Hello Everyone! Today I’m going to talk about something that I have mixed feelings on: Recent Past Preservation, and since I have mixed feelings about the issue I’ve asked Ash to help me out with this post.
Recent past preservation is a growing controversy in historic preservation and architectural history. Many (myself included, again, mixed feelings…) have derided the movement to look to the recent past (which is commonly accepted as the period encompassing the decades on either side of the National Register-mandated 50 year mark, i.e. 1951-1971 at the present) for cultural resources to preserve. The argument has been bandied about that this period is too close to home, it’s the domain of nostalgia, and we historians can’t look on cultural resources from this period with objectivity if our view is clouded by fond recollections of our respective childhoods/teenage years/college years. And what’s more, why should we look to the cultural resources so close to the present, when there are 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings in dire need, as is the case with our 20th century house museums that just can’t sustain the level of maintenance that was established during the halcyon days of the 50s, 60s and 70s, when the American public took pride in traveling around our country to learn of the founding generations?
If you need any proof of this rosy look on our countries founding generations look no further than this photo from Imageof.net
It has been said that a building is never in more danger than during the decades after it has reached 40 years of age. The generation that builds values its buildings, as they recall the cost and effort that went into an edifice. The next generation looks on the works of the previous generation with fondness, recalling the pride their parents took in those places, and the memories made during their youth. By the third generation, many buildings have passed to new owners who don’t have the same emotional attachment, who don’t remember the pride or efforts that went into a building, or possibly even the original purpose of the building. It may have become run down, it may be showing its age as systems wear out and materials reach the end of their life cycle. This is the time when a building is often at greatest risk for demolition.
For example… if you didn’t recognize the house below as the Brady abode would you think it worthy of Preservation?
Not to go on at length, but recent past preservationists have considered these issues, and have stepped in to guide our cultural resources forward from questionable old places that are down on their luck to treasured landmarks that can be looked upon with pride for decades and centuries to come. What’s more, mainstream preservationists are looking to the recent past as the new area for study rather than other periods, since the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were all the focus of the 20th century, so architectural historians have begun to look back on the 20th century from our 21st century vantage point. Mind you, I’m not advocating the preservation of every Ranch home and every gas station and every school ever built! Nor are recent past preservationists. We preservationists (regardless of period) advocate taking a second look, reconsidering the value of a place, the history of a place, and even the building materials and craftsmanship that could be lost if a fairly recent building is demolished. What will we remember about the 1950s if every drive-in theater is demolished?
The awesome neon-light display below is from Ohio.com (but the drive-in is actually in California… go figure)
So, I tend to rant about topics. I apologize. To make up for my lengthy discourse, here’s an interesting example of recent past preservation ideals in action: Lustron Preservation
. These folks have brought together a community of people dedicated to the preservation of Lustron houses, which were developed in the Post-WWII era as an answer to the housing crisis as GIs came home to start families and needed their piece of the American Dream.
Photo courtesy of BFDhD.
Lustron homes were built entirely from enameled steel, including the interior and exterior walls, the windows, the doors and the roof! Lustron is one of those unique Post-war ideas amid a sea of bland ranches and Leavitt-inspired Capes and split-levels that eventually flooded the housing market in the 50s, which is what makes them an architectural gem. Sadly, only 2,680 Lustron homes were ever built, and nearly half of those have since been demolished. So, intrepid enthusiasts of Lunstron took notice and have brought together info on their favorite historic resources and formed a community for other enthusiasts, Lustron owners and admirers of enameled steel living.
So what do you think? Is there a Lustron home in your future?
-Etta & Ash
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