A community's historic buildings are more than just reminders of the past; they also connect generations through their shared experiences with these sites, said Daniel Carey, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southwest Office.
"A community that loses its sites loses its memory. It loses a sense of place " a place of connection for people and spaces," Carey said.
His office administers the Kirkpatrick Foundation Preservation Fund, which provides funding and guidance to historic property owners and developers in Central Oklahoma. The Trust's Southwest Office, based in Fort Worth, Texas, launched the program in early 2007 after applying for a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation in Oklahoma City.
The matching grant provides financial and technical assistance for restoration and preservation. In addition to funding, the program also provides suggestions and education to help organizations better manage the sites long-term. With historic sites lost every day, it's important to intervene early, Carey said.
"No one has ever retroactively been against a preservation project; no one has ever said, 'Oh, it's a shame that we saved that building and it's restored.' But the opposite is quite true," he said. "Too many times, we lament and regret, 'Oh, we lost that building. We tore that building down. Why did that have to be?'"
VALUE OF PRESERVATION
Often, it happened because people either didn't understand the value of preservation, or didn't know what resources were available to help save the sites, Carey said.
"We're trying to show people this is good for a community, and demolition is forever, so before you make the irreversible decision of taking history away from us, let's exhaust all the opportunities we can to save a building and perhaps adapt it and use it," he said.
The Harn Homestead in Oklahoma City was the program's first recipient, receiving $7,000 for an assessment of the property. For three days, an architect and a collections assessor examined the Harn's buildings and artifacts, met with the organization's staff and then put together a 10-year plan.
Executive Director Cher Golding said the Harn benefited from this specialized approach, and from the emphasis on educating staff, rather than simply handing out money.
"It's really important because of the educational value, and because it offered training," Golding said. "With an outright grant, if we were to do something like that on our own, I don't think it would have been that hands-on."
The Harn has already made some changes, including moving photographs to buildings more protected from the elements. A major impact for the organization was the ability to start thinking in a new direction and to evaluate its mission " something members planned to discuss at the next strategic planning retreat, Golding said.
"Are there things we can do to keep us focused on our current mission, or do we need to re-evaluate our current mission and change things here?" she said.
The suggestions made also helped the Harn prioritize the needed changes. In addition, the Harn used what it learned to apply for and receive funding from other organizations to buy supplies for more long-term projects recommended in the 10-year plan.
Historic sites provide a sense of continuity to a community, Carey said, and simply tearing down buildings and putting up new ones not only destroys this continuity, it's also wasteful.
"Demolition and new construction is not green; preservation is green, because we're recycling materials, we're using the same spaces," he said. "We're not hopping or leapfrogging out to the edge of town and chewing up more green space and adding to sprawl; we're maximizing our density and all those things."
While the Historic Trust awards the grants, it does seek input from the Kirkpatrick Foundation on the projects it is most seriously considering. The trust also works closely with its statewide partners, Preservation Oklahoma and the State Historic Preservation Office.
"They've got on-the-ground, local perspective that we don't have," Carey said. "We travel up there, and spend a lot of time in Oklahoma, but they, better than we, know the players, know the situation, know the resources, and so we rely on their local knowledge."
The program's goal is to provide the education and resources site owners and developers need to overcome future challenges to the preservation of the site, Carey said.
"This establishes credibility for the organization so that when it's faced with the next challenge, it has that under its belt, and can move forward with confidence that it has managed something well," he said. "Lea Terry