Thinking Back to Places I Ve Visited Over the Years, Memories That Stand out Often Emerge
Thinking back to places I’ve visited over the years, memories that stand out often emerge from experiences in historical places.
Last Christmastime, for example, my parents, wife and I spent a fascinating afternoon touring the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, FL: 21 galleries of mostly European art showcased within the pink, palatial mansion of the famous circus entrepreneur.
Although it was a decade or so ago, I vividly remember Dickens on The Strand, a Victorian street festival held the first weekend of December in Galveston, TX. “The Strand” is a five-block section of historic downtown Galveston where Victorian-era buildings are infused with shops and restaurants.
Probably 15 years before that I experienced my first National Folk Festival in Lowell, MA. While the music wowed me, so did the massive textile mills, which had long-since ceased functioning as such but now creatively house office and retail complexes.
These places were unique, authentic and left strong after-images in my mind. No other places in the world can boast of Ringling’s pink palace, The Strand’s Victorian style or of Lowell’s manner of industrial repurposing.
You probably can recall similar memorable places. All are examples of the power of historic preservation.
We live within a culture that is becoming increasingly standardized. Big-box retailers are replacing malls, which previously displaced the classic downtown department stores. Motels and convenience stores barely a decade old are torn down and rebuilt rather than remodeled. From one urban area to the next, suburban commercial districts contain the same restaurants, stores and services.
Within such a culture, historical buildings have become increasingly important as identifiers of community individuality. They speak silently yet eloquently of a place’s past and memorialize the faith, hard work and achievements of our ancestors.
Here within the Alleghenies, we are surrounded by historical buildings. They are so commonplace, we consider them common and take them for granted.
Buildings that have been ravaged by time and neglected by humankind are considered blighted rather than endangered. Historical buildings that become vacant – even those in good condition with unquestionable distinctiveness – often are labeled as useless by those who want to create space for more standardized structures, which often don’t get built.
How many monuments to our inspirational past have been replaced by vacant lots with no discernable future?
For all of these reasons and more, historic preservation is worth the effort. But it certainly does require effort – often a great deal of effort – along with creative thinking, planning and significant levels of financing.
If you find yourself agreeing with these perspectives, then jot down one or two dates and places on your appointment calendar: November 29 at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and November 30 at the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center.
On those days in those places representatives of the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office and Preservation Pennsylvania will hold open houses to gather residents’ thoughts and comments pertaining to the updating of our state’s historic preservation plan.
Every five years, the state attempts a thorough look at how historic preservation activities should be organized and conducted at the local and state levels, and how the efforts of preservation advocates and partners can be enhanced. This is our opportunity to offer our perspectives and opinions, to help shape preservation planning and activities for the next five years.
For more information or to register for one of these open houses, go to PaHistoricPreservation.com and search for “community connections.” Registration is not required, however; you can simply show up between the hours of 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. at either location on the appropriate date.
If you are thinking, “Why bother?” recall that memory of a special time and place. Then consider what our region possesses that is unique in all the world.
Let’s harness the power of historic preservation and create places that evoke lasting memories for our visitors.