Rescue and restore: the battle cry of preservationists. US and global organizations converge on Washington

Last month, Washington could have been aptly described as ``the preservation capital of the world.'' ``Rescue and restore'' were common themes, pervading the programs of three important conferences held here.

The National Town Meeting, sponsored by the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, drew more than 500 delegates for two days of discussion on techniques and policies for revitalizing older downtown commercial districts.

This meeting was followed by the National Trust's 41st National Preservation Conference, which drew a record 2,700 preservationists, most of whom were interested enough to pay their own way.

Which indicates, says Jack Walter, president of the trust, that the preservation movement is a volunteer movement. It is supported in part by the United States government, but, more important, by a growing army of people of all ages. These soldiers in the preservation cause are not only restoring individual homes, but also forming citizens' activist groups to save old city buildings and whole neighborhoods, as well as vintage theaters, lighthouses, landscapes, rural enclaves, and a whole array of fast-disappearing breeds of boats.

``The amount of historic rehabilitation going on in cities and towns all across America is truly phenomenal,'' says Mr. Walter. ``Millions of Americans pour their time, money, and passion into the preservation of this country's historic resources. The effect of their efforts has literally changed the way America looks and the way Americans think about their environment.''

Membership in the National Trust will soon reach 200,000, a record high, says Walter. That's up 40 percent (from 135,000) in the three years he has been president. Remarkable this year were the hundreds of young people in their 20s and 30s who attended the conference, as well as members of ethnic minority groups who are becoming involved in projects aimed at preserving their own heritage landmarks.

The third gathering in Washington was the Eighth General Assembly and International Symposium of ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites). The meeting was sponsored by US/ICOMOS, and built around the theme ``Old Cultures in New Worlds.''

This assembly, held in the US for the first time, drew 600 delegates from more than 50 countries. They exchanged information on how to protect and preserve mankind's common cultural and historical heritage - the monuments, sites, buildings, and districts spread through many countries that constitute our world heritage. These sites include the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, India's Taj Mahal, the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, the Old City of Jerusalem and its walls, Chartres Cathedral and the Palace of Versailles in France, and the Giza Pyramids of Egypt.

US/ICOMOS is one of 65 national committees forming a worldwide alliance for the study and conservation of historic buildings, districts, and sites. At this conference, the International Charter on the Conservation of Historic Towns and Urban Areas was passed and signed; it is expected to strengthen the cause of preservation in many communities.

All the preservationists discovered they were struggling with the same types of challenge - how to identify and protect precious places, the importance of planning; drawing up guidelines; the building of grass-roots support at the local level; winning the support of industry, developers, and politicians; and then finding the money to finance the preservation projects.

They all saw a need for better heritage education and more training courses for preservationists. They admitted the dangers of overuse by tourists. And they heard the call for continued vigilance on the part of preservation organizations and individual activists.

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