2016 marked the 50th anniversary of this important piece of legislation, enacted during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration but actually conceived of by his predecessor, John F. Kennedy. The law was the first national policy governing preservation, following earlier attempts to save national treasures and historic assets beginning with the Antiquities Act of 1906.
I bring this up now because it appears that we will be facing severe funding cuts that will most likely cause government authorities to bypass, delay or outright stop preservation work, replaced by more funding on new public works projects as a way to create jobs and repair our crumbling infrastructure. An important question is how Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and acting Secretary of Labor Edward Hugler will define public works. Will that include saving at-risk historic structures, or be more narrowly focused on repairing old/building new roads and bridges? Will they forget that preservation work is a job-creator too?
There’s no question that both old historic buildings, and the infrastructure we use every day, are deteriorating fast. If, as I suspect, this category of the federal budget will grow in the next few years, will funding benefit both, or will it be one at the expense of the other? Remember that the background of our current president is real estate development, not historic site preservation. I have a very bad feeling that unless we raise our voices, dollars, and votes, we will continue to lose more national treasures over the next four years.