National Park Service


Created as a tribute to the ideas and work of Lee H. Nelson, FAIA, historical architect in the National Park Service from 1960 to 1990 and former Chief, Technical Preservation Services, the basis for the web class was twofold.

Nelson developed a slide talk (The Walk Through) to discuss the use of "The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation" in relation to preserving the "historic character." This ground-breaking lecture on "character" was amplified and modified in succeeding years to help guide preservation decision making, initially for maintenance personnel in the National Park Service.

The approach Nelson created is intended to make the layman look at a historic building as a set of tangible materials and features, not as any particular style. The building's "character" is also not to be confused with the notion of "original." Historic buildings evolve over time, so that a later feature may be just as important--or even more important--as one that was part of the original construction.

In the Walk Through process, it is also critical that the historic building be examined, first, at a distance to determine which visual aspects must be preserved in rehabilitation in order to retain the "character," and again, at arm's length, so that the unique craft details and their physical condition can be identified and assessed. The interior spaces, features, and finishes undergo similar scrutiny prior to work.

Preservation Brief 17: Architectural Character: Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings as an Aid to Preserving Their Character by Lee H. Nelson, FAIA, presented the same process initially articulated in the slide talk, but in an an essay format with illustrations. Nelson added an Architectural Check List to the Brief so that an architect, developer, maintenance manager, or homeowner could actually record, onsite, the "visual aspects" that, together, defined the architectural character of the building.

This web class, developed by Kay Weeks and designed by Mark Oviatt, Oviatt Media, builds on Nelson's slide talk and Preservation Brief. Thanks to NPS colleagues who reviewed and commented on the 1999 Walk Through at various stages, including Pat Tiller, Sharon Park, Chuck Fisher, Fran Gale, Deborah Maylie, Susan Escherich, Rebecca Shiffer, Aleca Sullivan, Terry Childs, and Kathleen Madigan, but especially Anne Grimmer. Special thanks to Emogene Bevitt, who lent both support and assistance from its beginnings as an "idea." The comments of historic preservation professionals in the field, especially David Woodcock, Mary Krugman, Gregory Smith, Leslie Brown, and Gene Barfield were also very much appreciated.

What is the Historic Character? START