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What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

  • 1.  What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-10-2019 15:25
    When did you realize you wanted to be a historic preservation professional?

    While pursuing my Parks and Recreation Management degree at Northern Arizona University, I took a Wilderness First Responder class. At some point in this intensive course, I realized that stabilizing broken bones in back country was not the right career path for me. So, I reflected on what else I love about parks and realized the cultural resources were a big draw for me. Thankfully the academic program required two internships (240-hours & 600-hours) to graduate, which led me to interning at Riordan Mansion State Historic Park and Old Salem Museum and Gardens. These internships helped me realize that I wanted to work in historic preservation and allowed me to know what type of work I could do as a professional preservationist.

    So, while I visited parks and historic sites as a youth... it took me a bit to realize it could be a career. What led you to go down the historic preservation professional path?

    Sarah Marsom
    Heritage Resource Consultant
    Tiny Activist Project

  • 2.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-12-2019 19:00
    Edited by Cara Bertron 06-12-2019 19:00

    What a fun question! I thought I'd be an architect as a kid, then majored in Urban Studies with the idea of going into the sustainability field. After graduation, I took an available temp job developing a historic context statement on the development of the university campus. That was a little too archival and academic to spark a passion, while a subsequent stint interning for a Bay Area preservation commission felt much too political. Shortly afterwards, I was lucky to connect with Page & Turnbull, a consulting firm that does historic resource survey work, research, and preservation planning. That was the point at which I realized that I could look at old buildings and dig into their stories every day, *and* get paid for it. (Along the way, I also worked at a restaurant and later a collective bakery, but neither of those stuck!)

    I'd love to hear about other people's professional journeys and revelations - I don't expect that many of us took a straight path to where we are now!


    Cara Bertron
    Senior Planner / Deputy Historic Preservation Officer
    City of Austin Planning and Zoning Department
    (512) 974-1446 /

  • 3.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-13-2019 11:55

    My mother loved old building. As a child I saw California missions, house museums, the L.A. Union Station and the Bradbury Building through her eyes. I always knew I wanted to live in an old house -- I remember the modest little farmhouse that the "Real McCoys" (an obscure TV show of the late '50s!) lived in, and somehow, almost 50 years ago, ended up with one not dissimilar in a tiny northern California coastal town.

    This village of 200 has a wonderful amount of integrity both architectural and in its rural surroundings (the Marin Agricultural Land Trust -- the first of its kind in the country. was founded in the area), and I slowly realized, as a volunteer for the local history museum, that these buildings are true artifacts we interact with every day, instead of putting on a shelf or inside a vitrine with a label. The natural and man-made environment of this area speaks of its beginning in so many ways.

    Finally, I completed a Historic Resource Study of my village and learned -- over ten years of research -- so much from these 70-or-so little vernacular buildings. Being connected to history, I have realized, connects us all to humanity and to Life. Living among old buildings, built by pioneers who were in many ways "regular people" like the rest of us, has opened my mind and my heart.

  • 4.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-14-2019 09:27
    I'm pretty awful at telling this story all the time. So apologies for anyone who has already heard it.

    Growing up the word I liked the best was architect. I wasn't totally clear on what that meant at first, but when I figured it out, I was all in. Drafting classes, architecture competitions, and summer camps. I also tended to play in the yard with a large dirt pile making cities (didn't know there was such a thing as an urban planner). Played SimCity. You get the idea. Except I was bad at it. I didn't do well in competitions, drafting classes required lots of re-do, and the summer camp brought into crystal clear vision. This summer camp was at Carnegie Mellon University (what a spectacular campus) and the professors consistently commented on how bad I was (really..). I couldn't really draw well and I wasn't even that good at sketching. My measured drawings were clunky.  What I did well in were the other classes - engineering, computer aided drafting (no one seemed to noticed that everything was moving toward CAD, it was still hand sketch/draw), and architectural history.  A kid from England who was there said he was going to be go be a conservator. That got me pushed on to the historic preservation track. I checked out all the possibilities and realized I could be close to architecture without being an architect. I could study architects work and I could combine another real love - history. I went to a college fair and talked with UVM who suggested Roger Williams University for undergraduate.

    Of course, now that I've been doing this for 20 years, I realize that maybe I wasn't quite on the right track there either. My work at Middle Tennessee in Public History helped. I wish I had more business classes, a few tourism classes, and even some interpretive planning types of classes. Or maybe gone more for planning.  But preservation has given me enough of a broad background that I feel like I can work across lots of boundaries. If I had focused solely on regulatory management, I'm not sure I would have been as able to speak across so many areas of interest in the field.

    Thanks for asking!

    Aaron Marcavitch
    Maryland Milestones/ATHA Inc.
    Hyattsville MD

  • 5.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-15-2019 11:36
    Several decades ago, after receiving my degree in architecture, I wasn't led to apply for positions in the private sector with architecture firms like my peers.  Instead, I took a job with a public agency designing and developing supportive housing (accessible, affordable rental housing for people with physical and mental disabilities). After gaining experience in the field i realized that the supportive housing paradigm accepted at the time was not working.  All new supportive housing projects were expected to be built in new mixed-density residential developments at the edge of town. Including housing for people with disabilities among new suburban apartment complexes was considered progressive at the time. But the result was that residents ended up isolated in sterile, auto-centric areas, far from walkable, diverse, mixed-use neighborhoods with opportunities for interaction with each other and the larger community.. It didn't take me long to realize that supportive housing should be small in scale, and located in downtowns and urban neighborhoods.

    So, regarding existing residential, commercial, and industrial buildings as sites for supportive housing made me think about adaptive reuse, energy efficiency, hazard remediation and so many other aspects of the scale of preservation from individual buildings, to streets, neighborhoods, and communities.

    Jim Sparks
    Glasgow KY

  • 6.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-15-2019 21:23
    Well, after the passing of my parents, I set out to do what I had always wanted to do ... explore the world around me. The Situationists used to call it psychogeography. But I began to do it differently, cause I was in my car. I grabbed a video camera and started to explore whatever was around me. I started out with an interest in urban exploration, abandoned structures, then moved on to entire city and county tours, and then on to sites with historic content. Now, I basically set out to document it all.

    I have been working in the Charlotte area for over a year and began to notice things that were a bit irritating. The loss of historic buildings, the rampant construction of endless condos and townhouses, the massive construction projects that are doing more harm than good, the apparent talks about a desire to shrink historic districts, etc. The nearby town of Concord is lined with beautiful historic districts, both residential and downtown. I began to think, okay, well, what can I do to preserve the buildings to make sure they remain? The nearby town of Gastonia almost lost a massive mill building, but it has been preserved. It was at that point that I decided I wanted to go back to school to take part in helping to preserve these structures.

    I have always had a passion for architecture but never pursued it and have often thought of myself more of an explorer. Besides, I am more technically inclined, so I probably would have pursued engineering. I thought about pursuing it, thinking well, old buildings need engineers to ensure they remain standing. Maybe, but at 45, likely a bit too old to go that route, so then I decided to go the preservation route.

    And I like to explore and document buildings, ponder and explore their history, and see what they still can offer today. I am not a history buff in the true sense of the term and consider myself more of a researcher. If I am somewhere, I want to ponder and research the history.

    Raymond Majewski
    Bryson City NC

  • 7.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 06-21-2019 17:49
    Thanks everyone for sharing your story!

    My path to preservation started with an amazing high school history teacher that encouraged me to learn about history out in the world rather than through a text book. That led to a focus on history as an undergraduate and again as a graduate student. While I studied public history (of which preservation is a natural part of) my historic preservation career began here at NTHP when I was hired to help with online content and training.

    It's been a great run because in addition to thinking about preservation through a traditional lens - section 106 review, tax credits, the Secretary's Standards, I've been able to watch through my colleagues and all of the amazing preservationists in the field as they consider what we might be missing as part of traditional practice. The conversations about climate change and sustainability, equity, affordability, interpretation and telling the full history all emphasize just how preservation has evolved over time.

    Priya Chhaya
    Associate Director, Publications and Programs
    National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Washington DC

  • 8.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    National Trust Advisor
    Posted 07-18-2019 16:59
    To this day I focus on multiple areas of study or interest, as I'm an artist, historian, consultant and historic preservation advocate.

    My undergrad was in studio art and art history. I wanted to paint but assumed I'd never be able to make a living at it, so I worked as an admin assistant in several different companies in the Central New York area I come from. When I moved to Buffalo, everything changed. My curiosity about old buildings and the stories of this city's places gripped me. My first ever National Preservation Conference was the one here in Buffalo in 2011, and I haven't looked back.

    I am currently trying to gain more work as a public speaker and preservation/creative placemaking consultant because I'd like to amplify my impact. Individual watercolor house portraits, or research projects are great, but too small scale as I look at my career in total. I'm working on a rebrand and will share with you all when it's done!

    Dana Saylor
    Buffalo NY

  • 9.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 07-19-2019 10:22

    When I was in my teens and early twenties, I wanted to work in museums.  But I eventually learned that is was outside the doors of collecting institutions where my greatest area of curatorial interest lay.




    George W. Born

    Historic Resource Specialist

    Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP)

    3 North Spring St., Suite 100

    Concord, NH 03301

    (603) 224-4113


    better to consolidate than to repair,

    better to repair than to restore,

    better to restore than to rebuild,

    better to rebuild than to embellish


    - A. N. Didron (1806-1867)


  • 10.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 07-19-2019 08:35
    I believe my journey started watching Walter Cronkite at 6 years old and couldn't tell time.  History is the foundation of everything, and attached to everything and everyone. I grew to love the environment, (engagement), and was concerned about its current state. what happened to it? History. Preservation in Natural Resources will and must be at the forefront. Its our road map. A great topic. Forward.

    L Vannessa Frazier
    Howardville MO

  • 11.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 07-19-2019 09:43
    I had just followed my spouse to a new job in the Pacific Northwest. I had also been considering graduate school for a while and possibly a career change. It was summer and it was going to take a while to find a job, so I found the Pacific Northwest Preservation Field School and fell in love with preservation there. I applied to Oregon's MSHP program basically immediately afterwards and they accepted me for the following year.

    Tim Askin
    City of Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission
    Milwaukee WI

  • 12.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 07-19-2019 13:31
    Edited by Holly Chamberlain 07-22-2019 12:24
    I don't remember a time when I was not interested in history, and I majored in history-American studies as an undergrad with a vague thought in mind that I wanted to work in a museum. My professors in the Whitman College history department were excellent, but they generally thought of students using a history degree as a springboard to teaching, corporate jobs, or law school, except for people going on for a Ph.D. and a career in academia. "Public history" was not defined at that time looong ago. However, when I was a sophomore, my financial aid student job was in the college career center, and one of the tasks I was given was shelving and filing information that came in from businesses and organizations recruiting new employees. What did I find in the cardboard Bankers Box filed under "H" for history? A magazine from the National Trust and a giant epiphany. I had not known the phrase "historic preservation" previously but immediately knew that that was what I wanted to do. My academic advisor was bemused by my enthusiasm, but did suggest a volunteer gig at a local house museum (yay, Kirkman House, Walla Walla, WA -- thank you for letting me lead tours and paste news articles in your scrapbooks). I then spent the fall semester of my senior year interning at The Victorian Society in America in Philadelphia, which further propelled my interest. Informational interviews (thank you, Greg Ptucha - mentoring works), other internships (huzzah Washington Trust for Historic Preservation), continual volunteering, grad school at GWU, jobs, etc. Still immersed in the field decades later, though starry-eyed idealism departed awhile ago to the land where we all have huge lottery wins and set up foundations that focus on saving all the buildings that should be, no matter where they are located and how much the cost, with all rehabilitation meeting the Secretary's Standards in a seismically-stable and environmentally-sustainable manner while also advancing social justice, economic development, community involvement, and heritage tourism, and thereby fostering new life in the midst of history. Happy Friday, colleagues.

    Holly Chamberlain
    Director of Historic Preservation
    The Historic Trust
    Vancouver, WA

  • 13.  RE: What was your entry point into the historic preservation field?

    Posted 08-30-2019 13:24
    Edited by Cindy Olnick 08-30-2019 13:25
    When I played Barbies as a kid, I'd spend all day creating her house. When I took Architecture 101 in college, I was (mercifully) weeded out immediately. No talent for it. But certainly an appreciation.

    My husband and I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 largely for its architecture, and I started volunteering for the Los Angeles Conservancy's Modern Committee. That happened to be the year the National Preservation Conference took place in L.A. for the first time, so I attended as a sort-of boot camp.

    Watching the staff of the L.A. Conservancy take the stage of the Los Angeles Theatre to accept an organizational award, I had an epiphany: I wanted to be one of those people. After taking USC's Short Course in Historic Preservation (now Fundamentals of Heritage Conservation), I knew two things: I desperately wanted to be in this field, and I didn't want to go back to school.

    I wanted to do what I'd already been doing for a decade: communications. I knew there was a need, but there wasn't a position. I pitched myself to the Conservancy, volunteered relentlessly, showed up at every event, did some freelance work for them, and ultimately became the Conservancy's first communications professional. It was sheer bliss, and I owe the L.A. Conservancy everything.

    Cindy Olnick
    Communications Consultant
    Los Angeles, CA