Posts Tagged ‘preservation’

Valiant Efforts in Preservation? Or Goofy Self-Serving Construct?

Casa Grande Ruins -- public domain photo from www.ohranger.comWhen I was a boy, I remember seeing pictures of the Casa Grande Ruins in my school textbooks. It would be in the American pre-history section, the “time before the Pilgrims” when the native tribes ran the place. Back then, I found it bizarre that a modern pavilion had been built over the ruins. The textbooks would talk about the great adobe homes of the early tribes, but they’d never, ever mention this canopy. The pictures were a bizarre mix of old and new that made no sense.

Twenty years later, when I finally arrived at the site in person, it still looked goofy. Obviously this canopy was intended to protect the ancient structure from the Arizona monsoons (an infrequent but torrential series of rainstorms), and I suppose that’s goodness, but it still seems as if it’s manufactured for our pleasure, like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. The surroundings made it seem worse: a gigantic Volde-Mart, replete with acres and acres of SUV-laden parking lots, sits right across the street. “Come and see the ruins, then spend your hard-earned cash on Made in China crap that will kill your pets and poison your children!!”

Bumper sticker available at www.stampandshout.com

There’s actually a huge controversy in the American preservation movement. How far should the government or private interests go to preserve historical relics such as the Casa Grande Ruins? After all, entropy is part of human existence as well. Does this preservation serve the interests of history and culture, or does it simply serve the interests of developers looking to profit off a landmark? Should nature be allowed to take its course, or should we spend millions preserving relics?

Casa Grande Walls -- public domain photo from www.ohranger.comThere was a story on NPR this week about German castles. See, most of the great castles in Germany were destroyed in World War II. Now that Germany is back from the brink of destruction, they find they miss their castles. So they are in the process of re-building their old castles from scratch to house … shopping malls. Oh yes, there’s historical context for you. “And here, the Earl of Salzburg would enjoy an Orange Julius while his daughters leered at the 12-foot, half-naked himboes plastered on the windows of Abercrombie & Fitch.”

There are a lot of naturally preserved tribal dwellings all over Arizona, mostly cliff dwellings in places like Walnut Canyon and Canyon de Chelly. So you have to wonder why they went to such great lengths to preserve this one in 1932. Tourism, no doubt. But at one time native Americans lived in grand adobe buildings on the open flatlands, at the crossroads of enormous north-south, east-west trade routes. Casa Grande is the best example still standing on this continent. It fills an important niche in the physical historic record of the country.  In 1932, at the height of the Depression, it must have been hard to get the funding to build the canopy. I guess we should be thankful.

But to look at the site with its own personal pavilion, you have to ask yourself “is this too goofy?”

Public domain photo taken from Wikipedia

[I didn’t own a digital camera when I visted Casa Grande. All photos are public domain, hover over each pic for source info]



Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Wikipedia Article on the Hohokam Period

Google map to Casa Grande

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Synergy & History

I love Boston, I really do. Yeah, being from Massachusetts, I’m heavily biased. But Boston is a place that really speaks to me. If I had to live in a city, Boston would be my first choice. I just love the feel of the place.

Col. Prescott — © 2008 America In ContextOne of the things I find endearing about Boston is the clear and present link between the city and American history. It is one of the oldest cities in America (founded in 1630), and was obviously the center of many pivotal events in the American Revolution, including the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Ride, and the battle of Bunker Hill (really more about Breeds Hill than Bunker, but hey, what’s in a name). Boston also housed some of the greatest patriotic oratory of the age, great speakers such as James Otis, cousins Samuel and John Adams, and John Hancock wove their verbal tapestries from the smallest pub to the halls of the State House. These voices would find resonance with others, North and South, that would eventually become a symphony of vision that led to American Independence.

But I think most of you know all that. So let me talk about the other clear and present link between Boston and history. This is a city that not only understands, but completely embraces, it’s historical importance. Actually, Bostonians revel in their history. They absolutely love it, and it shows nearly everywhere you turn, even in those parts not on the famed Freedom Trail. The surrounding towns, in fact nearly every city and town in Massachusetts, embraces this history. I’d love to see real survey data, but I’d wager historical literacy in Massachusetts is higher than in any other state of the Union. It’s because history is in the blood of the Bay Stater. I know it’s in mine.

Burial Ground — © 2008 America In Context

I’ve been in a lot of cities in this country during my travels. Most old cities don’t really embrace their history. They have token historic districts, small spots in the city with a few important landmarks and strict building codes. Usually they’re smack in the middle of business “dead zones” (where you can’t even find a good spot for lunch), or surrounded by inner city slums (where you’re afraid to park your car). Best case they’re well-maintained, but only to keep property values high. The goal of these cynical districts isn’t to provide educational opportunities or spark interest in history, but to keep smarmy, uptight residents happily self-righteous, and to keep undesirables out. I suppose its beter than paving historical buildings over, a fate which has befallen many over time.

Constitution — © 2008 America In ContextThe problem is most people simply don’t understand the significance of history, nor do they appreciate the incredible chain of events that led to, well, everything. History is that chain of events that, when taken in context, explains why we are where we are at this exact moment in time. Something happened, then something happened, then something else happened, and you end up having some craptastic pasta dish at Applebee’s with people you don’t like. Everything happens for a reason, it happens because a certain sequence of events led to it happening. It’s not fate, it’s historical inertia. Understand that, and you can understand what comes next. It’s why I love the subject so much.

But most people don’t. Most people hate it, because a slew of lousy teachers did a terrible job teaching it. Those who don’t hate it outright see it only as a way to add smugness into their lives. How many antique collectors even understand what it is they own? They just hoard all that junk because it makes them look smart or it goes with their decor. Same with most cities and their historic districts. How many such communities even understand what they have? Very few, I’ll wager, although I’m sure they know exactly what it does for property tax collections.

Boston is an imperfect place. It’s muder to get around, and it’s expensive to park. But it is one of those rarity of American cities: it is a place that fully understands and embraces its place in history, and its citizens are all the better for it.

Old State House — © 2008 America In Context

[All pictures on this post are mine. I have surprisingly few pictures of Boston, I’ve been there so many times, pictures seem moot. However, you’re welcome to see all that I have here].


Boston Hational Historical Park

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Google Map to Boston NHP

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