Forum Journal & Forum Focus

President’s Report 2005 

12-09-2015 17:35

Let me first express my appreciation for our partners and cosponsors, and the many people here in Kentucky and southern Indiana who worked so hard to make this conference happen—especially co-chairs Madeline Abramson, Christy Brown, Linda Bruckheimer, Marlene Helm, and Liz Kennan. The insight and advice of local friends were absolutely essential to the success of this conference.

I also want to express my thanks to Mayor Jerry Abramson and the people of Louisville for making us feel so welcome here. Some of you may have attended the last National Preservation Conference to be held in Louisville, back in 1982. If so, I’m sure you were impressed by the city’s incredible collection of historic buildings and neighborhoods, and by what local preservationists were doing to protect their heritage. I can assure you that if you were impressed then or, for that matter, if you’re here for the first time you have a real treat in store. In the 22 years since our last Louisville conference, local preservationists have accomplished some great things, and they’re eager to share them with you during the next few days.

It’s been a very good year for the National Trust. We took important steps to ensure that the preservation movement will remain strong and proactive, and that it will continue to have access to the tools and expertise it needs in order to play an effective role in protecting historic places and shaping livable communities. We also took important steps to ensure that the National Trust itself is positioned to provide the programs and leadership that the movement needs not only to save the heritage we cherish but also to advance the cause of preservation into the mainstream of our national life.

I want to describe for you some of the highlights of the past year. I believe you’ll share my pride in what we’ve accomplished.

National Trust Historic Sites

I’ll begin where preservation in America began with historic houses. Many people are first introduced to the idea of preservation and the work of the National Trust through a visit to one of our historic sites. These places link us with 18th-century planters in the South and 20th-century immigrants in New York, with artists and Presidents and generations of African Americans both enslaved and free.

These places are rooted in the past, but they aren’t frozen in time. In fact, two of our historic sites are undergoing some very big and very exciting changes right now.

In Washington, D.C., we’ve begun the process of giving a “hidden treasure” the spotlight it deserves. Abraham Lincoln spent almost a quarter of his presidency at his cottage on the grounds of the Soldiers Home, using it as a retreat where he could relax with his family, conduct official business, and develop and refine his theories of emancipation. Despite its significance, the cottage was largely forgotten but now we’ve taken up the challenge of making it a publicly accessible historic site and learning center. We’ve begun stripping away later alterations and uncovering evidence of the Lincolns’ occupancy. Still ahead are the completion of the restoration of the cottage, the renovation of a nearby building to serve as a visitors’ center, the design and construction of exhibits, and the development of educational programs. It will take time and money, of course, but the result will be a historic site that offers a uniquely informative and engaging perspective on Lincoln the man and his presidency.

With our partner the Montpelier Foundation, we’ve launched another ambitious voyage of rediscovery at James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia. Over the decades since James and Dolley Madison lived there, other owners—most notably the duPont family— had made major changes to the house. Much painstaking research and on-site investigation, coupled with advice from a number of outside experts, have led us to conclude that we have enough information to carry out a complete restoration of the Montpelier mansion, and a gift from the estate of Paul Mellon has made it possible for us to start work. Our goal is to reveal and restore the form, size, structure, and furnishings of the home that the Madisons knew. But that doesn’t mean the duPont legacy will be ignored: As part of a new visitors’ center, a special gallery will interpret the duPont family history at Montpelier, including re-creations of rooms that the duPonts installed. We expect the project to take about four years, and visitors will be able to witness it from start to finish. Please pay us a visit; you’ll be impressed and excited by what you see.

Also last year, Drayton Hall in South Carolina received a bequest of $15 million from longtime friend and supporter Sally Reahard of Indianapolis. This gift will allow us to re-assess site needs, create a long-range strategic plan for the property, build a new visitors’ center, and undertake other projects that will make Drayton Hall a resource center for our other historic sites.

Another generous friend, Walter Mathis, donated his own home in the King William Historic District of San Antonio to the Trust’s collection of historic sites. It’s not yet open to the public but when it is, we’ll have an opportunity to share with visitors a handsome example of 19th-century architecture, and an incredibly diverse collection of furnishings, artworks, and memorabilia.

As many of you know, we’ve been working for some time to make our historic sites collection more truly representative of our nation, to diversify and expand it into different building types, historical periods, and geographic regions. The addition of the Mathis house is part of that expansion as is our ongoing and very promising discussion with the tribal council at the historic Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Another recent addition represents one of the proudest moments I’ve known as president of the National Trust. When it was announced that Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois was going up for sale at auction in 2003, there was real reason for alarm: The house had no form of protection, which meant that a new owner could alter it, move it, put it off-limits to visitors, even demolish it. We couldn’t let that happen, so we joined forces with the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, one of the best statewide organizations in the country, to raise the necessary funds to purchase the house at auction to ensure that the Farnsworth House would be saved. I’m very proud to say that on May 15, 2004, the Farnsworth House, owned by the National Trust and managed by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, opened to the public.

Grants Programs and Other Assistance

The Trust’s efforts to save historic places during the past year reached far beyond our own historic sites. Supported by our partner organizations and individuals, we fought to preserve historic neighborhood schools, put the brakes on sprawl and foster reinvestment in older communities, encourage better stewardship of historic resources in our national parks, head off threats to Native American sacred and cultural sites, and more.

The Trust has also increased support for grassroots efforts by providing critical financial assistance. Among our most effective tools are the Intervention Funds, which allow our regional offices to provide a timely response to preservation emergencies, and our Preservation Services Funds, which offer matching grants to local groups in the early stages of preservation projects.

Those sources of help are being put to work right now in Florida, which we all know faces enormous hardship in the wake of four hurricanes last fall. Virtually every community in the state has been affected, and it’s estimated that a full 20 percent of the state’s building stock including many historic buildings has been damaged. In response, the Florida Trust, the Florida Main Street Program, the state historic preservation office, and the National Trust are working hard to get assessment teams and expertise into those areas that need help. We’ve already committed $15,000 of our grant and intervention funds to establish the 2004 Hurricane Relief Fund.

At the 2003 National Preservation Conference in Denver I announced the creation of the Southwest Intervention Fund with a $1 million gift from David Bonderman. We committed to augment this marvelous gift by raising an additional $500,000 and I’m happy to announce that we’ve surpassed that goal. With a gift from the Gates Family Foundation in honor of our trustee Peter Grant, plus additional gifts from the Mayo family in Oklahoma, Trustee Kak Slick in New Mexico, and other donors, we now have a $1.7 million fund to help save historic places in the Mountains/Plains and Southwest regions.

Our goal is to have every state covered by a targeted, endowed preservation fund and in that regard I have some very good news. I’m delighted to announce the creation of the Kentucky Preservation Fund, currently totaling $230,000, to be administered by the Trust’s Southern Office in partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council and Preservation Kentucky.

New Resource for Community Revitalization

One of the most important jobs we undertook during the year is still a work in progress.

In my travels, I’ve seen how revitalization is literally transforming older communities from coast to coast. The National Trust can feel very proud of the role we’ve played in this process—but we can do even more. We’ve committed ourselves to the challenge of finding newer, stronger, better ways to use the power of preservation to bring older downtowns and residential neighborhoods back to life. To facilitate the expansive, innovative kinds of work that we want to do, we’re restructuring our Community Revitalization department.

Our goal is to make the Trust the national leader and advocate for historic preservation as a powerful, proven tool for the revitalization of America’s communities. We’re strengthening the Main Street Center’s ability to offer targeted, in-depth assistance to a select number of demonstration communities. We’re expanding our equity investment initiatives to facilitate hands-on Trust participation in local revitalization projects large and small.

In effect, we’re creating some new revitalization resources while giving new strength and focus to the ones that already exist.

The Next Trust

The re-thinking of our Community Revitalization programs is an important element of The Next Trust strategic plan we adopted last year. Inspired and energized by the outstanding success of our first-ever comprehensive capital campaign, our trustees, advisors, and staff took on the challenge of envisioning and shaping a National Trust that can fulfill its mission most effectively in an environment of new economic, demographic, political, and social realities. The result is the framework for a restructured, reinvigorated organization: “The Next Trust.”

The plan focuses on eight “Big Ideas” that will inspire our programmatic efforts and provide a roadmap for advancing the cause of historic preservation in the coming years. Among other things, they call on us to become the country’s largest nonprofit source of preservation funding, to secure the enactment of new incentives to revitalize older buildings for housing, and to work in partnership with other groups to instill preservation as a core value in the American people. Our trustees are already discussing how to raise the money to turn these “Big Ideas” into reality.

I’m confident about the promise this Next Trust plan holds both for the organization and for the national movement it leads. Full realization of the plan will take a while, but the result will be an organization distinctly different from the one created 55 years ago. It will be more flexible, more focused. It will work smarter. It will embrace a stronger commitment to core values such as partnership and diversity. And it will be guided by a renewed vision of historic preservation as a major force in shaping American life.

Current Challenges

That vision will be extremely important in the months ahead, because we have plenty of unfinished business to deal with.

Last year Congress took action to eliminate guaranteed funding for the Transportation Enhancements program, which since 1992 has provided more than $2 billion for preservation-related projects. With the help of its partners, the Trust responded by mounting a comprehensive advocacy campaign—and the result was the restoration of Enhancements funding in the Transportation Appropriations bill. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we can expect more battles like that one in the coming months and years.

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act is the strongest federal preservation law on the books. By forcing road builders to stay away from historic places unless there is no “feasible and prudent” alternative, this law kept a highway from being rammed through New Orleans’ French Quarter and has saved countless other historic sites across the country. Section 4(f) came under assault last year—as did Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, part of the very bedrock of preservation in this country. The preservation laws on which we depend are on the books today because people fought for their enactment. We’ll need your help in the equally important fight to keep them.

There’s more: We still haven’t created effective incentives for rehabbing older buildings to meet the nation’s critical shortage of workforce housing. Our national parks and the treasures they hold are still woefully under funded. Cultural resources on other public lands are inadequately protected, and are threatened by everything from oil and gas exploration to off-road recreational vehicles. Budget crises in many states are endangering programs such as Main Street, heritage tourism, museums, and preservation grants. Sprawl is still rampant, and smart-growth policies are being attacked or even rolled back in many localities.

Clearly, there’s more than enough to keep us busy for some time. But we also have reasons to celebrate. Here’s one example: Late last year, the Federal Highway Administration announced that it was withdrawing its support for the proposed 710 Freeway Extension that would have ripped through several historic districts and destroyed more than a thousand homes and displaced more than 3,000 people in Pasadena, South Pasadena, and El Sereno, Calif. This freeway was first proposed in 1949. That means the fight against it which isn’t quite over yet has lasted well over half a century.

The long struggle in Pasadena holds a couple of important lessons for all of us. First and most obviously, it underscores the importance of persistence in the pursuit of a goal. The second lesson is even more fundamental. It’s this: America’s historic Places both the world famous icons and the lesser known landmarks in the neighborhoods where we live matter. They are the places where we connect with the people and events that shaped our nation and our lives. The places where we gather to celebrate, to remember, to be inspired. The places we care about.

Saving these places is challenging, but the alternative losing them is unthinkable.

The work of preservation is never done but it’s well worth doing.

The challenges never stop coming but they’re not unbeatable.

With the loyal support of our partners, friends, and members, the National Trust met many challenges in the past year. Now we’re developing a sound, strategic vision for addressing the challenges and the opportunities—that we’re sure to face in the future.

Our work in the past year was marked by some dramatic and enormously gratifying successes. I believe we’re laying the foundation for even greater success in the years to come.

Publication Date: Winter 2005


Author(s):Richard Moe