July 28: the first lady and the first preservationists

2012/07/28 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1929 Jacqueline Lee Bouvier was born.

The Muse is hard-pressed to name any other person who steered the resources of her position to the cause of historic preservation as fully and successfully.  As First Lady of the US, Jacqueline Kennedy (d. 1994) made a point of turning attention to the built landscape that was already there and, in 1960s America, oftentimes threatened.  The mid-century was not kind to historic architecture, but the tide turned with her popularization of the restoration of the White House and her successful efforts to save Lafayette Square (a case study in preserving a region or neighborhood, rather than an individual monument).  Even more profound, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was initiated at her suggestion.

Leaders and their ladies tend to build things to slap their name across cities, inscribing their memory in new monuments that will hopefully survive both weather, time, and changing political opinion.   Mrs. Kennedy’s efforts to honor the achievements of other people were far more lasting, civic, honorable and significant.

More detail about Mrs. Kennedy in this good article

Image: Mrs. Kennedy with plans of the White House (from this source)

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