Preserve, Advocate, Educate. That is what it says on our homepage. With about a year and a half under our nonprofit belt, we feel as though NPF has gotten pretty far on two of these three.
Preserve: We have developed a long-term plan for the Hugh Taylor Archive preservation and utilization. And we are bringing two of our three proposed historic district/neighborhood campaigns near to a successful close.
Educate: NPF has brought programming on Modernism, historic preservation, Las Vegas architecture, and other topics to more than 600 community members and tourists. Of course this also includes our very successful Home Tour 2015 that saw 185 attendees.
But we have not seriously developed our role as an advocate for our historic buildings, be they residential, commercial, or public.
How do we best advocate?
Gone (thankfully!) are the days of historic preservation advocates chaining themselves to historic structures as the bulldozers bear down on demolition day. Historic preservationists have gotten more savvy, more pragmatic, and more connected to each other, the design sector, and their elected officials.
Early on the Nevada Preservation Foundation became the Nevada coordinator for Preservation Nation, a network of preservation organizations across the United States linked through the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As the Nevada coordinator, we have worked with the network to ensure that the Federal Historic Tax Credit remains in place. We also keep up on other states and contribute to this spread of information as we have it.
However, there is much more immediate work to do in our local communities. The shape this work will take, though, is what is before the Nevada Preservation Foundation as we move through our second year as an organization.
There is a clear need for an advocate.
As we emerge out of the Great Recession and redevelopment begins anew, this need for advocacy has become increasingly apparent. And from my perspective could take a few forms, including education, pro-active tracking, and/or public engagement.
Advocacy as Education: It is true that there are many misconceptions about adaptive reuse and historic preservation. We have all heard individuals who otherwise understand historic preservation give the presence of asbestos and lead paint, the unadorned Mid-century buildings as architectural blemishes, and a building not being older than 100 years as valid reasons for demolishing a building. In an attempt to correct these misconceptions:
Asbestos and lead paint: ANY building built before 1972 and 1977 most likely has asbestos and lead paint, respectively. Moreover, if a building has asbestos, it must be remediated no matter if you tear it down or reuse it. These are never reasons for not preserving a building.
Unadorned architecture: Mid-century architecture is very different from what came before and after it. Some of it is unadorned, like the Brutalist and the International Styles. Flora Dungan Humanities is a notable Brutalist influenced building, and 501 N. Lamb is an excellent International Style building. These and other Mid-century buildings deserve our taking the time to understand them and appreciate them. Whether we like them or not, they are our architectural heritage. Eliminating them, only eliminates our history. (Remember: Victorian architecture used to be considered frivolous and cluttered. But today it is highly valued.)
Age of Historic: According to the National Trust and Nevada’s statutes, any building that is 50 years or older can be considered for historic significance. That means a building built in 1965 is 50 years old. This may be uncomfortable for folks (yours truly, included) who were born around this year, but 50 years has for quite sometime been the benchmark. We have historic buildings. It is merely our perspective on them that needs to change.
The Los Angeles Conservancy shares our challenges in preserving Mid-century architecture. In fact, they have developed a Top 13 list of challenges that we face:
Advocacy as Tracking: Building and maintaining a database of buildings that are from the historic period is one of the best ways to get ahead on advocacy. After the database is filled with buildings, every few months they are checked to see if they have been sold to a new owner. Public meeting agendas (e.g. Planning Commission) are also monitored to see if these buildings are up for some modification.
This form of advocacy is an excellent way to ensure that we are not taken by surprise when an important building gets renovated. However, it is also time and labor intensive, an endeavor that is difficult for a new organization. With that in mind, though, tracking our buildings has obvious benefits and something NPF should consider.
Advocacy as Public Engagement: Public engagement can range from speaking at public meetings (Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Commission, etc.) to reaching out to owners and design firms who work in our communities. This also means meeting with local and state officials, working with them to protect our historic buildings.
This is an important tack for any advocacy organization. Safeguarding our historic buildings is not always about fighting with various sectors, but finding a way to work with them. It means mutual education and a sense of collaboration in getting a building to be economically viable for an owner but also maintaining the historic integrity of a building. Luckily, historic preservation is almost always the more cost effective path!
Nevada Preservation Foundation as Advocate
Indeed, there are probably many other ways that NPF can be the best advocate for our historic buildings. Because there are so many ways to be an advocate, we are looking for your input on how best to move forward with this endeavor. At the bottom of this article, there is a button to post your replies. Please do so. We want to hear from everyone about how the Nevada Preservation Foundation can best be an advocate for our built environment.