Historic Sites: Challenges and Opportunities

As Trustee of the National Trust and a member of the Historic Sites Task Force, I was involved in the effort to address deferred maintenance and operating issues throughout the organizations portfolio of more than two dozen sites nationwide. The successful effort addressed the deferred maintenance that often plagues such sites and worked to develop new business plans and operating procedures.

My experience with historic house museums goes back four decades and has left me with both a sincere appreciation for their ability to convey history at the haptic level, as well as an endless concern with the bad economics of the museum model.

Gaylord Building, Lockport, IL

I was working for the Canal Corridor Association in 1983 when the effort to save the Gaylord Building, the oldest industrial building in Illinois dating from 1837. The building underwent an award-winning restoration in 1987 and I was named to its Site Council after it became a National Trust for Historic Preservation property in 1996, and served as Chair of that body in the 2000s, overseeing staffing, operations, building issues and interpretive planning.

The Gaylord Building was the National Trust property with the least deferred maintenance when I served on the Historic Sites Task Force of the National Trust from 2007-2009, and continues to provide a model for preserving important historic structures through a combination of commercial, public and private source of income.

Pleasant Home, Oak Park, IL

I spent many years as a member of the Pleasant Home Foundation’s Restoration Committee, participating in key decisions regarding the restoration of this 1897 National Historic Landmark.

Jane Addams Hull House Museum, Chicago

In 2003 I researched the history of the construction of Hull House during Jane Addams’ four-decade tenure, when the 1856 Italianate house was added on to and became the center of a three-block complex of buildings for the variety of programs and initiatives of Addams and other Hull House residents. I also documented the curious “restoration” of the 1960s which removed or enclosed most of the original fabric and failed to account for photographic evidence of the house’s original appearance.

Cooper-Molera Adobe, Monterey, California

I worked with the National Trust as they developed a new plan for the Cooper-Molera Adobe that will open up the site to more commerce and help revitalize the downtown area. Today the plan insures the preservation of the original adobe house, a superior example of the “Monterey Style,” a link to the city’s early history, and a key fulcrum in the historic downtown.  The site has been revitalized with new business and event venues.

Steves Homestead, San Antonio

In San Antonio, I have been involved in the Steves Homestead, a site that the Conservation Society of San Antonio has operated as a house museum since 1954.  After a two-year experiment with operations by another non-profit, the Homestead switched to weekend-only hours.  Creative new programming is helping to address the significant operating deficits attached to the great majority of house museums.