The context for the word's usage was a discussion of change in a historic district.
With Fairview and the State Hospital percolating along, the recent Heritage Neighborhood designation for Grant and soon-to-be designation for SESNA, and the failure a few years back of a Historic District in the Fairmount neighborhood - all these together point to ways that our conception of historic preservation is problematic.
I want to suggest that a big part the problem is that rather than conceiving of historic preservation as a "bridge," a bridge linking past, present, and future, instead we have too often framed historic preservation as defense against "intrusion." And what that really means is an attempt to insulate districts and places from change. It's an exceptionally static notion of preservation and history, and in this it is often allied with a fundamentally NIMBYist notion of a city, a neighborhood, and their history.
We need a more flexible sense of historic preservation that values the past not so much as a bulwark against threats from the present and future, but more as something with value to bring into the future itself. Something that retrieves value and makes it bloom again: Preservation is a perennial, not an annual fixed and preserved in the amber and glow of nostalgia.
Purity and Danger in the Historic District
|Gaiety Hill Bush's Pasture Park HD Map, 1986|
Since the late 1970's, there have been no major intrusions within the district. Major intrusions have not occurred partly because of an economic slowdown and a trend toward residential upgrading and the desirability of living in the close-in, inner city neighborhood.The rhetoric is all about defending the boundaries and about the purity of the interior. It's all about the threat of alien forms. It's totally defensive in posture, and defines itself against a kind of "other."
The major intrusions are along Liberty Street which serves as a major arterial to downtown Salem. These intrusions, which have been excluded from the district, consist mainly of medical offices and other commercial offices which are drawn to the area by its proximity to the hospital, downtown and landscape qualities of the area. The recent consolidation and expansion of the Salem Hospital adjacent to the north end of the district will exert tremendous pressures upon the historic district to make way for commercial expansion and demolition. Recognition of the historical qualities of one of Salem's few remaining close-in neighborhoods should help reduce this pressure....
Bush's Pasture Park contains one major intrusion. A 9-acre parcel of this property was sold to Willamette University in 1946 and now contains McCulloch Stadium and ballfields. Its location below the ridge line and isolation at the north middle part of the park significantly reduces any impact it might have on the integrity of the district. In addition, public improvements such as the tennis courts and playgrounds have been placed and controlled with sensitivity to the original pasture character of the Bush estate.
It seems like a clear instance of in-group/out-group definition and all the psychological dynamics that implies.
Some of the same rhetoric is in the 1987 nomination (117pp) for the Court Street-Chemeketa Street Historic District:
Despite its proximity to downtown Salem, the district is relatively well-protected from the severe impact of traffic because of the nature of its geographic and man-made boundaries. Mill Creek provides Court Street with a dead end to the east and protects Chemeketa street on the north between 14th nd 17th streets.The uninterrupted stretch of Court from 14th to 17th streets helps to provide the district with a firm southern edge. The closures of Court and Chemeketa streets deflect through traffic to and from the downtown area and are planted buffer zones helping to define the district. The major intrusion is 17th street, an arterial running north and south through the district for a distance of approximately two blocks. Apart from this intrusion; the area in general is a quiet residential zone.The concept here is blind to its own autoism. The placement of garages on the alley here don't contribute to walkable sidewalks and front porches or anything, but rather "provide definition...along the alleyways." 17th Street is an "intrusion." The streets themselves are the problem, not the autoism on them. Home-owners with cars and garages are innocent; it is the driver from outside and their activity, as well as the city-developer partnership that serves them, who is the problem.
Public commitment to the stabilization of the district and the preservation of its residential nature has been considerable in recent years. The closures of Court and Chemeketa streets were approved by the Salem City Council as part of a $191,000 Federally funded street reversal project in downtown Salem. Federal funding was dependent, in part, on the money being used to reduce traffic impact on established residential neighborhoods, and traffic counts show that many fewer vehicles new pass along Court and Chemeketa than was the case before the closures were installed. Experiments are underway in 1987 to reduce the traffic impact along 17th street as well. Because 17th will be connected to Mission street in the course of the Mission widening project, the City Council has agreed to the experiment of re-striping 17th street north of Court from four to three lanes in an effort to pull traffic flow away from the front lot lines along 17th. The re-striping occurred in July, 1986....
The overall character of the District is that of a late 19th and early 20th century neighborhood with occasional later intrusions in the form of apartment complexes, duplexes, and single family dwellings....
Collectively, the numerous automobile garages and general-purpose sheds which serve the houses of the district contribute to the district's character on a subordinate level. Typically, the garages are small, box-like frame constructions with gable roofs, and they are usually oriented with their gable ends and entrances fronting an alley. By their uniform scale and serial arrangement at the rear lot lines, they provide definition and design continuity along the district's east-west alleyways.
There is a kind of xenophobia, a fear of a variously defined "other," an other defined in space, in time, or a sort of professional affiliation (those evil developers!), that is encoded in the way we define and structure our Historic Districts. Crucially, the "other" is flexible and shifts from context to context. Variously it can be developers, cars and traffic, modern construction. It's a bit of a palimpsest, and so hard to pin down in a schematic or programmatic way. It's a symbol, something more of feeling, not a clearly defined thing deployed in a linear argument.
(Digression: 1. Isn't this impulse NIMBYism? 2. Regardless, whether is it or is not NIMBYism, it is definitely a thing, and we need a more neutral name for it. What should we call it? Maybe you've read something that discusses this?)
The Historic Districts aren't Working
So going back to what occasioned this note, in the Gaiety Hill bit from 1986, it clearly predicts what we are dealing with today:
The recent consolidation and expansion of the Salem Hospital adjacent to the north end of the district will exert tremendous pressures upon the historic district to make way for commercial expansion and demolition.Exactly as predicted, the Hospital purchased the Blind School for "demolition" first and then "commercial expansion."
The Historic District failed to prevent this outcome. It didn't do what we wanted it to do. As Defense against Developer Dark Arts, the charm misfired. (Even though it was outside of a Historic District, our approach to Historic Preservation also failed Le Breton at Fairview. Something's not working right.)
The argument here is that the all-or-nothing nature of the bulwark against change that the Historic District is supposed to constitute in fact hinders our ability to shape new development in ways that enhances or at least is less detrimental to our Historic Districts and other historically significant buildings.
One way of looking at it is that our Historic Districts sometimes let the perfect defeat the merely good, and then the perfect doesn't even happen because it's too idealized. The barbarians are at the gate and we starve ourselves. We get junk.
There are many ways the Districts have been successful, and we almost certainly have a greater stock of undemolished older homes because of them, but they also have failed in crucial ways and led to outcomes we might not always desire. It continues to be a source of amazement that by design our Historic Preservation codes can tell you what kind of window to install, but can't save a building. There's a disproportion here.
Multiple Trends and Forces argue for Change
Strong Towns recently pointed to an interesting discussion of a related issue.
From review of How Real Estate Developers Think: Designs, Profits and Community:What most neighborhood activists don't understand about real estate development https://t.co/AbS8JSPumo @MinnPost pic.twitter.com/L6ANKVDc8I— Strong Towns (@StrongTowns) April 12, 2016
“Most people have a hard time seeing change as positive,” [author Peter] Brown said during a forum last month at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “And who brings us change? Real estate developers.”More than this, if we want a lower-carbon city, if we want more affordable housing, if we want more walkable neighborhoods, will will have to come to terms with more "intrusion." Small-scaled neighborhood commercial pods will need to "encroach" on residential districts. Up-zoning and higher-density housing will "intrude." Our sort-and-separate schema of exclusionary Euclidean zoning will need to break down and admit more mixtures. We will need to change our mandatory inclusionary zoning for car housing. And we may need to have a more flexible notion of historic preservation.
“They’re gonna block your views,” he continued. “They’re gonna shadow your building. Who knows what’s going to happen,” he said.
But the fear of change — and the tendency to move quickly toward blanket opposition — often results in activists not getting the best outcome from their interaction.
Brown thinks the subjects of his book are vital to the growth of cities. As he writes, “throughout the history of the United States, where the great majority of land is privately owned, the buildings that make up American cities have been planned, designed and built almost entirely by developers, using private capital, one project at a time.”Remodel or Remuddle?
Two of the major pieces of preservation at the south campus of the State Hospital illustrate some of this. The oldest portion of the Kirkbride building has been restored to a 19th century grandeur. It is magnificent.
|Our restored Kirkbride asylum building in winter|
|Final construction details|
Here are three examples of a basic Foursquare type and three different ways that the pure type has been modified and repurposed for a contemporary need. Two are remodels, one is a revival. (Maybe this is just coincidence, but the flexibility in the foursquare here is intriguing, and I wonder if there is something about its basic symmetry or something that makes it especially adaptable.)
|Weller-Schramm House with mid-century garage|
on side 1895/1944 - via Waymarking
|Lever Fivesquare 1910/2015 - via Portland Architecture|
Note the totally modern addition on the roof
|New Foursquare with garage in back at Fairview Addition|
|The Supreme Court Building in 1913|
So the house bridges several different eras. Indeed, though it has much of a basic foursquare plan, it is also described as a "colonial revival"; even when it was built, it represented a stylistic hybrid.
This kind of hybridity and mixture is in some ways and some times a more useful model of historic preservation than an insistence on pure types and stylistic integrity. High style exemplars will always be important, but there is also creativity and usefulness in the mixed type, the mutt. (The distinction between "contributing" and "non-contributing" buildings in an Historic District may be too much an us-versus-them categorization.)
Additionally, a future owner could always conduct a full-scale restoration and go back as closely as possible to the pre-Belluschi plan.
Purity and Perfection are the Enemies Here
|Change is inevitable, but our theories of a neighborhood|
and of a city don't accommodate it very well