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Friday, June 21, 2013

NHPAat50: The Williamsburg Conference and With Heritage So Rich

Cover of the groundbreaking report, With Heritage So Rich, published in January 1966.

An important anniversary will occur in the fall of 2013 that will likely get little attention. Fifty years ago this year the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Colonial Williamsburg sponsored a national conference on preservation at Williamsburg. This was meant to bring growing attention to how initiatives of the federal government to improve transportation and renew cities were apparently working at cross purposes with the national preservation program at the time. At this important conference advocates called for a broader national historic sites survey and better planning for urban growth. Restoration practices were reviewed and the need for professional training underscored. The results later appeared in a report titled Historic Preservation Today, that was published in 1966.

Following the conference a small group of preservationists gathered in the summer of 1964, to push for a new preservation law. Carl Feiss, an architect and planner with a preservation background, worked with Laurance G. Henderson, a Washington urban affairs lobbyist. They quickly identified Rep. Albert Rains (D-Ala.) and Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine) were interested in urban issues and the need for better public planning. Henderson laid out a plan for a blue-ribbon committee to travel to Europe and study how various countries were funding preservation. The trip culminated in a published report and a major campaign for a new preservation law in 1966. Feiss and Henderson formed a special committee on historic preservation with Albert Rains as chairman. The National Trust provided staff support in drafting new legislation.

Aiding them in the cause was John Gunther, executive director of the United State Conference of Mayors, who helped finance and plan the trip scheduled for October-November 1965. Money for the travel and support was provided by the Mellon philanthropies and the Ford Foundation. Connections were forged with preservation leaders from throughout the world, that proved very valuable at supporting the innovation needed at home in the U.S. After several months of writing and work, the project culminated with the publication of With Heritage So Rich in January 1966. This was only the starting point for a major legislative push to follow throughout most of the rest of that year, culminating in the signing of the National Historic Preservation Act into law on October 15, 1966.

In our next installment of "NHPAat50" next Friday, we will look at the role of the Executive Branch in the lead-up to passage of the National Historic Preservation Act.

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