Preservation Magazine, Spring 2024

President's Note: The "Why" of Preservation

Over the past several weeks, as I’m learning everything I can about the National Trust in my new role, I’ve explored with colleagues, trustees, partners, and friends what “historic preservation” means and why it matters. Folks generally agree on the what: We save important places. When it comes to the why, the range of answers is inspiring.

Repurposing an abandoned jail revitalized the economy of this small town, bringing it back to life. Retrofitting old buildings on these main streets dramatically reduced carbon emissions and attracted investment capital to areas often overlooked. Commemorating these sites where Black people changed history enables all Americans to learn crucial truths—both about our past and about ourselves as a people. Restoring this architecturally meaningful building sustained the character of our neighborhood and anchored a sense of belonging among longtime residents. Because my family loves to hike these beautiful trails. Because this school raised me.

The stories in this issue illustrate how preservation builds connections to the past that serve people now and point us as a country toward a more just and humane future.

In cities across the United States, Lydia Lee writes in this issue, Chinatowns have historically “been a source of jobs, affordable housing, and community for new immigrants,” crucial functions in cities welcoming residents from all over the world. The combination of family-owned retail, single-room-occupancy buildings, and public gathering places like parks nurtured belonging and resiliency as it connected new Americans to their distinctive cultural heritage.

Now, with support from the National Trust’s Chinatowns initiative, organizations across the country are using preservation’s tools—grassroots partnerships, research, restoration, and more—to recover the histories and enable the ongoing vitality of America’s Chinatowns as a key part of our national story.

Recovering and animating places that ground our national stories is hard and often lonely work. In 2001, Althemese Barnes founded the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network (FAAHPN), which now unites roughly 30 museums across the state that are focused on Black history and Black communities. A story on page 38 profiles three of these museums, including the Historic L.B. Brown House in Bartow, Florida. Here, what started as a neighborhood improvement project became a preservation initiative that both restored an 1892 home and revitalized the story of its remarkable builder. Again, tools of preservation—research, network building, family engagement, policy advocacy—are enabling local organizations to celebrate stories of Black Americans as central to our nation.

These and other initiatives explain the why of preservation. Such efforts and the people who lead them inspire me, and I’m grateful beyond words or measure to join this extraordinary community.

Carol Quillen

Carol Quillen is the 10th President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Announcing the 2024 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

See the List