The National Preservation Conference is this week in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Staff members from around the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be blogging from the conference and sharing their experiences. Priya Chhaya, program assistant for training & online services in the Center for Preservation Leadership, is in the Exhibit Hall checking out the poster presentations.
One of the common themes I have been hearing in sessions this week links preservation with diversity. From economics to advocacy or even regional and cultural, diversity in all its forms is essential to the goals of historic preservation. At the Tuesday special lecture, Dr. Bob Blackburn described the incredible richness of Oklahoma’s history whether it be Indian, African American, or western expansion and how they each intertwine and support each other. He talked about how each of those stories has come together to create the Oklahoma preservation story. Mayor Kathy Taylor, in her talk stated that “We learned to leverage that diversity into strength.”
In the Exhibit Hall the posters are about a variety of subjects -- and while many deal with cultural diversity across the spectrum of life they also seek to highlight places and people and events and ideas from a bowling alley in 1950s Los Angeles to a Cherokee courthouse due for renovation.
Take me back to the Holiday Bowl
The Holiday Bowl originally opened in 1958 and was a dynamic site integral to Los Angeles’ Japanese-American community. Not only a bowling alley, as John English, the author of the poster states -- the Holiday Bowl also “served as a shop, cocktail lounge, meeting rooms, and a children’s play area.”
As a “landmark of diversity,” this bowling area was designed by Helen Fong, a Chinese-American female designer, owned by Japanese-American business men and served Japanese-Americans, African Americans and “people of all ethnicities.” It provided a place of leisure but also a place of community.
John English’s poster provides more detail, but ultimately discusses how this one place meant so much to so many and was a living part of one community’s history. However, despite the efforts of the Coalition to Save the Holiday Bowl the Holiday Bowl was demolished on October 17, 2003. For more information visit: www.holidaybowlcrenshaw.com. To see the poster “The Holiday Bowl: Landmark of Diversity” visit the exhibit hall.
Beyond the African American Narrative
Two alumni of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's diversity scholar program, Patsy Fletcher and Alison Rose Jefferson developed “African American Places of Leisure,” a poster striving to demonstrate that “there are African American sites to preserve that are broader than those places emanating from the slave or civil rights narrative.” While Patsy looks at 19th century sites, Alison moves forward in time to examine the 20th.
Patsy’s poster looks at the 19th century sites of leisure, dividing them into religious gatherings turned into vacation/recreation (The Big Quarterly in Delaware), areas where amenities are segregated but open to African Americans (Stower College/Harpers Ferry), and sites specifically developed for the African American market (Highland Beach in Maryland).
A century later, Alison examines Lake Elsinore in California trying to pull together ideas of California, African American leisure patterns to argue for the creation of a heritage trail.
Like the poster on the Holiday Bowl, “African American Places of Leisure” are attempting to open the scope of what we know and what we should save as historic preservationists.
The Cherokee Story
During the opening plenary, Chief Wilma Mankiller described the challenge of native peoples to preserve the sites of their culture. She said that we need to figure out how to “capture, maintain and pass on tribal knowledge around the world.”
One such poster embraces that vision. The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Building was built in 1844 and remained the sole Cherokee structures to survive the Civil War. It is about to embark on a two phase restoration -- first the exterior 1875 façade and then the interior work. The intention is to create a Cherokee cultural center which focuses on judicial systems of the Cherokee Nation (for more information visit www.cherokeetourismok.com).
Each of these posters look at sites of diversity and also attempt to think of diversity in terms of site location, and places. While not all are successfully saved (in the case of the Holiday Bowl) they emphasize that we as humans, hold a connection to our built environment in many, many different ways.
-- Priya Chhaya