Category Archives: Historic preservation

Update: Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties

The National Park Service has issued an updated version of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring, and Reconstructing Historic Buildings (whew!).  Last revised in 1992, it was recently updated as part of NPS’s “A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement”.

The revised standards more fully develop topics in the previous editions, address the treatment of buildings of the last half of the twentieth century (which introduced new materials and systems, such as composites and curtain walls), include building code-required work, and eliminated energy efficiency (which is now addressed in 2011 in the Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings).  The Standards provide guidance for the maintenance, care, or remodeling that might occur through an illustrated set of recommended or discouraged practices easily understood by architects, contractors, staff, and board members. A big thanks to NPS and Anne Grimmer for providing these new guidelines.  They’re free online and every house museum in America should adopt these Standards to help preserve and maintain their buildings and structures.

The Standards are designed to guide work on buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but I’ve used them Continue reading

Be the Early Bird to Catch a Deal on AASLH’s Annual Meeting

Friday, July 21 is the deadline to catch the early registration price of $328 ($253 for members); it jumps to $393 the next day.  AASLH offers the widest variety of sessions and workshops for house museums and historic sites at a national level and attracts some of the best minds in the field.  This year, the annual meeting will be held in Austin, Texas from September 6-9 and include:

  • Awaken the Historic House: A Fresh Look at the Traditional Model, an afternoon workshop led by Brett Lobello of Brucemore.
  • Current Issues Forum: What Role Should Historic Sites Play in Teacher Professional Development? moderated by Sarah Jencks at the Ford’s Theatre Society.
  • Engaging Programs = Engaging Communities?, a session I’ll be moderating on different ways to engage more effectively with your local community.
  • Preserving and Interpreting Contested Histories of Missions and Missionaries moderated by Barbara Franco, an independent scholar.
  • Historic Preservation Never Ends: Practical Maintenance for Your Historic Buildings moderated by Evelyn Montgomery of the Dallas Heritage Village.
  • From Millstone to Crown Jewel: Revitalization and Transition of a “Tired” Site moderated by Mike Follin of Ohio History Connection.
  • Parks and Prejudice: The Legacy of Segregation and State Parks moderated by Cynthia Brandimarte of Texas State Parks.
  • The Great Debate: Engaging Audiences vs. Protecting Dollhouses moderated by Brandie Ragghianti of the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum.
  • Lessons Learned: The Legal, Ethical, and Practical Issues Involved in Finding a New Steward for Upsala moderated by Carrie Villar of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  • Open the Door! Approaches to Interpreting Historic Landscapes moderated by Sean Sawyer of the Olana Partnership.
  • Historic House Museum Affinity Group Breakfast featuring Ken Turino of Historic New England.
  • Bucking the Trend: Energizing Historic Homes in Central Texas moderated by Oliver Franklin at the Elisabet Ney Museum.

Of course, these are just a small part of the 85 sessions, keynote presentations, field trips, evening events, and an exhibit hall happening over a few days in Austin.  There’s usually much much more available than you’ll ever have time to do and I’m often torn between 2-3 sessions at the same time.

To register or for more information, visit go.aaslh.org/AMreg.  Although registration fees for this national conference are very reasonable, especially at the early registration rate, AASLH offers several scholarships to reduce expenses (although their application deadlines have already passed).  If you can’t attend, there’s also an online version where you can hear six sessions that are especially presented as webinars, including my session on Engaging Programs = Engaging Communities? (they’re not simply a broadcast of the conference session).  They’ll be available for six months and can be viewed as many times as you like at rates starting at $60.

Videos: Keep it London vs Lives Rooted in Places

Historic England, the overseas equivalent of our preservation organizations in the US, recently launched a “Keep it London” campaign to help shape the planning of its nation’s capital, urging that, “the city must evolve by building on its unique character and identity, rather than by turning into a generic city.” The campaign contains the usual list of recommendations, solicitation for contributions and letters, and offers of updates through email and social media.  More interesting, however, is the “I am London” video that accompanies the campaign.  Listen carefully and in four minutes, you never hear the words, “history,” “preservation,” “old,” “save,” or “historic.” Instead, the faces and voices of dozens of diverse people personify buildings, giving these mute places emotion and personality.  Compare that to the approach used by the US National Trust for Historic Preservation in their video, “Lives Rooted in Places.”

Who’s the target audience for each video? Which video would resonate better with your members and donors? With your community and neighbors? Which one speaks better to outsiders than insiders?  What emotions are involved? Do they tell viewers what to think or feel, or do they let them unfold in the viewer?

Stabilizing Sandy or Uneven Paths with Mobi-Mat in Cape Cod

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On a recent visit to the Cape Cod  in Massachusetts, I often encountered unpaved sandy paths down to the beach.  It can be tough slog walking up and down those sandy hills but people also trample the nearby vegetation to get a solid footing.  At the Cape Cod National Seashore, they covered these sandy paths with Mobi-Mats, a flexible woven recycled plastic mat that stabilizes the path and reduces erosion, while allowing water and sand to filter quickly. It was so much easier to walk to the shore and I immediately saw that they could be helpful at historic sites that have muddy or uneven paths to make travel easier for persons with limited mobility or in wheelchairs. Although the mat is bright blue, it feels much nicer to walk to the beach on this mat than it would on a concrete or asphalt sidewalk—you get the sense you’re walking at the beach, not in the parking lot (I suppose it’s blue because light colors would be blinding in the summer sun and dark colors would become too hot for bare feet).

Mobi-Mats are made by Deschamps, a French company with an office in New Jersey.  According to their website, these mats are also in use in New York City Parks, Traverse City State Park in Michigan, Arches National Park in Utah, and Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. And in case you need to move vehicles or heavy equipment temporarily through landscaped areas for an event or construction project, these mats were originally designed for beach landings by the U.S. Marine Corps so they can handle the traffic (they say a 50 foot long roll can be installed by two people in ten minutes!).

IMHO: Trump’s Election Reflects Trends in History Museums and Historic Preservation

change-sameDonald J. Trump’s election to the U. S. presidency is a shock to many pundits and career politicians because he never held elected office and didn’t seem to care about politics or government, except as it might benefit his businesses. His interest is business, following his father into real estate and receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School, and then pursuing real estate development, professional sports, beauty pageants, for-profit education, branding and licensing, and entertainment. While the 2016 campaign will be heavily analyzed for years to understand its unfolding, my sense is that it’s not just about “change,” but a change in the skills and qualifications required for effective leadership.  It’s no longer about mission, vision, or values, but the expertise and perspective of independent business entrepreneurs.  And it’s a trend I’ve been witnessing in house museums and historic sites as well.

In the last decade, several major history and preservation organizations have selected CEOs who have little passion for or experience with the mission of the organization but instead offer outsider perspectives, often informed exclusively by an MBA: Continue reading

Wikipedia Welcoming Historic Sites and Landmarks This Month

wike-loves-monuments-2016Wikipedia, the most frequently used source for information on the Internet, just launched a month-long campaign to improve its coverage of historic and cultural sites in the United States.  Called, “Wiki Loves Monuments,” it is an international photo competition where participants capture cultural heritage monuments and upload their photographs to Wikipedia. For the first time in several years, Wiki Loves Monuments is back in the United States. The contest is inspired by the successful 2010 pilot in the Netherlands, which resulted in 12,500 freely licensed images of monuments that can now be used in Wikipedia and by anybody for any purpose. The 2012 contest in 35 countries resulted in more than 350,000 images submitted by over 15,000 participants, adding to the sum of all human knowledge gathered on Wikipedia.  The contest ends on September 30, 2016.

Anyone is welcome to contribute to the project by uploading photos they’ve taken of cultural and historical sites throughout the United States. Once September is over, the best photos will win cash prizes and will be submitted to the international competition.  In addition to taking photos, Wikipedia is also encouraging editors to write Wikipedia articles on historical sites and monuments as part of the event.  They are also developing state-level guides to historic sites and have already created versions for California, Ohio, and Washington.  Here’s a chance to fix that skimpy or inaccurate entry about your site or show a stunning photo (in my home state of Maryland, Belvoir is a particularly awful example).  Better yet, engage those photographers among your members to help you promote your site and others in your community.  Just remember, you’re putting this into the World Wide Web, so content will be freely and easily used by others (what will Getty Images do?).

If you’re looking for inspiration, Wikipedia is providing links to the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks, and Daughters of the American Revolution Sites (hey, where are the Colonial Dames?).

Big Summer Sale at Rowman and Littlefield

Difficult HistoryRowman and Littlefield, publishers for AASLH and now AAM, are offering a 35% discount on most of their titles through September, including both print and ebooks.  That includes the Interpreting series, which was recently joined by Interpreting Naval History by Benjamin Hruska and Interpreting Difficult History by Julia Rose (Julie will be sharing a panel with me at the AASLH meeting in Detroit) and by the end of the year it’ll have ten titles. Other areas of interest are museum studies, architecture and historic preservation, and museum administration.  Browse their web site at Rowman.com and use the code 16SUMSALE when you order online or by phone at 1-800-462-6420. The sale will continue to be in effect during the AASLH annual meeting in September, so you’ll want to be sure to stop by the Rowman and Littlefield booth to look at what’s available.  On Thursday, September 15 from 3-4 pm, several authors will be available to chat and sign books (including me) and they’ll be providing coupons for deep discounts on forthcoming books.

IMHO: Historic Preservation Needs to Move the Goal Posts

Goal posts movingOne way to measure the success of historic preservation is to count the number of listings on the National Register of Historic Places. In its first year nearly 700 properties were registered, and today the National Register has more than 90,000 entries representing nearly 1.8 million buildings, sites, and structures and is growing at a rate of about 1,500 listings annually. We could easily celebrate that as an achievement of the National Historic Preservation Act, however, the sobering truth is that fewer and fewer Americans find historic sites “inspirational” or “beneficial,” to use NHPA parlance. In the last thirty years, the number of adults who visited an historic park, monument, building, or neighborhood has dropped, from 39 percent in 1982 to 24 percent in 2012. A similar pattern appears in a study of cultural travelers in San Francisco, which showed that while 66 percent said that historic sites were important to visit, only 26 percent had actually visited one in the previous three years.

There are probably several reasons for this decline, including the near-elimination of history from public schools and a decreasing amount of leisure time, but our own field of historic preservation may also be at fault. Over the past fifty years, historic preservation has become more complex, often requiring expertise in legal strategies, real estate development, fundraising, and architectural conservation. It’s become more focused around technique, such as how to designate a property, navigate Section 106, or repair a double-hung window. It’s become more intellectual, with battles fought over statements of significance, National Register criteria, and applicability of the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s become an endless circuit in which we seem to fight the same battles and hear the same objections: “We can’t save everything,” “It’s not historic,” “We can’t stop progress,” and “You’re taking away my rights.” Historic preservation seems to have become less, rather than more, relevant and meaningful to Americans since the passage of the NHPA.

Maybe we’ve confused the ends with the means and are chasing the wrong goals. Preservation is not a destination but a means of reaching a destination. So what is the goal of preservation? According to the NHPA, it’s a “sense of orientation” and a “genuine opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the rich heritage of our Nation.” We need to rebalance the term “historic preservation” so that there’s equal emphasis on both words, rather than just the latter. We need to move the goal posts so that historic preservation is not about something but for somebody.

As management guru Peter Drucker reminds us, the nonprofit organization’s “product is a changed human being. Non-profit institutions are human-change agents. The ‘product’ is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adults, a changed human life altogether.” Historic preservation is not just about saving buildings; it’s about changing the lives of people.

Protecting, preserving, and interpreting is not sufficient. These are simply methods, tasks, jobs, works, or actions that define a purpose and explain how it will be accomplished. What is needed is a goal, a destination, a target, an idealized description of the future that explains “why.” To borrow from grammar, we need Continue reading

Challenges Facing Historic House Museums: A Report from the Field

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

AASLH Historic House Management Workshop at Brucemore in 2016.

At the annual AASLH workshop on historic house museum management, we always start by asking participants about the biggest or most important challenge they are facing at their historic site.  For the participants, the exercise allows them to get to know each other beyond a name by recognizing the issues they may have in common.  As the instructors, It’s an opportunity for George McDaniel and me to ensure we address their concerns.  For AASLH, it’s a way of keeping a finger on the pulse on what’s happening in the field.  At the end of the workshop, we review the list and provide some time for participants to develop a plan to address their issue.  As a reminder, they also fill out self-addressed postcards with a message to themselves, which I’ll mail to them in six months.

So that you can keep your finger on the pulse of the field, here’s the list of issues and challenges from the Cedar Rapids workshop at Brucemore, which included participants from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois: Continue reading

New York Tops the National Register of Historic Places

National Register by State 2015Whether it’s New York State or New York City, they’re at the top of the list in the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.  The State of New York has 5,774 properties and the City of New York has 766 listed on the National Register as of July 2015, the latest information available from the National Park Service. More than 90,000 properties have been added to the Register since it was established by Congress in 1966 (yes, next year is its fiftieth anniversary).

We might have some fun with the National Register and misuse it to identify the most historic cities in the United States.  New York City is at the top, but what other cities are in the top three?  Sorry, not Boston, Chicago, or Baltimore.  How about Philadelphia (home of Independence Hall) and Portland, Oregon (what? a town on the west coast!). If that surprised you, you’ll enjoying scanning the rest of the list (and perhaps rethink your summer travel plans).   Here are the cities with more than 200 properties listed on the National Register:

  1. New York City, NY: 766
  2. Portland, OR: 571
  3. Philadelphia, PA: 555
  4. Washington, DC: 555
  5. Louisville, KY: 363
  6. Chicago, IL: 363
  7. St. Louis, MO: 357
  8. Price, UT: 342
  9. Denver, CO: 296
  10. Kansas City, MO: 295
  11. Boston, MA: 279
  12. Worchester, MA: 277
  13. Baltimore, MD: 276
  14. Cincinnati, OH: 274
  15. Detroit, MI: 260
  16. Houston, TX: 257
  17. Davenport, IA: 248
  18. Salt Lake City, UT: 245
  19. Cleveland, OH: 243
  20. Little Rock, AR: 233
  21. Indianapolis, IN: 228
  22. Atlanta, GA: 211
  23. Cambridge, MA: 209

If you were wondering about #8 Price, Utah, they’re mostly archaeological sites (such as Nine Mile Canyon, which has the largest concentration of rock art in the United States) added to the Register in the last five years.