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[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Help Preserve Places from the Recent Past

In the preservation world, the term “recent past” most commonly refers to historic places younger than 50 years old. Modernism, which is another term often associated with the recent past, is generally defined as a style that began to flourish in the United States in the 1930s. Both describe places and cultural resources that are among the most under-appreciated and vulnerable aspects of our nation’s heritage.

You may already know about our country’s recent past story through architectural icons like the Farnsworth House or Glass House (both sites of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), designed landscapes like Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park, and nationally significant historic sites like Lorraine Motel, associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

But this story is also told in less prominent places that are equally important to local communities and reveal much about who we are and where we've come from -- early fast-food restaurants, drive-through branch banks, post-war housing projects, and suburban developments. And, often, these lesser-known places are the ones at risk, perceived as expendable, unattractive, or unworthy of preservation.

This toolkit shares 10 things you can do to help save a place from the recent past in your community.

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[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Help Preserve Places from the Recent Past

  1. Photo courtesy Carol M. Highsmith Preserving the Recent Past 10 Things You Can Do to Save Places from the Recent Past in Your Community
  2. Gather fellow residents who care about preserving your community’s recent past places. The group can research and nominate buildings for landmark designation; become your community’s advocate for the recent past and Modern design; create a website and maintain a discussion board; and host tours and other special events. -- Check out the LA Conservancy Modern Committee as one example. 1. Form a volunteer group. Photo courtesy Bryan Hong, Wikimedia Commons
  3. Tours are a tried-and-true method for building a community’s appreciation for its historic resources and significant architecture. Put together a bus tour that takes guests past Modern structures throughout the neighborhood. Create a self-guided driving tour accompanied by a booklet that visitors and residents can continue to use. Or set up docent-led tours of noteworthy buildings from the recent past. 2. Offer tours. Photo courtesy Phillip Pessar, Flickr
  4. Special events encourage those interested in mid-century architecture to connect with like-minded people. These can include fundraising events, special exhibits (complete with opening night parties) on the modern heritage of your community, or a lecture series that features local historians, architects, or professors speaking about the area’s recent past architecture. 3. Host special events. Photo courtesy TimothyJ, Flickr
  5. When a site is threatened by demolition, alteration, or neglect, nominate it to a local organization’s endangered list. This is an excellent way to generate publicity, raise awareness of threatened Modern and recent past places, and explain to a broader audience why these types of places are significant and worthy of protection. Tip: If you know of a significant and endangered mid- century site, consider submitting a nomination to the National Trust’s annual America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. 4. Submit a nomination to an endangered places list. Photo courtesy Sam Howzit, Flickr
  6. Workshops and seminars can be useful ways to educate specific audiences about buildings and cultural sites from the recent past. These classes can help teach participants the basics of historic preservation, give an overview of the history of post-war architecture, offer tips on how to identify threats or problems, find appropriate replacement materials to keep mid- century homes looking true to their original architecture, and more. Contact a local preservation group for help or partnership opportunities. 5. Conduct community workshops. Photo courtesy blipsman, Flickr
  7. It is equally important to educate state and municipal historic preservation officers, local planning agency staff, and preservation commission members about the importance of mid-century resources. Contact these groups and encourage them to attend local training programs. Tip: Some state historic preservation offices have created training programs to educate historic preservation commission members. These programs can also help real estate agents realize the potential of the post-war market and promote these properties to their clients. 6. Educate those involved in the decision-making process. Photo courtesy blisl, Flickr
  8. Identifying which recent past sites merit protection is one of the first steps towards preserving them. But a survey should involve more than just identification -- it should also work to establish historic context, educate and involve the community, and identify areas for future research. Resources: National Register Bulletin No. 24: Guidelines for Local Surveys: A Basis for Preservation Planning will give you the basics of cultural resource surveys. The Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Identification offers information and guidelines on one approach you can take when conducting a survey. 7. Survey resources from the recent past. Photo courtesy Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons
  9. Once surveyed, an area needs to be evaluated to see if it meets the criteria for National Register listing or local designation. Steps include determining historic context, using time or association with living persons to determine significance, and researching whether the site is located in a historic district. -- The National Register Bulletin No. 22 outlines eight guidelines to help evaluate resources. 8. Evaluate the property. Photo courtesy army.arch, Flickr
  10. Before nominating a recent past property to the National Register or other local designation, it’s critical to prepare a clear, compelling, and well- documented case that establishes its importance. Establishing significance does more than just help your nomination, though; it contributes to the wider argument for saving Modern and recent past places. Tip: When preparing your case, refer to previous nomination forms for recent past properties that have been successfully listed in the National Register of Historic Places as examples. 9. Make the case for the site’s importance. Photo courtesy StuSeeger, Flickr
  11. While National Register listing does not provide properties direct protection from privately funded actions, it does often trigger consideration in the planning for federal or federally assisted projects, and can pave the way for potential tax benefits. When pursuing local designation, be prepared that many communities may follow the “50-year rule,” creating an obstacle for historic designation of recent past resources. If amending the rule is not an option, remember that National Register listing can raise awareness of the importance of the site and help garner public support while waiting for the property to come of age for local designation. Learn more about the National Trust’s work protecting historic places from the recent past and Modern movement. 10. Pursue National Register listing or local historic designation.
  12. Photo courtesy Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr
  13. Ten on Tuesday features ten preservation tips each week. For more tips, visit