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The National Historic Preservation Act and The National Park Service: A History




current topic Preface

Getting (Re)Organized

Expanding the Register

Aiding Preservation

Protecting Properties

An Appraisal

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E

Appendix F


The National Historic Preservation Act and The National Park Service: A History
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The 20 years after World War II witnessed unprecedented transformation of the American environment. Economic depression followed by war had subdued and then diverted the nation's energies; relative peace and prosperity unleashed them upon the landscape. In the words of Jerry L. Rogers, "America was on a public-funded development binge":

Interstate highways were plowing through where land could be bought for less, usually older neighborhoods and parklands. Using urban renewal funds, cities were busily leveling the buildings and districts that distinguished them from all other cities, assembling lands into larger parcels, and urging developers to put up redundant and undistinguished new buildings. River and harbor improvements and water impoundments destroyed or inundated countless archeological sites, rescuing data from a haphazardly selected few. The tax code of the United States encouraged the destruction of historic buildings by rewarding the construction of new ones on their sites.... [1]

This destruction produced the inevitable reaction. Representatives from a range of bodies involved with or sympathetic to historic preservation began to discuss ways of seeing that historic features obtained some recognition in public project planning.

In September 1963 the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Colonial Williamsburg staged an international seminar at Williamsburg that had been proposed by Ronald F. Lee, National Park Service regional director and secretary of the National Trust's board of trustees. A resulting statement called for a national inventory of historic properties and machinery for considering their protection. In November 1964 a presidential task force on the preservation of natural beauty repeated these recommendations and advocated federal loans and matching grants to state and local governments for preservation, tax deductions for preservation expenses, and a $2,000,000 annual appropriation to the National Trust to be matched by private donations. President Lyndon B. Johnson endorsed the general position of the task force in a subsequent message to the Congress:

In almost every part of the country citizens are rallying to save landmarks of beauty and history. The Government must also do its share to assist these local efforts which have an important national purpose. We will encourage and support the National Trust for Historic Preservation.... I shall propose legislation to authorize supplementary grants to help local authorities acquire, develop, and manage private properties for such purposes. [2]

Of particular consequence was the Special Committee on Historic Preservation sponsored by the United States Conference of Mayors with Ford Foundation support, formed in the summer of 1965. It was chaired by Albert Rains, a former Alabama congressman and chairman of the House housing subcommittee, and included selected members of Congress and the Cabinet. The National Trust and National Park Service were represented on the committee, with the Trust supplying its staff. The committee studied preservation in America and Europe and published its findings and recommendations in a book, With Heritage So Rich, early in 1966.

This report called for a "new preservation" integrated with rather than isolated from contemporary life:

If the preservation movement is to be successful...it must go beyond saving occasional historic houses and opening museums. It must be more than a cult of antiquarians. It must do more than revere a few precious national shrines. It must attempt to give a sense of orientation to our society, using structures and objects of the past to establish values of time and place....

[T]he new preservation must look beyond the individual building and individual landmark and concern itself with the historic and architecturally valued areas and districts which contain a special meaning for the community....

In sum, if we wish to have a future with greater meaning, we must concern ourselves not only with the historic highlights, but we must be concerned with the total heritage of the nation and all that is worth preserving from our past as a living part of the present. [3]

The committee recommended a comprehensive "National Register" administered by the Park Service and developed from federal and state historic property surveys, the latter assisted by federal grants; an Advisory Council on Historic Preservation broadly representing governmental and private interests, its concerns to include the review and resolution of conflicts between federal programs affecting preservation; Internal Revenue Code amendments favoring preservation; requirements for identifying and considering historic properties in advance of federal and federally aided projects; federal matching grants and loans for public acquisition, rehabilitation, and restoration of historic structures; new loan programs for acquisition and rehabilitation by private parties; and a scholarship and training program for architects and technicians in historic preservation. Other recommendations addressed grants to the National Trust and actions that could be taken by state and local governments.

In March 1966 Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall sent a bill to Congress incorporating many of the Special Committee's proposals. Sen. Henry M. Jackson of Washington and Rep. Wayne N. Aspinall of Colorado, chairmen of the Senate and House Interior and Insular Affairs committees, promptly introduced the legislation. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine and Rep. William B. Widnall of New Jersey, both members of the Special Committee, sponsored similar bills. Following committee hearings and amendments, the House and Senate passed a measure pleasing most interested parties. President Johnson signed it into law on October 15. [4]

The preamble to the National Historic Preservation Act affirmed the "new preservation" articulated in With Heritage So Rich, declaring "that the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people." The act authorized the Secretary of the Interior—in practice, the National Park Service—to "expand and maintain a national register of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, and culture" and to dispense matching grants-in-aid to the states for historical surveys, preservation plans, and the acquisition and development of historic properties. Matching grants were also authorized to support the National Trust in carrying out its responsibilities. In specific response to the destruction wrought by federal projects, Section 106 of the act ordered federal agencies to consider the effects of their undertakings on National Register properties and permit the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation established by the act to comment on such undertakings.

The passage of two decades affords opportunity for historical perspective on the 1966 act and its consequences. Ernest Allen Connally, a foremost player in implementing its provisions, published a lucid summary of the events leading to its enactment in the February and April 1986 issues of the Park Service's CRM Bulletin. James M. (Mike) Lambe's Legislative History of Historic Preservation Act of 1966 traces the progress of the legislation through Congress; it is no less valuable today for having been compiled in 1967. A dissertation in progress by James A. Glass, a doctoral student at Cornell, promises to be the definitive work on the national preservation program resulting from the act.

In view of these and other contributions to the historical record, the present work is distinctly limited in scope. Essentially, it is concerned with key decisions and directions taken by the National Park Service in implementing the 1966 act and successive amendments to it. It does not address the Advisory Council after its Service ties were severed in 1976, therefore, nor other preservation-related legislation in the past 20 years beyond the tax provisions that so heavily influenced the programs under the act. It gives short shrift to both the operational details of these programs and their major accomplishments. For the comprehensive treatment that the broad topic warrants, we must await the Glass dissertation and the book expected from it.

Many people assisted in the preparation of this account, a few of whom deserve special mention. Ernest Connally and Jerry Rogers opened their files and were especially generous with their time in interviews. Robert M. Utley shipped his personal collection of relevant documents from Santa Fe to Washington for use in the research and responded patiently to numerous telephone inquiries. Robert R. Garvey, Jr., and William J. Murtagh contributed recollections from the pivotal roles they played in implementing the act. Stephen D. Newman provided papers and fielded questions on the grants program. And Beth M. Grosvenor of the National Register staff made available the many records she has carefully preserved throughout successive office reorganizations and moves. As usual in assignments of this kind, consulting with and learning from such people was the most rewarding aspect of the research.

Barry Mackintosh
August 1986

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