The 2020 National Preservation Awards

By Forum Online posted 10-26-2020 10:07


The 2020 National Preservation Awards are being presented this week at PastForward 2020 Online. The awards honor inspirational projects, individuals, and organizations that have demonstrated excellence in the field of preservation.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award

The Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s highest recognition. Named for one of the National Trust’s founding trustees, the award is made with the greatest care and only when there is indisputable evidence of superlative achievement in the preservation and interpretation of our historic, architectural, or maritime heritage.

Mary Means | Silver Spring, Maryland

Photo courtesy of Mary Means

During her time as an employee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the 1970s, Mary Means conceived of the Main Street project, a three-town, three-year pilot project led by the first main street managers—Clark Schoettle, Tom Moriarty, and Scott Gerloff— in Galesburg, Illinois; Madison, Indiana; and, Hot Springs, South Dakota, respectively. Mary’s groundbreaking project had the bold mission of demonstrating economic development within the context of historic preservation.

The original, three-town pilot project has evolved into Main Street America, an expansive and powerful program of the nonprofit National Main Street Center, Inc., that has helped revitalize older and historic commercial districts for 40 years. Today Main Street America is a network of more than 1,600 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, who share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. Means’ remarkable, visionary work for our nation’s Main Streets arguably helped lay the groundwork for other contemporary movements, including new urbanism and smart growth, and has been credited with helping save the federal Federal Historic Tax Credit on more than one occasion.

Mary continued her work to expand historic preservation’s practical connections to communities through her firm, Mary Means + Associates, where she earned a reputation for blending strategic thinking, effective community engagement, and market-based reasoning to create visionary plans that motivated action and increased clients’ capacity. Her focus on heritage development and community revitalization has convinced legislators that heritage tourism is economic development that provides jobs while enhancing quality of life and preserving places that matter.

Her latest work is a book 40 years in the making: Main Street’s Comeback: And How It Can Come Back Again, released in early 2021. 

Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards, the nation’s most coveted and prestigious awards, are bestowed on historic preservation efforts that demonstrate excellence in execution and a positive impact on the vitality of their towns and cities. Read more about this year’s Driehaus awardees in the fall issue of Preservation magazine, and get to know the distinguished jury of thought leaders who selected them.

Universal Life Insurance Company Building | Memphis, Tennessee

Exterior of the Universal Life Insurance Company
Photo credit: Trey Clark

Primary Recipients: Self + Tucker Architects

Co-recipients: Hon. Jim Strickland, Mayor, City of Memphis; City of Memphis Housing and Community Development; City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity & Compliance; Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Office of Energy Programs; Downtown Memphis Commission; Middle Tennessee State University Center for Historic Preservation; Self + Tucker Architects, Allen & Hoshall, Innovative Engineering Services, Entegrity, Montgomery Martin Contractors, Bricks Incorporated, Allworld Project Management, Guaranty Bank (Formerly First Alliance Bank), Universal Commercial Real Estate;

Designed in 1947 by the renowned African American architecture firm, McKissack and McKissack, the Egyptian Revival style Universal Life Insurance Building opened in 1949 to great fanfare. Its original owner was the rapidly expanding Universal Life Insurance Company (ULICO), which was established in 1923 by Dr. J. E. Walker, A. W. Willis and M. W. Bonner. The Walkers also founded Tri-State Bank to “constructively change community conditions” for Black Americans in Memphis.

By 1973, ULICO grew to become the largest Black-owned business in Memphis and the 4th largest black-owned insurance firm in the nation. In addition to providing whole life insurance, ULICO offered mortgage loans, financed housing developments, awarded college scholarships, and was an economic stimulus and a shining example to the community. The building was also used as a meeting place for organizers of the Civil Rights Movement, such as Jesse Jackson and Sammy Davis Jr., a professional training area for employees, and even a prom location for local high schools.

After decades of honorable service, ULICO began terminating its operation in 2000. Self Tucker Properties, LLC, established by architects Juan Self, AIA and Jimmie Tucker, FAIA, purchased the building from Tri-State Bank and developed an innovative public-private partnership with the City of Memphis, fostered by then Mayor AC Wharton and Director Robert Lipscomb, which was critical to leveraging the bank funding needed for the renovation. The City of Memphis designated funding and committed to a 10-year lease for approximately 48% of the available space in the building. Construction was completed in 2018 and the City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity Compliance and Self + Tucker Architects now occupy the building, continuing the legacy of commerce and community economic empowerment.

Read more in this Q&A with Jimmie Tucker.

Fowler Clark Epstein Farm | Boston, Massachusetts

Flower Clark Epstein Farm
Photo credit: Ian MacLellan

Primary Recipients: Historic Boston Incorporated

Co-recipients: The Urban Farming Institute of Boston; The Trust for Public Land; North Bennet Street School

A designated Boston landmark, the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm is a rare surviving federal period farmstead from the time when the Mattapan neighborhood was an agrarian village of the Town of Dorchester. Historic Boston Inc. (HBI) purchased the property in 2015 after it was the subject of litigation between the Epstein estate and the City of Boston over “demolition by neglect." Through preservation assessments, HBI determined that the unique agrarian characteristics of the property, which had survived 20th century urbanization and infill, were as significant as the age of the structures. In order to develop a natural re-use for the site that satisfied both historic building preservation and contemporary needs for agricultural uses, a symbiotic partnership among four non-profit organizations evolved that brought the best of each’s expertise to the development and construction of this unique enterprise in Boston.

HBI, the Urban Farming Institute, the Trust for Public Land, and North Bennet Street School worked together to carry out the transformation of this distressed 18th century farmstead into a 21st century urban farm that offers community educational courses, productive farmland, office space, a greenhouse, and a residence for two full-time farmers. The project is testimony to the power of collaboration and displays a unique intersection between preservation and food access, while also proving the preservation field’s value to important community initiatives, such as reducing unemployment and building new green space.

Read more in this Q&A with Kathy Kottaridis.

Chelsea District Health Center | New York, New York

Photo credit: Michael Moran

Primary Recipients: Stephen Yablon Architecture PLLC

Co-recipients: Dave A. Chokski, MD, MSc, Commissioner, and Julie Friesen, Deputy Commissioner of Administration, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Loraine Grillo, Commissioner, and Sergio Silveira, RA, EAO Officer, NYC Department of Design and Construction; Ardon Construction Corporation; IP Group Consulting Engineers; Robert Silman Associates; Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates; Steven Winter Associates; Jenkins & Huntington; James C. Snyder AIA, LLC; Visual Graphic Systems, Phillippa Brashear Landscape Design, Nasco Construction Services, Design 2147 Ltd.

Built in 1937 and located in Manhattan’s Chelsea Park, the Chelsea District Health Center is one of 14 New Deal-era district health centers constructed to bring primary health care to under-served communities throughout the city. With New Deal funding secured by Mayor LaGuardia, the program clearly expressed that basic health care for all was an important civic priority and solidified the city’s reputation as a global leader in urban public health. These buildings collectively represented the largest outpatient clinic in the world and were the sites of numerous public health breakthroughs. However, after decades of use, many fell into disrepair. In the early 2000s, steps were taken by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to transform several of the health centers into 21st-century facilities that would accommodate sexual health clinics to combat the growing incidents of STDs, particularly HIV/AIDs.

Stephen Yablon Architecture, commissioned by the City of New York, dramatically transformed the aging Art Deco Chelsea District Health Center into a state-of-the-art medical facility, which reopened for use in March 2018. Their design reinvented the typical sexual health clinic experience by creating a welcoming, reassuring, and destigmatizing space that is safe for all patients. The project was funded by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and was managed by the NYC Department of Design and Construction under their Design Excellence Program.

Read more about this project in this Q&A with architect Stephen Yablon.

American Express Aspire Award

The American Express Aspire Award recognizes emerging preservation leaders who demonstrate innovative thinking and achievement in advancing historic preservation in their local, state or national communities. With this year’s Aspire Award, we celebrate the achievements of three accomplished young women who each use their unique backgrounds to bring meaning to their preservation work: an activist and architect from Brooklyn, a structural engineer from Chicago, and a preservation planner from Chattanooga. Individually, these women are standouts in their careers and communities, but together they offer an inspiring vision of the future of the preservation movement.

Zulmilena Then | Brooklyn, New York

Zulmilena Then
Photo courtesy of Zulmilena Then


In Brooklyn, Zulmilena Then is the president and founder of Preserving East New York (PENY), a bilingual preservation advocacy group, and the preservation manager at Weeksville Heritage Center. PENY was organized by Then to preserve the culture and historic structures of East New York through landmarking protection. Then focuses on educating under-represented citizens about the importance of their voice within preservation through her information stands at local farmers markets, bilingual tours in her neighborhood, and “heartbombing” actions that show community love for local landmarks. Through her strategic advocacy, Then is creating space for people of color to join the preservation conversation and to change the narrative in their communities—that too often have been unfairly stigmatized by outsiders.

Read more about the work of PENY in this piece by Zulmilena Then.

Allison Toonen-Talamo | Chicago, Illinois

Allison Toonen-Talamo
Photo credit: Rodolfo Vazquez


In Chicago, Alison Toonen-Talamo advocates tirelessly for the preservation and improvement of historic structures. A first-generation Mexican-American professional, Toonen-Talamo has used her personal history to advocate, energize, and improve communities impacted by incompatible development. Toonen-Talamo played a pivotal role in preserving the National Landmark Ford Tri-Motor Hangar in Lansing, Illinois, which is now a point of pride for the Lansing community. Toonen-Talamo has also worked to strengthen the next generation of leaders working in the built environment through her role as chair of Landmarks Illinois’ Skyline Council, where she organizes fundraising events and networking opportunities for the committee of young preservationists in the Chicago community.  

Melissa Mortimer | Chattanooga, Tennessee

Melissa Mortimer
Photo courtesy of Melissa Mortimer

In Chattanooga, Melissa Mortimer works as a historic preservation planner where she has leveraged over one million dollars in state and federal grant funds, making possible the restoration and transformation of many important buildings, including the famous Historic Rhea County Courthouse. Alongside the Tennessee Valley Authority and the National Park Service, Mortimer works to interpret and preserve historic places and unvarnished stories of the Cherokee Removal, which is part of the Trail of Tears. Mortimer also promotes awareness and education of preservation in her community through Preservation Chattanooga, a new program of Cornerstones, Inc., which offers workshops around basic restoration techniques.

Read more in this recent piece by Melissa Mortimer about preservation in Chattanooga.

The National Trust/Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation

This award, presented in partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, honors a project or program in which a federal agency and one or more non-federal partners, including tribes, have together achieved an exemplary preservation outcome.

U.S. General Services Administration Section 111 Outleasing Program | Nationwide

GSA Outleasing Federal Center
Photo credit: Carol M. Highsmith Photography, Inc./GSA

Led by the Center for Historic Buildings, Office of the Chief Architect, the General Services Administration’s Section 111 Outleasing Program is an innovative federal agency model for the effective use of excess space in historic buildings. This nationwide program leases space in historic federally owned buildings for rehabilitation and reuse by the community, making federal buildings more accessible to the public and contributing to the vitality of the surrounding community. In some instances, private partners pay for capital improvements, which benefit the property, and the buildings are preserved through a creative team approach.

In the 20 years since its inception, GSA’s program has earned more than $173 million in income, money which is then dedicated to the preservation of GSA’s federally owned historic buildings. The program has funded hundreds of preservation projects and incentivized the leasing of excess space. Annual income from the program has grown from $575,000 in its first year to more than $12,000,000 today. Through these effective public-private partnerships, thousands of residents have seen a revitalization of their community, increased small business opportunities, and importantly, the improved utilization of historic public buildings.

Trustees’ Award for Organizational Excellence

The Trustees' Award for Organizational Excellence recognizes a nonprofit organization, large or small, that has demonstrated sustained and superlative achievement in historic preservation. 

Preservation Dallas | Dallas, Texas

Preservation Dallas
Photo credit: Joel Quintans

Since the organization’s founding in 1972, Preservation Dallas has successfully developed numerous innovative and effective preservation programs and advocacy campaigns, including an early revolving fund that saved 26 historic homes and created the first inner-city lending program in the country to rehabilitate those homes. Preservation Dallas’ program helped lay the groundwork for the national Community Reinvestment Act.

To increase engagement with the public and to promote investment in under-served historic areas of the city, Preservation Dallas has created a wealth of educational content to inform and empower homeowners, real estate agents, elected officials, students, and the general public.

To advocate for stronger preservation practices in their city, Preservation Dallas has organized advocacy coalitions, created media campaigns, held public meetings, and lobbied to call attention to threatened historic buildings and to encourage city officials to strengthen statutory protections.

Their ambitious advocacy efforts led to the passing of the first preservation ordinance in 1973 and later, to the first designation of a threatened historic neighborhood. Since then, an additional 20 historic districts and over 130 individual landmarks have been designated thanks to Preservation Dallas’s good work.

Recent accomplishments include advocacy for the Tenth Street Historic District, one of the only remaining intact Freedman's Towns in the nation. Preservation Dallas placed the neighborhood on its endangered list in 2018, and in 2019 joined with the Tenth Street Residential Association, the Inclusive Communities Project, and the National Trust to advocate for a halt to demolitions in the neighborhood through the courts and the Dallas City Council.  

Preservation Dallas’ intrepid staff of three professionals, its dedicated volunteer board of directors, and passionate membership have fought tirelessly give a voice to historic buildings and galvanize support to better to protect Dallas’ historic places.

Read more about fifty years of preservation in Dallas.

Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship

The Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship recognizes success and innovation in historic preservation, management, and programming at historic sites.

Greenwich Historical Society | Cos Cob, Connecticut

Greenwich Campus
Photo credit: Durston Saylor

In the late 19th and early 20th century the Bush-Holley House was the epicenter of Cos Cob in Greenwich, Connecticut - the cradle of American Impressionism. Renowned artists gathered there to paint and share ideas about art and society, but development and the invasion of modern roadways ultimately left the Bush-Holley House isolated and deserted. In 1957, the Greenwich Historical Society saved the building from destruction and restored it as their headquarters. Through active engagement with the Greenwich community and a varied approach to financial sustainability, the Society has brought the structures back to life and created a larger campus by acquiring adjacent properties over time. The sensitive design protects, restores, and unifies the campus of historic buildings while providing programs that serve the community with exhibits, gardens, public programs, archives, collections storage, and extensive school programs.

The Bush-Holley House is now a member of the Historic Artists, Homes and Studios program of the National Trust. Visitors can explore the area’s role in Northern slavery, wander the Impressionistic Gardens, which inspired a generation of painters, and take in exhibits about immigration, refugees, and women’s suffrage. Through the preservation of historic buildings and development of creative programming, the Greenwich Historical Society is providing the Greenwich community with a needed connection to its rich history.

More on the work of the Greenwich Historical Society.

John H. Chafee Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy

The John H. Chafee Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy recognizes an individual or group of individuals who have done outstanding work in preservation advocacy.

Great American Outdoors Act Coalition | Nationwide

Fajda Butte
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

In 2016, the National Parks Conservation Association, The National Park Foundation, and The Corps Network joined efforts as part of the “Restore Our Parks Campaign” to help tackle the nearly $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog of the National Park Service. Meanwhile, a separate decades-long campaign led by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) Coalition and their partners, The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land, were working to provide full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

After years of extraordinary advocacy, these two campaigns joined to support the Great American Outdoors Act, which passed the Congress by overwhelmingly bipartisan votes and was signed into law on August 4, 2020. This landmark legislation will invest up to $9.5 billion to repair historic and other assets of the National Park Service and other federal agencies, as well as fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually. This represents the largest investment in historic resources in more than a generation.

The Great American Outdoors Act Coalition was successful because of the commitment of many organizations and individuals throughout the nation.  We are giving primary recognition to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition and the National Parks Conservation Association, with special recognition also to The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land, the National Park Foundation, and The Corps Network for their leadership in securing this historic legislation. 

Congratulations to all!

In early 2021 we’ll be sharing more stories about these sites, people, and organizations and their incredible work in the field of historic preservation.

Know a project, individual, or organization that deserves recognition? Be sure to submit a nomination for the 2021 National Preservation Awards. Sign up for updates.