Save That House

Deciding to rescue a historic property is the start of what turns out to be a lifelong relationship as terrifying as it is exhilarating

The threat was distant but definite, like cannon rumbling beyond the next ridge. Mr. and Mrs. Bigelow were thinking of selling their house. I’d lived in the Bigelows’ neighborhood when I first moved to Olympia, Washington, and I knew that their gabled timber-frame house was by far the oldest in town. Built in the mid-1800s by Mr. Bigelow’s grandparents—suffragists, abolitionists, and ardent temperance supporters—it was one of the few Gothic Revival homes left in the Pacific Northwest.Read more »

To Save The World We Built

Every town you pass through has felt the impact of the modern historic-preservation movement. Now a founder of that movement discusses what is real and what is fake in preservation efforts.

Twenty years ago nobody thought much about saving old buildings. The phrase urban renewal had an optimistic, forward-looking sound to it, and entire urban centers were razed with little thought of what might be lost in the process. Today communities across America are fighting to save their architectural heritage. James Marston Fitch, more than any other individual, has championed that cause.Read more »

Trust And Civilization


America has been many civilizations in its history, from the ,Stone Age to the age of genetic tinkering. And as each of perhaps a dozen civilizations was washed over by another, it left behind fragments of itself like pebbles scattered upon a beach—a cliff dwelling in the Southwest built by the vanished Anasazi, a crumbling ante-bellum plantation house in Mississippi, a railroad depot in a town where the train no longer stops. … Read more »

Boston - Birth And Rebirth

On September 7, three hundred and fifty years ago, a ragged group of Puritans under John Winthrop chose a site on the New England shore and declared it suitable for a new town—one more pinprick of settlement for a land in which they hoped to find the spiritual regeneration that had eluded them in their native England. Read more »

For The Record


In a recent issue of The American West , Richard Reinhardt, a member of the board of directors of the Foundation for San Francisco’s Architectural Heritage, comments on the astonishing growth of the preservation movement: “Success has turned the good idea of protecting our historic and architectural heritage into a vested economic interest, with a professional and managerial elite, a specialized press, a literature, and a dependent bloc of artisans, contractors, historians, publishers, writers, designers, public employees, and flaks.Read more »

Out of the Shadow of Ruin

Pride lies at the heart of efforts to renovate a historic district in Cincinnati.

Writing in 1962, Lewis Mumford noted that “The forces that have formed our cities in the past are now almost automatically, by their insensate dynamism, wrecking them.… The prevailing economic and technological forces in the big city have broken away from the ecological pattern, as well as from the moral inhibitions and the social codes and the religious ideals that once, however imperfectly, kept them under some sort of control, and reduced their destructive potentialities.” Read more »

The Levys Of Monticelo

Visitors to Monticello today, taking in its handsome lawns and flower beds, its beautifully finished and furnished rooms, its immaculate floors and woodwork, have no trouble picturing Thomas Jefferson entertaining such luminaries as Lafayette and Washington on these elegant premises. Yet if they could suddenly turn back the clock a hundred years, they would witness an astonishing and shocking transformation.Read more »

Preserving A Neighborhood

Saving Hundred-Year-Old Buildings

The idea of urban renewal has traditionally been predicated on the superficially reasonable assumption that the best way to handle crumbling blight is to pluck it out—raze it, tear it down, get rid of it—and build something better: shopping malls and office complexes, say, or apartments and town houses, civic centers and sports arenas. Read more »

The Way It Was-more Or Less

At one point in the Battle of White Plains an American militiaman whose unit was temporarily not engaged with the enemy called out to a nearby civilian: “Who’s ahead?” The civilian, holding a small square object up to one ear, replied: “Oakland, 3 to 1.” Read more »