Park Historic Architecture Program Comes of Age with the Historic Preservation Act of 1966

This presentation is part of the A Century of Design in the Parks: Preserving the Built Environment in National and State Parks, June 21-23, 2016, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Abstract & Presenter’s Bio

Hands-on workshop organized by James S. Askin and Hugh Miller in 1973. Martin E. Weaver of Parks Canada discussong replacement of a window sill on a C&O Canal lock house (Photo: Hugh C. Miller)

Hugh Miller: This is a story of people, visions, the world of the possible. It looks at a very short period within the Park Service history. The development of the programs for historic architecture within the National Park Service as a national program can be dated to just before the passing of the 1966 Act. At the bookend of my study is the retirement of one of the major players. This is a limited study looking at the world of the possible.

As Ethan mentioned, the historic structures were not ready for the Park Service. The 1933 reorganization drew a lot of the monuments into The Park’s history. The Historic Sites Act put the National Park Service in the history business. So, when George Hartzog became the Director in 1964, he came with experience and knowledge of the Park Service. He also was very ambitious, and he was interested to carry out a vision. He saw the potentials for the new Park after Mission 66.

He also had an interest in historic preservation. In fact, unbeknownst to most he was working with then Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, in discussion on what was the possibility of using the Historic Sites Act to expand the scope of the Park Service activities into preservation. The Secretary and George discussed that the President was interested in working on the National Trust in a bigger movement, so they stepped back.

George was aware of the fact that this transition and this interest in preservation and in moving from the design offices, the western offices of design in San Francisco and the eastern offices of design and construction in Philadelphia. He brought James Massey, the head of the HABS program in Philadelphia, and Henry A. Judd, the head of the historic structures program in Philadelphia, to Washington.

He created a new branch of historic structures and Historic American Buildings Survey under Charles Lessick, FAIA. For the first time there was a position in a Washington office at the executive level with Charles Lessick reporting to the associate directors and Henry A. Judd as Chief of the Branch of Historic Structures, and James Massey reporting to, gradually, the Historic American Building Survey. Now listen, HABS/HEAR didn’t exist at that point.

I think this is very significant because there was recognition of a need for overall programs. As the evidence of the Preservation Act being enacted and Hartzog very actively participating in this program between the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, he commissioned a committee to look at new preservation of the parks. This is an interesting study. Judd and Massey were on that program, FHA was on that program, Ronnie Lee, the Park Regional Director and Historian was Chair of that program. It brought together what was this new preservation that would be proposed to Congress and what were the new activities to be in the organization to administer the Act.

It’s interesting that there was a full recognition that the work of historic structures had no programs. There were treatments that were done under Mission 66 and other programs. There was no continuities in the Park. It was a very fragmented system where park interpretation, park maintenance, work operations did quite different things, maybe within the same park regarding historic structures. They recommended that there be a focus on historic preservation within the park, particularly architecture. A recommendation that within the new office there would be 17 historic architects, and the goal would be to develop programs and research and processes to look at things being done by park staff under the experts of exhibit specialists. Exhibit specialist is an interesting classification. The backstory is in my paper. I won’t talk about that now.

The Act was passed. It was quite a new activity of taking federal money and working with the states, developing a review process for listing in the National Register, expanded the concept of the National Register. A review process under section 106 of the code to look at what are the alternatives for preservation. Ernest A. Connally, who participated on this committee, he was a Professor of Architectural History at the University of Oklahoma, and had participated on this planning committee when he became Director in 1967. OHP, as it was known, had four divisions: History, Archeology, National Register, and Historic Architecture. The first director that was chosen of that division was Joseph Watterson, FAIA. He was a retired editor of the American Institute of Architects Journal. Well known to architects. He was not well versed to bureaucracy.

The major aspect of the historic architecture division was HABS and historic structures. Henry Judd became the Chief of the Branch or continued as Chief for historic structures under Watterson. The development of the policies of the National Park Service, and this is a major point of accomplishment, occurred during this period. Henry Judd was involved in that. The other thing that happened at that point was George Hartzog was aware that the Park Service in the parks was neglecting, abandoning, demolishing historic structures presumably eligible for listing in the National Register. He issued a memo saying that all demolitions of all buildings over 50 years old had to be approved by him. There is sort of a sidebar story if you want about buildings age 49, which led to another issue.

Both the policy writing and interpretation and dating of historic structures and the review of demolitions for buildings 50 years old became a major part of the activities of the Historic Structures Branch in this early period. The newest NPS policies really became the framework for how do you hang your hat on this. George Hartzog when he came into the service threw out all of the manuals. He says, “We’re managers, and we can manage by objectives, and we should understand how to make decisions based on basic principles of where we’re trying to go.”

In writing the administrative policy for historic areas, Robert Utley was selected to Chair that. Utley was a published scholar in western history, long time regional architect in Santa Fe, knowledgeable about history and historic preservation and was studying to understand the bureaucracy of Washington. He argued a long time with Hartzog about, “We have the policies that are written by the advisory board in 1937.” These were policies that really came out of the international thinking of the period. They were written by a lot of people who were involved with Williamsburg and other aspects of preservation in that period of the 30’s. Look at Hartzog’s work, it’s very interesting and really a lot that’s going on. There was a lot of understanding about preservation as the preferred treatment and restoration and reconstruction as the last alternative.

Hartzog insisted that the policies be written by professionals within the park areas, not by the Advisory Board. After a review, there was, Utley and a committee including Henry Judd, prepared the policies. These were compiled in 1968 into three booklets that were organized, a red book for historic areas, a green book for natural areas, a blue book for recreational areas. They were small, 166 pages plus was useful as a reference and to hold up and say this is what it is about.

This became the framework for saying “these are the guiding principles for making decisions within the Parks System.” That continued until 1975 when Gary Everhart became Director and he argued that these of all should be [inaudible]. Utley really went to the mat on it, he had insistence that you had to have history as defined by history. Needless to say Everhart prevailed and the cultural resource program became [inaudible ] a huge policy manual at the end of the day.

Also the same period, 1971, for a variety of reasons, many of them political, George Hartzog decided to merge the service centers of the Eastern Design Office and the Western Design Office. The Eastern Office has now moved from Philadelphia to Washington and this was a sudden move. It was such a sudden move that I got a call literally in the middle of the day from the Chief of Personnel, Larry Zaro, who said “Hugh, go see Henry Judd and take that job that he’s offered you because something’s happening here that you don’t want to be any part of.” That day they announced that the service centers would be moving to Denver. It was over the Columbus Day weekend in 1971 and anybody that wanted house hunting should be plane on Saturday morning.

A lot of people didn’t decide to go. There were most of the historic architects working in service centers from in the field. They were working on projects and they were representing areas for [inaudible] in the Caribbean —

Penny Batchelor, Lee Nelson and independents.

Some regions opened a position for regional historical architect. It was a convenience of organization. Robert M. Cox, the design architect in San Francisco, took the position. He had little background or knowledge in historic preservation, but he didn’t want to move. The same thing happened when Vance Kominski decided to going to Omaha rather than going to Denver, and he went to Omaha as Regional Director. Dave Battle, a former design architect from the Park Service was rehired to become the regional architect in Santa Fe and the Pacific Northwest duly formed a region … created a position for Laurin Huffman in spite of the fact that the regional director of that post said we have no use for historic resources here, which is an interesting point that is beyond the spectrum of my discussion.

We had in the regions regional and historical architects. We had very little skill in terms of dealing with historic structures in them. That became a point of squabbles between the regional office and the Denver Service Center–maybe continued today. I joined the Washington office in 1971 after returning from assignments in Jordan and Turkey. I had an opportunity to have knowledge of international planning and international preservation.

Most of the work that we were doing was consulting to the parks. We talked to them about the policies. We were talking about the new executive order 11593 because this abuse and ignoring and demolition of historic structures was not unique to the Park Service. It was a problem throughout federal agencies. Nixon became aware of that and in May of ’71 issued executive order 11593 that said federal agencies must look at their historic properties, acknowledge them in the list in the National Register, and provide stewardship including the provisions of 106. This is a powerful executive order, but like many other things that come out of the White House, often ignored.

One of the tasks of the Advisory Council staff and the Parks Service Washington staff was to visit parks and give a consultation to how do you deal with the requirements of the letter of 106. It was interesting working with other agencies to realize that the Park Service in many ways had more interested in their heritage and their buildings like Teton Park Towers than the Park Service had in terms of their Park Headquarters such as you see from Mount Rainier.

There was an interesting dichotomy though. With interest, I observed that in Prince William Park and in Catoctin Mountain Park–both of these were Demonstration parks after CCC. The superintendents had intuitively rehabilitated their CCC buildings to be functional back country park buildings using the existing historic buildings. In the same region, the superintendent of the C&O Canal and Antietam claimed there were no authorities for any of this stuff and buildings were being neglected and abandoned and vandalized. Also at the same time, some regional directors such as in San Francisco realized that there were opportunities to list the CCC buildings in the National Register. This came before the general interest in Western architecture and the themes today but certainly recognizing that these buildings were historic. On the other hand, we had the regional director claiming there were no historic resources in the Pacific Northwest.

I also had the interesting opportunity to work with Dr. Connally in looking at Chicago theme study and other ways to approach developing new partnerships. The Pennsylvania Avenue development corporation home for the Vice President. This involved the Secretary of the Interior, Rogers Morton, who was very interested in the Parks and their preservation programs. It was interesting. He grew up in a historic house. He had an interest in that history. He was really concerned about preservation–even to the point when the battle was going on demolishing the Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue–he said to Connally and me (we were representing him on Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation), “I want that building saved even if it’s a problem.” We had that kind of interest from the Secretary. This was certainly an opportunity to think about what else is possible and what else is needed for the programs.

One of the interesting areas was a total lack of national training in any culture resource or preservation programs. Any of the historians would generally go into Williamsburg for their seminars but there was no in-house training. In early 1968 Henry Judd and Lee Nelson came up with the idea of the William Strickland Center located in Philadelphia where the civics specialists and architects would work together on projects and learn from each other and develop skills. This idea was sold to Washington. It was funded, and even space was leased and then at the last minute the Director decided that there was another higher need to get the people at Castle Clinton in New York City off his back and he used that money to fund preservation there. The idea of the Strickland Center died. It needs some preservation and some research and study because it was a very interesting concept and it’s little known today.

The idea of training didn’t die, and Jim Askins, who was an exhibit specialist working at Harper’s Ferry, worked with Judd and had some funding and proposed a training film on how do you analyze a building. I was involved as technical assistance on that training film. A lot of film was shot but from the very beginning we really didn’t have the whiteboards. We really didn’t have the script. It turns out that Jim and his colleagues were master craftsmen but they weren’t very good actors. The idea of the film died but in that friendship I developed with James Askins it really was a high point of my career to be working that closely with a master craftsman and to see the synergies that an architect and craftsman can have working together.

We came up with the idea that there needed to be training in the Parks for the main staff–that these people had skills but they did not have focus. They did not understand the problem solving and the implications of improper treatment. In 1973, we had organized the first ever Cultural Resource Training Program at the Mather Training Center, and it was for maintenance workers and a few architects. The first class had about 23 people and we came together for two weeks for hands on in classroom and shop work in terms of what it takes to deal with decision making for historic architecture. From that discussion came my quote, which is much quoted, not really original: “maintenance is preservation.” That’s really the theme of what we have kind of built the programs on.

Also at the same time I was able to work with a man from Kennesaw who brought a whole catalog of preservation training for superintendents, for managers, maintenance workers for outside and etc.

The Williamsport Training Center grew out of this program and that is an adjunct and essential part of working together. The training of craftsman under Jim Askins in Williamsport was created as a need recognized by the regional directors and we asked the Denver Service Center to put together our training program of 1977. The formal training program was started at Williamsport on the Canal with Jim Askins training his own specialists and historic architects and he talked about learning from each other. That’s what this training Center was intended to do. The concept of the Williamsport Training Center was on and thanks a lot to Jim Askins.

The critical moment came in the reorganization when the idea was to separate out the functions of the offices of historic preservation from dealing with the Act and dealing with the Parks. We had an opportunity to deal with the recreation of … The Park Historic Preservation Act organization was created to really focus on the program. Utley became the Director. There was a division of history, archeology, and historic architecture and the decision that every region would have a similar sort of organization. Now I think this was a key decision made with the director that there would be a park historic preservation program within every region. Some regions had historians, some regions had archeologists, some regions had historical architects but not all of them in the same place. There was not a director of the program. So this provided an opportunity for a directed program for historic preservation in the parks from the regional office mirroring the programs in Washington.

Now we have an opportunity to have in all the regions the programs of historical architects and the new regions … I mean, in Boston, the North Atlantic region with Blaine Cliver, and in the mountain region of Rodd Wheaton, really hit the stride because they were new, they were able to make the case for the purposes of archeology. Utley was able to really get the attention of Ron Walker, who was the new Director after George Hartzog was fired. He presented a horror show of the neglect throughout the system and Walker accepted that. It was a real indictment. It really pointed to the fact that the Director was also part of the problem. The funding needs continued. The problem was well stated but the funding needs were not.

There was this moment of park historic preservation programs. Utley had them organized under park operations and this was somewhat uncomfortable because of the fact that we were working with Rangers, but Jim Tobin who has already been referred to, really had a good ear and provided an opportunity for a myriad of things were possible but still there was a problem of funding. When Gary Everhart became Director, he had a really negative attitude about preservation. He’s totaled the organization into park operations and left Utley whose position would be downgraded into a division chief. Utley leaves in 1976 to look at work on the Advisory Council.

That is really the bookend that … I want to draw attention. I talk about the personalities. I talk about the Advisory Council. We have continuity, a continuing organization within WASO, within the regions support historic preservation. The legacy of historic architects … It’s interesting when by the time that Utley retired in 1979, and I was selected as the Chief Historical Architect, there were a hundred historical architects working in the Park System in Denver in the parks, in the regions, and many of them here in the room. It’s a legacy, and it’s important to think about that from almost nothing in 1966 the Park Historic Preservation Program as we know it today has the basis of its roots. Thank you.

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119