Forum Bulletin

Preservation Honor Awards: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence in Preservation 

02-01-2010 00:00

The idea behind the Preservation Honor Awards is almost as simple as it is brilliant. Every year, exemplary preservation projects are chosen to be honored at the National Preservation Conference. The purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding work in the field of preservation. The projects that win are as diverse as the preservation world itself—ranging from grassroots organizations that work to save neighborhoods to archeological centers that focus on Native American resources. They come from all over the country and include all types of projects.

The precursor to the Honor Awards was the Crowninshield Award, begun in 1960 and created to recognize outstanding preservation leadership. The award, named after Mrs. Louise du Pont Crowninshield, one of the founding trustees of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a leader in efforts to create a national preservation movement, honors her contributions and dedication to the field of preservation. The first award was given to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union in 1960.

The Preservation Honor Awards were created in 1981 to recognize outstanding achievement in preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the country’s built environment. Between 15 and 20 awards are given out each year, and more than 400 awards have been given out since the program was established. In 1997, three new awards were introduced: the Trustees’ Award for Organizational Excellence, the Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy, and the Trustee Emeritus Award for Excellence in the Stewardship of Historic Sites. The next year, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation was added. In 2003, the National Trust added the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation.  Most recently, at the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, the Trust announced the first ever Peter H. Brink Award for Individual Achievement.

Award winners represent people and projects that have continued influence on the preservation world. Virginia and Lee McAlester won in 1986 for their book A Field Guide to American Houses, a publication that is still being used in classrooms as an introductory guide to American architecture. Many honorees have been pioneers in the field and have helped establish preservation programs or organizations in their town or state, such as Robert M. Vogel, founder of the Historic American Engineering Record and a pioneer in the field of industrial archeology, or Georgianna O. Brush, who helped start the Preservation Trust of Vermont.


Over the years, the awards have reflected emerging issues and topics in the preservation field. In the past few years, for example, many award winners have emphasized efforts to incorporate green or sustainable building practices. In the case of the Ajo Curley School project in Ajo, Ariz., which won in 2008, sustainable practices were used when restoring and rehabilitating a 1919 Spanish Colonial revival school in an economically-depressed mining town. The school was rehabilitated into 30 affordable housing units for artisans and their families as well as classrooms and an auditorium,. The project fostered reinvestment in the site and created a new economic base for the town.


Projects that create affordable housing have won frequently. A 1993 winner, Officers Row at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester and Essex, Vermont., created 77 affordable housing units in 19 historic structures on a former army base. In 2009, Rebuilding Together New Orleans, in partnership with the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, won for rebuilding the homes of elderly or disabled low-income homeowners and helping preserve the unique architecture of the city of New Orleans.

The Preservation Honor Awards recognize outstanding work in the field of preservation and inspire further good work. They celebrate the dedication, passion, and commitment of preservationists from across the country, but also inspire further action and illustrate the kind of work that can be done with determination and a desire to preserve the built environment in all of its forms.

Nominations for this year’s Preservation Honor Awards are due on March 1, and the awards application can be accessed on the awards homepage. If you have questions or need additional information about the awards or the nomination process, please call 202.588.6315 or e-mail

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Author(s):Elysha Dory

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