By Dwight Young | From Preservation | January/February 2011
It's time to go. After 33 years as a member of the National Trust staff and almost 19 years as author of The Back Page, first in Preservation News and then in this magazine, I'm packing it in and heading over the hill (hmmm) into retirement. In fact, by the time you read this, I will already have said my goodbyes to Washington and settled into my new home in Charleston, S.C. When I say I'm outta here, I'm not kidding.
I'm looking forward to life in the Carolina low country (tall steeples and breezy piazzas, beguiling accents and plates of shrimp and grits, massive live oaks and the occasional glimpse of blue water at the end of a street—this is not exactly a hardship post), but leaving the job I've held and loved for so long … well, it's not easy. You see, it took me a long time to figure out who I was and what I really liked to do: I worked as a teacher, a missionary recruiter, and a respiratory therapist, among other things, before discovering that I could make a living out of my love for old buildings.
Even after joining the National Trust staff, I moved around from office to office, job to job, before landing in this one and feeling that I'd finally come home. Since then, even though I've never hesitated to complain loudly and often about deadlines and writer's block, composing this column has been a soul-satisfying pleasure.
There was no shortage of interesting stuff to write about. Courthouses and city trees, iron fronts and tiki bars, HABS and the CCC, the hard work of archaeology and the splendor of the night sky, the disappearance of drive-ins and the proliferation of visitors centers—they've all appeared in The Back Page over the years. It was fun (mostly) to write about them, and fun (mostly) to get readers' responses to what I wrote. When I voiced my regret over the closing of monumental entrances to public buildings, a good many people let me know they shared my frustration. When I lamented the passing of locally owned department stores, readers responded with a sad litany of stores they had once loved and still missed. And after I noted that the absence of surviving buildings at California's Manzanar internment camp made it hard for visitors to appreciate the plight of the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated there during World War II, kids in Ms. Rosenberg's fifth-grade class at the Bowman School in Lexington, Mass., sent me a fat packet of suggested designs for a memorial at the site. Some of them were really terrific.
Not every response was positive, of course. That column about Manzanar, for example, led some indignant readers to insist that the internees were dangerous enemy agents who got just what they deserved. And when I wrote that I didn't much like a Brutalist church in Washington, D.C., a well-known professor wrote to the president of the National Trust that the organization shouldn't have allowed me to cast aspersions on modern architecture. Well, to quote some notable Frenchman (or was it Taylor Swift?), chacun à son goût — or, to put it more succinctly, whatever. I never expected everyone to agree with everything I wrote. My job, as I saw it, was to help people see things they might not have noticed, think about things they might not have considered. If I accomplished that, even occasionally, I leave happy.
One last thing I need to clarify: There's no connection between my departure and the recently announced closing of the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. It's strictly a coincidence. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
So long. I've had a great time.
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.