Trust Me: Inside the National Trust

By Arnold Berke

Arnold
Berke at Work

Credit: Art by Richard Thompson

The first-ever Preservation Month, celebrated in May, was a hit in many ways. An especially big one was the May 8 cover story of Parade magazine, which starred people nationwide who save aspects of our heritage. "History Happened Here" showcased Trust good works—the Main Street and Save America's Treasures programs, for instance—and local deeds ranging from renewing Civil War battlefields to spiffing up a 1908 train station, as high school alums in Oregon, Ill., are doing through yearly hometown visits. The cover photo of the magazine, which is read by some 80 million people in their Sunday newspapers, showed Lincoln Cottage, the Trust historic site in Washington, D.C., which just wrapped up its exterior restoration. As noted in the article, the Trust and Parade are sponsoring a "Tell America's Story" competition, inviting you to chronicle it-happened-here places in your own town. The best accounts will be featured in Parade and at www.parade.com, where you'll find contest rules and forms. Entries may be submitted until Sept. 30, so get a move on.

... James Biddle, president of the Trust during years of great change in the organization, died on March 10 at age 75. Biddle headed the Trust from 1968 to 1980, boosting it—as well as the notion of preservation—from relative obscurity to considerable recognition and respect. The advances on his watch were many: The Trust's first regional offices opened, the Main Street program was born, six properties joined the historic-sites collection, the Study Tours Program began, and the first grants and loans went out to local projects. Also, the Preservation Honor Awards and National Preservation Week were launched. Reflecting these advances, the Trust's membership grew from some 5,000 to 150,000, and preservation at large developed into a locally supported, democratic movement. "From wealthy corporate donors and private philanthropists to grassroots activists lying down in front of bulldozers," says Trust President Richard Moe, "Jimmy provided the spark that inspired and sustained their efforts."

... You might not expect a book called The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide to flirt with bestsellerdom, but that's the case. Written by Donovan Rypkema and published in 1994, this popular handbook on preservation as a gainful alternative to new construction has for some time been scoring top-10 sales among the Trust's Preservation Books. Now a revised edition is out, taking advantage of fresh statistics and insights to hone the argument that preservation makes economic sense. Don's appealing approach—he formats the book on 100 crisp assertions that back up his premise—remains the same. Order from www.preservationbooks.org or by calling (202) 588-6296.

... They keep coming. Historic Hotels of America has six more members: The Algonquin, New York City; Eldridge Hotel, Lawrence, Kan.; Madden's on Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minn.; Old Edwards Inn and Spa, Highlands, N.C.; Omni Parker House, Boston; and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg, Ky. The last offers rooms in more than a dozen historic buildings. An existing HHA, the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., has announced a gift of $100,000 to the Oregon Historical Society. The donation, to be used over three years for programs and exhibits, will help shrink a state funding shortfall. The Heathman will serve this fall as a conference hotel for the 2005 National Preservation Conference.

... The Homestake Opera House was the ultimate gathering spot—offering the mining town of Lead, S.D., a theater, bowling alley, swimming pool, and library, as well as social rooms. But the 1914 building burned in 1984. Ten years later, a $2,000 rehab-study grant from the Trust helped get the place back on track, sparking a $3 million local restoration campaign. So far, the theater lobby has been beautifully restored and its floor and stage replaced. Although much more needs to be done, like rebuilding the proscenium arch, temporary seating has enabled the Homestake to host summer concerts, so stop by if you're vacationing in the area. Or help out by going to www.leadoperahouse.org.