Organizing to Save Places
First, ask and answer some questions:
1. What is the significance of the place within the community? Are there others who wish to see the resource preserved?
2. What is its current use? What realistic potential uses exist for it?
3. What condition is it in? Can it be feasibly restored or rehabilitated?
4. What funding will be available to complete a purchase and restoration of the property?
5. Are there experts available to undertake an appropriate restoration or rehabilitation?
6. Are you prepared to “make the case” for why preserving the resource is important?
Once you have decided to organize to save a historic place, there are more questions to answer and contacts to make:
Learn about the Past
Have there been other organized efforts to save the resource that interests you? If so, why did they fail? If not, why not? Have other historic properties been saved, or lost, in the community?
Clearly understanding your community’s values regarding historic preservation puts you in a better position to advocate for preserving the historic character and resources of the community.
Make Important Contacts Early in the Process
Preservation professionals, including those at your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), can be helpful resources and support for advocacy, funding, guidance, and promotion of your efforts as well as more generally for historic preservation in your community. Your local planning department staff will help you understand the community’s zoning code and building regulations, including historic district guidelines, if applicable.
Encourage your local public officials, whether appointed, elected, or hired, to support historic preservation and building rehabilitation, including making regulatory changes that support reuse.
The University of Kansas’ Community Tool Box project summarizes the importance of historic preservation and why it should be encouraged:
It preserves the historic, architectural, and aesthetic character and heritage of a community or area, and helps to provide a sense of place and continuity. As suburban sprawl and roadside development make more and more places look the same, it becomes important for communities to keep their identities intact. Even one or two striking historic buildings can help to define a community and hint at its past. If whole neighborhoods or rural areas can be preserved, the effect is that much greater. The sense of history can contribute to community pride, and to a better understanding of the community’s present.
Historic preservation may also help to prevent sprawl. Since historic buildings already exist, and since most are in built-up areas, each one that is rehabilitated and used eliminates the need for a new building in an area that is not yet built up.
It is an efficient use of resources. Historic preservation conserves resources, reduces waste, and saves money by repairing and reusing existing buildings instead of tearing them down and building new ones. Reusing a historic structure versus tearing it down and building with new materials helps to greatly reduce the carbon footprint of a building.
It preserves old methods of workmanship. Because many modern buildings are built on the assumption that they will only be needed for a relatively short time – 25 to 30 years – before they are replaced, workmanship and building methods of all but the most significant buildings are not as careful or durable as methods used in the past, when buildings were expected to last indefinitely. By working on historic buildings, new generations of craftsmen learn the techniques to improve modern buildings as well.
It can add character and/or charm to a community, and emphasize its uniqueness. The preservation of old buildings, neighborhoods, and landscapes can determine the look of a community, and may be an attraction for tourists as well. If these elements are historically significant or unusual, they can also be a source of community pride, and lead to other improvements.
It can attract investment and change the nature of a deteriorating neighborhood or area. A rehabilitated historic building or neighborhood might be the focus of a new residential or commercial development. An area restored to its original appearance could serve as a magnet for tourists, and provide jobs for local residents. Local residents could also be employed in rehabilitation or restoration as artisans or workers, if they have the skills, or as trainees. In the latter case, by the end of the project, many may have developed enough competencies as carpenters, masons, or the like to start new careers.
Preservation Utah has created an extraordinary resource to assist you, step-by-step, in your effort to save an historic place. The process has been broken down into four steps, each with a flow chart:
How to Save a Place: Become an Advocate (National Trust for Historic Preservation)