Giving Thanks for Preservation Heroes

Posted on: November 26th, 2008 by David J. Brown 7 Comments

Thanksgiving. It is a time when many of us are grateful for family, health, friends, home, freedom and so much more.


Union Baptist Church

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.

La Posada

La Posada

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.

Blue Swallow Motel, Vintage Roadside

Blue Swallow Motel, Vintage Roadside

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!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.


7 Responses

  1. Wendy Nicholas

    November 26, 2008

    A shout-out to Anne Van Ingen, Advisor Emerita of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Wesley Haynes; they’re on my list of preservation heroes.

    Touring New Orleans last January with a group from the National Trust, Anne and Wes were so moved by the amount of work still to be done in NOLA neighborhoods and families’ desparate need for housing. So inspired, and with creative juices working on over-drive, they vowed to return to find a house that they could fix up themselves, with the donated labor of friends and family. Their idea was to then make it available for sale to a needy family simply for the amount of cash they’d put in, not including the value of sweat equity invested.

    Indeed, in August they bought a quintessential New Orleans shotgun house in the Holy Cross neighborhood. And, come late December the couple will load Wes’s dad’s van and head south from New York to spend the first 6 weeks of the new year transforming the hurricane-damaged house into a home for a family. Their family members and friends are lining up to don toolbelts and join the effort.

    Check out their website, to watch the progress.

    (Edited to correct URL.)

  2. Valecia Crisafulli

    November 26, 2008

    Thank you, J. Myrick Howard, for . . . leading the preservation movement for 30 years as president of Preservation North Carolina . . . saving more than 500 places in North Carolina over the past three decades through PNC’s Endangered Properties Program . . . teaching preservation classes at UNC Charlotte for more than 20 years . . . sharing time and expertise as a mentor with state and local preservation organizations across the country . . . writing the seminal book on the “how-to’s” of saving historic property. (Buying Time for Heritage: How to Save an Endangered Historic Property, available from in the Real Estate section, would make a terrific holiday gift!)

    Thank you, Myrick . . . and thanks to all the National Trust Statewide and Local Partners who are working tirelessly to save places that matter in states and cities across the country. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  3. Anne Van Ingen

    November 26, 2008

    Thanks for the shout-out, Wendy! Wes and I are heading south at Christmas and welcome one and all to join us in this adventure. Check out our web site at for pictures and news of our progress. We’re thankful for all the wonderful people in New Orleans who’ve helped us so far!

  4. Barbara Campagna

    November 26, 2008

    Anne & Wes, you guys rock!! Are you going to hang out with Brad & Angelina?!
    My preservation hero is someone Anne, Wes, and Wendy and many others know very well – BRAD EDMONDSON from Ithaca, NY. Brad rode across the country this fall on his bike – 3700 miles from from Seattle to NY – to raise money for the Finger Lakes Land Trust and kept an amazing blog of the people he met and the places he visited – showing how one person can make a difference AND take us all along for the ride. Check out his blog. (Brad is the some-time writer for Preservation magazine and full-time husband of Tania Werbizky, Technical Director at the Preservation League of NY Statem, one of our long-time preservation partners. A special shout-out to Tania too for her support of Brad and her own participation in the C2C4Conservation ride!)

  5. Tania Werbizky

    November 26, 2008

    What a nice surprise! Mark Brad’s trip as between Washington state to Maine, hence “coast to coast, and yes, all the funds go to conservation. Brad was hardly alone. His fellow rider, Jim Kersting and Jim’s wife Sara, made the ride possible and meaningful. I was delighted to visit some great historic places, from Chico Hot Springs to NYS’s (and the nation’s) wonderful Erie Canal towpath. Riding at about 10-12 miles an hour works very well for seeing buildings and cultural landscapes and there is no chance of missing 1960’s ice cream stands and concrete dinosaurs!

  6. Dolores

    November 26, 2008

    My preservation hero is Jerry McCoy, head of the Silver Spring Historical Society in Silver Spring, MD. Now Silver Spring is not your quintessential “historic” town. Sure we’ve got AFI’s Silver Theater and that cool Canada Dry bottling plant that some developer rehabbed into the lobby of some condos. But when the town’s biggest preservation battle of late is a bunch of aging baby boomers trying to save a seven year old astroturf town square for some badly needed community green space, let’s face it — we’re not talking Charleston here.

    But Jerry, like thousands of other committed folks who run local preservation organizations, is an unstoppable booster for the history that is Silver Spring and every day he reminds us of the rich tapestry of heritage we have here. And it is a rich diverse tapestry — from Civil War sites to 50’s Fab. Thank God we have people like Jerry to remind us.

    Check out the SS Historical Society’s website at

  7. Peter Brink

    November 27, 2008

    My Preservation Hero is the late Sally Brittingham Wallace, who died November 18. Sally was one-of-a-kind, with passionate determination mixed with a disarming sense of humor. My favorite story is when Sally was driving down Galveston’s Strand in the 1960’s and saw a crane operator swinging the wrecking ball against the 1859 Hendley Building. Sally stopped and implored the man to “give me 15 minutes,” whereupon she ran to the realtor-owner and bought two sections of the building on the spot. She leased one to the Galveston Historical Foundation for a dollar a year and rehabbed the other for a quixotic store with artists lofts above. Sally always called things as she saw them, never gave up, and inspired hundreds of Galvestonians to understand what matters most in life.