Old German Church, Cumberland, Indianapolis. Currently threatened with demolition.
By: Joe Frost Historic Preservation. These two words together describe a very active and, in most cases, successful movement. A movement that includes many subfields; advocacy, real estate development, architecture, community development, building trades, job creation, the list goes on and on. But for some, historic preservation is perceived as a negative. It conjures up misconceptions; fear of government intervention, an outright determination that nothing should stand in the way of progress, and the ultimate fallacy of “who cares, it should be torn down anyways.” But, what is historic preservation? What does it really do?
Entire conferences and graduate level courses are devoted to answering the question, “what is historic preservation?”Simply put, preservation is a toolbox for economic development. It’s a development approach that takes into account the existing built environment; buildings, neighborhoods, or business districts, and adapts them for present and future needs. This approach rehabilitates historic resources by bringing them into an entirely new use or an old use brought back to life. A historic building or district is one that has been designated historic or is eligible for historic designation. Historic designations come in many forms; local, state, or national designations.
Local designation by a historic preservation commission via a municipal ordinance – a resource can be designated as an individual site or as a contributing building within a district (neighborhood or commercial district.) State historic designation – Generally 50 years old or older and have historical or architectural significance. The National Register of Historic Places, generally 50 years old or older and significance in at least one of four criterions; Events, Significant persons, Architecture, or Archeology.
In the cases of State and National designations these are more like honorary titles, but with designation come the opportunity for tax credits, or grant monies, provided certain qualifications are met. These designations are tools in the preservation toolbox to build awareness, and provide incentives for following the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. State or National designations do not allow government intervention in regards to design or demolition, nor does designation require the property be opened to the public.
Local historic preservation commissions and ordinances are the hammer in the preservation toolbox. They act similarly to municipal planning and zoning commissions. They have the authority to designate properties and districts, the responsibility of design review (materials, paint, etc.), and have legal footing on what can be demolished and what is constructed. A historic preservation commission interfaces with property owners, community leaders, government officials, preservation advocates, and residents to promote a viable community. Their efforts are not meant to be an obstruction to progress, but enhance the quality of progress. The makeup of historic preservation commissions must be residents of the municipality in which they serve. These commissioners are members of the community who want to see the best for it, and the historic resources within.
Historic preservation, however, is more than designations. As I said before, historic preservation is a toolbox for economic development, but it can be more than even that. Historic preservation is often viewed as an opportunity to “save history.” And while history is important to the significance of historic buildings and communities, saving history isn’t the end goal. The goal is to better our communities through the reuse of our existing resources. As community leaders, and preservationists, we need to think about preserving the built environment for the future. Future Preservation! After all, historic preservation is saving existing historical and architecturally significant resources for the future use. Once a building or neighborhood is demolished, it is gone forever. Preservation is the ultimate recycling. Rehabilitating our existing buildings, neighborhoods, and communities ensures growth and progress.
The Indiana National Road Association’s mission is to Preserve, Protect, and Promote Indiana’s section of the Historic National Road. We fulfil this mission by advocating for historic properties along the corridor, and at times, by taking on active preservation projects. Of course, we can't save everything, but by actively advocating for the historic resources along the corridor we can ensure a strong future for the Historic National Road.
If you know of a historic preservation concern in your Historic National Community, gives us a call, we will be happy to assist. If you like our content, and support our mission, please join the effort! Become a member today. By visiting our “Join Us” page.
Oasis (Plainfield) Diner being moved last summer along the Historic National Road. Indiana Landmarks assisted with preservation efforts of this National Road gem. INRA assisted with a feasibility study a few years ago to get the project rolling.