Making history in unconventional Historic Preservation Month
May 19, 2020
What is your name, job title and work unit? Sylvia Rose Augustus, Regional Historic Preservation Officer and Regional Fine Arts Officer in Heartland Region’s Public Buildings Service
What is your favorite historic building in Region 6’s portfolio? Why? The Wichita (Kansas) U.S. Courthouse located at 401 N. Market Street was originally built as a Courthouse and Post Office. Designed in the Art Deco and Moderne style, it was built under the supervision of U.S. Treasury architect James A. Wetmore in 1932. This building is one of our most intact structures. While the Post Office function was removed, the lobby clearly reflects the previous presence of the Post Office. Sensitive alterations have been made to original postal spaces to accommodate court functions behind the original Post Office lobby. Other modifications have been made including the installation of new windows that look very much like the original windows.
Why is historic preservation important? The USA is a relatively young country that has lost a lot of significant historical artifacts. Buildings are artifacts that speak to our cultural heritage. They memorialize the people who used and / or lived in a structure. Urban renewal destroyed so many architectural treasures throughout the US. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was created in response to many of these losses. When you travel to other countries you can see the architecture and architectural sites that catalogues history, both good and bad. Even if one does not care for a particular style or period of architecture, historical buildings and sites are a great stimulus to local economies.
How is this historic preservation month different from previous years, if at all? This year, cultural heritage tourism will take a serious blow as we learn how to navigate a world with COVID-19. So many travel plans have been canceled or rescheduled. Unfortunately many heritage sites, run by local governments and nonprofits are suffering from huge losses--in revenue and attention--due to closure. Many cultural heritage sites and buildings can only be accessed virtually right now.
What impact do you think COVID-19 will have on historic preservation? As we learn more about the virus, architects, engineers and their clients will respond accordingly. They will most likely look to previous building layouts, built specifically to address health concerns at their time of construction. Historic buildings with private offices and operable windows suddenly look very attractive again.