Guest column: Observations on Historic Preservation

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When I arrived in Collier County 13 years ago, a preservation neophyte by old-timers' definition, I took a walking tour of the Naples Historic District.

One guest in my group referred to a little cottage we were passing as a "teardown." I recall thinking then how significant that one word was in a community's vernacular. Why "teardown"?

Mary Watkins, well-known "old timer" whose family owned and managed the old Naples Hotel, recalls distinctly the tearing down of the locally famous Painted House.

She says: "Tearing down that house was a pivotal point regarding preservation. As terrible as it was on that Monday morning in December 2002, there was an accomplishment: a waiting period of 180 days was mandated after a permit was issued."

There are other and more recent examples of fallen cottages. There aren't many topics that rouse residents faster than the news of the razing of a distinctive, old, history-laden cottage, and rightly so.

The permit waiting period was an encouraging outcome, but there is still much more to do for historic preservation.

Naples Historical Society, as with many others, has a history of trying to effect change with regard to the preservation of a house, building, or structure. It takes time, strategic focus and financial support. When one of these is missing, efforts to save suffer. We applaud the successful preservation of loved old houses in Naples, and congratulate all who live in and love them today.

What is the difficulty of historic preservation?

There are many schools of thought and definitions on the duties of historic preservation: preserving the craftsmanship or architectural significance of a building(s); writing, assembling and maintaining photos and written records for public benefit; capturing oral histories; collecting relevant artifacts; creating awareness with educational programs; tending to the needs of a designated Historic District; supporting the rehabilitation or proposed adaptive use of a building, and other collaborations.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation says that some people " desire a tangible sense of permanence and community, while others wish to know about and embrace America's heritage in a direct and personally meaningful way."

The bottom line is that there is a variety of constructs to consider in the fight to preserve the history and heritage of a community.

According to the U.S. Census, there were 2,883 people in Collier County in 1930. In 2010, there were 321,520, a massive increase. The recent influx of new residents and visitors adds several layers to the preservation challenge. New residents, snowbirds and visitors are a welcome and vital part of life in Naples, but varying opinions and beliefs about preservation and its civic importance fluctuate as a population changes. Historic preservation becomes more difficult if there is no community-endorsed preservation position for saving a structure in place.

Other points to ponder include the nonexistence of a local Historic Preservation Ordinance, Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) regulations and restrictions, perceived fear of losing control over one's property, and finally, exhaustion from fighting the good fight.

What is the public benefit of preservation?

The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation concludes that the "public benefits in many facets of life from jobs and household income, to property values, heritage tourism, environmental and tax credits." Below is a sampling of benefits:

n Increases property values. Properties located within locally designated historic districts are worth more, appreciate faster, and retain their value.

n Adds value to local history, school curriculums, and professional institutions' work in protecting a community's (archeological/genealogical) history.

n Increases public and private dialogue among children, teachers, parents and grandparents, regarding our ancestors and history.

n Helps newcomers to an area to see what a community is like, perhaps even influencing decisions from civic obligation to home-ownership.

At this point, laying blame on what happened in the past is futile. Grass-roots efforts to guide significant change require not only ideas, for those are a dime dozen, but steadfast action, long-term commitment, a unified voice and financial support. The society has taken a leading role with many expanded preservation tasks, and we invite your help.

Inspiring passion and enthusiasm for the need to preserve the history of this community, your community, remains an important part of the society's work.

Without participation, it's hard to accomplish anything of value. Please, get involved. Again.

For more information about the Naples Historical Society, please visit our website at www.NaplesHistoricalSociety.org or contact us via email at nhs@NaplesHistoricalSociety.org, or phone (239) 261-8164.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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