The preservation movement in the USA

In the United States, the romanticized history of early settlers was reflected by Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, and some voices to save historic places were raised in the early nineteenth century, although most attempts failed to reach their objective. A turning point in the preservation movement was the campaign to save the residence of President George Washington, Mount Vernon. In the late 1840s there were various plans concerning this site, including the proposal to turn it into an asylum for disabled soldiers (1851). In December 1853, Miss Ann Pamela Cunningham addressed the women of the South calling for the preservation of the house, and in the same month the State Governor sent a message to the legislature for its protection. These events led to the foundation of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 17 March 1856, and to a campaign to raise funds and to obtain the right of acquisition of the property by the Association. The example of Miss Cunningham's association was followed by other 'little old ladies in blue hair and tennis shoes' attempting to reach nation-wide dimension, or at least to save one historic building. A humble log cabin, where Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have been born, was shown in an exhibition in Nashville in 1897 and later preserved as a relic inside his memorial monument - although many doubts were expressed on its authenticity. The home of President Jefferson, Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia, was another building subject to a long legal battle for its acquisition as a national property, concluded only in 1923.

While the early preservation movement was mainly in the hands of private citizens, a number of nation-wide societies or organizations were established which contributed to public awareness and knowledge about heritage.5 In addition, the Smithsonian Institution and the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior had a significant role to play in the development of Federal preservation. In 1889, the Congress of the United States took the first action toward the establishment of a Federal archaeological reservation; this was to preserve the lands embracing the prehistoric ruin called Casa Grande in southern Arizona. On 8 June 1906, the archaeological interests resulted in the Antiquities Act, which authorized the President to establish national monuments by proclamation on Federally owned lands in order to preserve historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, or other objects of scientific interest for the benefit of the nation.6 As a result of the efforts of the veterans of the 1860s Civil War, a large number of battlefields were proclaimed national military parks authorized by an Act of Congress in 1890; other parks followed. While the first concern was mainly about Colonial or pre-Colonial buildings and sites, Henry Russell Hitchcock was the first to promote interest in nineteenth-century architecture then rapidly disappearing under modern development. His appeal of 1928 was echoed by some other voices, and more publications diffused information about preservation; the Architectural Record became one of the chief voices in this campaign, later supported by the American Society of Architectural Historians.

With the development of traffic and increase of visitors, systematic management and administration of the properties became necessary. In 1916, the Congress enacted legislation creating the National Park Service as a bureau of the Department of the Interior with Stephen Mather as its first director.7 In 1935, the Historic Sites Act was passed further clarifying national policy and the responsibilities in preservation, and creating an Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments. The National Park Service took an active role in guiding the preservation of historic properties in the United States, although its possibilities to interfere and its resources were limited. The Historic American

Figure 9.22 (a) The archaeological area around the ruined Casa Grande in southern Arizona was established as a Federal archaeological reservation in 1889. The remains of the house are protected under cover. (Photo: John P. O'Neill. HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress). (b) White House Ruin in the National Park of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. (HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress). (c) Totem Bight Community House, Ketchikan, ALaska. (HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Figure 9.22 (a) The archaeological area around the ruined Casa Grande in southern Arizona was established as a Federal archaeological reservation in 1889. The remains of the house are protected under cover. (Photo: John P. O'Neill. HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress). (b) White House Ruin in the National Park of Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. (HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress). (c) Totem Bight Community House, Ketchikan, ALaska. (HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

1953 the Council and the Trust merged into the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Experiences from European conservation and restoration were transmitted by lecturers and writers to the United States, and also through direct contacts by American travellers with societies, museums and worksites in England, France, Germany and Scandinavia. William Sumner Appleton (1874-1947), founder and corresponding secretary of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, made significant efforts in the early phase. He travelled in Europe and was in contact with SPAB, the English National Trust, the French Monuments historiques and the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm. Appleton favoured the concepts of Ruskin and Morris, and became a pioneer in promoting restoration based on accurate recording and research even if his own restorations could contain conjectural elements (Hosmer, 1965: 236; Hosmer, 1981:998ff).

The role of the National Park Service became more important as the main employer in restoration projects in the 1930s; it also became a major contributor to the definition of preservation policies in the United States. Charles W. Porter III, who advised on research and restoration policies, and Ronald F. Lee, later the chief historian of the Park Service, had both studied the English conservation movement and were aware of international

Buildings Survey (HABS) was launched in 1933 sponsored jointly by the Park Service, the American Institute of Architects and the Library of Congress.

Since the travels of the English artist, Charles R. Ashbee, in the United States in 1901, the idea started maturing for a national organization to deal with the preservation of private properties on the lines of the English National Trust (Hosmer, 1965:94, 255, 302). Finally, in 1947, this resulted in the creation of the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings. The task of the new organization was to mobilize sentiment and opinion, to inform about the needs and methods of preservation, to examine and support specific projects, and to conduct research and surveys. The Council soon turned to the establishment of a National Trust for Historic Preservation chartered by an Act of Congress in 1949. In

Figure 9.23 Stratford Hall, Virginia, was restored by architects Fiske Kimball and Erling Pedersen, sponsored by the Robert E. Lee Foundation. (Photo: Jack Boucher. HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

initiatives such as the Athens declaration of 1931. Restoration activities under the guidance of the Park Service started in 1933, including Stratford Hall sponsored by the Robert E. Lee Foundation, and restored by Fiske Kimball and Erling Pedersen. Other major restorations in the 1930s included the reconstruction of the ruined buildings at the Mission La Purissima Conception, in Lompoc, California, as well as the stabilization of the architectural remains as ruins and development of a museum at the Tumacori National Monument in Arizona. Each site presented new problems, which had to be discussed and decided ad hoc, but through these works experience was gradually gathered to face the questions on a more systematic basis.

The first major project and the first real school in restoration in the United States was Colonial Williamsburg, which started in 192829 and was forced to define restoration in practice. Williamsburg was the capital city of Colonial Virginia from 1699 to 1780, and played an important role in a crucial phase of the country's development. In 1776 it was the place where the Virginia Convention passed resolutions urging the declaration of independence. The promoter of the idea of restoring the eighteenth-century colonial aspect to the town was Rev. William Archer Rutherford Goodwin (-1939). In 1924 he met with John D. Rockefeller, Jr and with members of the Henry Ford family. In 1926, the Colonial Dames of America contributed to the restoration of the Wythe House; later the same year Goodwin reached an agreement with Rockefeller, obtaining a fund for the study, with architect William G. Perry, of a restoration scheme and for the initial acquisition of some properties. Goodwin dreamed of restoring the town as the 'unspoiled' capital of Colonial Virginia, seeing its educational potential, and aiming at representativity. The works started the following year, in 1928 (Hosmer, 1976).

It was soon realized that research was essential in order not to end up with a 'movie set'. When the study proceeded, the academic nature of the problem became even more apparent. It was understood that it was important to retain what was original even when this did not correspond to previously fixed ideals of beauty, to give priority to authenticity rather than to embellishments that one hoped a building might have contained (Perry, 1935). Moving-in old houses from nearby communities or designing 'representative' replicas was therefore not possible. Restorations and reconstructions had to be based on 'authentic' documents, either found in archives, such as drawings, descriptions, paintings, photographs, and on the site itself as revealed in archaeological surveys. Rockefeller himself had a keen interest in the architectural aspects of restoration, and emphasized this aim even in archaeological excavations. The consulting architects to the project included Fiske Kimball and Lawrence Kocher, editor of the Architectural Record.

Kimball insisted on retaining important buildings of later date, and there was a shift to enlarge the scope to what was 'known or believed to have existed' in Williamsburg between 1699 and 1840; this would permit visitors to see the architectural development of the community (Hosmer, 1981:963). Post-Greek-revival buildings were not considered suitable to the ideal picture of the colonial town. Both Kimball and Kocher insisted on having new materials clearly marked as in England. It was preferred to retain original material even if this was more expensive than building new, but with time ancient techniques were relearnt such as making and laying eighteenth-century bricks. The question of historical accuracy was raised in relation to the 1732 entrance pavilion in the Wren Building, which did not please some architects, who wished to improve its aesthetics. On the basis of archaeological and historical evidence this was kept, however, because it was thought that invention would have defeated restoration.

In the restoration of interiors preference was given to the use of original or original type of panelling rather than elements brought in from other buildings. Curators used inventories and other documents to define the furnishings, but when no documents were available, work was based on similar buildings of the same period. Historical 'accuracy' was brought to the point that in the Courthouse where no documentary evidence was found that columns would have supported the pediment in the eighteenth century, it was decided to remove those added later. By 1933, the first phase of restorations was concluded, and it became necessary to

Figure 9.24 The Wren Building in Williamsburg was a case study for the question of historical accuracy. The restoration raised a conflict between historical and aesthetic values. (Photo: Jack Boucher. HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

assess the work done so far; it was also indispensable to provide facilities for visitors. The model of Williamsburg became an important influence on restoration practice and 'period restoration' - in the United States as well as abroad. Goodwin himself and his team of architects and experts were continuously consulted for similar projects. Newspapers and magazines, such as Architectural Record, House and Garden and National Geographic, published information about restored buildings and diffused the fashion of eighteenth-century interiors and 'Williamsburg colour schemes', even if the 'neatness' and the idealized picture of history were criticized.8

With the development of the activities of the National Park Service, particular attention was given to educational policies and programmes, and Colonial Williamsburg became a classic example for these activities. It was considered important to use trained professional staff to conduct educational programmes, to carry out research for dependable facts, to use field trips, lectures, exhibits and literature to make the sites understandable to the public, and to encourage visitors to study the genuine original rather than using second-hand information. However, this emphasis on heritage interpretation could also become one-sided. In 1963, Ada Louise Huxtable detected a tendency, which could be seen as disturbing and counterproductive (Huxtable, 1963): the term 'historic district' had come to mean a treatment similar to Williamsburg thus creating museum areas with a 'Disneyland syndrome' (G. McCue in Timmons, 1976:357). Such areas easily became targets for commercial tourism, producing an environment which was far from a living district. In due time, this tendency was counter-acted and the concept of architectural heritage was widened to include living historic areas. In 1972, 'historic districts' were defined by William J. Murtagh as 'areas that impact human consciousness with a sense of time and place' (Timmons, 1976:388).

During the 1930s and 1940s, historical groups started joining forces to save whole districts, and rapidly this new preservation effort was accepted in historic communities all through the country. An early example was Charleston, where the first zoning ordinance was given in 1931 (Hosmer, 1981:232). At the same time, several state governments included preservation objectives into their programmes although not yet systematically. Pennsylvania created a historical commission as early as 1913. More organized efforts came after the Second World War with a growing number of historic districts, including Philadelphia, Annapolis, Savannah and Providence. A watershed for historic preservation was the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act at the Federal level. In this act, Congress authorized the Federal Government to give maximum encouragement to agencies and individuals, as well as to assist state and local governments and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in expanding and accelerating their historic programmes and activities, and creating a Presidential Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The Secretary of the Interior was authorized to develop a grants-in-aid programme for the states and the National Trust.

The establishment of policy guidelines remained with the Federal agencies. In the first decades of its activities, the Park Service had little direct impact on the activities of other institutions or restorations. After 1933, however, when the Park Service was made directly responsible for a great number of historic sites, it was seen necessary to provide guidelines for this task. In 1938, the Advisory Board recommended a policy statement that was adopted by the Park Service. This document took into consideration the various aspects of cultural heritage, and was aware of the possibility of conflicting judgements according to the emphasis laid on them, such as aesthetic, archaeological, scientific and educational aspects. Too much emphasis on educational motives often led to the re-constitution of the object, but satisfying scholarly demands too rigidly might leave the monument with insufficient interpretation to the public of its major historical aspects; too much attention to aesthetic unity or original intentions, instead, might not be compatible with the values of the present weathered and picturesque state (Lee, 1951:34).

In order to reach a proper judgement in each case, it was recommended that 'the ultimate guide must be the tact and judgement of the men in charge'. Decisions should be based on documentary evidence and priority given to the preservation of genuine old work of different periods rather than restoration or reconstruction to the form of a single period. It was noted that preservation and restoration usually required a slower pace than modern work.9 These guidelines reflect a spirit not dissimilar to the recommendations of the Athens meeting of 1931 or the 1938 Italian guidelines. In 1963, the National Trust co-sponsored a seminar in Colonial Williamsburg to discuss the policy of historic preservation in the United States.10 The following year, two members of the Trust, Dr Charles W. Porter III and Charles E. Peterson, attended the international congress which produced the Venice Charter, and the principles were revised accordingly. In 1967, Colonial Williamsburg hosted another meeting on policy resulting in a new set of principles and guidelines published by the National Trust the same year (Williamsburg, 1967). In 1972, there was an international meeting in Williamsburg, organized jointly with ICCROM to discuss the principles and practices of preservation and conservation, and especially interdisciplinary collaboration (Timmons, 1976).

The Advisory Council for Historic Preservation continued developing preservation policy, and the results were published by the Secretary of the Interior as the Standards for Historic Preservation Projects, including the Standards for Rehabilitation and the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings,11 which broadened the attention from major landmarks and monuments to historic buildings and historic areas in general. The new concepts, which were thus introduced, included the concept of 'rehabilitation', which emphasized the need to provide a compatible use for historic structures, while recognizing the need for restoration activities at the same time: 'Rehabilitation means the process of returning a property to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, which makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions and features of the property which are significant to its historic, architectural, and cultural values.' One can detect a criticism of previous restorations, and an effort was made to guide treatments toward more respect for historic phases rather than restoring the 'original' state, as had often been the case. The guidelines were addressed to individual property owners to help them in the rehabilitation and preservation of historic structures. Concerning local building code requirements it was recommended that these be applied in such a manner that the essential character of a building be preserved intact, and when necessary alternative safety measures should be looked for so as not to damage the building.

An important contribution toward a new sensitivity in the built environment was made by Jane Jacobs in her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which provoked many to look at their surroundings with new eyes. However, also the ability to visit European countries and to see the efforts made there for the survival of historic cities and monuments made young architects perceive the measure of their isolation from their roots, and think what could be done in America. One of the travellers was James Marston Fitch (Fitch, 1981), who was conscious that throughout its formative years the preservation movement had been in the hands of laymen; according to him there was little or no contact with professional architects and town planners. On the contrary, these professions were fascinated by the modern movement, and were often responsible for the destruction of the heritage. In the mid-1960s he was involved in initiating the Historic Preservation programme at Columbia University, the first in the United States -and one of the earliest in the world. The aim was to encourage students of different disciplines to communicate and to work together,

Figure 9.25 (a) Interior of St James-the-Less, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jack Boucher. HABS/HAER, National Park Service). (b) South elevation of St James-the-Less, Philadelphia. The drawing is made according to the standards established by the Historic American Buildings Survey. (HABS/HAER, National Park Service)

Figure 9.25 (a) Interior of St James-the-Less, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jack Boucher. HABS/HAER, National Park Service). (b) South elevation of St James-the-Less, Philadelphia. The drawing is made according to the standards established by the Historic American Buildings Survey. (HABS/HAER, National Park Service)

Figure 9.26 The Mixer Ruins in Ensley, Birmingham, Alabama, are an example of protected industrial heritage in the USA. The site belonged to Tennessee Coal and Iron Company and was active from 1899 to 1980. (Photo: Jett Lowe. HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

Figure 9.26 The Mixer Ruins in Ensley, Birmingham, Alabama, are an example of protected industrial heritage in the USA. The site belonged to Tennessee Coal and Iron Company and was active from 1899 to 1980. (Photo: Jett Lowe. HABS/HAER Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

as well as to put the participants in contact with artisans and with building sites so as to learn to intervene personally when necessary.

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