PARK HISTORIC PRESERVATION'S VIEW
Park Historic Preservation believes that a centralized historic preservation unit within a Service Center is desirable if not essential. We are concerned about certain problems we have seen in the Denver Service Center's operation but believe that the Service Center concept should receive our support and that the Denver Service Center be required to do the vital work that must be done and which it is uniquely equipped to do. However, if the Denver Service Center cannot meet the challenges delegated to it, it is clear that other solutions must be found to the problems of historic preservation that the Service is now expected to solve.
The historic preservation team is a part of the Service Center's organization for very good reasons. These reasons are as valid today as when the Service Center - or centers - were established. Basically the centralized Service Center with its preservation team, would seem to make the best use of the Service's professional talent. A historic preservation team made up of the right mix of professionals working from a central location promises a strong and efficient performance for several reasons:
As these are advantages to the organization of a preservation team so there should be advantages to placing the team within the ambiance of a Service Center. Some of the above advantages apply to the placing of the preservation team within the larger organization. Principal among these are that:
Beyond these advantages to the team and center are those advantages to the Service which, perhaps, are paramount:
The above factors have justified the establishment of the historic preservation teams within the Service Center and perhaps will continue to do so. Unfortunately, they in themselves do not insure desirable performance and it seems to us that Utopia has not yet been achieved. Some of the problems or shortcomings of the Service Center operation that we perceive are outlined below.
A basic problem, we believe, is that the historic preservation team has operated in a management atmosphere that is something less than professionally congenial and supportive. The present Service Center and its recent predecessors have been development oriented and have had what might be called the Mission 66 Syndrome. They were organized and staffed to build roads, visitor centers and utility systems, all of which we have thought were needed in the operation of the National Park System. They have been required generally to get projects done by the lowest bidder at the cheapest cost and have received all kinds of hell when such programmed work was not done on time. Historic preservation in this milieu is an exotic activity little enough understood by its own practitioners and seldom understood at all by its new colleagues who have had little or no familiarity with it. Historic preservation and Mission 66 and perhaps the Bicentennial have little in common and, in fact, are often governed by different rules and are often in opposition. Until the differences are recognized and accepted by the Service and Service Center, historic preservation will be the Service Center's foster child. That the foster child relationship continues was illustrated by the fact that only a few months ago there was what we understood to be a serious proposal to eliminate the historic preservation team and parcel out its functions and personnel to the present regional teams. We believe that a proper relationship between the historic preservation team and the Service Center is taking shape but are not convinced that it has yet arrived.
There are some of us who believe that Denver is an unfortunate place, geographically, for the historic preservation team, if not the Service Center, to be based. A glance at the map will show that the team in Denver is far removed from the vast majority of its clients (archeological sites possibly excepted) and the libraries and archives it must use if it is to do its job. It is also in environment, geographically, hardly conducive to a frame of mind needed to wrestle with most of the Service's preservation problems. The result, I submit, is preservation by remote control and/or heavy travel costs, or as has happened, something of a fragmentation of the historic preservation effort.
Speaking of heavy travel costs we hear constant complaints of the excessive costs of Service Center projects and the vast sums required for Service Center overhead. This is a matter of great concern but one that can be better addressed by the Service Center's clients.
We are concerned also by personnel matters. We urge a continuity of personnel on projects. Those who do the advanced planning, as appropriate, should be those who are directly involved in project execution. This was standard in the 50's and 60's and has been the case at Philadelphia and at Fort Stanwix, but these are exceptions. We are concerned also in the failure as yet of the Service Center to recruit and train needed historic preservation personnel. We know, of course, of the Service's personnel ceilings and budgeting restraints but we understand that though the Service Center has in the past obtained additional permanent positions few if any have gone to the preservation team. For instance, we have not yet detected any real commitment on the part of the Service Center to train or employ historical landscape architects, as opposed to the modern variety, and know of no effort on the part of the Service Center to train additional historic preservation specialists and increase its capability in that essential area. The dearth of the latter we regard as a particularly serious deficiency.
Possibly because of the funding procedures which support it we regard the Service Center as too project oriented. Thus, it is difficult for the preservation team and others, no doubt, to become involved even in the most essential non-programmed work, particularly in the areas of training and maintenance. If the Service Center is to be the Service's great repository of experts it has to stand ready to make the services of these experts available when needed. If it cannot do so the expertise will have to be located elsewhere.
We are concerned also about the Service Center and the Service's review procedures. We have seen planning documents in Washington that have been disgustingly poor and wonder how they see the light of day. We hear of Bicentennial projects said to be so poorly done that it would be better had they not have been attempted at all. Part of the problem we suspect lies in a more pressing desire to get the work out than to get it out properly together with the personnel utilization problem mentioned above.
There has always been difficulty in involving the preservation team in the planning process. Fortunately, the team's members have become increasingly involved over the years and we are pleased to learn that this major justification for the Historic Preservation Team being in the Service Center is approaching practical realization.
Lest I sound too negative let me say that it is my opinion that it is something of a miracle that the Service Center has overcome some of its traumatic experiences of the last three or so years and have functioned creditably at all. It has seemed like a wagon train encircled by howling Indians. It is pretty hard to be creative and productive when you must continually justify your existence and the Service Center has been productive. The historic preservation in particular probably deserves more commendation than adverse criticism. Hopefully, the present team can be held together to the advantage of the Service.
In summation let me say that the Service's responsibilities in historic preservation are tremendous and they cannot be accomplished without the capable work of the Service Center monitored and supported by the various regions. To do its job the Service Center must have a strong and vital preservation team composed of people who want to be working in historic preservation and who know what they are doing. They will require the full support, given critically, by Service Center managers, a reasonable recruiting and training program and full participation by the historic preservation team in the Service's planning and training programs.
During the discussion of the subject of the Denver Service Center, some participants gave reasons pro and con for retraining or abolishing the Center. Most of the reasons were based on personal and area experiences, and specific problems; problems vary with areas because each area is different. There was mixed feelings about the concept of one Service Center, because regardless of the various reasons, the Center has not worked; there is an alien and hostile environment in Denver for historic preservation; the fault is not so much with the preservation team, but the Center itself that permits project supervisors to be insensitive to historic fabrics. To some the Center does not work because its centralization, location, excessive cost, lacks of coordination with parks and regions, poor relationship and lack of mutual respect between the regions, the park and the Center, and failure of Center to train personnel.
Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009