Forum Journal & Forum Focus

President`s Report 2007 

12-09-2015 17:35

We meet in a city that is the very symbol of reinvention. For us, Pittsburgh is also a living laboratory—the place where preservation pioneers have developed and perfected many of the techniques that are now part of every preservationist’s toolkit. I encourage you to take full advantage of all that Pittsburgh has to offer—and to use what you learn here to make preservation work more effectively in your own hometown.

It’s particularly fitting that we’re in Pittsburgh this year, because this is the anniversary year for some of the most important legislative milestones in preservation history. First, 2006 is the 100th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, which greatly expanded the federal role in preservation by authorizing the president to protect historic structures and archeological sites on federally owned land by designating them national monuments.

Today we have extra reason to be grateful for this law in light of growing concern over the future of historic resources on our public lands. I’ll have more to say about this later. Also marking an anniversary is the 1966 Department of Transportation Act. Section 4(f) of this Act is the strongest federal preservation law on the books. It has saved many historic sites from being paved over or otherwise harmed by transportation projects in the 40 years since it was enacted— and just last year, with your help, we fought successfully to keep these protections essentially intact.

The Tax Reform Act of 1976 is 30 years old this year. This first legislation to offer a federal income tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic buildings didn’t generate much rehab activity—but it laid the groundwork for better incentives that have sparked billions of dollars in private-sector investment and returned thousands of historic buildings to productive use.

Finally, the National Historic Preservation Act marks its 40th anniversary in 2006. By establishing the National Register of Historic Places, creating the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, mandating the appointment of state and tribal historic preservation officers, and setting up a system of federal grants to support their work, this law laid the foundation for much of our work in preservation today.

The people responsible for drafting and enacting these laws were giants. All of us who work in preservation today stand on their shoulder — which means we’re in an excellent position to continue the work they started. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing in the past year.

Hurricane Recovery Efforts

Our 2005 conference in Portland took place a month after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. I’d like to give you an update on what’s been accomplished there. Even before the floodwaters receded, we made contact with some important allies: the state historic preservation offices in Louisiana and Mississippi, the statewide Mississippi Heritage Trust, and the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. Out of our discussions came a decision to join forces in a three-pronged response:

  • a media campaign to tell people about the importance of preserving the heritage and cultures that make the Gulf Coast region unique;
  • a comprehensive hands on effort to get information to homeowners, assess conditions, and develop effective on-the-ground responses; and
  • a legislative agenda to provide the financial tools needed for recovery.

Very early on, we took the unprecedented step of establishing field offices on the Gulf Coast so that we could monitor developments more closely and deliver needed services more promptly. Today our on-the-ground representatives in New Orleans and Mississippi are providing invaluable help to communities in need—and representing the National Trust in a way that should make all of us proud.

To address our concern that damaged buildings might be demolished needlessly, we put out an urgent call for volunteers—and got an amazing response. Since last October we have had a volunteer team on the ground in New Orleans almost every week— an extraordinary effort that has involved nearly 1,000 people. Those with the necessary technical expertise have worked with FEMA, the SHPO, and the City to assess the structural condition of damaged buildings—and they’ve found that many of those previously slated for demolition can be saved. Volunteer architects and engineers have done walk-through inspections, giving homeowners advice and a written report prioritizing what needs to be done. Others have helped distribute tarps, buckets of cleaning materials, and thousands of packets of information on mold remediation and other procedures.

To assure homeowners that recovery is possible, we joined the Preservation Resource Center in a demonstration program called HOME AGAIN! New Orleans. Ten families in key areas are receiving grants and technical help to make their damaged homes livable again— and, as we hoped, their efforts are encouraging other homeowners.

Similar demonstration projects were launched in Mississippi, where we worked with the Mississippi Heritage Trust to place several structures back on their foundations and stabilize them. We’ve also targeted assistance to two significant historic houses: Beauvoir, the National Historic Landmark retirement home of Jefferson Davis in Biloxi, and the Charnley house, designed by famed architect Louis Sullivan in Ocean Springs.

Our Historic Hotels of America created a website to help find jobs for employees of HH Amember hotels who had been displaced by the storm. Main Street programs all over the country “adopted” hard hit communities in the Gulf Coast region, helping get revitalization efforts up and running again. The National Main Streets Conference brought 1,200 participants to New Orleans in June, so that one of the city’s first major post-Katrina conferences had a preservation theme. Our Communications Office has done a great job of keeping hurricane recovery in the public eye, especially through our website. And thanks to good work by our Membership and Development departments, contributions to our Hurricane Recovery Fund from foundations, corporations, and individuals will soon total nearly $2 million.

One of our biggest victories was the successful effort to secure hurricane recovery funding from Congress. We joined forces with public- and private-sector partners at the federal, state, and local levels and with thousands of individual preservationists all over America. Working together, we won $40 million in grant funds to help preserve storm damaged historic properties and also a major expansion of rehab tax credits to provide incentives for rebuilding and revitalization. We owe a special debt of gratitude to Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana for their stalwart support.

I’ve always been enormously proud of the National Trust’s work in saving America’s heritage, but I’ve never been prouder than I am of our wide-ranging effort to ensure the preservation of the historic places and distinctive cultures of the Gulf Coast. It’s like nothing we’ve ever done before, and yet it’s precisely what we were created to do.

Protecting Neighborhoods and Public Lands

While hurricane recovery has kept us very busy, we’ve also been involved in other important issues during the year.

First, we’ve continued to focus attention on the nationwide problem of teardowns— the practice of buying an existing home for the purpose of tearing it down and replacing it with a bigger one that may be out of scale with its older neighbors. We’ve documented more than 300 communities in 33 states that are having problems with teardowns— including Kenilworth, Ill., which we put on our 2006 “11 Most Endangered” list because so many of its historic houses have been demolished.

In response, we’ve developed a “Teardown Resource Guide” and posted it on our website to help communities respond to the crisis. We’re also spreading the word that communities don’t have to sit back and take it—and they’re getting the message: Cities as diverse as Salt Lake City, Dallas, Atlanta, and Santa Monica have taken action in recent months to put the brakes on teardowns. We’ll keep developing other ways of dealing with this troubling— and growing—trend, which I believe poses the biggest threat to older neighborhoods since the heyday of urban renewal and interstate highway construction.

Another issue to which we’ve devoted much time and effort during the year is the threat to cultural resources on public lands. The federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, is responsible for 260 million acres of land that contains thousands of historic and cultural treasures, especially archeological evidence of the first Americans. The problem is that BLM has a bifurcated mission to both protect and exploit these resources, and has never had the funding and staff it needs to do its job well. As a result, resources are being destroyed by vandalism, natural disasters, oil and gas exploration, and off-road vehicle use. Much BLM land hasn’t even been surveyed—and you can’t protect resources if you don’t even know what or where they are.

In May we issued a major report on this problem. It highlights places such as Nine Mile Canyon in Utah, where ancient rock-art panels are threatened by mineral exploration that could turn what has been called “the world’s longest art gallery” into the world’s most culturally significant industrial zone, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, where thousands of archeological sites are spread over 164,000 acres of rugged land—with one ranger to patrol them.

We’ve managed to focus significant media attention on this issue. We’re working with a great coalition, urging Congress to—among other things—give BLM the funding and staffing it needs, and secure statutory protection for the National Landscape Conservation System, which comprises the “crown jewels” of BLM’s holdings. While much of this land is in the West, it’s part of the heritage of all Americans—and all of us should be determined to see that it isn’t lost.

Successful Advocacy

We’ve won some significant advocacy victories in recent months. On the national level, we successfully fought off attempts to weaken Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which ensures that federal agencies fulfill their preservation responsibilities. We also worked hard to help Congress enact much-needed reforms to easements without destroying their effectiveness as a preservation tool.

Some of our most important advocacy efforts came at the state level. We all know that since 1976, the availability of federal tax credits for historic rehab has given an enormous boost to our efforts —stimulating more than $33 billion in private investment, spurring the rehab of more than 32,000 historic properties, and aiding the renovation or creation of some 300,000 housing units.

The success of the federal program has encouraged some states to adopt their own preservation incentives to complement the federal credits. We’re working to help other states take advantage of this great preservation tool— and we’re seeing results: In 1996 only 10 states had their own rehab tax credits in place; today that number has grown to 28 [29 as of January 2007].

In Missouri, the state’s rehab tax credit fuels $1 billion in economic activity every year and has created thousands of new jobs. In Florida, the state historic tax credit has returned two dollars in new revenues for each dollar of tax credit. Maryland’s tax credit sparked $800 million of investment between 1997 and 2003; economic analysis of 3 projects found that the net value of state and local revenues generated ranged as high as $50 for every dollar of tax credit awarded.

This is about more than putting new faces on old buildings —it’s also about sparking community pride, preserving desperately needed affordable housing stock, and strengthening a community’s economic base. We want what’s happened in 28 states to be duplicated in other states—and we’ll keep working toward that goal.

New National Trust Sites

In addition to the significant anniversaries I mentioned earlier, 2006 also marks the 50th anniversary of Decatur House s a National Trust historic site—the first in what has become a collection of 28 sites spanning the nation from California to Nantucket. In the past year, we’ve worked to implement a new vision for our sites.

Major restoration projects are bringing a “new/old” look to two of our sites, the Lincoln Cottage in Washington, D.C., and Montpelier in Virginia. The transformation is especially dramatic at Montpelier, where we’ve removed later additions in order to return the mansion to the appearance that James and Dolley Madison knew.

At two recently acquired sites, we’re making steady progress toward the long awaited day when we can open the doors to the public. Our current plans are to welcome our first visitors this April to Philip Johnson’s iconic Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., and in spring 2008 to the marvelous Villa Finale in San Antonio, Tex.

At the 2003 conference in Denver, I announced that the Trust and the National Society of the Colonial Dames had entered into an interim partnership regarding the 1875 Hotel de Paris Museum in Georgetown, Colo. I am happy to report that the Dames have completed an ambitious endowment campaign that succeeded in raising more than $2million in cash and pledges, and over the next few months we will develop a timetable for adding the Hotel de Paris to our historic site collection.

Finally, I want to give you advance notice of a very exciting development. After much thoughtful discussion, we have reached an agreement with the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico that will officially designate Acoma Sky City a National Trust historic site. Located on a 370-foot-high mesa, Acoma is the oldest continuously inhabited community in America. It comprises more than 300 structures, including the great mission church of San Esteban del Rey—but those numbers and words only hint at what a powerful and evocative place it is. We’ll be making a formal announcement in a few weeks, but in the meantime I know you share my excitement at this great opportunity for us to expand the public’s appreciation of our nation’s diverse heritage and to play a role in the preservation of one of America’s truly special places.

Building a Stronger Trust

We’ve accomplished a great deal over the past year, but—as is always the case in preservation —we still have much to do.

One of our biggest challenges is to continue our journey toward financial independence. As many of you will recall, not long ago we completed a highly successful national fundraising campaign —our very first—in which the generosity of members and friends like you played a major part. We always knew that our first campaign wouldn’t be our last, and we’re now investigating the feasibility of a new and very ambitious campaign to build a National Preservation Endowment. Our goal is to make the Trust the nation’s largest funder of preservation projects—and give preservation the reliable, sustainable source of funding that it needs and deserves.

Our Trustees haven’t formally committed to the campaign and details are still in development, but we expect that the fundraising goal could be in the range of $150million to $250 million. Naturally, we’ll keep you informed as plans are refined and finalized —and when the time comes, we’ll look to you for the generous support you have always provided.

When I review the legislative milestones whose anniversaries we mark this year, one word keeps running through my mind: vision. The people who wrote these groundbreaking laws had a clear and expansive vision of what preservation is all about. They believed that preservation is for everyone, that saving our heritage isn’t someone else’s job. They made us realize that our legacy from the past can—and should—play a meaningful role in present-day life. They opened our eyes to the fact that we need our history alive and close at hand where we can live with it, learn from it, and be inspired by it.

Their vision is alive in this hall, and in homes and classrooms and offices all over America. Their vision is ours now, and we’ll keep working to make it a reality.

Publication Date: Winter 2007


Author(s):Richard Moe

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