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. Today, Max van Balgooy, director of interpretation and education for National Trust Historic Sites, reports on the official opening of the conference -- last night's plenary session and the party that followed.
Wednesday’s plenary session officially opened the National Preservation Conference in the magnificent Art Deco setting of the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, recently recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Its soaring tower with narrow stained glass windows is more reminiscent of a skyscraper than a church. Inside, preservationists packed the main floor and balcony while listening to the Cherokee Youth Choir sing from the risers on stage. Cliff Hudson, Chairman of the Board, moderated the plenary session and we were welcomed by Mayor Taylor of Tulsa. Commissioner Winstead of the US General Services Administration described the recent successes in preserving federal buildings and their continuing efforts to find new uses for the obsolete federal buildings, either through commercial leases or transfer to government agencies, citing the example of the rehabilitation of the U. S. Post Office in Washington, DC as the Hotel Monaco.
In his report, Richard Moe, who now celebrates his fifteenth years as president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, noted that preservation is always a work in progress and always facing new opportunities and challenges, thus the work of the National Trust will never be done. The current economic downturn is a major speed bump and the National Trust has already taken steps in response, but he acknowledged that it will cause all of us to rethink the way we are operating. He reminded us that the current situation is temporary but the loss of historic places is permanent and encouraged all of us to seek partnerships to help overcome the current challenges.
A highlight for me were the brief comments of Robert Wilson, who has long been a major supporter of preservation, most recently providing challenge grants to statewide and local preservation organizations to build a sustainability. In his tour of Tulsa, he found that he was struck both by the beauty of the architecture but also by the desolation in parts of the city, the tragic result of demolition caused by the citizens themselves. Philanthropists have many ways to give away money, including health and homeless, but he’s pursued historic preservation because of the ability of great architecture to enhance the lives of many people, both today and into the future. Pennsylvania Station in New York City was a tremendous loss, especially since it was replaced by a “grubby subterranean space” and as a result, everyone’s life has been diminished.
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