AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT M. UTLEY ON THE HISTORY OF
HISTORIC PRESERVATION IN THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE1947-1980
Bob: However much the policies encouraged superintendents to act within broad guidelines, however much the system mandated it, they exercised individual initiative only if it did not contradict or depart from what Hartzog wanted done. In other words, the system did indeed rest upon decentralized authority, but you better read the top man and make sure that you don't get crosswise with him or you're not going to be a superintendent very long.
Dick: Let's look at it since Hartzog's time. It seems to me that 106 and the XXX process go against individual initiative and establish a dialogue between the park and the region to curtail individual initiative.
Bob: Well this is true, and not only is that as it ought to be, but I think it came about in some part because of excesses of individual initiative on the park level that threatened to embarrass the Park Service, within the context of Section 106, as the lead preservation agency. I think that has come about in part, too, because of the efforts that I and members of my staff undertook back in the 70's, specifically the programmatic memorandum of agreement, which was in my mind explicitly intended to force the Park Service to live up to its own principles. We hoped to force the Park Service through this external mechanism to begin adhering to its own written policies. I conceived it more of an internal management tool for the Park Service to get its own house in order than I did as an external compliance with a provision of Federal law. At that time, I worked closely with Bob Garvey, who was Executive Director of the Advisory Council. He and I cooked up this scheme, and I negotiated the original Programmatic Memorandum of Agreement on behalf of the Park Service. Then I went over the Advisory Council as deputy to Bob Garvey and attempted to enforce it from that side. I believe that approach may have had some impact in influencing you to where you are today. It works in your own Region at least. There are other Regions of the Park Service that just ignore 106 altogether.
Dick: Well it seems as if we are going from a situation where parks were virtually autonomous in the 30's and 40's and 50's, perhaps with regards to cultural resource management, to where the Regions in exerting 106 authority over the parks have more priority.
Bob: This is true, but the power is unevenly applied as between Regions, and your questions are reflecting your own experience here, which is probably as close to the ideal that we conceived back in the middle 70's as exists anywhere in the Park Service. There are some regions which don't come anywhere near that ideal. I remember John Rutter, when he was Regional Director up in Seattle, boasted to me one day that he had no Section 106 cases. That Region didn't have any Section 106 cases because they ignored the law altogether.
Dick: Do you recall any key 106 crises in the Park Service?
Bob: The biggest crisis was the Gettysburg Tower. That was the one that spotlighted for all the world to see the conflict of interest in the National Park Service supervising as one of its own components the Advisory Council, which in turn was charged with policing the Park Service as well as other agencies. It was a conflict of interest not only in the Park Service but in all of Interior, which has got some other pretty significant land managing agencies in the BIA, BLM, and Fish and Wildlife. So the Gettysburg Tower practically made it essential that the Advisory Council be given its independence from the Park Service and from Interior.
Dick: Did you support that separation?
Bob: Absolutely! This legislation was introduced in 1976. Gary Everhardt was Director then, and in this instance I believe that, in addition to Gary's lack of interest, I persuaded him that this was the right way to go and that he ought not to oppose it. I have since learned that at this very time Hartzog was chiding Gary sarcastically for letting a part of his empire get away from him without a fight. And Hartzog has since said that the biggest mistake Gary Everhardt made was to let the Advisory Council go without a fight.
Dick: You don't agree with that.
Bob: No, absolutely not.
Dick: But Hartzog, being an empire builder would naturally.......
Bob: That's right, I think he looked at it as much from the imperial perspective as any other, plus the fact that the Advisory Council, after it got its independence, gave the Park Service more trouble than it did when it got its budget and personnel ceiling from the Park Service.
Dick: Okay it was to some large degree Everhardt's lack of interest in the Advisory Council that allowed it to slip away?
Bob: Well in historic preservation in general. But I fancy too that I had something to do with talking him into it.
Dick: Do you want to comment on any more bureaucratic ins and outs of separating the NPS and Advisory Council?
Bob: Not at the moment. I think it was a long overdue move that certainly needed to be done.
Dick: Okay and Hartzog would have accepted the Advisory Council as part of the Park Service despite its contradictions.
Bob: Oh yes, he would have resolved the contradictions one way or another.
Dick: You mean they were resolvable?
Bob: Oh no, they were not actually resolvable. I guess I shouldn't say he would have resolved them. He would have finessed them one way or another after the Gettysburg experience. I am sure he didn't want to get squeezed like that again, and I think he would have finessed it so that no such thing ever arose again. He was a dictator, and whether it was right or wrong, this is the way you do it, and I think he could have buried the contradictions.
Dick: Bob what was your particular role in the Gettysburg controversy and your position?
Bob: I had no role except to watch from the sidelines. That was handled by Bob Garvey and Jack McDermott out of the Advisory Council. I knew what was going on. I knew what the issues were. At that time I was Director of OAHP, and we had plenty of other things to do.
Dick: Was the Advisory Council under you then?
Bob: No, the Advisory Council reported to Hartzog. Later the Advisory Council and the National Park Foundation and several other oddball things like that reported to Tom Flynn as Deputy Director of the Park Service. Then Bob Garvey's relationship was largely with Tom Flynn.
Dick: Any other observations on your point of view during the Gettysburg controversy, even though you might not have been involved?
Bob: I didn't know enough of the ins and outs. I have learned since more than I knew at the time. The legal situation was created mainly by Hartzog. I think he did it carelessly and with the best interest of the Park Service at heart. The promoter there owned an inholding. He was going to build a tower on that. There was no way we could stop him from doing it. He was going to do it. Hartzog bargained with him to build it on a chunk of Park Service land that was less objectionable than his private inholding and gave him access over park land to get him there. That was a Federal undertaking. There would have been no Section 106 case if this guy had built it on his own land because it would have been without any Federal involvement. As a matter of fact, it was another inholding and Hartzog just gave him access over park land to get there. So that was a Federal undertaking and that made the Park Service look bad. It made the Park Service look like it was cooperating with the developer to build this monstrosity on park land. But the details are more complicated than that.
Dick: The one result of the Gettysburg controversy would have been the Park Service's greater awareness that it was responsible for 106?
Bob: I think it had that effect, yes. It didn't make it any more inclined to cooperate when it could get away with it. I'd say the Park Service's record under 106 historically has been just as bad as the Corps of Engineers or any of the other baddies.
Dick: Let's move on to another topic: your views on the rapid growth of the System in the 1960's and 1970's with regard to cultural resources.
Bob: There is a tendency in the Park Service these days to look back with great regret on the expansion of the System in the historical area category at that time. I don't, because basically I picked up enough of Hartzog's imperialistic approach to be an expansionist too. I am not an uncritical expansionist, but I am an expansionist who probably applies a looser or broader set of judgments to what can be justified for the Park System than many of my critics who are purists. This goes to one of your other questions of what constitutes national significance. I felt in the early years of my career that we applied the criteria of national significance too rigidly, and when I took over the responsibility for the Historic Sites Survey I deliberately and systematically broadened the application of those criteria to admit landmarks that had been rejected before or never could have aspired to the distinction. So likewise, in what can be justified for the Park System, I fought vigorously against areas I considered substandard. I emerged from the fight over the Kosciuszko House in Philadelphia with blood all over me in a total defeat. But I went down bravely singing the criteria of national significance under the onslaught of all of those Poles.
Dick: You felt it did not meet......
Bob: Well there was no way that it could be either nationally significant or suitable for the National Park System. Kosciuszko spent several months there. It was a boarding house. Hartzog used to say that's not a monument to Kosciuszko, it's a monument to his landlady. But it became a symbol of Polish ethnic pride and it turned out that there were something like 12 million Poles in the United States, and they had some very responsive members of Congress. So we went down to crashing defeat on that, with I standing on the bridge saluting.
There were others that I fought, both in the sense of outright opposition or of the kind of bureaucratic maneuvering that I spoke of earlier, where you're either stalling or putting it in a context that you know is politically unacceptable and so it can't come about.
Dick: Would you give some examples of those that you fought that nevertheless were brought into the System?
Bob: Yes, for years we had a running battle with a woman in Savannah, Georgia, to put the Savannah Battlefield into the National Park System, and we opposed this consistently.
Dick: On the grounds of national significance?
Bob: On the grounds more of integrity. There wasn't enough to make it an acceptable park area that could be preserved and interpreted. Also, we didn't feel that the Battle of Savannah was all that critical in the American Revolution.
Dick: I guess the question really was, Bob, others where you fought against proposals and they still came about.
Bob: We tried everything to give Joe Skubitz something that we could live with and that would satisfy him without taking that Cherokee Strip living history museum. When I went out and visited it, I found a quonset hut in Arkansas City, Kansasbig quonset hut with corrugated roof, full of everything that the local ranchers had dragged in for the last 50 years. There were valuable specimens along with just plain junk, none of it organized around any particular theme or displayed with any professional sensitivity. We tried to bury that in a larger Cherokee Strip proposal and a still larger Prairie Park proposal. Everyone of them failed, and finally Skubitz simply slapped that museum into one of Phil Burton's annual omnibus bills and the Park System got it.
Dick: But it came in as an affiliated area?
Bob: I think that was negotiated subsequent to the enactment of the legislation and I think subsequently it may have been defrocked or some way so lowered in its visibility that nobody really knows it's in the Park System. But that was another defeat. I am sure there are others, but I can't bring them to mind at the moment.
Dick: If others come to mind I would like to get some good examples.
Bob: One that we did succeed in defeating is rather amusing. There was a gentleman in Washington, D.C. who bombarded us for years with proposals to put into the Park System the Aquia Creek Quarries. These were the sandstone quarries from which they took the stones that they built the U.S. Capitol from, and he had members of Congress behind him, and he got the idea that the property was never legally alienated from U. S. Government ownership.
Dick: I thought George Washington owned the place where they took the sandstone?
Bob: Well this comes from down on Aguia creek. George Washington may have owned it, but if so I'll bet he sold it to the Government. Anyway, he got it in his mind that it had never been legally alienated even though a Richmond housing subdivision was being built there. He was able to prove that the Government still owned it and forced GSA to repossess it as Federal property. A Richmond title insurance company went bankrupt over it. Having triumphed then, far from getting it into the Park System, GSA declared it surplus to Government needs and sold it.
Dick: Can you think of some other examples where you succeeded in situations where the national significance was lacking?
Bob: We headed off Charlie Bennett's Southmost Battlefield of the Revolution proposal. Another one we lost spectacularly was Fort Scott, Kansas. That was another of Skubitz's.
Dick: That you opposed?
Bob: The whole Park Service opposed. Actually it was hatched early in my tenure so that the opposition had been mostly before my time, but I joined in it and we lost that one. That gave Skubitz a contempt for Park Service historians, especially those specializing in the West, because on the face of it anyone who thought that Fort Scott wasn't significant couldn't be a very good historian.
Dick: Was Skubitz particularly important to the Park Service?
Bob: He was the ranking minority member of our legislative subcommittee and an amateur historian.
Dick: Bob, was there any real Polish support for the Kosciuszko place?
Bob: My lordy, yes. Every Pole in the United States jumped into the fray. When we had the Senate hearings, Senator Church of Idaho was presiding, and every seat in the hearing room was taken. The walls were lined with people, all Poles, who had been bussed down on chartered busses from Philadelphia. There was no seat for me to sit in, and I walked over against one of those big deep window wells in the Senate hearing room, and stacked up there was a bunch of file folders, and the top one was labeled "Utley's statements." They had come prepared to quote me against me, with a file folder full of paper. Of course, Senator Church sitting up there was not about to say anything that any Pole could object to, and so we were in a delicate situation that morning. As we usually did before congressional hearings, we had a briefing in Hartzog's office. Hartzog was asking questions that none of us could answer, so I went down and got John Luzader.
Dick: Historical questions?
Bob: Yes. I went down and got John Luzader. If you know John Luzader, like you he is a tall and distinguished bearded man with a bald head and speaks in sonorous and erudite language, with a most scholarly air. Hartzog was so impressed with the image that Luzader projected in that meeting that he dragged him up on the Hill, and when he got a question he couldn't answer he'd call Luzader up to the stand. Well Luzader is not known for brevity. And Luzader undertook to give for Senator Church's edification every detail in the litigation over the Kosciuszko will from 1798 until its final adjudication by the Supreme Court in 1856. It went on and on and on and on, and neither Hartzog nor Senator Church could turn off John Luzader until he had finished his recitation. That was the last time that we took John up on the Hill.
Dick: Okay. A question that came from Ed Bearss. There were several questions regarding national significance. Let me read it. Did you ever sense that management was willing to accept substandard historical additions to the National Park System on political grounds? I think you addressed that to some extent already.
Bob: That's a loaded question from Ed. What he's really saying is, didn't you kind of prostitute your conception of national significance for management's political purposes? My answer to that is that there were occasions when management wouldn't have liked to accept substandard additions. I can't think of one off hand. I know there are none that we supported that I would regard as substandard. Even the controversial Maggie Walker House in Richmond Virginia. I was involved in it to this extent. After I left the Park Service, Vince and Bob DeForest, the black brothers that we finally turned to much earlier to help us with our black landmark program, were very interested in the Maggie Walker house. Vince was an architect, and he had been hired by the people in Richmond to do a park planning study for them. They all wanted it ultimately to come into the National Park System, and Vince used to bring his plan to me after I had moved over the Advisory Council. I made comments and he would seek advice on how he could get it into the Park System. He came over one day just as Phil Burton was on the verge of introducing an omnibus bill, and I said if he really wanted to put this in the Park System, he should get the Black Caucus on the Hill to get Phil Burton to put this in his omnibus bill and it would go right through. Well he did that, and within a matter of weeks the authorization had come about. So, yes, I had something to do with the Maggie Walker House. I would not have given that advice if I had not felt I could make a case for that particular site.
Dick: Regarding national significance?
Bob: That's right. And that's true for a lot of the so-called black landmarks that Ed and others believe were improperly inflicted on the Park Service. There are landmarks that should never have been classified and I don't believe would have had I still been there, because I related to those brothers DeForest in ways that my successors did not, and I think I could have restrained their excesses in ways that my successors did not in regard to unacceptable black landmarks. But again, I think what we're reflecting is a deliberate and I think professionally sustainable effort to broaden the application of the criteria of national significance, not to admit substandard units to the System on political grounds. The System got some substandard units in some of Phil Burton's omnibus bills, but they were put there for political purposes as between Burton and their sponsors, without much participation, if any, from the Park Service. One was something having to do with the American Legion up in Pennsylvania. We got some we shouldn't have but not, as Ed may suspect, through caving in on the part of the Park Service.
Dick: Okay, what you're saying is essentially that professionals in the Park Service did not have a great deal of involvement in some of Burton's legislation.
Bob: That's true. Of course, I had gone to the Advisory Council by that time, but that is my perception.
Dick: At the same time you yourself had a more liberal definition, a broader definition of national significance, and used that in your approach.
Bob: I used it in the systematic and ongoing national landmark program and I applied it when I was brought in on proposed historical additions to the Park System.
Dick: Do you think the definition of national significance needs to be sharpened in any way?
Bob: I don't know whether it still has the same definition as it did then. If it is the same as it was in my day, I found it perfectly useful. As we were observing in relation to the National Register criteria, what the national significance criteria ought to do is set broad guidelines within which professional judgment can be exercised. And the fact that I could apply the same criteria more generously and broadly than my predecessors is testimony that they are indeed broadly based.
Dick: What did you do or what can be done today to insure that the Service gets only national significant historic sites?
Bob: Nothing. The Service will get what the Congress tells it to take. Now obviously this is a relationship in which there is an interaction, and we may cooperate. The Park Service may cooperate in getting substandard areas. But the question, as you phrased it, is what can be done to insure that we don't get any, and nothing can be done because, as Burton demonstrated so vividly, the Park Service can be given areas without even being consulted.
Dick: You are also saying, it seems to me, that the voice of the professional historian simply is not listened to.
Bob: I'm not saying that so much as that the voice of the United States Congress prevails and is the final word.
Dick: Did you have a lot of contact with congressional staff members and Members of Congress as Chief Historian?
Bob: After Hartzog got to trust me, I had continuous and meaningful contact with Members and their staffboth committee and individual members. I once almost had Phil Rupee of Michigan talked into sponsoring legislation to give us Mackinaw Island back.
Dick: That is something that has diminished considerably today. Isn't that correct?
Bob: That is my perception. I don't know if it's because of organizational constraints or because the present people would rather be doing other things.
Dick: But nevertheless, once Hartzog got to trust you he allowed you to go directly. Okay, that's an interesting point.
Bob: Another dimension of working with congressmen, once you are trusted to do so, is that you can deflect a lot of the heat from the top man by going in his stead to deliver unpalatable messages. I could take the heat instead of Hartzog, and he could later say, well it's those goddamn professionals, you know, and if they can't justify it, well I can't fight effectively for it. I remember one particularly graphic example of this when a bunch of people up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, decided that some old abandoned coal mines ought to be put into the National Park System as the National Coal Historic Site. The congressman there was Joe
MacDade, who was the ranking minority member of our appropriations subcommittee under Sid Yates. A powerful person. Delaware Water Gap is in his district also. So a bunch of his constituents came in with a slide show to present their proposal and Hartzog and his number 2, Spud Bill, and I went over to get the presentation. The lights went off and they showed us all these colorful pictures, mainly of the various hues of a slag heap that's still glowing, and when the lights went on, lo and behold, neither Hartzog nor Spud Bill were in that room. They had fled and left me to handle MacDade and his constituents. This shows a good deal of confidence that I could finesse the thing in such a way that it would not reflect adversely on Hartzog and that it would make Joe MMacDadeat least not unhappy. Joe MacDade surely understood that this was not a valid proposal, but he had a bunch of constituents to placate so what more natural than to throw it on the Park Service. I agreed to go to Scranton and look it over and make the appropriate reports. This is the stall'em. I did go to Scranton and did view all of those old abandoned coal mines, and it just kind of strung out. The thing is that the constituents had been appeased. MacDade looked good because he had been able to produce three high officials of the Park Service and then produce someone on the site. Then it was my ball to carry after that, and I had many of them being juggled at any one time.
Dick: This is a very strong indication of the high degree of trust that Hartzog had developed in you by that time.
Bob: Undoubtedly that is so. And he placed his trust in anyone who was basically effective, who could read him, and who could then do what he wanted done and do it without further bothering him. This is why Bill Everhart was so powerful in that era. Because he could do that. And of course, it was Bill Everhart who wrote Hartzog's speeches till he started trusting me, and then I wrote some of his speeches also.
Melody: What about the other Directors that you served under? Did you play the same role with Congress?
Bob: I did to an extent with Gary Everhardt. I guess with Ron Walker I did too. Yes, all the way up to the point where I left the Park Service. The heaviest demands in that regard, and the most interesting, were in the Hartzog era.
Dick: So as long you were the principal spokesman for the internal programs, after you had gotten Hartzog's trust, then you became deeply involved with the congressional side of things.
Bob: That's right, but not the spokesman. It was always a tricky thing because Members of Congress are hard to deal with without offending. And when you consider that several different units of the Washington Office were dealing with Members of Congress, to get them all speaking with the same voice was not easy. You had the park planning people that Eldon Reyer used to be in. Proposed park areas. They prepared all of the briefing material and dealt directly with them. Then there was the congressional liaison people. Their concern was mainly that everybody be happy. And then there were the professional people and Lord knows who else. Those three were always involved, and when they all went up together and were simpatico with one another, it could be an effective team. But when they were dealing separately, without close coordination, they could create all kinds of problems. This continued to happen with regard to programming and planning for Fort Scott. Joe Skubitz's park. We'd say one thing and they would say something else, and Joe would nail us with the contradictions.
Dick: Did Hartzog let this kind of thing go on where there were several groups going directly to Congress? Wouldn't that create problems for him?
Bob: It wasn't a question of letting it happen. It just happened. If Skubitz's office called me about something, and I gave him the answer without knowing that Eldon Reyer had told him something else, it looked bad. This was our big problem. Mike Lamb headed the Division of Legislation. They dealt directly with Members of Congress in issues that we professionals were concerned, often without telling us what they had done, without even giving us copies of the letters that they had sent out. Sometimes this was simply careless oversight, other times deliberate, because they didn't want to get into a cat fight with us. But it caused some real problems trying to lay out the annual program for Fort Scott.
Dick: Okay, and since you left the Park Service that ability to deal directly with the congressional staff or other congressmen or senators has diminished?
Bob: That is my impression. I have the further impression from being married to your office that there is a greater disposition today on the part of the Washington Office to dump a congressional problem on the Regional Office than there was in those days. I think it would have been a rare issue indeed in which Hartzog would have let his Regional Directors deal directly with a Member of Congress. And I think you do this all the time now. Bob Kerr writes letters of explanation to Members of Congress. Before, we would have got the information from the Region, but then written ourselves and kept the dealings up on that level, so that it didn't get out of hand out here, where the people are not so sensitive on how to deal with politicians.
Melody: Well, we may draft the letters. They all go back to Washington. Even those that are for Kerr's signature are sent.
Bob: Before he sends them out?
Melody: No, he signs them, but they do get copies. It's also a way of diffusing how high up the load goes. For instance, there was one woman who wrote President Reagan, but the answer went out over Kerr's signature. I would say it's a mixed bag. Many of them we draft the response, send it to Washington, and then they put it out for the Director.
Bob: And what I'm saying is that Hartzog felt this so important a part of his responsibility that he was not willing to decentralize it out of the Washington Office. And then of course that meant that he could hold the people right there on his staff accountable for any explosions.
Dick: But even though Mike Lamb might have been head of the legislative office, Hartzog didn't have a true point man through whom anybody who went to the congressional offices would have to go.
Bob: No, that's true. He was too much of an individual operator himself. There may have been someone in theory but not in fact. There was the requirement to coordinate, but then that didn't always get met. You better always let Ira Whitlock know what your relationship has been with a member of Congress. He's the one guy that's got to know. I don't know if he's still there or not.
Dick: Bob, you've discussed the black landmarks program just a little bit. Would you go back and tell how that began and proceeded?
Bob: It all flowered out of the great black awareness movement of the late 60's and early 70's. It became apparent to me, and we were criticized from the historical world too, that the landmark program was pretty much a conventional white history program that had no room in it for ethnic accomplishment. We looked on the landmark program as assessing what is significant in American history, not as singling out people or events to be memorialized in an honorific sense. The black history thrust was one of recognizing and memorializing achievements. But the landmark program was deficient in landmarks that could be associated with black history, and yet in all the universities black history was the big thing. So we felt acutely the need for that, but didn't know how to go about it. One way, of course, is to hire blacks on your staff. But there weren't many qualified blacks at that time, who were interested in working for the Park Service, and besides we needed some mechanism to give us respectability in the eyes of the blacks. We were all white, and even one black was going to be tokenism. They look at Horace Sheely and they hear Horace Sheely with that thick Charlestonian accent, and that's an immediate turnoff to a black from the South. I thought perhaps we could get at this respectability problem through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. That was headed by old Dr.(I can't call his name back). He was in his late 80's when we went over to see him. He had retired from Howard University in 1947. And he was the head of that organization. And Horace and I got in a taxi cab and went over there. It was in a portion of Washington that had been badly gutted in the 1968 riots, and we both felt out of place in that old rowhouse that had survived while all of its neighbors had burned down. There it stood in all of its loneliness. It quickly became apparent that however sympathetic he was, he was from an age that was unable to relate to what landmarks were all about, to the modern world, and to the essentially political requirements that we had. So that fell by the wayside, and I didn't know where to go from there until the DeForest brothers showed up. Vincent Deforest was an architect, and he had known Hartzog in St. Louis. He came in to see Hartzog and got shuttled down to my office, and that led to getting together with his brother, who was a savvy political activist, streetwise, off the streets of Cleveland. Vince was the starry eyed professional architect, and Bob was the savvy political activist who knew how to get things done politically. They both had a good orientation to history. What they came to see Hartzog about was to get the Park Service's support in founding something that they called the Afro-American Bicentennial Commission to bring blacks in on the celebration of the Bicentennial. That's why they got sent to me. Well I thought, here might be the possibility of getting this respectability in black circles that we had been looking for. Maybe these two guys could be our connection with the black professional world and also understand where we were coming from and be politically strong enough to go out and get us the money to finance it, especially if they profited from it. This is what happened immediately. Bob DeForest had already made the acquaintance of Julia Butler Hanson. I made the proposition that theythat is the Afro-American Bicentennial Commissiongo talk to Julia Hanson and sell her on putting up the money for the Park Service to pay them to get us studies in various themes of black history that would produce black landmarks. It was as much a political charade as it was a professional enterprise, because we had to have the approval of the black community when all of us were whites. And so the DeForests did that. They got us the money through Julia Hanson. She was utterly charmed by Bob DeForest. The problem then became one of trying, through these basically unprofessional people, to get, first, an understanding of what evaluation of historic sites was all about, and second, professional quality studies that identified black landmarks. It was never a totally satisfactory marriage between us. They were in the business of getting funding for their organization on just as generous a scale as they could. They were pragmatists, they were imperialists, they were aggressive. Also, their goal was frankly to glorify and elevate any black who had ever done anything that might lend itself to the idea of achievement rather than of historical consequence. They dragged in all kinds of unacceptables. They were looking for places where blacks did things whether there was any integrity to the site or not. If there was a plaque on the side of a 50-story skyscraper in Boston that said here the one black man shot in the Boston massacre fell, why this was suddenly a landmark. So there was a lot of tension, a lot of misunderstanding. We formed a committee of black scholars to process all of these studies. But they didn't do it well.
Dick: Did the DeForest brothers ever come to understand the landmark system pretty well?
Bob: I think they did, but they had their own constituency. When Bob and I sat down one on one with the doors closed, we had good understanding. He knew where I was coming from and I knew where he was coming from. We recognized that we had different objectives that in some instances might be reconciled and others not. He recognized that I had a different bugler playing for me than he did for him and in public situations we might have to disagree. I think we had a good understanding. This is the reason I said I thought that had I remained the Park Service would not have been stampeded into a lot of the things that they got out of that program.
Dick: You said the committee of black scholars did not really understand the landmarks?
Bob: What landmarks were about. They too were typically black history types, which means teaching ethnic history in college. None of them had any background in historic sites, and as you know it's very difficult to communicate an understanding of what historic sites are all about to an academic who has never worked in it. After that black committee got through, the studies went into the Park Service's consulting committee which went through all landmarks. The studies were done by various black scholars hired by the DeForests on their Afro-American Bicentennial payroll, which of course was funded by the money that Julia Hanson was putting in the Park Service budget for that purpose.
Dick: These studies then went through the committee for their review?
Bob: They went through the black committee, then went through the Park Service's consulting committee to the Historic Sites Survey, and then through the Secretary's Advisory Board. So there were three levels of review. But at the second and third level, the ones that counted, you ran into two things. You ran into some people who were appointed by the Republican administration and weren't sympathetic to the idea of black landmarks, or separating out the blacks for landmark treatment. They tended to resist everything. And then you had those who were frightened in the climate of the times to take any negative stance against something that had that kind of black clout behind it. You had that both in the Consulting Committee and the Advisory Board. So unless the staff could head off these things in the Consulting Committee, they probably were going to go on and get endorsed all the way up, because it was politically inexpedient not to endorse them. I don't remember who was making the presentations in those times, but they didn't have the finesse and the strength to stand up to Bob DeForest, because he was a very strong character, and so you wound up with substandard landmarks.
Dick: So the upshot of all this is a number of sites come into the landmark system some of which you say could not really be justified.
Bob: Could not be justified usually in terms of integrity. I felt then and I feel now that the black experience was a major theme of American history. But it was one that did not lend itself well to illustration by historic sites, because sites associated with black achievements or black events were not spotlighted at the time or any thought given to their preservation. So it was hard to find good black sites, much less landmarks. When you do find some good ones, they represent a major theme of American history that deserves to be represented in the landmark program. Not necessarily the National Park System. But when you find a woman who was a bank president in the 1930's in Virginia, that is a significant and rare achievement. In the context of black history, that is nationally significant, and I don't have any trouble admitting that I would apply less severe standards.
Dick: In the interview with Herb Evison you mentioned that you felt the System did not have to be rounded out necessarily, but that you would pretty much accept sites that were truly nationally significant and also met the suitability and feasibility criteria and were not being taken care of. Do you agree with that attitude?
Bob: Yes, that is what I was trying to say when we touched on this subject earlier. I don't think the goal of the Park System ought to be a balanced, rounded-out system that represents every theme of American history. We ought to take everything that is nationally significant, suitable and feasible, politically attainable, and not being well cared for by others. No matter whether you have three times more forts in the West than now, no matter whether you take in more Civil War battlefields than now.
And as a final observation on this black landmark program, I don't look back on it with any sense of regret, or any sense that I would have done much different than I did. But I concede that many of my friends in the Park Service, otherwise my supporters, disagree with that evaluation and look on the whole thing as a disaster.
Dick: When you were in the Park Service did you favor the deauthorization of some areas or do you now favor the deauthorization of some areas?
Bob: There are areas in the System I would prefer not be in the System and would not mind seeing deauthorized. I have never, however, supported any program of deauthorization or any individual proposed deauthorization for the reason that it tends to be wasted time and effort that makes enemies for you. It is politically impossible, except in the most unusual of circumstances, to get an area deauthorized. Therefore, it is a profitless undertaking to go through elaborate studies every time there is a change in Administration to determine which ought to be deauthorized. For one thing, you can't get any kind of consensus within the Park Service. For another, the moment you surface any deauthorization proposal you've got Members of Congress up in arms. You've got a fight on your hands that is going to cost you blood, and you're going to lose in the end. So why even undertake it. I feel today as I felt when the subject was first broached to me 20 years ago that it's a waste of time even to talk about deauthorization.
Dick: Which sites though do you feel the Park Service might do without?
Bob: We've talked of several today that as Louie Gastellum used to say were shoved up our throats. The Kosciuszko House. I would love to see that defrocked if for no other reason than personal vindication.
I was against our acquiring Fort Stanwix. Even though we've sunk a lot of money in a phoney reconstruction I would not mind seeing that go down the tube But it is not worth the effort because under ordinary circumstances you're not going to get rid of it. I've never had much use for Fort Scott and I don't think it can be justified today even though we've soaked a lot of money into it. Nor do I have any use for Fort Caroline in Florida, which is a three-fourths-scale conjectural reconstruction on a hunk of land that is not even the original site. But I might point out that these two illustrate what we've been talking about. Fort Scott, that's Joe Skubitz. Fort Caroline, that's Charlie Bennett. Those two are powerful congressmen. (Skubitz is retired, but Bennett is still around.) Arkansas Post was forced on the Park Service and I don't think there is anything there that comes close to justifying it as a unit of the National Park System. I know there is not at DeSoto. The only thing at DeSoto in Florida is a long tradition of telling the story of DeSoto at a place he may or may not have even seen. And although certainly Horace Albright would differ with me, I think that George Washington Birthplace is so fake that it has little justification, except tradition, for being in the Park System. So there are some that I wouldn't mind seeing knocked out of the System.
Dick: What about Lincoln Boyhood?
Bob: Lincoln Boyhood I have never been to. I was very much opposed to it. It was a political thing that Hartzog hatched with Winfield Scott Denton, who at one time was our legislative subcommittee chief. I think there is little there except a living farm now. I would not mind seeing that one deauthorized. We got Denton reprogrammed away from that and other proposals and that's how we got George Rogers Clark.
Dick: Bob, do you have some ideas as to what the Service can do to insure that we get only nationally significant historic sites?
Bob: There is nothing the Service can do to insure that you get only nationally significant sites, for the reason that the Congress is the ultimate authority on what goes into the National Park System. There will always be Members of Congress sufficiently dedicated to hatching substandard sites who are also powerful in the Congress to make it likely that now and then that will happen. I think there are some things that can be done to influence the process. I think it was a great mistake to detach the Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments from the Secretary of the Interior and nestle it down in the National Park Service. The Historic Sites Act of 1935 set up that Advisory Board primarily as a historic sites advisory group. The natural aspects were distinctly secondary. And it was set up by law as advisory to the Secretary of the Interior. Gary Everhardt got legislation enacted that made it the National Park System Advisory Board. Even though it may still be advisory to the Secretary, certainly it is now a Park Service creation. Certainly now it has nothing like the stature and influence it had back in the 1960's. Certainly now it is being loaded down with political appointees who do not combine their political credentials with a professional credential that gives them credibility. The time was when the Secretary's Advisory Board could head off many bad propositions. In the first place, by advising the Congress on the basis of genuine thought what is meritorious and what isn't. In the second place, by giving Members of Congress, the Administration, and everyone else an out for unsuitable proposals that nobody wants to back but has to for political reasons. Give them an out in that the Advisory Board has spoken against it. Members of Congress frequently sponsor such a proposal because it sells back home. Not because they are convinced that it is a good thing. So this prestigious Advisory Board says it doesn't measure up, the Member can turn to his constituents and say here is this body of experts and they have all agreed that it doesn't measure up.
Dick: So this would be one way a stronger Advisory Board would be useful?
Bob: To revive the stature and strength the Advisory Board once had. It has been allowed to erode. It has been deliberately cut down by Secretaries who were not particularly interested in it, and by a political superstructure that sees it as a dumping ground for people to whom obligations are owed.
Dick: What about a stronger landmarks program?
Bob: The landmark program was initially conceived in part as an alternative to putting nationally significant properties in the System. Gradually over the years it came to be seen (as it actually was) as the first hurdle toward putting nationally significant properties into the National Park System. Once it measured up to national significance, the only other test was suitability and feasibility, followed by an act of Congress. Generally, I would say that a strengthened landmark program does not offer a viable alternative because it frequently has the opposite effect of so dramatizing the property that people believe it ought to be in the National Park System. It generates pressures looking toward that end. I think, on the other side of the coin, there are some practices in the present study program that, if eliminated, would strengthen the landmark program. But you're never going to do away entirely with the pressures to put substandard units into the System.
Dick: Everhardt reduced the status of the Advisory Board by bringing it into the Park Service or attaching it to the Park Service. Why did he do that?
Bob: I'm not quite sure why he did. Part of it may have been lack of interest on the part of the Secretary of the Interior but I think basically Gary Everhardt felt that this was a National Park System board and therefore it ought to be plugged into the National Park Service. He failed to understand the rationale behind the original Historic Sites Act, that you put this up next to the official in Government charged with government-wide historic preservation programs. Almost immediately we had an illustration of the defects in this approach in the National Historic Trails program, which the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation was responsible for. Those were historic trails in which national significance was the first test. The Secretary of the Interior's Advisory Board was the ultimate arbiter on national significance. But all of a sudden the Advisory Board is not up here on the Secretarial level, where it can enforce its dictums on the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. It's down in the National Park Service. BOR resisted successfully running those things through the Advisory Board. So it became strictly a National Park Service operation instead of a Government-wide operation.
Dick: You would like to see it back with the Department.
Bob: Absolutely. I think the Historic Sites Act was correct in 1935 in placing it next to the Secretary. This has the effect also of making the Secretary, if he's not so inclined, take his historical responsibilities more seriously.
Dick: You mentioned that there are some weaknesses in the study program, the landmark study program. Would you discuss those?
Bob: As I understand it, and I may not be close enough to be an authority on it, but it looks to me like the people who are doing the studies are being rewarded by the number of landmarks they produce. The tendency this is having is to de-emphasize historic districts, in which you might include large numbers of individual properties that hang together, in favor of a proliferation of individual landmarks that do nothing but add complications to the administration of the landmark program. I believe they may have done this on the recent space landmark study and they may even have done it on the recent War in the Pacific study. Anyway, there seems to be a premium all the way up the line in terms of personnel evaluation, and between the Park Service and the Department there seems to be a premium on numbers rather than quality.
Dick: A different kind of question with regard to national historic landmarks. Would you support the idea of nominating the Yosemite Valley as a national historic landmark? Or Yellowstone National Park?
Bob: No, I don't believe I would. From the standpoint of preservation of cultural values you have an adequate mechanism in the National Register to insure the proper consideration of cultural values. To name the whole park a landmark, either Yosemite or Yellowstone, is in some respects to substitute historical values for natural values as the dominant values of the park. This we can agree would not be the case. But the legalities of it might get the two confused, and I would hate to see that happen. I recall when we put the Yosemite Valley in the National Register as an archeological district,purely to insure that whenever they put a sewer line or what have you across the Yosemite Valley there would be archeological investigation and recovery program. That was the only rationale for it. Nothing but archeology was in the National Register. And yet do you think Gary Everhardt could understand it or even Les Arnberger, the Superintendent? They were sure that we had locked up the Yosemite Valley as a historic site and that historical considerations would henceforth prevail because of the National Historic Preservation Act. So when that simple and understandable approach gets so complicated, imagine what would happen if you designated them national landmarks.
Dick: I'm thinking of natural sites such as Independence Rock and Wagon Mound and Chimney Rock, which are national historic landmarks. I know that Wagon Mound and Independence Rock are, and I was thinking of Yosemite Valley as a very historic valley and one that is instantly recognizable to the American people. Of course Yellowstone as the first park unless Yosemite would be considered so. But it's from that perspective and it is more of a theoretical question.
Bob: Well, then there's no question if you are identifying the nationally significant historic place associated with the national park movement, both Yosemite and Yellowstone certainly qualify, and you've got huge gaps if they are not landmarks. Yes you would in your evaluation identify these places as significant for the natural values. Those are the values, then, that are to be preserved because the natural values become the historic values. Still, from the purely pragmatic point of view of the bureaucratic historian, I would hate to have to make Gary Everhardt understand that distinction because he resisted far simpler propositions than that.
Dick: Or any of Everhardt's successors.
Bob: Probably so, yes.
Dick: Bob, what are your views on the urban park movement, specifically Golden Gate and Gateway?
Bob: That issue was more prominent in Park Service deliberations a decade ago than it is now. It was a hot number in the middle and late 70's. I don't think that it is nearly so insistent an issue now. My view at the time, and it has not changed, is that the National Park Service ought to be prepared to do anything that there is clear evidence that the American people want them to do. In the middle 70's urban recreation was a big need, perceived by large segments of the population. The political process and its dynamics made it clear that overwhelmingly the American people preferred to have the National Park Service run these. Not the Federal Government but the National Park Service, because it had great credibility. There were great efforts to get the states to run them. The politics were still that the National Park Service ought to do it. In my judgment the message was loud and clear and not very arguable at that time that this was something that the people wanted the Park Service to do. I think when that situation is so persuasive the Park Service needs to respond positively and not drag its feet. Not only in the politics of the situation but the ethics. The democracy of the situation. So I favored us getting into the urban park business. We made many mistakes at these urban parks, I suppose Cuyahoga more than any of them. But the proposition that they dilute the purity of the National Park System in my judgment is not sufficient reason to resist putting them in the System.
Dick: So you see the System undergoing a redefinition.
Bob: It has. It has ever since the beginning. It certainly underwent a redefinition in the Roosevelt reorganization of 1933, when suddenly the Park System became composed of more historic properties than natural. And it underwent a redefinition in terms of these recreational areas. It may go back to more conservative times, but I think it is a living and evolving and always changing entity.
Dick: Both Lowell and San Antonio Missions are large historic parks in a totally urban setting. Have you visited both those parks?
Bob: I've not been to Lowell. Of course, I was involved in San Antonio from the beginning.
Dick: What is your opinion of San Antonio?
Bob: It is a proposal that I advocated when I was in the Regional Office here back in the late 50's. Down in our corner of the building, all of usErik Reed, Charlie Steen, myselfgreatly favored San Antonio Missions as among the most nationally significant in the Southwest Region. But there were complications then as there were later, many having to do with church-state. As a historic park in an urban setting, I think it's great. I think probably I would be similarly impressed with Lowell, although that's a different proposition.
Dick: Bob, while we're talking about historic parks in urban areas, would you give your feelings on the development that has taken place in Independence National Historical Park?
Bob: Independence was controversial from the beginning. Ernest Connally has called attention to the cross roads that the Park Service stood at when they took over Independence and probably without very much thought opted for what we might call a monumental or shrinelike development. What the Park Service did was to go in and clean out the urban context of Independence and make a shrine out of it. The Park Service tore down block after block after block of old houses that resembled those that stood at the time of the Declaration of Independence. And so in effect, they destroyed the historic setting, the context in which Independence Hall and those associated monumental structures existed historically. The other approach would have been historic district controls over that context and an attempt to maintain the innercity urban character of downtown Philadelphia. Ernest gave that great thought, and he always came out with the conclusion that, whether we consciously knew what we were doing, we probably did the right thing. Independence Hall and those associated structures were so overwhelmingly significant to us historically, and as symbols of a range of abstractions that go to the heart of what this nation is all about, that the shrine type approach to the setting at least, the monumental setting, with malls and landscaping, probably is most responsive to the unique place that complex of buildings occupies in American affections and traditions. And I think I agree with him.
Dick: That was a very interesting response. Bob, you mentioned Cuyahoga Valley a while ago. What do you think of that kind of park in the Systemwe touched on that someit's a somewhat quasi-urban park.
Bob: I'm all for it if the Congress will fund it and if the people want it. The fact that we may have screwed things up there in the process, and made a lot of enemies and gotten a lot of bad publicity in the process of trying to make that a reality, doesn't detract in my judgment from the validity of that kind of approach. I think in these urban recreational areas the Park Service has got to learn that it can't draw boundaries around big chunks of landscape, disposses the people who live there, board up the buildings, and decide to save a few for utilitarian purposes and tear the rest down. You can't go into an urban area and do that without ripping out part of the heart. We made that mistake with Delaware Water Gap. We made it at Cuyahoga. We started to make it at Golden Gate. But I think as exemplified by your approach right now to Hot Springs, that the lesson has been learned, and if we are ever again injected in a large way into the urban recreational scene maybe things will be done differently than they were in those prototypes.
Dick: How would you forecast the growth of the System will occur in the future?
Bob: I don't think there is going to be much growth in the future. We've always been talking about rounding out the System. I think the System probably has been rounded out in the natural category from the standpoint of the political complexity of taking in any more large natural parks. Redwood showed us the problem. History is going to continue to be made and, if there is any future growth on a significant scale, it is probably going to be in the historical area category, because history continues to be made and those are usually small, compact, and therefore cheaper and more politically realizable. Strictly from the budgetary standpoint, and what looks like an indefinite future of stringent budgetary constraints, I don't see the Park Service getting back into big recreational and urban areas in a big way. You may have an occasional political combination that brings one about, but I think even in the historical area category the budgetary constraints will be very limiting. So I don't see much future growth.
Dick: Hartzog mentioned once the possibility of the Park Service getting the wilderness areas from other agencies, or there could be some other kind of swapping among agencies, say in Alaska. Those might be possibilities for the growth in natural areas.
Melody: What about Big Sur, Tallgrass Prairie?
Bob: You may have an occasional aberration. I don't think it will be a pattern like we saw in the 60's and the 70's. I don't think you're going to get Big Sur. If I had to bet, I'd bet against Tallgrass, although at this point it looks fairly optimistic. But those are not part of any big expansion pattern. There are going to be throwbacks and I doubt that there's going to be much in that regard happens. As a political thing, I don't think that the Park Service is ever going to be let in to the wilderness areas, or into the National Forests, because its ethic is one that can always be portrayed as nondevelopmental, single purpose, and I just don't see that as having much political future.
One other thing that Hartzog did advocate with great vigor that I think has a lot more possibility is for the Park Service to take over the operation of the overseas cemeteries dating from World War II. This makes a lot more sense because these are American historic shrines in the sense of people coming and paying homage. They are not battlefields like Gettysburg. I think it would make a lot more sense for the Park Service to run those, with its ethic and capabilities, than for the Defense Department to run them, and than it makes for the Park Service to run wilderness areas.
Dick: Apparently some effort was made to get the cemeteries from the National Battle Monument Commission.
Bob: The overseas cemeteries are administered by the National Battle Monuments Commission. It's lodged over in Defense somewhere, and it has been in business ever since World War I. Hartzog thought that the Park Service ethic and our experience in maintaining and administering parks, which these are, fitted us to administer them. There is a community of interest, certainly, between them and our battlefields here back home. We were at that time exploring ways that we could work our historical commemoration programs up into World War I, which of course is history now.
Dick: The battle monuments are the overseas cemeteries aren't they? The land is currently owned by the host country?
Bob: I'm not sure about that, but I believe that the American cemeteries in France are on land that is extra-territorial, like the land that our diplomatic facilities are on. I am not sure about that, but I'm almost certain that they are administered by American officials as American territory.
Dick: The Battle Monuments Commission is a land-managing agency?
Bob: Yes, it is. Bear in mind that these overseas cemeteries are not just burial places. They are big monumental creations, both landscape creations and structural creations, in many ways like what you have at Gettysburg. They are not battlefields in the sense that Gettysburg is, but they are certainly historical memorials in the sense that we have memorials in the National Park System.
Dick: Bob, would you comment on the national cemeteries within the battlefields that we run in the System?
Bob: When we inherited battlefields from the War Department, we inherited active national cemeteriescemeteries that began with the interment of the casualties from the battle and have been active ever since. It became the policy of the Park Service, quite rightly, to try to phase out those active cemeteries as rapidly as possible, for the reason that when they filled up they had to be expanded, and in order to be expanded they had to encroach onto historic landscape. In many of them, therefore, the Park Service faced a political dilemma. The local people wanted to keep burying their veterans out at the battlefield, and their Members of Congress in Washington would lean on the Park Service to make one more extension of the cemetery. At Custer Battlefield, that went on repeatedly for all of the years that I was associated with it, as long as Mike Mansfield was in the United States Senate. I think most of them have been either closed out now, or everything is in place for them to be closed out once the current boundaries are filled up, which is as it ought to be. Remember the celebrated case when Senator Bill Scott of Virginia faced that kind of pressure at Arlington Cemetery and tried to establish Arlington West at Manassas Battlefield and had legislation in the Congress to devote portions of Manassas Battlefield to the overflow of Arlington Cemetery. That was a nasty fight for a while. I acquired one staff member because the superintendent out there was indiscrete in his public expressions of opinion of Bill Scott. They were accurate but impolitic. So one Friday evening he recited his epic poem in the checkout line at Safeway Grocery Store reflecting on Bill Scott, and Monday morning he was a staff historian in my division.
Dick: The expansion of cemeteries has been the chief cultural resources management problem with regard to our management of those?
Bob: Of the battlefields?
Dick: Of the cemeteries.
Bob: Yes, I should say so. No other real management problem exists. Just keep them looking nice. I think also being aware that there is a shrine like quality to old military cemeteries. Certainly it reaches its zenith in the Gettysburg cemetery centered on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Dick: So it would be treated like any other monumented historic site.
Bob: Sure, yes.