First Annual National Park Service Historic Preservation Conference
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Hugh Miller

Historic structure reports are conceived as a synthesis of documentary history and physical evidence. The evaluation of physical evidence gleaned from the site and the structure by the archeologist and the architect, guided by documented facts of history, usually provide a variety of alternatives for preservation treatment and park use. The elimination of these alternates to find the preferred course of action requires interaction between the park manager and the professionals concerned and should result in the recommendations of the administrative section of the report.

In practice this is not happening! The administrative section is written from the master plan and often inculcates preconceived development not suitable or feasible and often contrary to NPS policy. The professional sections are too often inconclusive and contain irrelevant material. Historical archeological investigation may be missing. Architectural findings are often sweeping conclusions without reference to physical evidence or period prototypes. The history often includes more information regarding events in the owners' lives rather than concerns with the construction of the building and its architectural significance. Almost never are the relevant disciplines coordinated in an orchestrated study and conclusion. The inadequacies of these studies lead to a breakdown of the preservation system. Preservation decisions are often made without sufficient information. Preservation treatments are being carried out without detailed information, often requiring decisions to be made in the field by unqualified contractors and construction supervisors. Managers realizing these problems often attempt projects with operating funds without the necessary evaluation of the resource and a full understanding of historic preservation policy.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. As we sit here today, NPS is reconstructing buildings that have been gone from their sites for over a hundred years. In a neighboring park, original buildings of the same period acquired by the Park Service over a decade ago are mouldering with dry rot as vacant structures. We plan and carry out the demolition of historic structures while in the same area there is a crying need for community services and park support facilities which cannot be accommodated within the existing structures of the park. New visitor facilities are being constructed while the historic focus of the park is in an advanced state of structural distress.

The faults lie within the system and within our profession. The administrative policies and activity standards have been prepared as a guide and procedure for a thorough evaluation of the characteristics and limitations of the individual cultural resources of the Park Service. This provides a mechanism for evaluating through interdisciplinary participation, the suitability and feasibility of preservation treatments and park use. By understanding the alternate courses of action and repercussions that might be expected in the pursuit of each alternate, the park manager should be able to made necessary operating decisions while minimizing the adverse affects on the resource.

Needless to say, these evaluations go way beyond the scope of the historic structure reports. It is our intent to discuss the whole body of resource studies. The standards call for a historical studies plan; historic resource studies; historic structure report - including administration, historic data, architectural data and architectural data sections; archeological site investigation reports; historic gardens and grounds studies and historic furnishings studies which are basic to the understanding of cultural resources. These are also essential for the preparation of "The Historic Resources Management Plan" and "Historic Structures Preservation Guide" as well as the implementation of the development and interpretive plans. The list of classified structures and accession books of objects are essential inventories for management of the parks' resources. We are aware of few parks with all their required resource studies and management documents. Where these do exist, they often fail to provide the necessary comprehensive evaluation of the resource.

The reasons for these inadequacies are in priorities, programs and professionals. In the competition for available funds the documentation of our cultural resources is often considered a luxury. Year after year, a historic resource study for a national park where the theme of interpretation is "man and nature" receive a regional priority ranking of over a hundred. Year after year, this project fails to receive funding. This is a simple project when compared to the study of major complexes of structures such as here in Boston or the archeological sites of the Southwest. The thrust of NPS programs such as "Mission 66", "Parks for People" and the Bicentennial have pushed aside programs for the preservation of park resources. We are now witnessing changes in attitude in the establishment of priorities regarding historic resources. In one case the development of new facilities have been scrapped with the re-programming of funds for rehabilitation of the resource and the FY 77 budget identifies preservation of historic structures as a program thrust.

Programs, however, can also be a snare and delusion. As we look at the construction programs of the Bicentennial, few of these important commemorative sites have resource studies and management plans to standard. In fact, one can find construction underway in the restoration of a historic structure with the notation "Historic Structure Report Not Approved"! Under the crunch of time and the commitments to expend program money it is easy to find planning decisions being made without resource studies, architectural restorations being carried out without conclusive evaluation of the fabric or historic precedence, earth being moved for restoration or reconstruction without the benefit of archeological investigation and interpretive programs being created without establishing historic fact.

With new priorities and programs for historic preservation there will still remain the overwhelming task of providing the expertise in research and resource evaluation necessary for preservation action. This will require professionalism in all senses of the word - intellectual skills, ethical standards and comprehensive experience - in a fully interdisciplinary program. It is apparent that at the centralized, regional and field levels there are not sufficient individuals with the skills and experience necessary to produce and implement the studies required by the standards. The current Bicentennial program has indicated pitfalls in the contractural approach toward providing professional services. With the encouragement of the program priorities of the FY 77 budget the establishment of a system for the professional activities must be fully implemented. This will require an aggressive intake program with comprehensive on the job training opportunities and coordination of interdisciplinary skills by experienced individuals through an interaction with management at Washington, regional and field levels.

The National Park Service procedures for historic preservation are basically sound in their research studies and processing of the findings and yet, the system as it now exists in its application permits inadequacies to be compounded into omissions without accountability for performance that in its extreme is negligence of the public trust. Only when the comprehensive understanding of the characteristics of our unique, non-renewable resources will we be able to provide preservation treatment and management procedure to meet our Congressional mandate.

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Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009