Thanksgiving. It is a time when many of us are grateful for family, health, friends, home, freedom and so much more.
My thanks this year go to the wonderful heroes we work with every day: the men and women who save the historic fire station for reuse as a community center, revitalize the town’s old mill into a center for “green” businesses, shoot a video and in the process start a campaign to save roadside art from the 1950s and 1960s. In short, the individuals who save the places that matter – small or large, under-appreciated or iconic – in cities and towns all across the country.
These are people like Tennent Houston, who stepped forward to help a small African-American congregation in Augusta, Georgia, save and restore a handsome but deteriorating Carpenter Gothic-style gem of a building. Working with Historic Augusta and the Union Baptist Church, Mr. Houston led the effort that has raised more than $500,000. With gifts ranging from $10 to $130,000, the building has been restored and the sensitive addition of a ramp has allowed some of the elderly members to again attend services regularly. Preservationists in Augusta give thanks for this hero.
Some heroes act anonymously. I join our friends in Charleston, South Carolina, who are grateful to the person who anonymously sent Drayton Hall a watercolor image of the plantation that may date to 1765 (the previous oldest image was from 1845). The image led National Trust staff to conduct an archaeological dig and resulted in exciting new discoveries about America’s oldest preserved plantation house that is open to the public.
In Winslow, Arizona, a town on historic Route 66 known to baby-boomers everywhere (hum a few bars of Take It Easy), preservationists are thankful for Allan Affeldt and his wife Tina Mion. They have rescued the beautiful La Posada Hotel – a building once on the disposal list of the Santa Fe Railroad - and in the process have brought the Southwestern-based designs of pioneering designer Mary Colter back to life. I stopped in there this summer and had the best meal of my vacation in the wonderful Turquoise Room. Allan and Tina are preservation heroes of the first order.
A thanksgiving list for preservation heroes could extend indefinitely – and I hope it will. It would include Helen Higgins, who just celebrated her 10th anniversary of helping save historic places as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. The team that rehabilitated Richmond, California’s Ford Assembly Building, turning a structure that once manufactured exhaust-spewing internal-combustion engines into a home for green businesses, would also be on the list. I’m thankful for Kelly Burg and Jeff Kunkle at Vintage Roadside, who have helped remind us of the fun in roadside signs and the buildings from the recent past found along two-lane highways all across America. The staff and volunteers at Chicago’s Pui Tak Center also make my list, for developing a terrific campaign that helped them win a National Trust/American Express online voting contest and receive more that $100,000 to rehabilitate their landmark community center, located in historic Chinatown.
Preservationists have many heroes. I encourage you to thank your preservation hero in the comments section below. And have a Happy Thanksgiving!