January 28, 2014

A Who's Who of Preservation Organizations

Elizabeth Vehmeyer, of the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program, learns surveying techniques in Alexandria, Va. (Photo courtesy Megan J. Brown)
Elizabeth Vehmeyer, of the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program, learns surveying techniques in Alexandria, Va.

“It takes a village…” is a common saying when talking about raising children, but the same is true of historic preservation. No building is saved by one person, organization, or agency alone -- it takes a collaborative effort to save a place.

But with so many different groups involved, how do you know who does what? And how do you keep them all straight? Today’s toolkit is a primer on who does what in the preservation world, complete with their acronyms (which are, in my opinion, often the most confusing part).

1. National Park Service (NPS): If you’re like most people, when you hear “National Park Service,” you think of natural sites like the Grand Canyon or historic places like the Statue of Liberty. But parks and sites are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Park Service’s work in preservation. They also are responsible for the National Register of Historic Places, preservation grant programs, the certification program for federal historic tax incentives, and management of the certified local government program (more on this last one later).

2. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP): The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation is an independent federal agency that advises the President and Congress on preservation policy. The ACHP’s main function is to review and comment on federal and federally assisted and licensed projects that affect properties that have been designated as historic.

3. State Historic Preservation Office/Tribal Historic Preservation Office (SHPO/THPO): When preservationists say “Shippo” and “Tippo,” these are the groups they’re talking about. They are the public sector preservation partners on either the state or tribal level. Their responsibilities include: identifying historic properties; considering National Register nominations; reviewing federal projects for their impact on historic properties; administering tax incentive and grant programs; and providing assistance to federal agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. They coordinate via an organization called the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, or “Nic-Shpo” for short.

4. Certified Local Governments (CLG): The Certified Local Government program is administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the state historic preservation office to promote preservation at the grassroots level. CLGs are local governments with historic preservation programs that meet the Park Service's prescribed standards, making them eligible for technical assistance and small matching grants. There are nearly 1,900 local governments currently participating in the program.

5. Local Preservation Commissions: Local preservation commissions are the principal local level, public sector preservation partners. Commissions -- which may also go by the name of architectural review board or historic preservation commission -- identify locally significant properties. They are established through the adoption of a local preservation ordinance and have a wide range of responsibilities and powers depending on state and local laws. The local preservation commission is the governmental agency that approves or denies changes to designated historic properties that are privately owned.

Local commissions are supported by the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions (NAPC), which serves as a "national voice" for the commissions, and also offers education, advocacy, and training.

Culpeper, Va., won a Great American Main Street Award in 2012. (Photo courtesy lewsviews on Flickr)
Culpeper, Va., won a Great American Main Street Award in 2012.

6. Main Street Programs & Organizations: Found in more than 1,200 communities nationwide, Main Street programs combine historic preservation with economic development to restore prosperity and vitality to downtowns and neighborhood business districts. The National Main Street Center (a nonprofit subsidiary of the National Trust) is a good place to start to connect with organizations in your area.

7. Preservation Action (PA): The only national preservation lobby, Preservation Action coordinates a network of preservationists, community activists, and civic leaders who provide grassroots support for preservation on Capitol Hill and in their states and communities.

8. Statewide Preservation Organizations: Unlike SHPOs, statewides are private nonprofit groups that serve as a preservation network and represent preservation activities within a state. They advocate for preservation-friendly legislation in the state government, provide technical assistance, and offer training and education programs.

9. Local Preservation Organizations: Much like their statewide counterparts, these nonprofits advocate for local preservation issues and provide technical/educational assistance. Many also get directly involved in saving properties through loan funds, buying and rehabbing properties, and otherwise helping owners take care of their property. They tend to be more hands-on than statewide organizations.

And last but not least...

10. National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP): Like statewide and local preservation organizations, we are a nonprofit organization, but with a national focus. We have eight field offices engaged in preservation work on National Treasures nationwide, and our D.C. headquarters staff works on a variety of projects, including advocating for historic tax credit programs, educating preservation professionals via the Preservation Leadership Forum, and sharing the good work of preservationists nationwide via Saving Places Stories and Preservation magazine.

Adapted from “Preservation 101” prepared by the Preservation Leadership Forum.

Sarah Heffern, the National Trust's former director of social media, embraces all things online and pixel-centric, but she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having first fallen for historic places in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class.

Related Stories

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

Find Out Who Is Listed