The 2016 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards offered me the opportunity to get a break from Harrisburg, away from everyday work, and to see the bigger picture. While traveling south to York for the ceremony blue skies and sunshine beamed through my car windows. It was a remarkably beautiful fall day.
This extraordinary day also represented a monumental point in historic preservation history. The 2016 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards preceded the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by one day. The NHPA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1966. Ongoing recognition of positive historic preservation outcomes will motivate others to strive for excellence and we all will benefit from it.
This year, twenty-one awardees were honored for their exemplary accomplishments and achievements in historic preservation. Each recipient has in common a great deal of determination, hard work, and commitment. I enjoyed having the chance to discuss the importance of their work and the achievements for which they were being recognized. Gathering and sharing experiences is a very powerful means of encouragement. It’s heartening to know that there are so many dedicated organizations and people working tirelessly for the preservation of Pennsylvania’s unique places. Bravo to all awardees!
Community Initiative Awards
The PA State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) is fortunate to partner with Preservation Pennsylvania each year to give special recognition awards. This year the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act reminds us – the PA State Historic Preservation Office and our network of partners – of the responsibilities we have in fostering the growth and evolution of the preservation movement and profession. This year’s PA SHPO special recognition award – the Community Initiative Awards – were inspired by the intent of the National Historic Preservation Act.
A team of PA SHPO staff and the Preservation50 committee of the state’s Historic Preservation Board came together to think of ways we could promote new ideas that will influence the next phase (50+ more years!) of the preservation movement. That’s where the idea of the Community Initiative Award was created. The Award aims to recognize communities, both traditional and non-traditional, who are not only utilizing traditional preservation strategies, but also developing and employing innovative tactics. The Community Initiative Awards look back at past successes, but focus on the future.
Searching for the perfect symbol to best reflect the PA SHPO’s Community Initiative Award that would embody the future of historic preservation was tricky. We wanted an award that would send a message to the next generation of preservationists. We also wanted to give an award that wouldn’t just sit on a shelf, but that could in-an-of-itself inspire a community-building activity. And we aimed to encourage all award recipients to tell the story of what they want the future to learn about their community by recording the culture of historic preservation in 2016. What is the PA SHPO’s Community Initiative Award??… Those electric blue cylinders are time capsules!
The inaugural PA SHPO Community Initiative Awards were presented to three groups who are redefining what historic preservation means in a 21st century community.
Bradford Revitalization Team (City of Bradford, McKean County)
The award was accepted by Anita Dolan, Community and Economic Development Coordinator, City of Bradford & Sherri Geary, McKean County Economic Development Director.
In recent years, the Bradford Revitalization Team created a distinctive economic and community development model that exemplifies flexible, organic cooperation amongst several organizations. This model is based largely upon the concept of creating economic vitality through marketing, investment and preservation of the community’s historic character. The local government and business development promotion agencies clearly understand that preserving historic resources is integral to the City’s economic and community development future.
East Liberty Development Inc. (Pittsburgh, Allegheny County)
The award was accepted by Kendall Pelling, Director of Land Recycling.
East Liberty Development Inc. (ELDI) was working to revitalize the East Liberty neighborhood long before it became fashionable and before national high‐profile companies laid down roots in the community. ELDI published its first community plan, A Vision for East Liberty, in 1999, which charted a course for ELDI’s work into the 21st century. ELDI and its partners have intuitively recognized that retention of historic neighborhood character is integral to the successful and sustainable revitalization of East Liberty.
Hidden City Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Philadelphia County)
The award was accepted by Peter Woodall, Brad Maule and Hidden City board member J. Conor Corcoran
Over the past eleven years, Hidden City has become a well‐respected champion of all places historic in Philadelphia through their unique style of reporting in their on‐line daily magazine. Hidden City writes the kind of no‐holds‐barred stories that raise awareness of historic places and communities in Philadelphia, as well as the history and happenings that impact the historic urban environment. They succeed where other history‐ and placed‐based organizations often waver: Hidden City’s style, content, and ethic have captured the interest and attention of the youth and young adult generations that will help shape the Philadelphia of the future.
Now we need to set our watches to 2066, the 100th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, to see how far we’ve progressed. Hopefully the future will show that we deepened our understanding of community, broadened our network of supporters, and have committed to crafting innovative strategies that are widely shared with others. We’re proud to have honored the 2016 PA SHPO Community Initiative Award recipients for the forward-thinking contributions they’ve made to local and regional historic preservation efforts.
F. Otto Haas Award
This year’s Historic Preservation Awards were quite memorable for the PA SHPO. In addition to presenting the inaugural Community Initiative Awards, the PA State Historic Preservation Office was honored with the F. Otto Haas Award for “many decades of exceptional service and for [our] early leadership role in the development and forward momentum of the national preservation movement.”
I was privileged to accept the award on behalf of the PHMC and Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office. Following are the remarks I gave at the ceremony. You can also view a video of me accepting the F. Otto Haas Award on the PA Trails of History Facebook page.
“Pennsylvania is a great state, with a stature not limited to the past, but with a continuing potential for the future.” Those printed words are the opening to S.K. Stevens’ splendidly illustrated and comprehensive history of our state, Pennsylvania, Birthplace of a Nation, first published in 1964.
Sylvester K. Stevens, Pennsylvania’s longtime State Historian from 1937-1956 and the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission from 1956 to 1972, was a true visionary and a passionate advocate for preserving Pennsylvania’s historic places. He strove to preserve Pennsylvania’s historic buildings and sites so they could continue to tell our story and be a source of inspiration and edification for residents and visitors alike.
During these past several years leading up to the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, I’ve been fortunate to learn how our state agency contributed to shaping the preservation policies of our nation.
Stevens wrote extensively about Pennsylvania history and he noted that from its beginning, Pennsylvania played a dominant role in creating the New World and can rightfully claim a number of “firsts” attributed to its geography, natural resources, and people – possibly more than could be counted!
Viewing Pennsylvania’s history through then lens of today’s preservationist can be overwhelming, yet our significant history also presents an amazing opportunity. Pennsylvania’s historic buildings and places are not only important to our local communities but also are essential to interpreting and understanding our nation’s past.
The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office was molded from this legacy of firsts. In 1913 – fifty-three years before the National Historic Preservation Act – the Commonwealth created the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. This new state agency was authorized to, “undertake … the preservation or restoration of ancient or historic public buildings, military works, or monuments connected with the history of Pennsylvania.”
I interpret this act of the Commonwealth to be the first preservation law in Pennsylvania. By law, the Pennsylvania Historical Commission had preservation responsibilities; however it had neither staff nor funding to implement the law. I guess some things never change!
And in 1956, ten years prior to the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Commission issued its a pronouncement on what could be considered the Commonwealth’s first preservation plan – it was titled, “Preserving Our Past – An Investment in Our Future.” This progressive publication challenged the people of the Commonwealth “to complete the task” of presenting Pennsylvania’s heritage in such a way as “to make our people and nation aware of the proud, inspiring story of Pennsylvania.”
As you have learned, S. K. Stevens served as first chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and according to Stevens, Pennsylvania was one of the first states to implement Section 106 provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act.
The State Historic Preservation Office didn’t have its own identity until 1975 when Pennsylvania’s Governor Schapp issued an Executive Order, designating Pennsylvania’s “Office of Historic Preservation of the Historical and Museum Commission, under the direction of the State Historic Preservation Officer… to encourage and coordinate the effort to preserve Pennsylvania’s historic and architectural resources…”
Since that time, the bureau’s name may have changed, but its accomplished staff has worked to build on this foundation and has successfully helped Pennsylvanians invest in their historic properties through a wide range of federal grant and incentive programs: Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits, the Preserve America Program, as well as Pennsylvania’s own, Keystone Historic Preservation Grant Program.
Today, your State Historic Preservation Office actively pursues ways to leverage our history and historic resources so we can propel the preservation movement into the next half century, and we have been happy to learn that many of our colleagues across the nation see our office as a leader in the field. We always aim for innovation and improvement by developing initiatives and programs that are designed to have a positive impact on our communities. Our responsibilities are important to us because we recognize the distinct value Pennsylvania’s historic properties embody. And we also enjoy doing what we do.
In the enthusiastic spirit of S.K. Stevens, the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office is eager to build new and stronger relationships with communities in every corner of Pennsylvania so we may address the preservation challenges of today, and perhaps more importantly, ensure that our state’s historic places and landscapes are relevant in the future.