Taking care of historic America

From the art deco district of Miami to the 19th-century farmsteads of Oregon, America is learning to recognize and save its architectural landmarks. Focusing on local historic buildings, nearly 5,000 preservation and civic groups around the country will hold special events as part of National Historic Preservation Week, May 15-19. That week will be a celebration sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, based in Washington, D.C.

The theme for Preservation Week this year, ''Preservation is taking care of America,'' was chosen to highlight quality rehabilitation and quality maintenance work that are being done on both private homes and commercial buildings around the country, says Kate Merlino of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. ''We want to raise public awareness about how preservation contributes to the community.''

The wealth of events planned for the observance reflects the surge of interest during the past decade in both the aesthetic and economic benefits of historic preservation. According to Ms. Merlino, 10 years ago there were approximately 2,000 organizations nationwide involved in preservation work. Today there are more than 5,000. Tax benefits for renovating historic buildings ''have been a tremendous boon to the preservation movement,'' she notes.

In an enthusiastic response to Preservation Week, states such as Ohio, Illinois, and Florida have extended the celebration to a month or more of activities.

Ohio, which has one of the largest numbers of listings on the historic register, will hold 92 events during May sponsored by approximately 170 preservation organizations, neighborhood groups, and civic organizations.

Chicagoans can choose from events organized by 25 preservation-related groups in the area. One of the highlights is the annual Frank Lloyd Wright Housewalk in Oak Park on May 19, sponsored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation. On June 3, The Chicago Architecture Foundation is offering a Gold Coast tour through the Astor Street Historic District and the elegant buildings along Lake Shore Drive. The buildings feature styles such as Queen Anne, Tudor revival, modern, art deco, and Romanesque revival.

In Florida, the Dade Heritage Trust, a nonprofit county preservation organization, is co-sponsoring a series of weekend events with local preservation groups throughout Dade County. One unusual activity already held was a day-long canoe trip from Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove along Biscayne Bay to a 19th-century home called ''The Barnacle'' for a tour and picnic lunch.

On May 16, Floridians who are politically inclined can participate in ''Preservation Day in Tallahassee,'' when they will have the opportunity to lobby their local legislators for special incentives for owners of historic buildings. There will be special charter flights from major Florida cities to the state capital for the day.

During the week there will also be lunchtime walking tours of downtown Miami and the art deco district. On May 19, the Miami Design Preservation League and the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board will sponsor the ''Moon Over Miami Ball,'' a formal dance with '30s attire held in the Versailles, an art deco hotel.

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee is featuring historic movie houses with an exhibit and tour under the theme ''When Milwaukee Loved Movie Palaces.'' The tour, sponsored by Wisconsin Heritages Inc. and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee , will be held on May 19. The exhibit runs from May 12 to June 30 at the Pabst Mansion.

Arizona, a state fairly new to the preservation effort, plans a statewide ''Heritage Hunt'' organized by local preservation groups. Community members will scout through their towns and neighborhoods to identify previously overlooked buildings that may qualify for the National Register of Historic Places.

''We expect to find some good surprises,'' says Marsha Weiziger of the Heritage Foundation of Arizona, particularly in rural communities that have not yet been surveyed for historic buildings.

Unlike many areas of the country where Victorian buildings are the focus of current preservation efforts, Arizona's indigenous styles include adobe structures built prior to the 1880s, bungalows in the prairie-school style, and Spanish-revival style from the 1920s and 1930s.

''It's an ongoing struggle to make people realize we have structures that may not be at the forefront of American architecture, but that say something about Arizona and its history,'' she says.

Oregon is also recognizing its historic structures in rural areas. In Douglas County, for example, local preservation groups are conducting tours of turn-of-the-century farmsteads during Preservation Week.

''We're beginning to focus on conserving rural resources such as farmhouses, sheds, and fence lines,'' says Eric Eiseman of the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. In other parts of the state there will be about 50 events in nearly 30 cities.

Among the many preservation-related activities in California is an architectural crafts fair co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Workman and Temple Homestead located in the City of Industry 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Twenty artisans will demonstrate techniques of wood and stone carving, roof thatching, ironwork, and mural painting at an all-day fair on May 19.

''Our goal is an educational one,'' says Barbara Brinkman of the Workman and Temple Homestead, which has two restored residences on its site that date from the 1870s and the 1920s. ''We want to bring restoration to the public eye and highlight the fact that restoration and rehab are going on and there is value in looking back at times past. It brings a sense of history to the community.''

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