Preservation allies from all corners of the country will converge in San Francisco for PastForward 2018, November 13–16. There are now more ample opportunities than ever before to experience the powerful preservation work being done on the west coast. Recently I have found myself there, once again in the company of people deeply engaged in local work with national implications.
As a member of the board of directors at Filoli, a National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Site in Woodside, California, I recently attended a board meeting, arriving just in time for the beginning of the fall season. Building on the 100th anniversary of its estate and gardens in 2017, Filoli is undergoing a renaissance in interpretation and community engagement under strong staff and board leadership. PastForward attendees can take a detour to visit Filoli during the weekend to visit the new Artisan Market—which provides a unique opportunity for holiday shopping from local specialty vendors—as well as the opening of the magical Holidays at Filoli.
Several months ago, our partners at San Francisco Heritage successfully completed a capital campaign for the Haas-Lilienthal House, San Francisco’s premier Victorian-era house museum and one of the National Trust’s earliest National Treasures. The National Trust helped San Francisco Heritage understand the market for the fundraising campaign and identify new opportunities for outreach, so I joined several Trust colleagues at the celebration of this milestone. Take the time to see this remarkable place while you are visiting the city.
In another celebration seven years in the making, the September ribbon-cutting ceremony at Cooper-Molera Adobe in Monterey, California, opened the doors on a shared-use facility. The adaptive reuse of this unique property ushers in a new model of preservation that brings together museum and commercial spaces with the ultimate goal of long-term stability for the historic site. The many layers of history at Cooper-Molera make it a rich site for interpretation and the telling of the full American story.
Long-term stability is, of course, a priority for nonprofit and business entities alike. In particular, San Francisco’s skyrocketing commercial rents pose an extraordinary challenge for longstanding business tenants. The National Trust supports the San Francisco Legacy Business Registry and Historic Preservation Fund. Through the registry, local businesses, including nonprofits, that are either at least 30 years old or at least 20 years old while facing “significant risk of displacement,” receive promotional value and technical assistance. And in 2015 San Francisco voters approved funding of up to $72,500 per year, distributed through business assistance and rent stabilization grants. While the designation criteria do consider the buildings these businesses occupy, they were written intentionally to preserve the legacy of the people who inhabit and use these places and their contributions to the local culture. This program highlights the importance of discussing intangible heritage in the context of historic preservation, which is why we will explore it at PastForward 2018.
I am continuously reminded that our work is timely and speaks to the national issues playing out beyond the field of historic preservation. In particular, I am reflecting on my time spent just a bit further up the west coast with staff at the Panama Hotel in Seattle, one of our most unique National Treasures. We recently completed “Left Behind: Documenting the Japanese American Collections,” a project funded by a grant from the National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites program. We inventoried and documented the objects left behind in the basement of the hotel at the time of Japanese American internment during World War II. We uncovered about 7,000 items ranging from ordinary everyday objects like cooking pots to special personal possessions like violins, kimonos, and journals. These are all tangible reminders of human lives irrevocably changed; I cannot help but consider the Panama Hotel Collection in the context of the current immigration debate. Through Learning Labs and a host of affiliate meetings, conversations about telling the full history of underrepresented communities will continue at PastForward 2018.
I hope you’ll join us in San Francisco next month, where we will be using these and many other innovative projects to consider the present and future of historic preservation.
David J. Brown is the executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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