- Historic Sites
Trust And Civilization
A HERITAGE PRESERVED
August/september 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 5
Its most singular achievement came with passage of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. Enacted largely through the lobbying efforts of the National Trust, it declared “that the historic and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.” President Johnson signed it into law on October 15, putting the government itself into the preservation business. One of its most visible beneficiaries was the National Trust. The act not only recognized the Trust as the nation’s chief spokesman and adviser on matters of historic preservation, it also authorized Congress to give to the Trust annual grants of money—this in addition to 50 per cent matching grants to the states for preservation projects, for most of which the Trust served as a consultant.
Thus funded and encouraged, the National Trust did indeed blossom. Today it includes 1,600 membership organizations and more than 150,000 individual members, and its operating budget for 1981 is $12,400,000, of which $4,700,000 is from the federal government. It employs 230 people, 133 of them in its Washington, B.C., headquarters alone (including five full-time lawyers). It owns outright ten historic properties and plays a stewardship role for forty-one others. It has six regional offices. It has a maritime preservation division (formed by a merger with the Bicentennial Op Sail of 1976), a division of policy and planning, the Preservation Press (which has turned out such books as Preservation: Toward an Ethic in the 1980s ), and numerous other departments. It still holds regional and national conferences, offers scholarships, and co-sponsors seminars. It works with various conservation groups for the preservation of farmland and has helped to formulate historic district ordinances for six hundred cities. Each May it promotes the tenets of Preservation Week (the theme for 1981 was “Conservation: Keeping America’s Neighborhoods Together”).
The National Trust has become an awesome machine, the looming figure-head of what some have called the Preservation Establishment. And it is likely to remain so. The proposed budget of the Reagan Administration for fiscal year 1982 (effective October 1, 1981) allows for a matching grant of $5,000,000 for the Trust (an additional 60 per cent will come, as it has for the past several years, from the private sector). But what concerns the Trust most is the administration’s determination to eliminate altogether matching grants to the states (which amounted to $25,000,000 in fiscal 1981). To do so, Trust President Michael L. Ainslie has predicted, would result “in a dismantling of the preservation program.…” As of this writing, he is convinced that pressure from within and without Congress will make such an evisceration impossible. We shall see.
In the meantime, it seems likely that the movement will, in one form or another, remain what it has become: an immutable and powerful part of this new, this present American civilization.