THE PARK'S VIEW OF HISTORIC PRESERVATION
I am pleased to be included in this conference and with this panel to talk about a subject, historic preservation, that it seems like I have been concerned with every day of my National Park Service career. This career spans 18 years working as a historian in five parks, serving as a historian planner for two and a half years in the Washington Service Center and as a superintendent for two historical units of the National Park System.
The one thing that I have been constantly aware of throughout my career in the several parks is the absence of money to accomplish the things in historic preservation that we would like to do. Finally, that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has presented itself at Independence National Historical Park. During the five years preceding 1976 Independence National Historical Park will have completed over $20 million in park development. Most of this money involves historic preservation or, in one way or another, has some effect on it.
Our problem at Independence is not one of a scarcity of funds as much as it is what we should do with what we have. In making this decision, the Park Superintendent and the Denver Service Center have an opportunity to make a recommendation to the Regional Director who then makes the final decision. However, in this process there are professional staffs and outside sources that have some influence on the finished product. There seems to be no scarcity of professionals to advise each of us along the way. Working on our projects at Independence, we have the advice of the best of curators, architects, historians and archeologists -- many of them extreme in the views of their discipline. I do not quarrel with a slight degree of fanaticism up to a point; a person should be enthusiastically prepared to sell their point of view and those who are more successful have an emotional involvement.
The difficulties come when forceful people from the different disciplines disagree on various points. For example: a curator who has laboriously refurnished Independence Hall in the minutest detail is not sympathetic to an architect who wishes to cover up a historic piece of floor with a rubber mat which is an esthetic intrusion. Others do battle: the debate over whether the story of Independence is one of history or architecture. I have even seen the time two professionals anticipated a disagreement and both began working among the other professional disciplines to line up their colleagues with their point of view.
The park superintendent then becomes the middleman. He is sort of like a policeman standing in the middle of a busy intersection directing traffic. He receives advice from the professionals involved, but it is his place to make the final decision on the project. Sometimes professionals don't like the system that allows a third person to make the decision because it often breeds compromise. I think it's important that the manager continue to make the decisions.
The reason the manager should make these decisions is that each of the professionals is a specialist and the manager is more of a generalist. He should be aware of the professional considerations, but also of the outside factors that are involved in the decision. The specialist, in working at his discipline, may not be aware of things such as legislative commitments, availability of funds, political considerations, visitor use of the park and timing, which is an extremely important factor in our Bicentennial projects.
There is one thing of which I am firmly convinced, and that is that we are working toward the same goals but have some different ideas as to how we get there. Usually the goals are greater than can be accomplished by one discipline; it takes all people working together with a positive attitude.
Since most of our projects that are currently under way at Independence National Historical Park are historic preservation projects, it is necessary that we comply with the Section 106 of the Historic Sites Act. I find the whole idea of 106 compliance, as it is being carried out, cumbersome. My impression of the intent of the 106 compliance is to be assured that all alternatives and an intelligent approach to the project has been conducted. We of the National Park Service have the talent and planning ability to make intelligent decisions about projects. We go to great extremes in compiling our research and in reviewing the recommendations to be carried out. After this process has been conducted, then a State liaison officer and an Advisory Commission staff person, who may know very little about the project and has not been privy to all of the processes that would make them intelligent on it, have an opportunity to delay or alter the project. I feel they should concern themselves only with the fact that an intelligent process has been carried out, not with the decisions of that process.
Also, we do not need the State liaison officer and the Advisory Commission staff's advice on how to maintain historic properties. We have a Service Center Historic Preservation Team located in Philadelphia from which we can seek advice when we need it. Our staff at Independence National Historical Park is second to none in being able to carry out the repair and maintenance of historic structures.
When I hear the words "historic preservation" my first feeling is one of great pride. There is no doubt in my mind that we of the National Park Service, and especially at Independence National Historical Park, are the best in the field of historic preservation. We take every opportunity to showcase it and call attention to it. Just within the past few months we have concluded lecture series, special tour, new publications, and just last Friday a three-day Art Symposium that called attention to the historic resources that we manage. The pride that we take in these resources and the work that we are doing on them is not just in the end result, it is in the process to get that end result also. It takes everyone working together, pushing and shoving, giving and taking, but in the end agreeing, to accomplish a project. After the fact, end running and bad mouthing does nothing for the individual or the Service image.
Despite all of the painful realities of the process in which we involve ourselves in historical preservation, we nevertheless are the greatest and should not hesitate to let others know it.
Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009