Posts Tagged ‘National Register’

Integrity and Authenticity

March 16, 2016

I will presenting at the 7th National Symposium on Historic Preservation Practice this weekend at Goucher College, on the Diversity Deficit and the National Register of Historic Places.  I have written often about this subject over the last five years, but lately my recommendations are getting more specific.  One of those has to do with the concept of Integrity, which I have previously proposed needs to be replaced with Authenticity.

ellison bldg

My favorite example:  where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man.  Authenticity?  Integrity?

But of course, it is not quite so simple, and I encountered a more nuanced approach recently courtesy of my friend and idol Donna Graves, who recently completed an excellent historic context statement on LGBTQ history in San Francisco with Shayne Watson.  Donna parsed the seven components of integrity, which includes elements of “feeling” and “association” that we associate with Authenticity, and which ACHP Chair Wayne Donaldson has stressed in relation to sites in Indian country and others where architecture is not the key to significance.


It never looked anything like this when Jane Addams was there.  Wrong roof, new skin of 1960s brick – and more….

So the brilliant thing Donna did in her LGBTQ study was note which of the seven elements of integrity were important when dealing with social and cultural history, and which “are generally less important.”   Location,  Design, Feeling and Association are important when dealing with social and cultural history, although under Design “only the very basic features of a property are important, such as original form, and window and door configuration.”  She also notes “Integrity of style is not important.”  Preach!

Castro Fork Cafe

The Castro…

Setting, materials and workmanship are “generally less important for social or cultural histories.”  This is an excellent and important corrective to our architecturally-driven concept of integrity.  With LGBTQ history, and indeed with many sites of minority history throughout the U.S., these new approaches to authenticity and integrity can help reduce the Diversity Deficit in our National Register of Historic Places and in other local landmark practices.

canessa printing

So this is on the National Register for architecture as part of the Jackson Square district, but it arguably has thrice the significance under Criteria A and B as the site of the Black Cat Cafe, which was significant in 1.)the Early Development of LGBTQ communities in San Francisco; 2.) it’s association with gay rights pioneer Jose Sarria; and 3.) its role in Stoumen v. Reilly (1961) that essentially legalized gay bars. So there.



Finding the East out West

August 21, 2015

When I spoke to the National Tribal Preservation Conference two days ago, my host Bambi Kraus of the National Association of Tribal Preservation Officers introduced my talk by noting that the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers should “be themselves” and offer alternatives to the “Western” approach to historic preservation .

view from prow to mcdowell

This was a perfect introduction to my talk “The Future of the National Register: Addressing the Diversity Deficit” not only because many of the most significant heritage sites for American Indian tribes are natural features and routes (think Mount Taylor, which has made it onto the National Register) but also because much of my own work on this topic has been informed by a dozen years of work in the Far East, especially China.


Mount Taylor.  Photo by my dear friend Theresa Pasqual.

In the Western world we prize the fabric of the artifact – the piece of the True Cross to use a medieval Christian metaphor. In the East it is the skill, the craft, the performance of craft that is valued highest – the Passion Play to continue the medieval Christian metaphor. Our historic preservation practice, established in the 1960s, grew out of our object-based approach.

relic trucross

Don’t worry, there is plenty to go around

For the last 15 years, international heritage conservation practice has been informed by the Eastern approaches to both broaden its process to allow ALL cultures a voice in identifying, evaluating, registering and treating heritage sites, practices and traditions and specifically to look more closely at intangible heritage and natural sites that have cultural significance.

Duomo Museo gold book

We like our books too.  They are sooo tangible.

The challenge for tribes and others has been that much of their cultural and natural history was deliberately effaced. Intangibles – language, song, spiritual practice – are often all that is left after the destruction. Place can be compromised, or inaccessible or sold for short-term gain. It is essential that we take the examples of international practice so we can conserve what is most important, even if it doesn’t involve buildings.


Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.  No, Richard Dreyfus did not build it..

The other great takeaway is the idea of continuity, which was an insight I had between my July presentation in Washington DC and August presentation outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our National Register, and indeed 1960s preservation practice, assumed a gulf between the past and present. The Eastern approach, the American Indian approach, the Australian Aboriginal approach all stress continuity.

daia plead ganny

Heck, it’s even the Transylvanian approach

In the absence of continuity, we focus on the impossible concepts of integrity and period of significance, an idea of the past set at a far remove. This is not only insurmountable from an interpretive and design point of view, it is death to community engagement and economic support.

parthenon back pediment

Ah, the Parthenon, just as it was (kind of) in 1897.

As an undergraduate, I recall arguing with my roommate – also a history major – that things don’t begin or end on certain dates. We need dates and categories to begin to understand history, but as you progress in history, the antecedents and effects multiply. There are no neat beginnings and endings.


Acoma Pueblo.  A thousand years of habitation.  Windows are newer.

Bob Stanton, who spoke before me on Wednesday, recounted how he began his first National Park Service job in 1962 – before the Voting Rights Act – that began to give him and other African-Americans a fuller stake in the ongoing struggle of the American experience. He told me later that the great American historian John Hope Franklin was a great mentor and I shared my appreciation for that man who was my teacher, who also broke boundaries in the decades before African-Americans had equal protection under the law. And it is stunningly clear today that this history is not over. #BLM.

drakecayton map

My definition of history is something that began in the past and is not over yet. Culture is created and recreated each day and the expertise we wield as historians or technologists or folklorists or architects or landscape designers is not a luxury but a fundamental aspect of being human and living in time and space.

human dvelopmtS

Heritage is about continuity, and heritage conservation is a future-oriented activity.

That is what I have been writing about in this blog for over a decade.

Transforming the Heritage Field

May 7, 2015

The first of two blogs on my plan to transform the statutory and philanthropic foundations of heritage conservation.  Today we deal with the statutory in the United States…

As I prepare to move on from Global Heritage Fund after three years, I am committed more than ever to the transformation of the field of heritage conservation.  In the distant past, heritage conservation was a curatorial activity that sanctioned and even encouraged the removal of physical – and intangible – artifacts from our economic everyday in order to conserve them as if under a bell jar.  But, as I demonstrated in my dissertation, that approach began to die as historic preservation (in the U.S.) and heritage conservation (everywhere else) were infused with community-based activism and organization in the 1960s.  I had the good fortune of coming into the field during the creation of the first heritage area in the U.S. 32 years ago.

state st lkptt

Lockport, Illinois, part of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor

This was the era of Reaganism and the public-private partnership.  Heritage areas not only married historic preservation to natural area conservation, they confirmed preservation as an economic development strategy, an idea which Mary Means started with Main Street a few years earlier.  Dozens of heritage areas, Main Streets, and tax credits later, heritage has become so successful that real estate developers now ape the types and styles of past architectures in order to insure their economic success.

LG new dev14

Brand new house, 100-year old style

I have had the great fortune to work internationally over the last 17 years, and that work has reinforced my conviction that heritage is a community and economic development strategy.  Even the other motivations we ascribe to wanting to save history – education, identity, community – have an economic component.  You can’t maintain property values without an educational system.  You can’t attract human and financial investment without identity.  You can’t sustain development beyond five years without community.  Rehabilitating old buildings gives you all three.


Fort Collins, Colorado – making downtown vibrant

The evolution over time has been thus:  early in the 20th century, heritage was a curatorial pursuit, and architects dominated especially after the creation of federal programs during the Great Depression.  Heritage was also focused largely on tourism, with places like Charleston and New Orleans and Natchez and Tombstone saving buildings to attract tourist dollars.

Balcs and Shutters Royal and Toulouse Corner

The Vieux Carré, with fully clothed tourists

That started to change in the 1950s in places like Georgetown and Beacon Hill and Brooklyn Heights, where highly organized communities became historic districts in order to preserve their property values and promote sensitive new development that would not destroy their community, their identity, and indeed their economic investment.

georg twnhss

Georgetown, Washington DC

The next four decades witnessed the increasing involvement of communities, and community organization and development, in the creation of historic districts and other forms of zoning that did what all zoning does: preserves investment.  The extent of community involvement meant that districts that may not have had the highest architectural INTEGRITY (bad word – will explain in a moment) were designated because the community had a strong identity and a strong investment in historic architecture and landscape.

By the onset of the 21st century, neighborhoods considered “slum and blighted” in the 1960s and 70s were now historic districts, exercising the great middle-class value shared by all:  a say in the disposition of your home environment.  Preservation (Heritage Conservation) had become a democratic tool.

148 conv sw2

148th and Convent, Hamilton Heights, New York City

But had it?  Many of the activist communities that sought local control through historic zoning ran up against architectural rules that seemed arcane and illogical.  The vast majority of designated landmarks and historic districts fell under the architectural category, and a whole set of architectural rules – the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards – had been created back in the 1970s, when the basic historic preservation textbook still had “curatorial” in its title.

44th berkeley

Not historic enough in 1991 – North Kenwood, Chicago

Several of my recent blogs have discussed the idea of revamping the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which haven’t had much update in a quarter-century.  Reading the Standards is a little like watching an old movie  or reading a 19th century novel.  There are many discussions about this topic going on right now, and my own contribution flows from my international experience and my lifelong understanding that heritage conservation (historic preservation) is above all a community development tool.

HL and group clsst

Han Li in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Preservation is a Process, not a Set of Rules

For the last 15 years the best heritage conservation practice follows the Burra Charter, which does not preach community outreach but in fact requires community engagement and input into the entire PROCESS of IDENTIFY, EVALUATE, REGISTER, and TREAT.  This came out of the fact that many different cultures value different kinds of heritage and the context statement that is SUPPOSED to be at the beginning of every preservation survey and plan must be DEFINED in part by the local culture.  In China, the greatest art is calligraphy.  In the West, some believe it to be architecture.  Some tribal cultures find it in the landscape and some minority cultures find it in festival and performance.  The process of the Burra Charter deals with all of that.


After all architecture is just frozen music anyway

The Problem of Integrity

So why did Australia get this right before the U.S.?  Because their native populations had a particularly non-tangible approach to heritage?  I would argue it was also the Asian context, where heritage lies more in the performance and craft than in the artifact.  But we also have the problem of integrity, in that the U.S. is the only place that uses that word.  Everyone else uses authenticity, which by its nature is more accommodating to a broader range of significances.  Integrity refers almost exclusively to architecture and formal, visual concerns, although we do have verbiage about “feeling and association” in there, but let’s be honest, we didn’t commit to it.

LGHS awe

Smells like teen spirit  Los Gatos, CA

HH soup908b

Here is Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the Dining Hall, which is an absolute travesty in terms of architectural integrity.  The building was moved off its foundation, rotated 90 degrees, moved 50 feet, and covered with a veneer of red bricks IT NEVER HAD in 1965.  But each week in the Dining Hall they engage in discussion of the social, political and environmental issues of the day, just as Jane Addams and the residents did a century earlier.  From a performative, intangible perspective, this building has more HISTORICAL integrity than almost any other in the land.

the forumS

The Forum on 43rd in Chicago.  Light on Integrity, Super heavy on history.  Preserve It!

The other problem is that we treat integrity as an on-off switch, which is, prima facie, cray cray.  I wrote about Ray Rast’s approach to this before here.  Integrity is no more a YES/NO question than history is a singular narrative. But, nearly 50 years of National Register practice in this country has reinforced the architectural legacy in our system.  In some ways, if we actually took the time and trouble to do proper context statements prior to every survey and every community plan, we would start to address the diversity deficit in our own landmarks, but we don’t.  We tend to rest on a set of standards and practices written at a time when new buildings were High Modern and old buildings were old-fashioned.  All of that has changed completely.

LG next to beckwith

Architecture of its time, 1996.  Los Gatos, CA

LG New missio dvmtS

Architecture of its time, 2014.  Los Gatos, CA

So, we swap authenticity for integrity, work to create a series of serious historic context statements with a special focus on minority history, intangible heritage, and non-design based conservation treatments.  We should revise the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards to be in line with international practice and we should ACTUALLY FOLLOW the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Preservation Planning.  They should reference the Burra Charter and they should insist on stakeholder engagement in each step of IDENTIFY, EVALUATE, REGISTER and TREAT.  That would be a start.

skatebd park 31st

So we landmarked the Zephyr Skate Shop but that is a building??? Why not landmark the cultural performance and practice they invented there and in the empty pools of the 1970s California drought???

If we adopt this process, it will make more room for preserving HISTORY as well, where that history is not contained in neat or attractive buildings.  As my dear friend and hero Donna Graves says, ‘Interpretation is the fourth leg of preservation.”  To capture the diversity of American history we need to reclaim lost sites from oral traditions, from the depredations of disaster and urban renewal.  Donna pioneered this a quarter-century ago with a project that garnered my immediate attention even though I was at the other end of Route 66 and would not see it in person for over a decade.

biddy mason 1850

Interpretation is a part of preservation because it preserves intangible, lost and oftentimes deliberately buried history.  It activates the power of place, which is what LA’s Biddy Mason park was and is, and it can activate and sustain community.

Activating and sustaining community is the fundamental work of preservation.

Next time:  A new heritage practice for a new philanthropy

Chicagoland Watch

September 17, 2009

Landmarks Illinois has made another splash with its annual Chicagoland Watch List thanks to the high profile Rose House and pavilion in Highland Park, a modernist treat by James Speyer that EVERYONE knows as Cam’s house from the 1980s film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I knew that when I toured the house about 15 years ago. Modernist steel and glass boxes set into one of the suburb’s trademark wooded ravines, the gem is threatened by possible subdivision despite landmark status and a $2.3 million price tag.
You should go to Landmarks Illinois’ website ( to see the whole list, which includes a two-lane rural road in McHenry County, the South Side Masonic Temple, and an entire neighborhood’s worth of urbane and sustainable terra cotta and brick treasures at the intersection of Halsted Fullerton and Lincoln:
One of the threatened sites has personal resonance for me, the “Colony” in Wheaton at the Chicago Golf Club. I remember the circular fan you could sit on and white wicker furniture you could pick at until grandma yelled at you and a screened porch adjacent to the golf course. Her unit burned some time ago, but the remaining homes by Jarvis Hunt cannot be replicated today. They are unprotected, as is the fabulous Ed Dart Church of the Resurrection in West Chicago. Ed Dart is turning into the Louis Sullivan of the 20th century, the incredibly talented architect whose buildings are vanishing one by one, obliterating a history of grace, light and humanistic resonance.
It is worth noting one category of buildings that appear several times, including the Rose House above, the Cornelius Field House (also in Highland Park) and two of the three Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, like the Walser House on Chicago’s west side. They are landmarks. Landmarks in danger. Not because they don’t have legal protection – but because THEY MIGHT BE DEMOLISHED ANYWAY.
In the popular imagination, landmark status means a building will stay there forever and can’t be torn down. This is not true. Landmark status – and only local landmark status can potentially forestall a private demolition – does not mean buildings get saved forever or preserved in some pristine state.

Landmark status means there is a review process when a building permit is requested. A landmarks commission can choose to approve a permit that would demolish or irrevocably alter a landmark. When I was on the Oak Park Preservation Commission in the 1990s we approved at least four demolitions in the historic district in three years, and I can give you Chicago examples. Landmark status means REVIEW, not PRESERVATION. In Oak Park and other suburbs, the local districts and local commission don’t even have binding review over insensitive alterations, only demolition.
gap prairie 3200
Plus, landmark status does not mean you have to maintain a property. It is not only a PROCESS, it is a reactive process. You pull a building permit, and the landmarks commission reviews it. What if you don’t pull a building permit? Ever? For anything?
Answer: nothing. Yes, the building department can go after you, if your building starts to look like a hazard. But not the landmarks commission – they only get to speak when they are spoken to.
dtop 2007 vwS
Ah, the persistence of ignorance. There is an Op-Ed in the Wednesday Journal (Oak Park) titled “Historic District bad for downtown Oak Park” by Frank Pellegrini. I guess I had my Op-Ed a year ago, and it is worth repeating my pull quote here, since this guy remains unaware:

“The National Register cannot prevent anyone from demolishing anything.”

The Op-Ed goes on about restricting property rights, discouraging investment, regulations and bureaucracies. These keywords are listed rather than logically linked. Unlike most commentators who employ labeling rather than argument, Pellegrini hints that he might actually be aware of the nuances when he says that the National Register designation is honorary but “could be a prelude to a more restrictive local registry” which is true. But all of his arguments depend on that local registry, and his vision of how that process would play out – which is opposite of how it has played out, as seen below.

The National Register doesn’t bring in any bureaucracies unless you go begging to the feds for money. The most galling fact about the situation in Oak Park is that FACTS are staring everybody in the face to counter this opinion. Pellegrini asserts that landmarking will discourage investment, add costs due to regulation and bureacracy, etc. So how about an example? Is there a historic commercial district nearby that has these regulations? Can we see this disinvestment at work?

Yes, there is one IN Oak Park and it is four blocks away. And it has maybe one vacant storefront in the historic buildings. Hmmm. Why isn’t investment being discouraged in that district? If Pellegrini was correct, all the business would run away from the Avenue to Downtown Oak Park to escape the fearsome regulations strangling their rights. That is definitely not happening. He must not be correct.

The opinion is accompanied with an illustration of the demolition of the Colt Building, which you can read about in old posts here from 2005 and 2006. Now I get it. He is upset about the Colt Building. The Colt Building was saved by the Oak Park Village Board AGAINST THE ADVICE of the local landmarks commission and the statewide preservation organization. It costs the Village oodles of money and then was finally demolished years later – just as Landmarks Illinois and the Oak Park Preservation Commission had recommended years earlier.

Listen to the preservationists: they’ll save you money.


October 16, 2008

Kenilworth, Illinois is a lovely suburb on the North Shore of Chicago with the world’s largest collection of George Maher Prairie houses and a cornucopia of other architectural and planning delights. It also made the National Trust’s Most Endangered List because of teardowns. That is rare notoriety in a nation beset with teardowns. You gotta have something goin’ on to be one of the eleven most endangered sites in the United States.

So, the village came up with a clever plan: list the town on the National Register of Historic Places. This adds NO regulation to homeowners and provides NO protection against teardowns, but addresses the media embarassment. It also would allow ONLY THOSE HOMEOWNERS WHO WANT TO to take advantage of the Illinois Property Tax Assessment Freeze program. Upside without a downside.

A clever political solution, but it still encountered some of the most vociferous opposition ever. Why? Apparently they see the National Register as a first step toward local designation. While that could be true in Oak Park, it isn’t true on the North Shore. Wilmette listed two districts on the National Register and passed a law requiring a super majority of 75% of homeowners should Wilmette dare to try for local designation. Kenilworth has passed a similar law barring itself from pursuing local designation. Besides, it is a completely separate action requiring a completely separate political process. National Register designation offers NO SHORTCUTS to local designation. Getting local designation would still require the SAME political process it would without National Register designation.

But that wasn’t enough for the Kenilworth opposition who can see a slippery slope even on flat dry ground. (By the way, they need a cute name – when Winnetka went through this a generation ago, the opposition — funded by a major real estate developer — was called WHOA – Winnetka Homeowners Association, I think. Maybe they could be Kenilworth Opposition (KO), or Tenacious Kenilworth Opposition (TKO), or Kenilworth Protests Against Conservation (KPAC) or even Kenilworth Teardowns Embrace Liberty (K-Tel).)

So there was a League of Women Voters Forum with Wilmette preservation chair Kevin Kirkpatrick, architectural historian Susan Benjamin, myself, Village Clerk Bob Hastings and National Park Service jefe Paul Loethar to explain this. Kirkpatrick did the best, explaining that there is NO prohibition against demolition or alteration caused by National Register designation and NO cause-and-effect with local designation. He had a good analogy: Just because you go to high school doesn’t mean you need to go to college. And just because you want to avoid college, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t graduate from high school.

When I was asked why we didn’t talk about the downside of National Register designation I offered the only downside I could think of: “It would make it more difficult for the federal government to put an airport in the middle of town.” And that is true – it wouldn’t be impossible, but more difficult (and expensive). Upon reflection, I thought of some more examples. Remember, ONLY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PROJECTS can be reviewed under National Register listing.

National Register designation will make it more difficult for the Federal Government to put any of the following uses in the Kenilworth Historic District:

Public housing project
Urban renewal (requires slum and blighted designation)
New subsidized housing projects
Interstate highway
Federal prison
Military base or munitions plant
Harbor or canal project
FBI training facility/shooting range
Federal office building
Construction of FEMA trailer encampment for flood victims

Is KPAC pursuing any of these for their homes? If so, that would explain their opposition. Otherwise, their logic is whack.

Added thought: National Register would also trigger state review, so if the state were to try to place a state facility in the historic district, there would be a review. I will let the homeowners decide which state facilities have the potential of replacing their homes with other uses.

National Register

August 7, 2008

The National Register of Historic Places has been around for 42 years and includes thousands of buildings. It was designed as a speed bump for Federal highway and urban renewal programs whose clear-cut approach to development in the 1950s and early 1960s had excited opposition. It remains as powerful today as it was 42 years ago: as powerful as a speed bump.

The National Register cannot prevent anyone from demolishing anything. There. The secret is out. It can slow down any project which is funded or licensed by the federal government, and often in those cases, buildings get saved. Not always. Only local landmarks laws can stop an owner from demolishing a building. That was true in 1966 and it is true today.

So, why are people in Oak Park and Kenilworth getting bent out of shape about National Register districts? Kenilworth, a wealthy community that made the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List thanks to a teardown frenzy, had its Village Board vote 4-2 in favor of putting the town on the National Register only to have the Village President veto it. The Board has apparently studied the facts and is overruling the veto.

Now, in fairness, many suburbs use the National Register as a gateway to local landmark status. I can remember when I was on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council in the late 90s and lawyers from Northwestern University came out in force against an Evanston National Register district, claiming that it would eventually become a local district. Which it did, although NU had the clout to pound it into submission through gang lawsuits. Their lawyer fought the National Register for the same reason the NRA fights an assault-weapon ban, because if you allow one bit of anti-gun (or anti-development) legislation, there is no end to it.

In the real world, this is whack logic. Probably the largest logical fault is the idea that landmark district designation inhibits development. Landmark districts inhibit development the way adult use ordinances inhibit development – they drive away the fly-by-night hack-job developers. They tend to increase property values for the same reasons any exclusionary zoning does, because they require a certain level of skill and civitas in order to get into the club.

In Downtown Oak Park at Harlem and Lake Streets, an oft-stymied proposal to put the community’s most recognizable face on the National Register returned this summer, to howls from two local businessmen. This is especially funny in Oak Park, where Downtown Oak Park has struggled for 30 years, while the commercial district at Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street – called The Avenue – has thrived. The Avenue is listed on the National Register AND is subject to local landmark review.
Those are the facts, which get in the way of the whack logic.

The other fact is of course the Colt Building fiasco, which I wrote about in this blog three years ago (check the archive) which gave preservation a bad name because even though the preservationists, including me, did NOT want to save the Colt Building, some local leaders did. This gave many in the Downtown Oak Park area a negative view of preservation.

Fact: An inhibition of development in Downtown Oak Park caused by people DOING THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT PRESERVATIONISTS SAID. Fact: National Register designation offers tax incentives to owners of commercial property when they rehabilitate but HAS NO EFFECT on any demolition or building plans they have that use private funds. Fact: National Register does NOT EQUAL local landmark designation. You have to pass a law to do that.

But facts should never get in the way of whack logic. Here’s how it goes: the area is economically challenged, the owners are struggling, so we shouldn’t add regulations that make the situation worse. However much it might make sense in the abstract, the facts on the ground don’t follow the whack logic. Add to this Oak Park’s funnest fact: the Historic Preservation Commission approves permits four times faster than the Plan Commmission and Building Department. Honest. That is what the Building Permit people told me when I dropped off plans for my back porch.

Watch out whenever anyone says “It’s the principle of the thing.” Too often that is an excuse for ignoring the facts.