The Taliesin National Historic Landmark (NHL) is located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and includes the home, farm, studio, and theater that were designed and built by the internationally known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. All of these sites and the surrounding landscape are part of the NHL.
In April 2013, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) notified the owner(s) and other interested parties that they planned to resurface State Trunk Highway 23, which runs through the middle of the Taliesin NHL. This type of notification is required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, as amended, for which a project carried out, funded, or approved by a federal agency may affect any property listed on the National Register of Historic Places or designated an NHL. Together, the owner(s) of the property and those interested in the property become the “consulting parties” and will have a seat at the table with the agencies to discuss the project and to develop ideas to prevent an adverse effect.
In addition to the repaving, WisDOT and FHWA planned to install extended guardrails on three different bridges within the NHL to meet current FHWA guidelines. Their latest guidelines require extended guard rails with tiger board signage elevated upwards from the end of each guard rail. The consulting parties conceded the need for extended guard rails for safety and were able to successfully negotiate for wood posts with painted railings, vegetative screening along the rails, and a reduction of the number of signs within the NHL along with a smaller size for some of the signage.
But there was an impasse between the agencies and the consulting parties over the tiger board signage, which measure 1-foot-by-3-feet with bright yellow and black angled stripes. While the transportation professionals argued that tiger board signage is required by their departmental guidelines, the consulting parties argued that the tiger boards were a visual intrusion on the tranquil, rural landscape of the Taliesin NHL. Thus, the consulting parties felt the project would negatively impair the historic characteristics of the NHL.
This adverse effect would also violate Section 110(f) of the NHPA, the section of the NHPA that requires agencies “to the maximum extent possible, undertake such planning and actions as may be necessary to minimize harm” to NHLs. As a result, the Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office, the National Park Service and other consulting parties met with WisDot and FHWA at the Taliesin site, in the Madison offices of the agencies, and via phone conference to discuss design solutions to avoid an adverse effect on the Taliesin NHL.
In April 2014, WisDOT and FHWA granted an exemption on the use of tiger board signage within the Taliesin NHL and agreed to use non-elevated, 1-foot-by-1-foot, solid gold-colored signs as terminal ends on the extended guard rails. Thus, one of the more significant characteristics of the Taliesin NHL—its serene landscape—will be less affected by the project. This decision sets a precedent for the preservation of historic landscapes and roads within NHLs and will have an impact on future decisions regarding road projects within state and national parks.
Originally published in "Exceptional Places" Vol. 9, 2014, a newsletter of the Division of Cultural Resources, Midwest Region. Written by Michele Curran.