When I tell people I am a Preservationist, they often jump to the cliché perception of what we are: irrational obstructionists, screaming about National Register eligibility, fully prepared to lie down before bulldozers in order to save dilapidated eyesores from greedy developers who would most certainly rob their own children. Well, yes, there are times when the 11th hour arrives and we need to get down, dirty and impactful in our actions. However, for the most part, nothing could be further from the truth. We strive to be proactive, not reactive; we are pro-existing buildings, not anti-development.
The field of Historic Preservation leads us into the future by implementing environmentally, socially and culturally responsible action through the practice of preserving and actively utilizing existing building stock and landscapes. The world of preservation is a forward-thinking world encompassing multiple professional fields such as social psychology, economics, environmental remediation, and skilled trades. When we observe the built environment as an existing social, cultural and environmental investment in the future, made long ago, we begin to understand the positive impacts responsible preservation is capable of.
Where do we begin? At the root of preservation efforts, beyond the people it serves, lays the individual structure. In order to remain viable and contributing in our communities, preservationists rely upon several accepted ‘remedies’ for threatened buildings. The goal is the retention of the structure and its historic integrity for continued use within its historic context. These remedies include stabilization, restoration, adaptive re-use, relocation and, in extraordinary circumstances the complete reconstruction of a building no longer present. Here in the South End of Columbus, we have relocation currently being considered as a remedy to preserve a contributing structure in the Brewery District, 1045 S. High St.
Relocating a building in order to preserve it is only to be used when all other options to preserve the structure in its original location have been exhausted and demolition, either intentional or by neglect, is imminent. Often times we see property owners offering to relocate a historic building in order to create a blank canvas for new development. Retaining a historic structure within its historic context is a critical component of preservation.
“Moving a historic building is sometimes the only way to save it from demolition, but such an action should be undertaken only as a last resort when all other preservation options have been exhausted. When a historic building has been moved, it loses its integrity of setting and its “sense of place and time”—important aspects of the historic character of a building and its environment.” –John Obed Curtis, ‘Moving Historic Structures’ Published by the Technical Preservation Services Division, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, as part of a Preservation Handbook series for use by architects, administrators, and government officials at all levels concerned with the preservation and maintenance of cultural resources.
Going forward, we must work together as a community to educate and inform owners of historic properties, proactively, on the options and remedies historic preservation offers them in meeting their needs and responsibilities as owners of valuable cultural assets in the public realm.