Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States

By Max Page; Randall Mason | Go to book overview

RETHINKING THE ROOTS OF THE HISTORIC PRESERVATION MOVEMENT

Max Page

Randall Mason

HISTORIC PRESERVATION has been one of the broadest and longest-lasting land-use reform efforts in this country. It is therefore ironic that we have so little understanding of its history. Scholars have written prolifically on the history of museums, national monuments, and historical artifacts, but very little on the effort to preserve historic buildings and places. Advocacy and scholarship have both suffered from this lack of perspective. The potential of historic preservation as a social movement is immense; it has the capacity to help forestall the destructive and unregulated development that threatens to destroy the places Americans love. But before it can achieve its vision, the preservation movement must lose its blinders and open itself to the new possibilities that only an understanding of history can provide. The essays in this book are intended to contribute to that process.

We begin with three recent preservation controversies: one from New York City, one from Chicago, and one from the desert of California.

The Lower East Side of Manhattan is hot these days. Tenement apartments that immigrants labored desperately to escape are now selling for a million dollars. In 2001, the Lower East Side neighborhood was honored by the National Park Service, which placed the district on the National Register of Historic Places. But not the whole neighborhood-just a carefully carved section of it, the bizarre shape of which looked less like a coherent neighborhood than a gerrymandered voting district, similar to the snaking Twelfth Congressional District of North Carolina, which the Supreme Court approved on the very same day that the Lower East Side district received its designation. It hardly resembled the area that either current residents or those who lived

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