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Historic Preservation Conflicts


For his part, [Karl] Popper is convinced that history has no meaning, and in justifying this view he makes some interesting remarks on historical science. Just to begin with, '"history" in the sense in which most people speak of it does not exist; and this is at least one reason why I say that it has no meaning'(OS II:499). There is not and never can be a history of mankind, because it would have to include the history of every single man and woman. What is passed as the 'history of mankind' and taught in schools is really the history of political power, the central framework into which all other possible histories are inserted.
From an Introduction to the thought of Karl Popper by Roberta Corvi


Historicism as defined by Popper seems to encapsulate the undercurrent of what drives the historic preservationists. So far the concepts put forth by them such as maintenance of the "collective memory" or preserving a "snap shot" of history to preserve our past for the social good is without any grounding in science. The "why" of preserving old buildings and landmarks is filled with mythological yearnings for the past and a reactionary attack on anything that is new, and as such it should be labeled as a cult; it is a land grab by socialists that want the state to control property for the people rather than allowing citizens to have the freedom to manage their own affairs. The following article begins with some of the conflicts facing historic preservation and ends with a critique of what is actually being preserved.

Historic preservation (or landmarking) is now taking its place along with zoning and environmental law as a means not only to preserve old buildings but as a way of impacting the way society is structured, including the so called maintenance of values and traditions as definded by the preservationists for the public good.  The buildings that occupy parts of cities built up first are now the first to be torn down as they age, with a significant interest on the part of historic preservationists to save architecturally significant buildings along with the mundane and the ugly.   But as with all movements, it has spread to encompass much broader concerns of social control and also the inevitable conflicts between the public good in the egalitarian and Marxist tradition against the private interests of the public.

According to Stephen Kass and Michael Gerrard, "Zoning was first legitimized in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1926 Euclid decision; most landmarking had to wait for the Court's 1978 Penn Central decision for similar blessing; environmental review began in earnest with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969; while public acquisition of the national and state parks was pioneered by visionaries like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt."[1]  I would add that as we have progressed from zoning to historic preservation, we have also moved from rational land management to more abstract social controls that border on an almost religious fervor to cherish the past using materialism rather than the traditional narrative history we have relied upon for the last several thousand years.  And with this new requirement for historicism has come conflicts over the use of precious land.

Unique to the urban environment, the growth machine thesis pits the interests of the 'rentiers' who own and manage property for profit (that cannot be relocated) against the vast majority of people who value their property for its uses.[2]  The conflict between owners of place-bound assets and the public therefore becomes intense where property development is hindered by an abstract public good that is hard to quantify with an economic analysis.  The owners want to maximize their profit while the preservationists want to minimize anything new.  These goals are more often than not in conflict.

But even where profits are not in conflict with preservation the very breadth of what is considered significant paints the landscape of historically significant landmarks with a very wide brush.  The criteria used by The National Register of Historic Places includes sites (a) that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; (b) that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; (c) that embody distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possesses high artistic values; or (d) that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.[3]  Using this criteria it is easy to conclude that historic preservation, over a long period of time, must lead to a reductio ad absurdum, where inclusion becomes universal and nothing new can be built.  For every 'x' number of buildings built there will be 'y' percentage that will become historically significant.  If all of them are preserved and never lost, eventually all buildings in a region would be landmarked and unalterable.  All new building would then cease.  In addition, where federal, state and local historical preservation laws impact on local property, the confusion and eventual court cases will continue to escalate making it one of the more problematic areas of land use management as fewer sites become available for new construction.

On top of this concern for preserving what we cherish the most is the real concern for urban sprawl, and historic preservationists' desire to check sprawl using the tools of landmarking to stop developers.  However, urban sprawl will not be deterred by an over zealous effort to regulate and control urban development by restricting the opportunities to develop.  Some flexibility must be maintained to keep the urban areas both architecturally attractive and yet commercially viable.

Some critics are now pointing out that preservation at any cost is not in the public interest.  A recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune (2 February 1997) argued that it was more important to attract a new Nordstrom store for the jobs it would create rather than save the Art Deco McGraw-Hill building on North Michigan Avenue, a marginally interesting building architecturally.  The same month a Chicago Sun-Times editorial (27 February 1997) argued that Walt Disney's home at 2156 North Tripp Street should be marked by a simple plaque out front rather than burdening the owner with landmark status.

The Chicago Park District just tore down the South Shore Cultural Center gun club building over protests, even though it is listed on the National Register, because of the high cost to rehabilitate the building.  Likewise they discovered that a home on property recently purchased to expand Hyacinth Park is a protected landmark and subsequently offered it to anyone who would move it and rehabilitate it (or else they will demolish it).  The Chicago Park District's commitment to historic preservation is running into the costs associated with trying to save everything, and practicality is winning out.

In Britain, historic preservation properties are ranked,[4] but in the United States there is no attempt to select the most worthy landmarks to be preserved.  In Britain there is a growing concern that preservation is out of control,[5] and may end up turning Britain into one great theme park.[6]

Other examples of preservation run amok includes an attempt to landmark Bottle Village, built by the late Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey, who constructed buildings from bottles collected from garbage dumps, to trying to save the first McDonald's restaurant in Downey, California (McDonald's Corporation has no interest in landmarking its first restaurant).

Preservationists are also being attacked for raiding funds targeted for other purposes.  In 1995 they wanted to use National highway funds for historic and scenic preservation over the protests that they were reallocating gas taxes for other unintended uses.  Tax credits for historic preservation also benefits developers and wealthy home owners to the detriment of the average tax payer.  This may be seen as just another entitlement for the well-off from federal, state and local taxing bodies. Such incentives as freezing property taxes, tax credits, tax abatement and reduced tax liability go to those who need it the least.

The Theatre Historical Society has recognized the need to be selective in trying to preserve history.  They only endorse preservation when it is accompanied by a viable economic plan.  They recognize that not all theaters can be saved and attempt to record their elegance and history with photographs and original blueprints of the buildings that fall to the wrecking ball. This is a more rational approach in trying to preserve the actual design and creativity that went into these buildings.

Preservationists are increasingly using claims of landmark status to deter development they do not agree with.  Whether valid or not, preservation claims can be a formidable tool when zoning and environmental land management controls fail to stop a project.  A mining development was seriously set back and the costs escalated when the National Historic Preservation Act forced the company to hire 65 archaeologists to survey a proposed mining site, including doing an autopsy on the skeletal remains of a horse to determine how it had been treated.  The required procedure ended up adding 5 percent to the project costs and has turned mining interests against preservationists.[7]

A little closer to urban centers is the perennial battle between super stores like Wal-Mart and the quaint downtowns they are putatively destroying.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to revitalizing Main Streets in rural communities to preserve the architectural uniqueness.[8]  But in addition there is a real interest on the part of preservationists to keep out large developers in favor of the local small retailers.  But unlike urban land management the Wal-Mart's are less constrained in rural America; they can relocate where they like and play one small town against another.  It is a classic battle of do we let them build here or down the road near another community where they will further isolate the remaining small retailers.

Increasingly, historic preservation is being used as a tool to thwart new projects.  Union Pacific Railroad wants to build a new rail spur in West Chicago's Old Heidelberg area near a downtown historic district that has never been designated.  Now the rush is on to get landmark status in order to stop the railroad.[9]  However, the railroad fully intends to invoke federal laws of eminent domain to obtain the property.  Everywhere a new project is planned near an old area there can be claims that the area is historic.  Again, part of the problem is procrastination on the part of commissions that have responsibility to designate historic sites.  As a last ditch effort to stop development or technology it too often appears as a way of derailing progress rather than preserving heritage.

Often times historic preservation uses concern for the environment to reinforce the goodness of saving old structures.  The recycling of buildings is seen as beneficial by not wasting building materials.  But in an odd twist, the dismantling of the brick of the first cross-regenerative ovens of a 1908 steel mill is protested, even though they are selling the bricks to be reused.[10]  All that remains are the brick ovens and the preservationists want the bricks to stay where they are and not be recycled.  And the only reason seems to be that this is the oldest steel mill of its type.  A dubious designation where there is very little left of the steel mill to preserve. Maybe the bricks should be sold with a certificate of authenticity as to their historic significant beginnings and let history live on in the bricks themselves.

In another case, historic preservation was used to stop the installation of a traffic light at an intersection of two state highways.[11]  The court determined that a full environmental review was required (New York State law) before the light could be installed.  If the same requirements were insisted upon in a Chicago historic district for every traffic sign that was to be installed the cost could be prohibitive.  I can sympathize with communities trying to keep the traffic engineers from inflicting their brand of signage torture upon communities, but invoking historic preservation to do it seems elitist when safety may be a real concern.

The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois has raised concerns about Chicago's Michigan Avenue district from Oak Street to Roosevelt Road.[12]  At the same time they are decrying new development and construction they are calling attention to the "underutilization" of the "streetwall" along Grant Park.  On the one hand they want old buildings preserved, while condemning new construction rather than trying to work with developers and accepting some new construction along with some preservation.  It is hard to imagine how they intend to pay for total preservation of the area while parts of it are in decline.  A more balanced approach of insisting that new construction meet aesthetic considerations while trying to preserve the very best of the existing architecture would bring more vitality to the area than a myopic vision of only keeping the old.

Some communities are trying to check historic preservation where they find it oppressive or used too cavalierly.  A referendum in Winnetka, Illinois in 1991 to repeal a landmarks ordinance was narrowly defeated.[13] In a community as sophisticated as Winnetka the individualist spirit along with developer's profit motives almost turned back the Communitarians desire to preserve the small-town character at any cost.  The rights of the individual versus the state is still very much in dispute.

In Pennsylvania Coal v. Mahon, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, "when a regulation goes too far it will be recognized as a taking" and require compensation under the just compensation clause of  the U.S. Constitution.[14]  Then in 1978 the Supreme Court seemed to set back the taking's clause in Penn Central Transportation Company v. New York City.  Penn Central wanted to build a 55 story office building above the Grand Central terminal but was prevented to do so by the New York City Landmarks Law. Penn Central sued but lost in the Supreme Court.  Is this a typical case for regulatory takings?  It appears not and may not be the precedent setting case earlier thought.

First, the Grand Central terminal is clearly an elegant building and an engineering marvel.  Rarely would a building be so clearly deserving of landmark status; many times this is not the case.  Second, economic harm was minimal as the Grand Central terminal was still earning a reasonable profit under its existing use.  Third, Penn Central received some compensation under the New York Zoning Resolution allowing the transfer of developmental rights to other owned property.  Thus, this case was not a difficult case for landmarks versus takings. If the landmark status had been questionable, if the property could not earn a profit as is, or if investment-backed expectations could not be met, the Supreme Court may well have found in favor of the plaintiffs.

With regards to the Penn Central decision, in an article by Eugene Morris he states, "As a result [of Penn Central] the field of landmarks and historic preservation burgeoned throughout the United States and most of the challenges against local statutes were dealt with on the ground that the regulation was excessive based upon the facts involved (i.e. 'as applied') rather than on a claim that the statute itself was invalid (i.e. 'facial').  In addition, these landmark designations were eagerly sought by many real estate entrepreneurs who contemplated having their properties designated in order to take advantage of the federal tax shelters available for the rehabilitation of landmark properties.[15]  So on the heals of an almost perfect case for preservationists a new tool was implemented to preserve landmarks in addition to zoning and environmental law.

The courts have let stand the ability of the state to regulate land for the public good, but at the Supreme Court level the vacillations on takings continues.  Three subsequent cases, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Commission, PFZ properties v. Rodriguez, and Yee v. Escondido, left the matter very much unresolved. Supreme Court justice Scalia comes down requiring compensation whenever the economic use of land is lost, but does not provide clear guidelines for deciding when this occurs.[16]

While the courts try to provide better guidelines with regards to taking laws, the battle between preservationists and owners continues unabated.  It is often fought not only in the courts but in the press to sway public opinion and the representatives who make the laws. Preservationists are now using the law to stop any construction project they find offensive or detrimental to the community.  When at one time historic preservation was used to save architecturally significant buildings, it is now used to nominate whole districts as historically significant. Again, it looks more like a land-grab.  To do this the business of landmarking has become a mature profession as the techniques to halt construction via historic preservation means that great care, detail and research must be put forth to find enough evidence for historic significance.  Increasingly this includes exaggerated claims of historical significance according to Chauncey Walker,[17] an attorney specializing in historic preservation and environmental law, who states "This shift, toward blanket protection of large areas and multiple structures not previously thought to be historically significant, suggests that preservationists have redefined their goals.  This shift also has serious implications for changed development throughout the country.  Most commonly, preservation becomes a point of contention when a property owner encounters community opposition in response to his or her plans to demolish or alter an older building.  Particularly in congested urban areas, quality of life issues make historic preservation laws an expedient vehicle to prevent, control or stall development."

Out of this bickering however I see both sides rallying architectural historians and researchers to do battle over the merits of individual buildings.  Though this may be somewhat costly, it is less expensive than the alternative of not reviewing the criteria used to select the very best structures to be saved, and saved they should be but only if the owner wants to.  In the end, architecture and the way we view its merits will be better off, especially if the debate highlights the large segment of new construction that is sorely lacking in aesthetics (in my humble opinion).  The ensuing dialectic can only improve our built environment.

An example of this over-inclusive preservation is an attempt to landmark every theater on Broadway, whether they had architectural merit or not, in a special theater district, to protect the district from the expansion of midtown construction.[18]  Petitioners trying to overturn the landmark status of theaters argued that these designations were a sham, that the theaters had no common architectural style, and action constituted the protection of an industry rather than of historically significant structures.

The battle for precious land has also started to impact the dead.  A proposed law in Illinois would repeal burial site protection where developers have purchased land for new construction.[19]  Grave markers and grave contents over 100 years old or graves on private property would no longer be protected.  Nothing is sacred when land is scarce and there is enough money to be made.  In addition, a developer is planning to construct homes across the Illinois River from Starved Rock State Park.[20]  It is home of several hundred Indian burial sites and is designated as a National Historic Landmark as well as a significant archeological site.  The congressional status does not provide any protection however and the development will proceed.

The Art Institute of Chicago has added a graduate program in historic preservation while opposing landmark designation for the 13-story Champlain Building that houses Art Institute offices and classrooms.[21]   The school may want to demolish the building or sell it to a developer some day and wants to keep its options open. So no organization is immune from being for or against historic preservation, depending on their economic interests.  The Art Institute claims the building is "a dubious example of commercial architecture at the turn of the century." But of course this is really true of most of the buildings that historic preservationists try to protect. If they are truly significant, over and above the wear and tear they have endured, they will survive on their own.

The ability to save a landmarked building varies significantly from one community to another.  According to Richard Roddewig, an attorney specializing in historic preservation, "In Chicago, for example, in the final analysis, an owner can do virtually anything he wants with his property; that is, unless the city is willing to buy the property or pay the owner the money he will lose by not developing it."[22]  On the other hand, a Chicago landmarked building may be denied a permit for demolition, leading to confusion by the public over how much control an owner has.[23]   Any building can be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places but if an owner denies registration it is merely eligible and will not receive tax credits nor can Federal funds be denied for the building's demolition.

Historic preservation can be used by groups as a mechanism to further elitist or exclusionary control of an area that is counter to the overall public good.  In Yonkers, New York, the Hudson Communities Coalition quickly landmarked a 65 acre parcel of land to stop construction of a nursing home.[24]   In this case the attempt was so transparent that is was challenged in court and overturned. Ultimately, the Planning Board made allowances that allowed construction of the nursing home and preserved a portion of the land that was really deserving of preservation.

In another clash between Wal-Mart and the local citizenry, Wal-Mart wanted to build close to the home of George Washington's birthplace in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The very idea they would contemplate building so close to this pristine site was labeled as sacrilege by local detractors.[25]  Architecturally offensive yes; but somehow morally repugnant?  The language surrounding historic preservation can often times seem religious, something that the founding fathers would have seen as obscene in itself with their attempt to end state established religions. A local reporter, Jeff Stein argued, "The upper-crust historic types, one suspected, just possibly didn't want the Spandex crowd from Wal-Mart impinging on quaint little Fredericksburg."

The Heritage Hill Association of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was established to defend the area against urban development.  It also took it upon themselves to stop the expansion of St. Mary's Hospital and the Grand Rapids Junior College campus under the guise of historic preservation.[26]  Historic districts like Heritage Hill can be used primarily for snobbish enforcement of a communities elitist aesthetic standards and a means of enforcing gentrification.[27]  The merits of controlling how others repair, modify, or change their properties should make sense with the stated purpose of local land use management and not hide behind historic preservation.  At the same time that a community wants to expand affordable housing, historic districts can control properties and deny the efficient use of structures that may be converted to multiple family dwellings without altering the historic exterior of the homes.  For example, in the Chicago South Side Kenwood neighborhood, owners can't turn mansions into condominiums.  And in Chicago's Old Town historic district gentrification is promoted where "like-minded people who fix up buildings and care about them" can live together.  Somehow I do not think they are talking about a neighborhood of plumbers, carpenters, and electricians.

As religious practice declines, and more churches and synagogues need to be closed or consolidated, a battle to preserve historically significant churches threatens to split the environmental alliance that includes historic preservationists and civil libertarians.[28]  Houses of worship are unique in that they are built for a narrow religious purpose and recycling them for other uses, though encouraged by conservationists, may not be acceptable to the original owners.  It would open up a whole new issue of what is acceptable and proper.

What if a church sold a landmarked property to a non-profit organization for a day care center and it could not meet building code requirements at a reasonable cost and was resold to be converted into a restaurant or even a discotheque.  What action could the original congregation take to prevent this from happening?  It may not happen often, but as more landmarked churches become available for a reasonable price they may end up being used in ways offensive to the neighborhood or to the religious community. (As an iconoclast I personally think this would be the best use for old churches.)

The legitimacy of police powers with regards to historic preservation and its applicability to religious organizations has been well established by the courts.  This is especially true when the regulation impacts the property when it is a purely secular matter.[29]  But a new court case now before the Supreme Court, City of Boerne, Texas v. P.F. Flores (Archbishop of San Antonio) threatens to open up the issue again.  In 1993 the U.S. congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that states, "Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest."[30]  With historic preservation the government must prove the need is compelling (to preserve old churches) and it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court determines how this is to be done.

Chicago's landmark ordinance has wisely avoided the conflict with the preservation of religious organization' property.  Landmarking is only allowed by the owner, in this case the religious organization.[31]  Historic preservationists do not need the added burden of trying to take on churches, synagogues or mosques in landmarking their buildings against their will.

Gentrification creates new housing and renovates old "historic districts" with an increase in the displacement of low and middle income families, usually minorities.  This is especially true in the most urban areas close to the business district.  According to Teresa Cordova, "Neighborhood revitalization should be pursued in the interests of current residents, although admittedly, defining them becomes difficult in a neighborhood that is already undergoing change, where 'current residents' may include new urban professionals that older residents consider intruders."  Later she concludes, "However, the Lawyers for Housing Project warns that several safeguards are necessary so that low-income residents are the beneficiaries-not the young urbanites seeking a good deal in an up-and-coming neighborhood."[32]  The main concern here is not that homes are improved but that the rising values, and especially higher property taxes will displace the original residents. It is interesting that Ms. Cordova argues that ownership should be expanded to include a neighborhood's symbols and culture; the very hyperbolic terms used to justify historic preservation. The difference is who's culture, the original builders of the homes, the current residents, or the gentrification crowd who takes over in preserving the structures.

The question arises, if historic preservation is concerned with the collective memory of a culture, how can that culture be preserved by only saving the very best structures built typically by the wealthy or the captains of commerce or industry?  How about the values and culture of the poor and disadvantaged that had little to leave behind?  Those concerns are now being addressed with increasing frequency.

In Florida the City of Cocoa's historic black neighborhood was targeted for redevelopment with luxury residential and office buildings which would have displaced the black community.  This government sponsored gentrification effort was challenged in the courts and the area was preserved because of the historic significance of the cultural contribution of the black community that originally settled the area.[33]

In Chicago, recent participants in the 50th National Preservation Conference were critical of over-protecting marginal buildings of the modern movement for a lack of imagination, and were starting to take in the history of the urban ethnic neighborhoods.[34]  As historic preservationists branch out there is more diversity in what is deemed important, and less lock-step acceptance that our history is bound up in architectural structures.  The multitude of ethnic communities are once again being appreciated, with the inherent problem of how to preserve them without stifling the very growth that allows recent immigrants to move on and leave their original neighborhoods.

With the expansion of historic preservation to include more ethnic groups whose origins may have been less than prosperous comes a question of cloning.  Is it acceptable to rebuild for example slave quarters near a plantation mansion?  If historic preservation is for preserving culture then rebuilding lost structures seems entirely adequate.  If historic preservation is more inclined towards collecting antiques, where the authenticity is paramount, then that is another matter, it is just an expensive hobby of the elite, paid for by the public.  The historic preservationists seem unclear on this issue.  For example, the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California, was completely rebuilt to the original plans.  The public was happy with the reconstructed or cloned building and yet preservationists were clearly unhappy because the hotel did not rise again by "saving, preserving or restoring, reusing and interpreting" the original structure.[35]

I couldn't disagree more on this issue.  As a professional design engineer my experience is that I and other engineers and architects are involved in the mental representation of structures.  We only hope that the contractor recreates what we had in mind when it becomes a reality. More often than not there are many disputes and disagreements about the final product.  This is a reality that historic preservationists do not seem to grasp or appreciate.  In fact for me, I would rather study the design drawings of famous buildings because they have more content than the built structure covered up by the facade.

Another issue often raised by preservationists is that we must preserve the past because new buildings are all cheaply made without elegance and character.[36]   If that statement is true, and I agree that it is, they never seem to address the reason.  Is it because we no longer pay extremely low wages to the tradesmen that build the buildings?  Or do we no longer have a plentiful supply of hardwoods like oak and walnut?  These are important issues and they do call for conservation of original materials, but it is extremely hypocritical to blame modern designers and builders for the reality of expensive labor and a shortage of raw materials.  It was the very exploitation of labor and use of precious building materials that allowed the buildings that preservationists are now so enthralled with.  Is that the culture we are trying to preserve?  Maybe historic preservation should be more clear about their goals or admit there are several that may be at odds with each other.  Is it preserving beautiful older buildings and homes without critical analysis of what they mean to society.  Is historic preservation about culture and heritage?  Then I would argue that the banal row house is more relevant to the culture we are trying to preserve than the expensive mansion.

So how important is authenticity of historic structures and sites in preserving history and educating the public about their heritage?  Diane Barthel claims that the heritage industry is faking history to make a fast buck.[37]  From Disney Land to Rockefeller's creation of "Colonial Williamsburg", labeled as Staged Symbolic Communities, these sites are considered to be ahistoric and destructive of the past.[38]  However, we use many vectors in teaching history including narratives, photographs, music, art and motion pictures.  Is there any evidence at all that one method is supreme over any other?  Historic preservationists seem to want to define history as the collective memory through preservation of structures and neighborhoods. That is nonsense. Primates and yes even humans have never relied on material artifacts to define culture. Culture is passed on from generation to generation, and more recently we have added recorded history to the methods used. There absolutely no data showing that a society is any better off because it restores old buildings.

Unlike zoning and environmental land management, historic preservationists have attached themselves to these well defined social goals without a clear objective of their purpose.  If historic preservation is to preserve human artifacts for the simple reason that these buildings, sites, cityscapes or homes have aesthetic value, then it should make little difference in many cases how they are preserved.  Unlike an artist, a designer works by creating construction drawings and usually have their creations built by someone else.  If this is in fact the case, then conservation, cloning, relocating, or building a master's 75 year old design (now for the first time) should make little difference to the historic preservationist.  These are not collector's antiques or original works of art showing a painters skill.  They are models of what the designer had in mind.  Architects work with drawings, sketches, renderings, models and now computer aided drawings to show their intent.  These are the originals, not the building.  So then why not try and preserve the intent using all of the means used by the original designer.  Take photographs, preserve the blueprints, construct a building again using the same materials if available, etc.  These methods of representing the design should make little difference, though of course the real thing when preserved or used again becomes a matter of conservation (recycling) and has value in its own right.

On the other hand, if historic preservation's purpose is to preserve the collective cultural capital; to promote and celebrate America's diverse culture; to preserve what is significant to the collective memory of a group; to create self-esteem and a sense of pride in people and place; or to preserve the moral fiber of society then they must provide some evidence that the preservation of human artifacts serves this purpose.  The evidence from ethology shows clearly that our primate ancestors had morality before we developed tools.[39]  Then clearly human goodness, virtue, sharing, and a sense of culture has to do with interactions with each other and not how much of our past we preserve in the form of artifacts.  A people are much more than the materialism that surrounds them.  The Japanese do not practice historic preservation because of the high cost of land.[40]  Would anyone seriously argue that they have less culture, a sense of history, or lack morality because of it?

Finally then, the greatest threat to historical preservation (aside from conservation) is its undeveloped premises with regards to how linking our past to physical structures is essential or even desirable.[41]   We should realize by now that humanity is not contingent on the accumulation of material possessions.  Any claim made that we are a better people because of how much property, mortar or bricks we own or control is poorly supported by any evidence to date.

Rather than preserving cultural capital through the maintenance of elitist monuments, built by the rich, we should be concerned with what really makes human culture as we know it possible by preserving intelligent capital that leads to freedom,  creative drive and purpose.[42]  Research is clear that in order to progress we need to maintain the genetic quality of our human stock with regards to cognitive abilities, and to unleash the creative potential that comes from those with high intelligence.[43]  Less than 1% of the population of Western culture historically has been responsible for major human achievements; and a high proportion of this has come from the Jewish culture with their preponderance of highly intelligent genes.[44,45]  Nothing else is as essential as this because it is the only attribute that our species puts so much personal pride into in our anthropocentric attempt to make ourselves superior to other species (a rather frivolous intellectual pursuit). It is the one universal quality however that can lead to wealth, health, reproductive success (now without actual reproduction but still pleasurable), social status, power, and all those things we as humans desire.  If we have any significant 'collective memories,' they are embodied in the genetic codes that are passed on from generation to generation.[46] All other artifacts of what has proceeded us are historically irrelevant.

Any nation, culture, population, or group that wants to develop, design, and build outstanding architectural structures must have enough people with the intelligence to provide the means to accomplish that goal.[47]  That means we must preserve what makes us human, not the artifacts left behind by those that went before us. If we merely collect old things and let our genetic stock degrade we will merely be a society of junk collectors because we will have lost the ability to create.

Postscript: This paper was originally written about 1997. Today, July 2003, the National Trust ( is running ads showing a family in front of a mall trying to celebrate their past, where once stood their church. It does not explain why, if they were so involved with their church, why it vanished to make way for the mall. But it does emphasize that historical preservation is now a business. Once enough people have a stake in preserving buildings, they have no choice but to find ever more properties to designate as worth saving. This is exactly the point of my article - once started, a group has a vested interest in finding new ways of stepping on individual rights for their own benefit.

[1]Stephen L. Kass, and Michael B. Gerrard. "Preservation of the Jay Estate." New York Law Journal, 1 June 1992, 1.
[2]Alan Harding. "Elite Theory and Growth Machines" in Theories of Urban Politics, ed. David Judge, Gerry Stoker, and Harold Wolman (Thousand Oaks, SAGE Publications, 1995 pbk), 42.
[3]Coplan S. Kaplan. "Protecting Minority Communities With Environmental, Civil Rights Claims," New York Law Journal, 20 August 1991,  1.
[4]Diane Barthel. Historic Preservation: Collective Memory and Historical Identity. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1996 original paperback), 4.
[5]Ibid., 19.
[6]Ibid., 153.
[7]"Don't Know Much About Historic Rules? Mining Companies Better Learn." Mine Regulation Reporter, 20 October 1995, 1.
[8]Michael Zapler. "Standing Up For America's Main Street." The National Journal, 15 October 1994, 41.
[9]Scott Gregory. "Protection From Railroad Sought For Historic Area." Chicago Tribune, 27 August 1996, sec. Metro DuPage,  p. 1.
[10]Teresa Puente. "Steel Giant Lies Shattered, Broken: Preservationists Hope to Save Joliet Works." Chicago Tribune, 22 August 1995, sec. Chicagoland, p. 1.
[11]"Removal of Fire Alarm Boxes Is Temporarily Enjoined; Matter of Powis (Giuliani), Supreme Court, IA Commercial Part 14, Justice Shackman." New York Law Journal. (3 March 1995): 25.
[12]Alf Siewers. "Michigan Avenue on Most Endangered Site List; Preservation Group Targets 10 for Careful Watch." Chicago Sun-Times, 17 March 1995, sec. News, p. 48.
[13]Al Podgorski. "A Landmark Dilemma." Chicago Sun-Times, 4 December 1994, sec. Sunday News, p. 21.
[14]Sheldon Lobel, and Scott Markowitz. "Penn Central: Was It Really A 'Euclid' for Landmarks?" New York Law Journal, 16 July 1990, 1.
[15]Eugene J Morris. "Landmark, Historic Districts; When Excessive Police Power Use Constitutes a 'Taking'." New York Law Journal, 18 March 1992, 1.
[16]John R. Nolan. "High Court's 'Lucas" Decision Leaves Shifting Sands in Regulatory Takings Law." New York Law Journal, 8 July 1992, 1.
[17]Chauncey L. Walker. "Landmarks: Cases Need Expertise; As Scope Grows." The National Law Review, 28 May 1990, 21.
[18]"Landmarks Law Application to Broadway Theatres." New York Law Journal, 22 May 1991, 21.
[19]Jon Sall. "Leave the Dead to Rest in Peace." Chicago Sun-Times, 7 March 1995, sec. Editorial; Personal View, p. 22.
[20]Bruce Kirkham. "Historical Site Targeted for Vacation Retreat." United Press International, 25 August 1987, sec. Regional News, p. 25.
[21]Blair Kamin. "A Landmark Dispute; Why the Art Institute supports preservation - usually." Chicago Tribune, 5 September 1993, sec. Arts, p. 8.
[22]Karl Plath. "Historic Preservation is his Dream." Chicago Tribune, 29 December 1985, sec. Real Estate, p. 1.
[23]Blair Kamin. "Owners seeking to demolish building tabbed as landmark." Chicago Tribune, 10 February 1989, sec. Chicagoland, p. 7.
[24]"Denial of Landmark Designation By Yonkers City Council Is Upheld." New York Law Journal, 3 July 1996, 5.
[25]Virginia Stafford. "Cherry trees, special $50." The Economist, 1 June 1996, ed. U.S., p. 31.
[26]Cynthia Kyle. "Voight House." Grand Rapids Magazine, 1 August 1995, 8.
[27]Barbara B. Buchholz. "Past Is Present; The Rewards and Restrictions of Owning A Historic Home." Chicago Tribune, 22 July 1994, sec. Your Place, p. 3.
[28]Stephen L. Kass, and Jean M. McCarroll. " Landmarking and Religious Liberty." New York Law Journal, 12 November 1996, 3.
[29]Stephen L. Kass, and Michael B. Gerrard. "God, Mammon And Historic Preservation." New York Law Journal, 23 April 23 1991, 7.
[30]Kass, "God, Mammon And Historic Preservation", 7.
[31]Janita Poe. "Church Heritage Tour Targets Black Culture." Chicago Tribune, 17 November 1996, sec. Metro, p. 1.
[32]Teresa Cordova. "Community Intervention Efforts to Oppose Gentrification" in Challenging Uneven Development: An Urban Agenda for the 1990's, ed. Philip Nyden, and Wim Wiewel (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1991 pbk), 31.
[33]Karl S Coplan. "Protecting Minority Communities With Environmental, Civil Rights Claims." New York Law Journal, 20 August 1991, 1.
[34]Nancy Ryan. "Preserve Tour Is Neighborhood Bound; Architecture Buffs Leave Loop, Go Ethnic." Chicago Tribune, 18 October 1996, sec. Metro, p. 1.
[35]Barthel, Historic Preservation, 7.
[36]Suzanne Bay. "Preserving the past." Business West, November 1, 1995, 27.
[37]Barthel, Historic Preservation, 121.
[38]Ibid., 38.
[39]De Waal, Frans. Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996): 146.
[40]Barthel, Historic Preservation, 143.
[41]Rudy Koshar. "Against the 'frightful leveler'." Journal of Urban History, 1 May 1993, 3.
[42]Lewis R. Aiken. Assessment of Intellectual Funtioning. (New York: Plenum Press, 1996): 281.
[43]Seymour W. Itzkoff. The Decline of Intelligence in America. (London: Praeger Press, 1994): 1, 74, 101.
[44]Elliott White. Genes, Brains, and Politics: Self-Selection and Social Life. (London: Praeger Press, 1993): 111.
[45]Kevin MacDonald. A People That Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy. (London: Praeger Press, 1995).
[46]Matt Ridley. The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. (New York: VIKING, 1996): 19.
[47]Rex Li. A Theory of Conceptual Intelligence: Thinking, Learning, Creativity, and Giftedness. (London: Praeger Press, 1996): 199.



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