Save America's Treasures
For 10 years an innovative partnership has helped preserve the nation’s historic monuments, objects, and documents
By Krista Walton and Fiona Lawless | From Preservation | November/December 2008
Have you planned a visit to see the restored Star-Spangled Banner?
Or walked through the Great Hall at Ellis Island? Or marveled at the adobe buildings that make up Acoma Sky City in New Mexico? These remarkable examples of our history and heritage survive, thanks in part to Save America's Treasures (SAT).
Launched by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1998 with the help of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the two-year White House initiative quickly attracted bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. Within months SAT had grown into "the most ambitious national preservation effort of the past 50 years," says National Trust President Richard Moe, co-chair of the award-winning program. "It's an astounding success story."
SAT is now a permanent project, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and private funds to protect America's irreplaceable buildings and collections. It has helped to save national parks such as Valley Forge; landmark structures, including President Lincoln's Cottage; and scores of priceless objects—from the flag that inspired the national anthem (left) to the Founding Fathers' papers.
Led today by Honorary Chair Mrs. Laura Bush, this public-private partnership brings together the National Park Service, the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the country's major cultural agencies, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. SAT has designated more than 1,600 official projects in every American state and territory, and awarded $289 million in federal matching grants, and more than $56 million in private support through the National Trust.
"Every community has something—a courthouse, a statue of a local hero, a mural in the public library—that distinguishes it," says Bobbie Greene, SAT's founding director. "Those landmarks help define us as a people and a nation. By rescuing them from the ravages of time and indifference, Save America's Treasures honors the past with gifts to the future."
On the following pages you can admire just a few of the significant treasures saved in the past decade.
The Star-Spangled Banner
The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.
In 1814, Francis Scott Key noticed the enormous American flag still flying over Baltimore's Ft. McHenry after a 25-hour British bombardment, and penned his tribute to the "Star-Spangled Banner." Though the Smithsonian Institution has taken exemplary care of the flag since 1912, curators could neither stem natural deterioration nor repair the damaging effects of light and pollution. SAT at the National Trust initiated partnerships with Polo Ralph Lauren and the Pew Charitable Trusts to bring in almost $20 million to conserve the flag, with another $3 million in public SAT funds. This November, the newly renovated National Museum of American History will reopen with the Star-Spangled Banner as its centerpiece.
The Conservatory of Flowers
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When San Jose businessman James Lick died in 1876, his estate included an unassembled, 12,000-square-foot Victorian greenhouse. Purchased by his friends and constructed in Golden Gate Park, it opened to the public in 1879 and attracted millions of visitors. Sadly, a violent storm in 1995 left the landmark greenhouse in tatters. Three years later, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the conservatory would become one of SAT's first projects. Thanks to a massive fundraising campaign led by SAT at the National Trust, and kicked off with a $5 million challenge grant from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, individual and corporate donors contributed $25 million, and the restored conservatory opened in 2003.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde, Colo.
Spanish for "green table," Mesa Verde is a spectacular Native American ruin that includes thousand-year-old Pueblo artifacts. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was established in 1906 as the first cultural park in the National Park System. With generous support from Francine Goldstein and Sandra Wagenfeld, Tauck World Discovery and Tourism Cares, SAT at the National Trust donated almost $2 million to Mesa Verde. Another $1.85 million in federal SAT funds helped restore the park's awe-inspiring cliff dwellings.
Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill Cottage
Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, Hyde Park, N.Y.
Val-Kill, the only National Historic Site dedicated to a First Lady, was Eleanor Roosevelt's private retreat, and the place where she spent much of her life after Franklin Roosevelt's death. In 1998, the cottage became an official SAT project. Thanks to a private volunteer effort sponsored by SAT at the National Trust and led by founding SAT committee members Claudine Bacher and Carol Hillman, the program has raised almost $1 million for Val-Kill Cottage, and restored the Roosevelt grandchildren's playhouse for use as the site's first visitors center.
Ebenezer Baptist Church
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta
Martin Luther King Jr.'s father and grandfather both served as pastors of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and King himself was co-pastor from 1960 to 1968. The church played an integral role in the civil rights movement, serving as a gathering site for conferences and strategy sessions, and providing King with the pulpit from which he shared his vision for America. Once again, Francine Goldstein and Sandra Wagenfeld made a significant contribution: $500,000 through SAT at the National Trust to match the federal grant for the preservation and restoration of this landmark.
Frederick C. Robie House
This masterpiece of residential architecture, completed in 1910, epitomizes Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style. A private home until 1926, it was donated to the University of Chicago and served as a dining hall and office space. In 1997, it was placed under the management of what is now the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, and named a National Trust Historic Site. SAT at the National Trust helped fund a 10-year restoration with a $1 million grant from the Pritzker Family Foundation. Another $250,000 was secured through a federal SAT grant.
Orchard House, Home of Louisa May Alcott
Just a few years ago, the 300-year-old house that inspired Little Women was in danger of imminent collapse. Led by SAT and Honorary Chair Mrs. Laura Bush, almost $700,000 in grants and contributions helped restore this "autobiographical" house. Much of the site's collection is original. The National Trust's corporate partnership with Lowe's helped conserve the home's interior, including fragile artwork.
Edison-Ford Winter Estates
Fort Myers, Fla.
The side-by-side riverfront estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are the region's top historic attractions, providing visitors with a glimpse into the personal lives and friendship of the greatest inventor and the pioneering industrialist of the 20th century. SAT at the National Trust provided $110,000 toward the ongoing care and conservation of the estate through partnerships with the J. Paul Getty Trust, HGTV, and others.
World Trade Center Model
American Architectural Foundation, Washington, D.C.
Few architectural models are more significant than this last remaining three-dimensional record of the World Trade Center. Recognizing the model's symbolic value after 9/11, the American Architectural Foundation (owner since 1991) partnered with SAT to save the artifact. The project received a $62,500 federal grant, and SAT at the National Trust raised matching funds from Alcoa, whose engineering innovations gave the towers their signature sheen. The conserved model was celebrated at the 2003 opening of New York City's Skyscraper Museum.
Weeksville Heritage Center
New York City
In 1838, an African American longshoreman named James Weeks bought property in Brooklyn. The land soon became a refuge for free blacks and runaway slaves, and evolved into a thriving African American community. Today, only four cottages remain. SAT at the National Trust jump-started a fundraising campaign for this long-neglected site with almost $800,000 in private support. Another $400,000 was contributed in federal funds. Interest from SAT and corporate partners such as Goldman Sachs helped spark Weeksville's restoration and revitalize the surrounding community.
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