Tagged: Tom King

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

Theories of Significance – Tom King

A great discussion about the different theories of significance preservationists use to justify listings in the National Register of Historic Places and how those theories break down into 6 different worldviews: the commemoration and illustration theory,the uniqueness-representativeness school, the scholarly value school, the ambience retention school,  the kitsch school, and the community value school.

Under the Dome: Rafael Guastavino – WHQR

Guastavino

Guastavino tile at Tocci in Massachusetts. Image via Tocci

Architectural domes were the masterpieces of Rafael Guastavino whose amazing structures were built on the principle he created and patented: The Guastavino Tile Arch System. He famously designed the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station and Carnegie Hall. But what most don’t know is that Guastavino retired to North Carolina where he continued to design magnificent arched spaces, including the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, his final resting place. Click through to hear more!

Highly Specific Kitchenware: The Tomato Server – You Grow Girl

tomatoserver

Image via You Grow Girl

“Nothing should ever be touched with one’s fingers. This was one of the principles behind Victorian dining etiquette and it resulted in a plethora of highly specialized utensils and serving pieces, including the Tomato Server, a decorative slotted/pierced spoon designed specifically for serving slices of fresh tomatoes.”

Mysteries of History: Let’s Have a Cookout! – The History Girl

family-weber-grill

Image via The History Girl

In honor of the upcoming holiday weekend, a post about the cook out! Ever wonder when the “cook out” became a thing” or when we started using charcoal briquettes instead of wood or who invented the grill?  Click through to find out!

Why List Case Study Houses? – LA Times

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Case Study House No. 1 designed by J. R. and Gretchen Davidson. Image via architect.net

Ten Case Study houses from Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Los Angeles Conservancy announced last week. The listing includes homes designed by household names of California modernism, such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig. All were part of the Case Study program organized by John Entenza, editor of Arts & Architecture magazine, in 1945.  The L.A. Conservancy’s Modern Committee spearheaded the National Register nomination. Adrian Scott Fine, the conservancy’s director of advocacy, spoke with the LA Times about the importance of this national recognition, what it means for the historic houses and why an 11th home, Case Study House No. 23A, was deemed eligible to be listed but wasn’t because of the owner’s objection.

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Preservation Is…

…[H]istoric/cultural significance is not something that only professionals can recognize and appreciate based on their fancy educations; it’s something that everybody defines in their own ways, that’s meaningful to everyone. Which, I believe, is what the founders of NHPA [National Historic Preservation Act] were trying to say when they emphasized – in With Heritage So Rich, for instance – that historic places define the characters of our communities, and are fundamental to their, and hence our, identities.

-Tom King, CRM expert

deer medicine rock

Deer Medicine Rock, a National Historic Landmark. Image via National Wildlife Federation

quote via Tom King’s CRMPlus

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture – Preservation in Mississippi

First, watch the trailer for this documentary about Louis Sullivan. Second, watch the documentary.  The cinematography shows Sullivan’s beautiful and abundant details to their best advantage – it’s just a gorgeous film! And it tells the fascinating story about an uncompromising artist and the impact he made on American architecture. He may not be as famous as Frank Lloyd Wright, but Wright may never have achieved the greatness he attained without Sullivan pioneering the way.

National Register Bulletin 38 vs National Register Bulletin 36 – Tom King

Tom King, telling it as he sees it (as usual).  “I said I did not believe that Congress enacted the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in order to provide opportunities for quasi-academic specialists to engage in pedantic debates about words use in technical publications. NHPA was enacted, I think, to ensure within reason that government would respect the cultural values citizens ascribe to their surroundings. In the 1980s, seeing such values becoming subordinated to the narrow interests of archaeologists and architectural historians, Pat Parker and I proposed, and with the support of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and ultimately NPS, wrote what became NRB 38. A few years later, another arm of the NPS cultural resource program (an organism with many arms but no brain) issued Preservation Brief 36 about the care and feeding of cultural landscapes. Unsurprisingly, nobody in NPS tried to coordinate anything about the two publications, which created a fruitful field in which to grow pickable nits and splittable hairs. So now we are back again to a situation in which specialists can expend their often well-remunerated time expounding on technical irrelevancies, while the public and its representatives nod off or grope for understanding.”

Ciudad Perdida: The Urbanism of the Lost City – Time Tells

Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida. Image via Time Tells

When we think of  cities and urbanism, we tend to think of well-defined skylines, roads, railways, shipyards etc. “The modern city was about effortless transportation and commerce, about erasing barriers to speed, whether vertical or horizontal. The skyscraper and the highway, massive and modern.”  But in this blog post, Vince Michael shows us 6th century urbanism in Columbia.

R is for Railing – Preservation in Pink

rails

Image via PiP


In this post PiP gives us a rundown of historical railings, some common problems and a few common solutions. Railings might not be something we notice about an historic structure, but they can be a defining feature. Inappropriate changes or replacements can dramatically alter the appearance of a structure. Make sure to read the comment from Mary Landis about the Merchant’s House Museum in New York City, which recently discovered its iron fence was panted green in the 19th century!

Preservation Is… A Response to King

For Bricks + Mortar’s 100th post, we took at look at this quote from Tom King:

… [O]ver the last twenty years or so, I have come to be alarmed at what historic preservation and CRM have become in this country – particularly in terms of their growing disconnection from the living communities that they must serve if they are to make any sense as aspects of public policy. I’ve also been dismayed at the quality of scholarship (if it can be called that) represented by their typical products. My concerns are outlined in the attached chapter from my 2011 reader, A Companion to Cultural Resource Management (Wiley-Blackwell 2011).

The Decatur “Final Report” does nothing to encourage me; it is as classic an example as I have recently seen of what has made historic preservation in this country a pointless, overly costly, elitist, and socially irresponsible activity.”

And I admitted that after my initial reaction (shocked and dismayed!), I had a difficult time arguing with him about most of his claims.  According to the comments, some of you felt the same way!

Generally,  I try to keep Bricks + Mortar as upbeat and positive as I can, and I am nothing if not a cheer leader for preservation. So how could I possibly agree with King (everyone’s favorite cultural heritage curmudgeon)?

First, there is the scope of his experience – he’s been working  in CRM and preservation related fields for over 50 years.  He’s worked for and with the National Park Service, helped set up local historic preservation programs, spent ten years with the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation overseeing project review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, worked as a private consultant, and penned ten text/trade books among other things.  He is currently working mostly with Indian tribes and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. When I described him as an expert, it wasn’t done lightly!

Second, he has a point. Although the historic preservation field he described above is vastly different from the profession I have experienced (as limited as those experiences may be, I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of really smart, community oriented, and talented people), it is not perfect.

Native-American-Sacred-Sites

Granite spires in the Black Hills of South Dakota [Credit: Indian Country]

Sometimes the “rules” seem arbitrary. Sometimes they are too narrow. And though they are designed to be malleable and to make interpretation possible, they don’t always work for all groups of people. Take for example the National Register standard that requires that geographical boundaries be named for resources (this is a rule that doesn’t really work for, say, Native American spiritual places/sacred sites). Sometimes people are disenfranchised thanks to gentrification or worse.  For example, I’ll never forget the moving presentation (video here!) King delivered in Lexington last spring about the Land Between the Rivers people who were disenfranchised by the government when the land the families had been working since the 18th century was taken for a recreational preserve (Land Between the Lakes) in the 1960s . And when I think, “That would never happen today!” I’m reminded that  they are still fighting to this day to preserve what is left of  their cultural heritage.

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Nickel Family Cemetery at Land Between the Lakes. Image via RD Lamont

As for elitism, HP has made great strides. Once seen as the work of wealthy white people trying to save the buildings built by dead wealthy white people, HP is much more inclusive. All sorts of places associated with all manner of people and socioeconomic groups and cultures, etc. are being preserved all over the country. In that way, preservation is no longer the elitist profession it once was, though there are arguments that it still has a long way to go.

However, when King leveled the charge, I don’t think he meant rich versus poor or one culture over another, I think he meant the professional preservationist versus “plain old people.” As preservation has become increasingly professionalized, a chasm has developed between people and the professionals – and it has become bogged down by bureaucracy, paper work, and jargon that can make the process inaccessible, long, tedious, and expensive. It can also sometimes cause a disconnect between what “plain old people” think is important and what professional preservationists find valuable.

Yes, I see his point.

And “Concerned Professional” made another great point in his/her comment on King’s quip.  Historic preservation is not only expensive and elitist, it’s elitist BECAUSE it is expensive!  And its expense is exactly why scholarship is suffering.  There isn’t enough money to support the time it takes to write thoroughly researched and adequately lengthy reports.

But, like the commentators on the original post,  I cannot agree that historic preservation is pointless or irresponsible.

This is what I believe: sometimes, preservation is exactly how King described. But sometimes (hopefully more often than not), it is a movement and a profession that helps people define the future of their communities by helping them identify and preserve the cultural and historical resources that are important to them. It is optimistic. It is about working together. It is  the confluence of community planning, architectural history, oral history, economic revitalization, archeology, historical research and so much more…  And what I know is that more often than not, preservationists are passionate, positive, energetic people who don’t want to be elite or in ivory towers, but are down to earth and want to do the best job they can for the communities they serve because pride of place and feeling connected to our heritage is for everyone.

courthouses

Preservationists gave Texas courthouses a lot of love this month as part of an awareness campaign. Optimistic! Image via Preservation Nation

I also believe that even Tom King is an optimist at heart!  He wouldn’t bother to criticize where we fall short; and he wouldn’t work so hard against the bureaucracy and the red tape; and he wouldn’t care who was wearing rose colored glasses and who wasn’t,  if he didn’t believe that preservation is both worthwhile and important.

Preservation Is? King Blasts Preservation Profession

This is Bricks + Mortar’s 100th blog post!   To mark the milestone, today’s “Preservation Is…” is a little bit different from the usual affirmative/aspirational/positive quote about preservation that generally makes up the “Preservation Is…” feature.  Today, I bring you a quote from the always incisive, exacting, and fearlessly opinionated CRM* and historic preservation expert, Tom King, that will whip the rose colored glasses right off of your face (or at least it did mine).

Tom King

Image via CRMPlus

The quote comes from a critique of a Historic Resource Survey of the City of Decatur, Georgia (a suburb of Atlanta) that King published on his blog, Tom King’s CRM Plus, last week.  Never shy, King blasts the historic preservation profession for its growing elitism, disconnection from the people and community it is supposed to serve, and its low-quality scholarship, calling it “pointless” and “irresponsible.”

King wrote:

… [O]ver the last twenty years or so, I have come to be alarmed at what historic preservation and CRM have become in this country – particularly in terms of their growing disconnection from the living communities that they must serve if they are to make any sense as aspects of public policy. I’ve also been dismayed at the quality of scholarship (if it can be called that) represented by their typical products. My concerns are outlined in the attached chapter from my 2011 reader, A Companion to Cultural Resource Management (Wiley-Blackwell 2011).

The Decatur “Final Report” does nothing to encourage me; it is as classic an example as I have recently seen of what has made historic preservation in this country a pointless, overly costly, elitist, and socially irresponsible activity.”

As this is the 100th post of Bricks + Mortar, I thought it might be a good time to examine his charges. After my initial reaction (eyes popping out of my head, jaw dropping, internally yelling “Nononononononono no! That is not preservation!” at the screen), I thought about what he said, his experience, his other writings, and realized it’s actually pretty difficult for me to argue with him on most of what he said, but more on that tomorrow.  Today, I want to know what YOU think.

Readers who are HP professionals, what do you say? Do you agree with King? Has the profession grown elitist? Is it disconnected? Is the standard of scholarship too low?

Readers who are not professional preservationists, what have you observed? Is HP generally thought of as a profession that is elitist and disconnected from the community? What does it offer you and your community?

What do you feel about the charge that preservation in the US has grown pointless and socially irresponsible?

*To quote King himself, the term CRM or Cultural Resource Management is “used mostly by archaeologists and much more occasionally by architectural historians and historical architects, to refer to managing historic places of archaeological, architectural, and historical interests and considering such places in compliance with environmental and historic preservation laws.”