to be considered for this tax credit, it must be eligible for or listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  If your property isn’t already listed, be prepared for research!

Now, you have an income producing property eligible for or on the National Register. Perfect! Now you can get to work. Hang on, this is where the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation come into play. Basically, they are guidelines to follow in order to maintain the integrity and character defining features of your historic property. After all, if a rehabilitation erased everything important about the building then it would no longer be eligible for the National Register. See how it works?

There are 10 standards to follow, to know, to memorize, to justify to the National Park Service that you adhered to. Want a fun way to learn them? Take the electronic rehab course offered by the NPS – an interactive web “course.” (One of my professors shared this link with us.) You can review all 10 standards, see them in action, and then take a quiz to see what you’ve learned!  If you don’t have time in a classroom or with a group discussing the standards, this is an excellent starting point! (Actually, even being a student talking about, I find this to be a good review.)  Enjoy! Thanks again, NPS!

Lecture Notes: Canals

Quite often throughout the day I find myself thrilled by a new bit of information that I am learning in class, whether facts in American history, lessons in architectural conservation, or understanding more of how the law operates. One professor always names places that he recommends as a must see: historic sites, engineering feats, villages, factories – he never stops exploring. Sometimes I want to share my notes with anyone who does not have the opportunity to sit in on my classes and hear the lectures that my classmates and I hear. Since I cannot send around my notebooks or recite the lectures, I’ll just share bits here and there. For today: canals.

One of the most fascinating lectures recently was about the canal system in the United States. Did you know that canals preceded railroads as the major successful transportation? Cities were built facing the canals (which sometimes makes the buildings appear backwards to those of us on the road). People lived on canal boats. People traveled on canal boats as a way to experience the scenery at a serene pace. Beginning around the 1820s, the canals opened the United States to western settlement. Canal locks were major engineering innovations. Around the canal locks, towns developed in a linear form. The canal era began to decline around 1860 because they were expensive to build and maintain and the routes were slow, and the railroads were lurking in the background. But canal evidence is still visible on the land today, particularly in our street patterns. Cities filled in the canals to create streets.

Maybe I’m one of the few who has never heard about the extent of and the influence of canals, but I am intrigued by this mode of transportation and the evidence remaining on the land. Looks like I’ve got to go exploring. Here are few links to historic sites about canals:

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park

History of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

The Erie Canal (see traces of the Erie Canal)

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

Does anyone else love (or have a newfound love for) canals?

Preservation Photos #20

The Chicago Stock Exchange Building designed by Louis Sullivan (or rather, the arch of the front facade installed at the Art Institute of Chicago. The building was demolished in 1971).  A different sort of facadism, don’t you think? Photograph taken on cold day in Chicago, January 2010.

More on the Preservation Budget

There are debates all around about the Save America’s Treasures program and whether it’s a good or a bad thing for it to be cut from the budget. From what I can gather, the majority feel it’s a bad move on the part of Congress. Even if you’re not a fan of the Save America’s Treasures program, the fact of the matter is that Congress feels it appropriate and permissible to slash the historic preservation budget (that includes park funding!) It’s not as if an alternate program has been proposed in place of one that supposedly does not work. It is simply an attack on historic preservation, a field that only wants to improve the quality of life in this country and has proven again and again that historic preservation works.

Because this is such an important issue, I’m sharing links from Donovan Rypkema’s blog, both of which he encouraged others to link. So here you go, the links and select quotes, but go ahead and read the entire posts:

Preservationists Outraged as Obama Cancels Building Restoration Programs by Lloyd Alter

We have noted before that the greenest brick is the one already in the wall, and that renovation and restoration are labor-intensive, giving twice as much stimulus bang for the buck than new construction. They are green jobs, creating more efficient buildings and saving energy at a lot less cost than covering the roofs with solar panels.

But that didn’t stop President Obama from cancelling two programs, Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America, that cost $220 million over ten years. The White House says “Both programs lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.”

Except that isn’t true, there are performance metrics, that prove that the programs created jobs at 1/18th the cost of last year’s stimulus programs.

What’s Obama got Against Historic Preservation? by Knute Berger

The Save America’s Treasures program, created by Bill Clinton in 1998, is the only federal bricks-and-mortar grant program for preservation and is designed to leverage matching private sector and non-profit funding for projects. It is run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in conjunction with the National Park Service. It has been slated for elimination…

On top of those cuts, Obama has proposed slashing National Heritage Area funding in half, bad news for Washington state which is in the process of creating a National Maritime Heritage Area to boost cultural tourism in coastal areas, from the Pacific to Puget Sound.

So what are we supposed to do? Keep talking, keep sharing, keep caring about the fate of historic preservation. This is a field that faces uphill battles day after day, something we acknowledge when we “sign up” for a life of historic preservation work, and at some point, we all have to convince others of the worth of preservation. It looks like it’s that time again. Let’s keep historic preservation in the game.

Old-Time Skating Party

Are you a member of Historic New England? If so, check out the Old-Time Ice Skating Party at the Frog Pond in Boston, MA on Monday March 15, 2010.

(Email from Historic New England)

Maybe there will even be snow — unlike in Burlington, Vermont. If you go, have fun and let me know how it was!

Preservation Photos #19

A carriage barn in need of some serious preservation help. Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit anyone?

Historic Preservation Budget at Risk

While historic preservation involves beliefs, theories, ethics, local organizations, grass-roots movements, and more, the success of historic preservation as a national program is very much dependent on politics and the federal budget. Federal programs like Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America are able to operate because of federal funding. Both are proven successful programs: saving important pieces of American heritage, improving the economy, and being overall win-win programs.

Many people have already heard, but for those not in the loop of preservation news: about two weeks ago the White House announced that the 2011 budget would eliminate ALL of the funding for both Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America, citing that the programs lasted longer than planned and apparently the lawmakers in Washington are not happy with their performance.

Eliminating Save America’s Treasures alone means already a 25% decrease in the preservation funding. Twenty-five percent!! There are a lot of knowledgeable people blogging about these budget cuts and what it will do to historic preservation, so rather than reiterate everything they are saying, here are a few snippets and the original sources.

[If you know the story already and want to help, click here and tell your Congressmen what you think — it takes one minute, if that!]

From Donovan Rypkema’s blog, Place Economics:

Naively I sincerely believed that as we have broadened the definition of the roles that historic preservation plays in society, as we have documented the wide range of positive economic impacts of historic preservation, as we have demonstrated the contribution of historic preservation to Smart Growth, sustainable development, affordable housing, downtown revitalization – that after all of this I thought our message had finally gotten through…

This announcement had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the federal deficit. The rounding errors in the budgeting process are ten times greater than the annual amount spent on these two programs combined. Here’s the analogy. You have a household income of $80,000 per year, but decide “We need to cut back.” So what do you do? Eliminate $0.04 from your monthly expenditures. That’s right…four cents a month of an $80,000 a year income is the equivalent of these cuts…

Most of the developed countries in the world had a major heritage conservation component in their stimulus packages. Why? jobs, job training, local impact, labor intensity, affects industry most adversely affected, impacts local economies, long term investment, etc. etc. Historic preservation element in the US stimulus plan? $0.

Also from Donovan Rypkema, an explanation of the Save America’s Treasures effectiveness:

Between 1999 and 2009, the Save America’s Treasures program allocated around $220 million dollars for the restoration of nearly 900 historic structures, many of them National Historic Landmarks. This investment by the SAT program generated in excess of $330 million from other sources. This work meant 16,012 jobs (a job being one full time equivalent job for one year…the same way they are counting jobs for the Stimulus Program). The cost per job created? $13,780.

This compares with the White House announcement that the Stimulus Package is creating one job for every $248,000. Whose program is helping the economy?

Dwight Young, for the National Trust of Historic Preservation, further discussing Save America’s Treasures:

Since its establishment in 1998, Save America’s Treasures has been a hugely successful tool for preserving the buildings, structures, documents, and works of art that tell America’s story – and for creating jobs and boosting local economies, too. The program has spotlighted some world-famous icons like the Star-Spangled Banner, Mesa Verde, and Ellis Island. It has also opened people’s eyes to the importance (and fragility) of the lesser-known treasures in their own hometowns. That alone, if you ask me, makes it a great program…

Major chunks of our history are represented in these irreplaceable places and things, and Save America’s Treasures has helped ensure that we can continue to experience and learn from them. Given all that it has accomplished, it’s easy to see why this terrific program has earned the right to have “treasures” in its name – and why we have to make sure it doesn’t disappear.

From Pat Lally, for the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

But here’s the biggest irony in the President’s Budget Request (and a little-known fact). Technically speaking, Save America’s Treasures and the other core national preservation programs under the HPF cost the American taxpayer nothing. You see, this account, by law, is funded by the revenue received from offshore oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. Years ago, Congress had the foresight to place historic preservation in this dedicated account along with other “conservation” activities. Their rationale was that as non-renewable resources are expended (such as fossil fuels), some of the associated revenue should help pay for the conservation and preservation of other non-renewable resources, such as sensitive ecosystems and nationally-significant buildings, collections, and objects.

Makes sense, right? Well, the problem is that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have budgeted much of this money for purposes other than historic preservation, and that simply has to stop. In fact, some of the other conservation activities that are funded by oil and gas leasing revenue are increased substantially in this Budget Request, just as we were slashed. It seems to me that preservationists need to make it loud and clear to their lawmakers as to why we need every penny of the $150 million that we’re supposed to get from Washington every year.

The final irony is that, among federal programs, Save America’s Treasures stands out as a model of efficiency and effective spending. You see, every grant recipient under this program is required to find a dollar-for-dollar, non-federal match. To date, Save America’s Treasures at the National Trust has raised almost $57 million in non-federal and private matching funds. As a result, Save America’s Treasures has been enormously successful in leveraging private-sector financing and creating productive and sustained partnerships with large corporations, foundations, and individuals that provide matching contributions. Here is just a small glimpse into some of the places and things that Save America’s Treasures has helped preserve for future generations: Ellis Island, Mesa Verde National Park, Valley Forge, Thomas Edison’s Invention Factory, and the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the “Star Spangled Banner.

And those are just some of the blog posts, but more can be found on the National Trust website and Save America’s Treasures website.

What does this mean? It’s not good. But it is the proposed budget so there is still time to act. The easiest, fastest step that preservation friends can take is to tell Congressmen. That link is a form that takes maybe one minute to fill out – with a name and address it will automatically send it to the appropriate Congressmen.

Historic preservation is not a frivolous endeavor; it is proven to boost the economy, which be a major point for people who are only worried about the economy right now. As Pat Lally said, it does not make sense to cut the budget for Save America’s Treasures or more broadly, historic preservation.

Do something! It’s incredibly to click that link and fill out your name. Send it to everyone you know. If we don’t save historic preservation programs, we’ll be taking a giant step backwards and many people will be without jobs — how does that help the economy?

Here’s the url in case the link didn’t work:

Love Historic Preservation

A reprint from the June 2009 issue of Preservation in Pink, but worth sharing on this Valentine’s Day. I love historic preservation, don’t you? Have a wonderful day!

Click for larger image.

Interpretation and Bias in Public Memory, Part Two

A pair of posts shared by Andrew Deci, which can also be read on his personal website.

By Andrew Deci


NOTE: The following post is an excerpt/compilation of excerpts from an essay I prepared for class at the University of Mary Washington. The class, “Public Memory” was a senior seminar which explored interpretation of history and how preservation interacts with that interpretation. It was perhaps my favorite class in college. The readings were focused on two books, Sense of History by David Glassberg and New History in an Old Museum by Richard Handler and Eric Gable.

This is the second and final half of my ramblings on bias, interpretation, and public memory in America. See part one here.

Perhaps one of the most controversial of interpretations in recent history has been the display and exhibit related to the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution. It was controversial because it presented a history that many considered to not honor the valor of WWII and the ‘patriotic’ choice of dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

As originally planned, the exhibition of the Enola Gay was to present not only the plane itself, but a context of information discussing the reasons that the bomb was going to be dropped; the saving of American lives and resources and the avoidance of a ground conflict in Japan. In addition to this background information, the exhibition was also to present the aftermath of the dropping of the bomb; the incineration of innocent civilians and the new knowledge of nuclear power.

Veterans groups were not happy with the presentation of the aftermath. They saw the decision as being a way for Americans to preserve the American way of life; not as a ‘horrific’ option chosen by a ‘bad people.’ Many of the exhibit designers (the others) wanted to present both sides – exposing the fact that the Enola Gay did more than just end the war, it ended lives. The orthodoxy defined this as being an unpatriotic stance, especially because the Smithsonian is a formal presentation of American history, on behalf of the American government.

In general, the controversies surrounding the exhibition of the Enola Gay revolved around the interpretation of the dropping of the bomb, patriotism, and ‘unpatriotic actions.’ The patriotic orthodoxy ultimately controls the national history and notion of revisionism.

Our national history is controlled in two main forums, the formal academic and cultural centers of our nation, and the informal memories of our own minds. We, as individuals, keep a rolling history of what we have experienced and the stories of the past that we have gotten from past generations (either directly through stories or indirectly as primary source documents).

Often times it is easier for us to remember the good times, the good choices, and forget about the bad times, and the bad choices. The formal, academic preservation of history acknowledges this personal bias and often tries to represent the bad choices and the bad times within our history. A celebratory history is one in which we can revel in the things that we have done well and acknowledge our predecessors as good people. The orthodoxy would certainly present a claim that any intention by an individual or institution to represent the past outside of this narrow framework is unpatriotic and revisionist.

Besides this tight political control on how national history should be remembered, there is friction between ‘normal citizens’ and the ‘cultural elite.’ We, as individuals, may hold disdain for a group of academic elites pressing upon us a way of thinking and a view of our own history.

Until the public realizes that history is not always a wonderful occasion, that new evidence may present past ‘good actions’ as ‘bad actions,’ and that the academic world of history is not trying to apologize for past actions, there will always be tension between a national, celebratory history and a real history.

While discussing the Enola Gay controversy in class, I stumbled on to a comparison that I have grown especially fond of – the museum as newspaper, and bias as editorial control. I like to use this comparison as an easy way of explaining the (often) unknown bias in museums.

Just as newspapers are controlled by a group of individuals that make decisions, have opinions, and present their stories to the public, museums also are controlled by a group of people with ideologies, have opinions and present their exhibits to the public. Exhibits are forums in which a group of people represent a historic time period, theme, or person in order to inform the public. News stories try to teach the public about an event, person, or place that has done something or that is doing something. Editorial control within newspapers and museums are similarly held by a small group of individuals; ultimately final decisions are made by a leader, editor, or curator.

Especially in the last half-decade, political scientists have been examining the role of media in politics and bias in the

Interpretation and Bias in Public Memory, Part One

A pair of posts shared by Andrew Deci, which can also be read on his personal website.

By Andrew Deci


NOTE: The following post is an excerpt/compilation of excerpts from an essay I prepared for class at the University of Mary Washington. The class, “Public Memory” was a senior seminar which explored interpretation of history and how preservation interacts with that interpretation. It was perhaps my favorite class in college. The readings were focused on two books, Sense of History by David Glassberg and New History in an Old Museum by Richard Handler and Eric Gable.

I’ve divided the essay into two portions; come back tomorrow for more ramblings on interpretation, bias, and public memory.

Each value-stricken generation has a different (or at least changing) interpretation of history, the monuments erected to history, and of how history should be thought of in the future. Although organized groups that erect monuments have a message they want conveyed, each audience member interprets that message in a different way.

Take for instance the World War I memorial in Massachusetts discussed in the book Sense of History. After World War I, the city of Orange sought a way to memorialize its sons who went off to the Great War. Many wanted the standard “triumphant arch” popular during that era that symbolized victory (and as a symbol of loyalty and patriotism). The veterans wished to have a “living memorial” installed, whereby the city would get a beneficial venue and memorialize their efforts in Europe. Eventually, the American Legion installed a cannon and a boulder that memorialized the dead and honored the pursuits of the veterans. As generations changed and American values shifted from honoring the war to learning from the war, another faction wanted to memorialize the war in a different way. Pacifists wanted a memorial that would teach the horrors of war to future generations. Eventually raising the money, they installed a monument depicting a soldier talking to a child; a symbolic monument.

As years progressed, this monument (and more importantly the square upon which it sat) took on different messages. Originally, the square and monument were created to honor the dead and proclaim victory – during the 1970s the monument stood for the horrors of war and war resistance. Residents protested the Vietnam War with the monument in the background.

So what does the monument ultimately convey? Certainly there is no right answer; just as artists do not control the meaning of the artwork, neither do the erectors of monuments. The audience’s interpretation controls the meaning and as generations change, the messages monuments deliver to us also change.

The Victorian Era produced a large number of memorials and set the framework for our modern memorialization efforts. Caught in a liminal stage in American history, the American Victorians were an ‘enlightened,’ resource-laden population that looked to the past in a very nostalgic way. In addition, the Victorians used their control of history as a tool in fending-off coming threats from abroad.

Different from other generations, the Victorians held large quantities of resources – the new industrial era had fueled the growth of an elite class with massive amounts of money. This class enjoyed philanthropy, giving away their money as a tool for establishing how wealthy they were. Nostalgia for ‘how thing were back then’ gave way to a more academic view of history – and for the preservation of sites and the building of monuments. In particular, the Victorian Age struck America at a key time: the Civil War was far-gone enough for it to be remembered as a somewhat happy experience based on valor and honor, but not so far out that personal memory was still apparent.