Pennsylvania Historic Preservation

Blog of the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office

Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Board: Past, Present, And Future

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It’s been a happy convergence of events. As planning started for the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, the PA State Historic Preservation Office announced its new name and is currently rehabilitating its office space, adapting and reusing the staff’s original office cubicles from Y2K. All that reorganizing has uncovered some long forgotten records that had been packed up and moved to the Commonwealth Keystone Building when the staff relocated here from their original home on the fifth floor of the State Museum Building. These files are an interesting look back at the early years of the federal/state partnership in historic preservation and the Historic Preservation Board.

THE PAST

The first issue of Pennsylvania Preservation, a quarterly newsletter published from 1979 to 1985, reported that Governor Milton Shapp signed the Commonwealth’s Historic Preservation Act into law on November 22, 1978. The new law called on the Office of Historic Preservation, as it was called then, to initiate a statewide survey of historic resources and to assist individuals and communities in their efforts to preserve these important places. It also officially created the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board as the advisory body charged with reviewing Pennsylvania’s statewide Historic Preservation Plan and evaluating properties for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  Prior to 1978, this advisory group of experts, which NHPA requires each state preservation program to have, was called the National Register Review Committee.

The first Board was appointed in 1980, and since then it has involved a veritable Who’s Who of leaders in the field of preservation. In fact, the first chairman of the Historic Preservation Board was James Biddle, who had just recently returned to Pennsylvania after serving as president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Other former Board members have included preservation architects Hyman Myers, John Milner, and Mary Werner DeNadai; business leaders like Philadelphia’s Otto Haas and York’s Louis Appell, Jr.; preservation consultants and professionals such as Dr. Richard Tyler of the Philadelphia Historical Commission, Michael Eversmeyer of the Pittsburgh Historic Review Commission, George Thomas of Philadelphia, David Taylor of Brookville and Lynda Waggoner, director of Fallingwater; as well as a number of college professors in history, American Studies, and archaeology, among them Dr. Irwin Richman, Dr. James Adovasio, Dr. Sally McMurray, and Dr. Paul Heberling. Their legacy and the status that they brought to the Board continue to today.

Members of the Historic Preservation Board pose for a photo with the dugout canoe exhibit in 2007. [Standing L to R: Janet Irons, Ann Greene, Cecilia Rusnak, Bruce Thomas, Michael Eversmeyer, Scott Heberling, Charles Hardy, III, Jean Cutler (Director, BHP). Riding in the canoe L to R: Kurt Carr (BHP staff), Jeff Kidder, Scott Standish, Patricia Gibble, Sandra Lee Rosenberg, John Milner (Chair), Emanuel Kelly.]

Members of the Historic Preservation Board pose for a photo with the dugout canoe exhibit in 2007. [Standing L to R: Janet Irons, Ann Greene, Cecilia Rusnak, Bruce Thomas, Michael Eversmeyer, Scott Heberling, Charles Hardy, III, Jean Cutler (Director, BHP). Riding in the canoe L to R: Kurt Carr (BHP staff), Jeff Kidder, Scott Standish, Patricia Gibble, Sandra Lee Rosenberg, John Milner (Chair), Emanuel Kelly.]

THE PRESENT

At their October meeting at the Ephrata Cloister, the 15-member Board welcomed their new officers and members. Stepping into the Chair’s seat is Suzanna Barucco, principal of sbk + partners, LLC, a historic preservation consulting firm in Ardmore.  A native of Long Island, she came to Philadelphia after getting her master’s degree from Cornell University’s historic preservation planning program and has lived and worked in the Delaware Valley ever since.  She brings to the Board a broad range of experience in historic property research and restoration and historic preservation education as a Lecturer in the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and co-developer of  the Historic Preservation program at Philadelphia University, where she is an Adjunct in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment. Suzanna serves her local community as Vice Chair of the Haverford Township Historical Commission and is a board member of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

The Board’s new vice chair is Jeff Slack, AICP, Preservation Planner with Pfaffmann + Associates in Pittsburgh. Jeff grew up in New Castle, PA, and like Suzanna, he holds a master’s degree in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University. Recent projects in the Pittsburgh area include a National Register nomination and master plan for playwright August Wilson’s childhood home and exterior restoration work at the Rachel Carson Homestead and the historic Allegheny Observatory. Each spring Jeff teaches a historic preservation fieldwork course for the Architectural Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

The four new members are:

  • Robert Armstrong, the Preservation and Capital Projects Manager for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. Rob holds a Ph.D. in American History from Lehigh University.
  • John Conti, a freelance architecture columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and a certified Historic Housing Specialist with Coldwell Banker Real Estate. For many years John was a member and chair of the Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board.
  • Sherri Geary, Executive Director of McKean County Economic Development in Smethport. Sherri got involved with preservation when working with the Main Street Program in Geneva, NY and then in that state’s Southern Tier.
  • Jane Sheffield, Executive Director of the Allegheny Ridge Heritage Area in Altoona and currently president of Heritage PA , the association of state heritage areas. The Allegheny Ridge is also coordinating local partners to develop the Main Line Canal Greenway along that historic corridor from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.

Leaving the Historic Preservation Board later this year are Margaret Newman, a consultant from Carversville, Bucks County; Marty Rosenblum, a Philadelphia-based architect; and Steven Gimber, Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University. The PA SHPO wants to thank all of them for the years they have spent serving on the Board and to wish them continued success in their efforts to promote history and preservation in Pennsylvania.

A complete list of all the current serving Board members can be found on the PA SHPO website.

The Historic Preservation Board at their October 2015 meeting at the Ephrata Cloister. [Standing L to R: Martin Rosenblum, Richard Leonori, John Conti, Susan Hannegan, Robert Armstrong, Jane Sheffield, Steven Gimber. Seated L to R: Jeff Slack, Brian Fritz, Margaret Newman, Suzanna Barucco (Chair), Richard Burkert. Not pictured: Steven Burg, Lloyd Chapman, Sherri Geary]

The Historic Preservation Board at their October 2015 meeting at the Ephrata Cloister. [Standing L to R: Martin Rosenblum, Richard Leonori, John Conti, Susan Hannegan, Robert Armstrong, Jane Sheffield, Steven Gimber. Seated L to R: Jeff Slack, Brian Fritz, Margaret Newman, Suzanna Barucco (Chair), Richard Burkert. Not pictured: Steven Burg, Lloyd Chapman, Sherri Geary]

THE FUTURE

We are excited about the future of the Board.  In October, three new committees were established – Nominating, Education, Outreach, and Preservation50 – to give members an opportunity to be more actively involved in the PA SHPO’s preservation activities between their three Board meetings each year.

At the statewide preservation conference coming up on June 6-8, 2016 in Lewisburg (watch for more information!), Board members will be offering their professional input for Pennsylvania’s next statewide historic preservation plan that will be released in 2018.  Stay tuned – as we did with the last Plan, everyone will have the chance to contribute again this year through an online survey and public meetings. The staff and Board look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Additional information about the Board and its meeting schedule can be found on the PA SHPO website.

Author: Bryan Van Sweden

Bryan Van Sweden works in the PA State Historic Preservation Office, where he provides communities in Central Pennsylvania with technical assistance on ways to preserve their historic buildings and neighborhoods, and he coordinates the SHPO's programs with local planning and community revitalization efforts. In particular, he is actively involved with the South Mountain Partnership and has worked with several counties and regional planning organizations on their Long Range Transportation Plans. Prior to serving in this position, Bryan managed the Historical and Museum Commission's Keystone Historic Preservation Grant Program. His experience includes teaching classes in Architectural History at Harrisburg Area Community College and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology and offering walking tours and presentations on local architecture in more than 20 communities throughout the state.

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