letter from the director – preservation for preservation's sake

I was disappointed to see the Obama Administration in the 2010 federal budget proposed the elimination of significant preservation funding that comes through relatively small programs such as Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America.  These two programs have had a big impact in our state, and locally in support of important work on the 100-year-old tugboat Arthur Foss, Northwest Railway Museum’s “Messenger of Peace” chapel car, and our own “Destination Heritage” guide to historic places in King County.

To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the work of 4Culture is its comprehensive approach to the breadth of what we call “culture.” Culture embodies more than the arts, including public art, and local history, the focus of our heritage program. It includes science and zoos and natural history and the ethnic traditions of a diverse society and so much more.

Culture also embraces historic preservation, a little understood field of endeavor that recognizes the value of saving the significant structures that tell the story of a community’s past. For instance, very few people today are members of a fraternal society, but our landscape is dotted with aging fraternal lodges that remind us of the methods of social engagement from our not too distant past. In many rural communities in King County, these lodges are important community gathering places, active reminders of the importance of social interaction. They may have small performances occasionally; they may have interpretive displays about the important people and events in a community’s history, but they are not commonly owned by arts organizations or heritage organizations. They do not typically apply to our Arts or Heritage Cultural Facilities programs (which regularly provide support for preservation projects that are also arts and heritage facilities.)

4Culture has two funding programs that provide capital support to maintain these significant community assets, no matter what kind of use goes on inside. These can include historic farmsteads, train stations, ships, privately-owned residences, gardens, and even churches. The Landmarks Rehabilitation Program and Landmark Challenge Grants are two 4Culture preservation programs – and the only such programs in King County – that provide “bricks and mortar” funding for these kinds of preservation projects.

The stewards of these structures that are important to all of use deserve help with the extra expense involved in maintaining them, regardless of how they are used or who owns them.

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, our statewide advocacy group, maintains a Most Endangered List – a roster of historic resources of all sorts that face a myriad of threats. Right here in King County are five properties on the current list, including the brick buildings at Sandpoint Naval Station, the little Nuclear Reactor Building on the UW campus, the modernist Surrey Downs subdivision in Bellevue, the iconic P-I globe, and the old Homestead Restaurant at Alki. The Trust is now accepting nominations for the 2010 list, deadline March 15.

It will take much more than a small grant to resolve these complicated preservation issues and others like them, but we are pleased to be able to offer strategic assistance when the time is right.