October 15: and the angels sang

2012/10/15 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1966 Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act into law.

The NHPA created the triumvirate of preservation in the US: the National Register of Historic Places, the list of National Historic Landmarks, and the State Historic Preservation Offices (which, by the way, have one of the best acronyms).  Preservation was not exactly new to the US: important programs like the Historic American Building Survey date back to the 1930s; grassroots efforts to save sites like Mt. Vernon are older still.  But the Act of 1966 was much more far-reaching in its efforts to preserve and protect the nation’s heritage, which was deemed a necessity in the wake of some fifteen years of widespread demolition occasioned by the construction of the federal highway system and (mostly misguided) “urban renewal” projects.

Significantly, 1966 was just five years after the publication of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and the same year as the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.  It was the decade of serious efforts by regular Americans to preserve landmarks and of first ladies getting involved as well.  Although the 1960s were not a good scene overall (unless you really did love the smell of napalm in the morning or the scent of Aquanet all day long), the tides were turning for architecture.

image: LBJ gets it done.  Actually, this is not him getting the Preservation Act done; there’s apparently no photographic record of that.  But he signed a lot of things.  This photo was taken 2 July 1964 when he signed the Civil Rights Act, which was also important.

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