Shakespeare said it best: "The past is prologue." It's a smart reminder that we can prepare for the future by understanding the past. We can also preserve it -- at least in architectural terms. Give me a turn-of-the-century brownstone over a readymade suburban tract any day. There's no substitute for charm, stained glass and wood moldings. Dorothy Parker and Eugene O'Neill didn't drink away their dreams surrounded by sheetrock and Formica! They wrote wit and angst, respectively, then headed for Greenwich Village speakeasies, where cozy met deco design.

To celebrate America's past, the National Trust for Historic Preservation publishes Preservation, an attractive, engaging bimonthly that appeals to architectural and American history buffs alike. The trust, which advocates for our historic treasures, is also interested in revitalizing communities and promoting innovative economic and environmental policies. Rest assured, Obama got their platform. Change comes in all periods.

Founded in 1949, NTHP's goal is an admirable one. But the magazine's coverage embraces more than traditional historic sites, it also champions houses, museums, hotels, even Astroland's 1962 rocket, which was donated to the Coney Island History Project. Coney Island is being torn down, replaced by pricey condos. To retain pieces of its past, a Pennsylvania-based salvage company is making outdoor furniture out of Coney Island's famed boardwalk. If you build it, they will come... and recycle.

LA residents get a similar kick out of the smiling cow that's lured drivers to the Driftwood Dairy-Port in El Monte, Calif., since 1961. The drive-through Jetson-esque structure is now eligible for the state register of historic places. Americana is more than Jefferson's beloved Monticello. It's also the architectural constructs that define a time and place, like Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, originally a chocolate factory, and Vanderbilt Hall, the grand 12,000-square-foot hall built in 1913 as Grand Central's waiting room, complete with five gold chandeliers and pink marble floors.

I doubt any city would create something so majestic today. The Beaux Arts Penn Station, a monument to beauty, was demolished by moronic bureaucrats in the 1960s. Then there's my local subway station. Our artistic flourish is a mosaic of famous bohemian artists, writers and revolutionaries crafted by the kids at P.S. 41.Cute, yes. Inspiring, no.

Preservation opens with a "Transitions" section that highlights buildings either restored, lost or threatened -- everything from a modernist Palm Beach home to a 1908 Johnston, Pa., Catholic Church. The latter might consider rebirth -- as a nightclub. In 1983, a deconsecrated church in New York's Chelsea neighborhood became Limelight, a trendy hot spot. It may be fitting; in both instances, the sacred meets the profane.

Features in the current issue address the glories of San Juan and the changing face of Puerto Rico's capital city. The story on the allure of Ojai, Calif., and its Mission Revival architecture, made me long to visit. The town of 8,000 has vigorously held onto its roots and bucolic air. Frank Capra shot his 1937 film Lost Horizon here; Ojai was a stand-in for Shangri-La. That's probably why there are no Starbucks.

The piece on Lincoln's Washington noted that many of the sites the 16th president knew are virtually unchanged. During his troubled tenure, the city was a rat-infested malarial muck -- like today with better plumbing. The Washington Monument, Corcoran Gallery, and the Capitol's dome were still on the drawing board, but the Treasury Building, the Patent Office (now the Smithsonian) and Ford's Theater remain.

Various travel ads abound here - but the most curious was for Mississippi. The image: a pony-tailed male artist painting a picture. The copy: Follow Your Passion. Who knew there were hippies in Mississippi? Or that Holly Springs, 45 miles southeast of Memphis, houses Graceland Too, a kitschy tribute to Elvis. Maybe the red states are little bit purple after all.

Such are the charms of Preservation, which mixes past and present, while educating readers. It's a find.


Published by: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Frequency: Bimonthly


1 comment about "Preservation ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Daryl Moen from University of Missouri, January 15, 2009 at 12:49 p.m.

    Great lines in the opening paragraph: Dorothy Parker and Eugene O'Neill didn't drink away their dreams surrounded by sheetrock and Formica! They wrote wit and angst, respectively, then headed for Greenwich Village speakeasies, where cozy met deco design.

    Thanks for the smile.

Next story loading loading..