By James H. Schwartz | From Preservation | September/October 2008
Every person at the National Trust for Historic Preservation has a favorite historic site. Vice President Jan Rothschild can't talk about Philip Johnson's Glass House in Connecticut without smiling and describing its glittering opening last year. Dwight Young, whose name you'll recognize from the column at the back of our magazine, claims Lyndhurst in New York—but also rhapsodizes about Drayton Hall in South Carolina. Among my colleagues at Preservation, the list of favorites just keeps growing: The more we see and experience for ourselves, the more passionate we feel about them.
Our fascination with historic sites became a hot topic around the conference table when we learned that the $24 million restoration of James Madison's Montpelier was nearly complete. We sent reporter Christopher Shea to learn more about it, and to help us understand the challenges preservationists encountered there. His story (see page 28) proved so interesting that we organized a staff field trip later this fall. We'll make sure to share our impressions with you, but if you make it to the Virginia countryside first, let us know about your visit here.
A few weeks ago I took a solo field trip to Chicago. I'd heard that a local businessman had saved a 19th-century building standing amid a sea of skyscrapers. Not only did Richard H. Driehaus preserve the historic Nickerson Mansion, he also tapped into an amazing network of artisans who transformed the house into a museum. You can peek inside on page 48.
Of course, historic homes come in all shapes and sizes. Writer Thisbe Nissen's may not be as old as Montpelier or as ornate as Driehaus' museum, but it's a much-cherished retreat nonetheless. (If you've ever fallen in love with an antique doorknob at a salvage shop, you'll feel a sense of kinship with her.) Nissen's experience bringing her house back to life is a valuable reminder that preservation starts at home.
That's a lesson I learned from my grandmother. After her engagement, she suggested restoring and returning to the four-story Manhattan brownstone where my grandfather was born. The old neighborhood east of Gramercy Park wasn't snazzy (then), and the house had suffered from years of neglect, but she was determined. "Imagine what it can be," she said as chunks of plaster fell from the walls. "Think of the history," she insisted, looking out over a back "garden" covered in concrete.
And she was right, of course. Preservation demands perseverance, passion, and patience. But as my grandmother, and the readers of Preservation know well, the rewards and results are worth it.
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