Your Trust: The People's Choice

Bay Area residents pick favorite sites to restore.


Under the billing of partners in Preservation, American Express and the Trust last fall put on the architectural equivalent of the hit show American Idol. The credit card company agreed to give away $1 million to improve 25 historic properties in the San Francisco Bay area, deciding to let the public vote on-line to determine the recipient of the top prize. About 200,000 ballots were cast in all, and the big winner, with 18 percent of the vote, was architect Bernard Maybeck's arts and crafts masterpiece in Berkeley, the First Church of Christ, Scientist. It received $118,000 for a seismic upgrade to its 250-seat Sunday School addition, built in 1929. "We're only about three blocks from the Hayward Fault," says Fred Porta, vice president of Friends of First Church, Berkeley. "The money is going to a shear wall in the school that is clad in bubblestone—lightweight concrete—which Maybeck fell in love with for its fireproof qualities."

For its part, the Trust helped Amex whittle down a large number of sites to the final 25 before voters got to weigh in. "Here was a program that could capture the public's imagination in a way different from traditional preservation," says Trust Executive Vice President David Brown. "We went in without expectations, but I know Amex was pleased with the results, and the National Trust was definitely pleased."

In many ways, the Bay Area was the ideal location for the contest. "San Francisco was ripe for this kind of project," says Tim McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation. "It has a rich cultural history, a trove of historic sites, and a tremendous amount of civic pride." Thousands of area Amex merchants called attention to the program. And Peet's Coffee & Tea, a West Coast coffee shop chain, installed voting kiosks in eight of its stores. "Peet's customers come from all walks of life and have interests in art, music, literature," says Erica Hess, the company's senior manager for social responsibility. "Sometimes we do things that aren't centered on coffee and tea, and they appreciate that."

For more of this article, look for the March/April 2007 issue on newsstands or e-mail us to purchase a copy. Subscribe to the magazine. 

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