Virginia Preservation Conference, Norfolk, Virginia, 18 November 2003

Making the Case: Preservation Solutions for Virginia’s Future

David J. Brown, Executive Director, National Trust for Historic Preservation

I am gratified for the opportunity to return to Virginia and see so many friends and colleagues. The fifteen years I spent in the Commonwealth were wonderful both personally and professionally for my family and me. And I’m honored to be able to return and introduce the governor who did more to put historic preservation at the forefront of his vision for the future of Virginia than any single elected official in the Commonwealth.

But before I introduce Governor Baliles, I want to recognize the work of several individuals who have led the Preservation Alliance in its 20-year effort to build a preservation ethic among all Virginians. Peter Hunt is simply the latest in a series of leaders who have guided the Alliance as the premier advocate for preservation with the General Assembly and as the voice for Virginia’s vibrant preservation network.

Gennie Keller of Charlottesville was the Alliance president who hired me to serve as the founding director, and her intellect and experience continues to inform countless preservation projects across the country. I had dinner in London recently with her successor, Al Chambers, who remains a champion of such wonderful Virginia historic sites as Poplar Forest.

My good friend Robert Lambeth–a former National Trust Advisor from Virginia–was the leader who over the course of a decade pushed the Alliance to take a proactive and meaningful role in the public advocacy arena. Tad Thompson continued that focus on public policy while encouraging broader ties to the environmental and conservation movements.

I was so dependent on the wise counsel of Harry Warthen during his two terms as Alliance president that when the National Trust had an opening for a new Advisor from Virginia, I quickly urged the organization to take advantage of his wisdom for our work on the national stage. And finally, Bessie Carter–who was the incoming president of the Alliance when I left to join the National Trust–is just the type of strong yet sensitive leader that every organization should seek out and treasure.

It is also a pleasure to see board members of the Alliance here today who worked with me–Jane Yerkes, Charlie Seilheimer, and George Kegley. To each of you, thank you for the wonderful opportunity to work with you and so many passionate and effective preservationists in Virginia.

We’re here today to talk about moving preservation into the mainstream. This is a topic that’s very much on our minds at the National Trust. We know that the preservation movement has undergone many changes in the past century – none bigger than the change in the basic motivation for saving older buildings and neighborhoods. Initially history was the primary motivation, as seen in the campaign to save Mount Vernon as a shrine to George Washington. Later architecture became important, and at sites such as Monticello and Williamsburg we celebrate wonderful design as well as history.

Most recently, economics have become a basic motivator, and programs like the National Trust Main Street program–which has been active in Virginia since 1985–are ways in which preservationists and economic development professionals have found common ground.

This change in why we preserve has brought about a change in how we do our work. We’re not just reactive–now we’re proactive. We’re not just lying down in front of bulldozers–now we have a seat at the table.

The Preservation Alliance of Virginia helped lead this change eight years ago when it released Virginia’s Economy and Historic Preservation: The Impact of Preservation on Jobs, Business, and Community. This study made the persuasive case that preservation in Virginia made good economic sense. And it made the case so well that the Alliance network–and our good friends at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources under Kathleen Kilpatrick’s leadership–were able to convince the Governor and the General Assembly to pass strong rehabilitation incentives in 1996. Since that time, those incentives have generated over $63 million of economic activity independent of the federal tax incentives for preservation–which since 1976 have helped rehabilitate more than 1,600 historic buildings in Virginia for a private investment of more than $706 million.

This work has helped bring preservation into the mainstream, giving us new credibility and visibility. We’ve been able to reach new audiences and attracted new allies and partners. At the National Trust, we have a $40 million tax credit fund in partnership with Bank of America, where we work with the nation’s largest consumer bank to invest in mid-sized preservation projects, such as 411 Granby Street here in Norfolk.

But as Arthur Ziegler, a National Trust Crowninshield Award winner and the developer of the Old City Hall project in Richmond has said, “Yes, we preservationists have come a long way. No, we have not by any means arrived.”

At the National Trust where we’ve successfully completed our first major capital campaign while transitioning from federal support, we’re looking now at the “Next Trust.” And in that process, we’re hearing that the Trust and the preservation movement have to be relevant in the lives of many more Americans and we have to save many more historic buildings. Let me suggest key threes for our future as a preservation movement.

To reach that goal that we must broaden our programs and membership to reflect more accurately the diversity of America.

If we are to gain and maintain credibility as a relevant force in contemporary life, we must expand our preservation vision to include the full range of cultures and historic resources that help define the American experience.

But merely broadening our programmatic vision won’t have much meaning if we don’t broaden our membership as well. A simple look around at almost any preservation gathering offers convincing proof that our membership doesn’t sufficiently reflect America’s diversity. We must change that. We must find ways to involve all sectors of American society in our work–because it isn’t “our” work at all. What we do–saving historic places and using preservation to revitalize communities–benefits everyone.

We must also ensure that the gains we’ve made in the past don’t get diminished or erased.

It’s ironic that now–when fewer older buildings are being thoughtlessly demolished and preservation is changing the face of communities everywhere–right now, laws and programs that form the very bedrock of preservation success are under attack.

Under the guise of “regulatory streamlining,” DOT and some members of Congress are proposing changes that would eviscerate Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act. Adopted in 1966, when communities were reeling from the widespread losses caused by the construction of the Interstate Highway system, Section 4(f) goes beyond other preservation regulations by requiring road builders to stay away from historic places unless there is no “feasible and prudent” alternative.

It’s a shame that Section 4(f) doesn’t have a more dramatic title, because it has helped preservation win some very dramatic victories. It was Section 4(f) that stopped construction of an elevated roadway that would have formed an ugly barrier between the Mississippi riverfront and the French Quarter in New Orleans. It kept an interstate highway from being rammed through Overton Park in Memphis. And it helped persuade officials to build a tunnel under Baltimore Harbor instead of a massive highway bridge that would have loomed over historic Fort McHenry.

On this issue, every Virginia preservationist needs to do two things. First, write or call to thank Senator John Warner for his tireless support of Section 4(f). No one fights for historic preservation in the U.S. Senate the way John Warner does. Also, let Senator Allen know that when this issue comes to the floor of the Senate in January, keeping a strong Section 4(f) is important to you and your colleagues.

Finally, to reach our goal of making preservation a mainstream issue, we must work harder to instill preservation as an ethic–a value–that is understood and embraced by all Americans.

Today’s environmental movement began with a small band of men and women who launched a compelling crusade to convince Americans to fundamentally change the way we viewed and treated the natural environment. It worked. Today almost all of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, see ourselves as environmentalists. We’ve accepted responsibility for wise stewardship of the natural environment because we know it’s in our own best interest to do so.

To help us think about how to move preservation more into the mainstream, we are honored today to be joined by The Honorable Gerald L. Baliles.

Governor Baliles has a long and distinguished career of public service, serving first as a member of the House of Delegates in the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a term as Virginia’s Attorney General, and then service as Virginia’s Governor from 1986 to 1990. Since leaving his gubernatorial post in 1990, he has served as a partner at Hunton & Williams as the head of the International Practice Group. Jerry has a distinguished record of leadership in domestic and international economic development that has enhanced the economic vitality of Virginia and the nation.

As preservationists, we know of Jerry’s decades-long commitment to the cause of historic preservation. During his term as Governor, he created the Governor’s Commission to Study Historic Preservation that led to the establishment of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and a statewide preservation revolving fund. He was a tireless champion for increased state support for Virginia’s historic landmarks. Since leaving office, he has served as Chairman of the Virginia Historical Society, and led that organization’s growth as a force for historical scholarship in the Commonwealth and the nation.

It has been a great privilege for me to work with Jerry on preservation issues since the 1980s, and it is my honor to introduce to you The Honorable Gerald Baliles.