A HERITAGE PRESERVED
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. The ‘movement’ has erected an institutional structure of agencies and foundations, clubs and businesses. It has built up a thick layer of case law and statutory regulations, and a corps of specialists to administer and interpret them.”
Pretty weighty stuff—necessary, but a little forbidding. Against such an institutional backdrop, then, it is encouraging to perceive the flicker of less cumbersome proceedings, reminders that no matter how heavily structured the movement may have become, its roots still lie with men and women who care deeply about their communities—and are willing, on however small a scale, to do something to preserve the values they cherish.
Take, for example, a project recently completed in Toledo, Ohio. It began in the summer of 1979, after a fire raced through St. Paul’s Methodist Church—a gothic pile erected in 1897—gutting the interior completely and leaving nothing but a shell of stone. The church was of particular interest to Carleton Fyler, a retired professional photographer and active member of the Photo Arts Club, located in Toledo’s Crosby Gardens. “My parents first met at St. Paul’s as members of the Epworth League,” he tells us, “were married there, and both my sister and I were baptized there. Later, St. Paul’s was the scene of my sister’s marriage.” After the fire, he scoured local archives in search of some photographic record of the church’s interior. He found nothing but one exterior scene, but the quest did put him in touch with John Squire, chairman of the Landmarks Committee of the Maumee Valley Historical Society, and the two men soon came up with an idea: why not enlist the aid of the Photo Arts Club to document in photographs the architectural and decorative features of the most important structures in the region listed in the Federal Register of Historic Buildings? No matter what ultimately happened to the buildings, there would at least be some permanent record of what had once been.
The Photo Arts Club agreed and chose as the pilot effort Toledo’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, a Gothic-revival edifice begun in 1892 and completed in 1901. With funding for film and processing provided by the Landmarks Committee, fifteen members of the club fell upon the church after the last mass of a Sunday afternoon and proceeded to photograph nearly everything in sight, from the great vaulted ceiling to the last station of the cross. The best of the resulting pictures (both black-and-white and color) were then selected, duplicated, and bound into five identical albums—one for the Toledo Public Library, one for each of the two offices of the Landmarks Committee, one for St. Patrick’s, and one for the files of the Photo Arts Club. The committee’s copies, John Squire notes, will be used to raise funds for similar expeditions.
A modest enterprise, perhaps, one not calculated to generate conflict and confrontation, reams of media hype, massive public funding, or even bureaucratic triplication. A small project. With a large idea.