First Annual National Park Service Historic Preservation Conference
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Ross Holland

At the request from one of the participants, Mr. Holland discussed briefly what the North Atlantic Region was doing in the Historic Preservation Laboratory that was being organized.

The laboratory, he said, is a permanent fixture here within the Regional Office. We had it set up, thanks primarily to Blaine Cliver, who has the expertise to handle all the equipment that we have and understands how to put it to the most effective use. It is within our regional objectives to establish a preservation laboratory. We don't have all the equipment yet, but we are slowly getting it. We have a microscope and a camera that fits onto it. We are able to take a look at various paint samples to determine what type of paint was at various historic structures during different periods. We also are able to analyze the mortar and the plaster of the various structures that go back with the original materials. One thing that we will be getting this year, thanks to regional reserves, is an X-ray machine which will permit us to take a look at a building without having to rip into it. That is basically our preservation laboratory; it is growing, it is expanding, and we are doing a hell of a lot of work with it, because it is this basic information that should go into the Historic Structure Reports that are done by us. The laboratory is extremely useful, and we hope we will be a little bit ahead of the game by having the information on hand. If funds become available for maintenance of our historic structures, we will be ready to go with the proper documentation. The preservation laboratory is not an excessively expensive operation, it costs some money initially to buy equipment and supplies, and it does take time to set it up. When I was fortunately selected to go to Russia for three weeks to study historic preservation there, it really pointed out to me how primitive we are as far as historic preservation is concerned. The Russians are really going about it in the proper way. They have 16 republics; we visited three of the republics and in two of them we saw preservation laboratories. They had more people in the preservation laboratory in Leningrad than we have, I suppose, working in the whole United States on historic preservation. They have craftsmen, masons, and people who are wood carvers. They had a chemist who analyzed the dye used on wall paper; they had people making glass for chandeliers; they had gold leafing experts who put the gold leaves on the various statues that craftsmen carved out by hand. They spend much money on historic preservation and it shows. The Russians are very sincere about their efforts.

They have craftsmen and the way they handle the craftsmen is something that we should be doing. They take an apprentice who learns a trade over a period of years; in time, he becomes a craftsman. After a number of years of being a craftsman, and demonstrating his capability, he then becomes a master craftsman. And that is a high position with the Soviet Union. We could do something similar. For example, we should create career ladders for our maintenance people engaged in historic preservation. The Russians spend a lot of money in historic preservation. We don't have anything like the Great Palace of Peterhof, which the Germans occupied during their 900-day siege; when they left, they set off a charge of dynamite right in the center of it and virtually destroyed the place. The Palace was in one hell of a shape by the end of World War II, but they restored it, using a lot of money, taking a lot of time, and working a lot of people. They had a lot of experts working there. That does not mean that we should emulate the Russians all the way down the line because my observation was that they tended to engage the object type of disciplines in their historic preservation activities; they had the historical architect, architectural historian, the archeologist, and the art historian, but I did not see one real historian, and this shows up since they tend to restore their buildings as works of art rather than places that people occupied.

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Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009