February 8, 2024

10 Steps to Start Saving Places

If you want to protect a place near and dear to your heart, but aren’t sure where to begin, this toolkit is for you. It provides a solid framework for turning your concern for a historic spot into meaningful, lasting action.

So, without further ado, let’s walk through the steps that can help make your vision of a protected place a reality:

1. Identify the threat. Stay alert about the status of recently vacated or sold buildings, hearings for zone changes, plans for new transportation routes, etc. Any one of these changes might affect historic resources in your area.

2. Determine the property’s significance. Research the history and significance of the site. Identify any political boundaries or districts that impact the property, and assess the property’s overall condition (i.e. the extent of the threat). If you need help, contact your statewide or tribal historic preservation office for more information.

3. Connect with a preservation group. Strong, continuous, well-organized local action is the key to successful preservation efforts. But before developing your own grassroots advocacy group, check if any preservation-related organizations are already established in your area. Joining forces can have several benefits: The existing group can provide leadership, you can fortify their ranks, and both groups can coordinate activities to be most efficient and effective.

Community members and supporters gathered in front of the Blue Bird Inn, Detroit, Michigan.

photo by: Iian Tarver

Community members and supporters gathered in front of the Blue Bird Inn, Detroit, Michigan.

4. Consider non-preservation partners. Many organizations in related fields might be able to offer support and leadership as well. For example, housing agencies, conservation groups, religious organizations, and neighborhood associations might be useful allies for your project.

5. Form your own group. Look to similar communities for examples of how they did it. Also, consider the timeframe of the issue you’re trying to address. If it’s short-term, then an ad hoc group can deal with imminent problems and disband when the issue is resolved. If it’s more long-term, consider establishing a group with a more formal structure that can continue to advocate after the initial issue is resolved.

6. Know where to turn for high-level information and resources. In addition to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there are a variety of large private and public sector organizations that can help guide your work, including Preservation Action, National Park Service, and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Check out their websites for more info.

7. Define your vision. Address the following questions to help focus your work: What condition is the site or property in? How will we restore it? What will the place be used for?

8. Make a plan. Develop written goals, objectives, and a work plan for at least a one-year period. Also include planning for your budget and fundraising strategy.

photo by: Duncan Kendall

The Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion was designed for the opening of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

9. Designate your property. Getting your property included in an inventory or register, such as the National Register of Historic Places, state registers, and/or local listings, can help protect it later. These inventories also document the history of a site and include a description and photographs. (Designation is multi-faceted, so we’ll share more info in future toolkits.)

10. Keep the faith. Preservation projects take time, and possible outcomes run the gamut from demolition to protection to restoration. So it’s only natural to feel discouraged sometimes. But remember that your work is keeping a much-loved piece of history around for future generations to enjoy -- and that’s worth celebrating!

An earlier version of this story was published on March 19, 2013.

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Julia Rocchi was the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.

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