Several days ago I penned my first blog post; a definition of historic preservation designed to encapsulate through hyperbole the difficulties inherent in determining what is historical and how to preserve it.
I am usually unimpressed with my writing: rarely do I suceed at the kind of wordplay I find enjoyable. But that post brushed against some of those elusive elements. I was going to edit and send it out into the big invisible ‘net and let it live.
The cruel irony is obvious and simple: while attempting to explain the importance of preservation I didn’t perserve my own work and with a swipe of my hand, vanished it instantly. Something that occupied time, a form of space and that netherworld where Ideas live was simply gone. In it’s place I had a sort of personal “preservation quandary”: I wanted to get at the heart of preservation and start a conversation, but with what?
My quandry isn’t dissimilar to the starting point we face every time we stare down Father Time in an effort to bring back, interpret and push forward into the future what is and was. Do we or don’t we maintain or revive something created in the past? Arriving at a “yes” to those questions is often a process fraught with stress and debate. But if the answer is yes, then how? How do you maintain something that is, and will inevitably continue to succumb to age and degeneration? And if we do decide to involve ourselves in a building’s legacy, how do we go about it? Do we base our attempts on the original, or the meaning behind the original? Should we adapt whatever we have and make it “look” like the original but function on current-use standards? Should we instead do the bare minimum so the space remains as ‘true’ to the original as possible, despite it’s altered context?
With every given historical object, there are individuals, neighborhoods and larger communities considering the potential longevity of those objects and working in some capacity to define that longevity. These groups view the issue of whether to preserve, and with what effort and end-goal in mind, with as many variances as there are minds considering the topic. And therein lies the rub. All the definitions, all the Acts of Congress, all the writings and discussions amongst small town preservationists and academics often can’t sufficiently clarify what and why something is worth preserving because the idea of perserving is emotional, ephemeral and can vary with the economy of the pocket or the mind. And yet I, we, try.
Historical preservation speaks about who we were in the past, who we are in the present, what we want the future ‘us’ to think of all of have gone before. It also carries into the future those elements we think will help make life somehow more meaningful, enjoyable. Perservation is an open ended, every changing conversation that ebbs and flows with the conversants. It changes and alters and creates as it works to remain the same. It is confusing, and frustrating and exhilerating and enlightening. It can both broaden and narrow our scope of us, all of us, in the past, present and future. So, how and when and why do we preserve our individual and collective history? At it’s core, whether to preserve and how are simply a good questions to ask.
While standing along the 4th of July parade route, I heard a fellow observer say that what he was watching was, “just crazy!” His big ole kid grin gave him away. I said, “just when you thought Mayberry was gone, or never really existed, here we are living it.” His wide-eyed laugh bubbled up, “I know! I just can’t believe it!”