Tom Mayes

Why Do Old Places Matter? Beauty

Posted on: February 7th, 2014 by Tom Mayes 2 Comments

 

kykuit

The Eternal City—what better place to find answers to the question: Why do old places matter? Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy, is in Rome these days and is contributing a series of posts about his experiences and research. Join us for his periodic essays and add your thoughts to the discussion.  You can also read more about his project in an interview at the American Academy in Rome. 

Above: A view from Kykuit a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site.

Old places are beautiful.

When asked once why old places matter, Mark McDonald, president of the Georgia Trust, exclaimed without hesitation, “Because they are beautiful!” Google the phrase “beautiful places,” and the results typically show old cities, old towns, and old buildings, along with natural places and a smattering of newer places. From the Zen gardens of Kyoto, to Bernini’s colonnade at St. Peter’s Square, to the Ruins of Windsor in Port Gibson, Miss.,—beautiful old places are treasured throughout the world as places where people experience the power of beauty.

Beauty—and the threat to beautiful places—was the driving force for many early preservation efforts. In Charleston, S.C., the people who formed the art movement known as the Charleston Renaissance sought to keep the beautiful and picturesque. As the Morris Museum of Art website states, "Alice R. H. Smith, Elizabeth O'Neill Verner, and other Charleston artists helped inspire the historic preservation movement, awakening their neighbors to the charm and significance of the city's architectural heritage, through their images. As a result, the city's architectural and cultural heritage became the focus of pioneering efforts in historic preservation.”

Similarly, in Texas, the San Antonio Conservation Society was created by artists who were concerned about the loss of beautiful places in their city. In places throughout the world, artists who care about beauty were—and are—often at the forefront of saving threatened places. Today Charleston and San Antonio now reap a rich harvest of benefits—including economic benefits—because they kept their beautiful old places.... Read More →

About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.

 

The Eternal City—what better place to find answers to the question: Why do old places matter? Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy, is in Rome these days and is contributing a series of posts about his experiences and research. Last time Mayes examined the role of old places and individual identity. Join us for his periodic essays and add your thoughts to the discussion.  You can also read more about his project in a recent interview at the American Academy in Rome. In this post, Mayes tackles a topic that—in his words—is fraught with potential conflict—how old places embody our civic, state and national identity. 

Independence Hall, Phiadelphia, Pa.,

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pa. | Credit:  Captain Albert E. Theberge, NOAA Corps (ret.) via Flickr

Old places embody our civic, state, and national, and universal identity.

Jamestown. Mount Vernon. Independence Hall. Old South Meetinghouse. Valley Forge. The Missions of California. Fort McHenry. The Alamo.  Sutter’s Mill. Harpers Ferry. Fort Sumter. Gettysburg. Appomattox. Little Bighorn. Pearl Harbor. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. The very recitation of these names conjures the long timeline of American history. These places—and countless others—embody the history and principles of the United States. For generations, these places have inspired Americans to learn our uniquely American story.

Just as these places embody an American identity, old places throughout the world embody civic, state, national, and universal identity. Stone cottages with thatched roofs embody Irishness. English country houses and cozy pubs stand as symbols of something particularly English.  Temples and Zen gardens symbolize Japan. The pyramids of Egypt and the Parthenon in Greece are valued throughout the world as symbols of our common humanity. Old places help form, maintain, and transform civic identity—whether it’s a city, county, state, region, country, or even the world.... Read More →

About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.

Why Do Old Places Matter? Individual Identity

Posted on: January 8th, 2014 by Tom Mayes 31 Comments

 

The Eternal City—what better place to find answers to the question: Why do old places matter? Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy, is in Rome these days and is contributing a series of posts about his experiences and research. Join us for his periodic essays and add your thoughts to the discussion.  You can also read more about his project in a recent interview at the American Academy in Rome.

Old places embody our identity

“Old places are who we are.” “They give us a sense of self.” “They tell us who we are as a people.” People frequently use these phrases when talking to me about why old places matter. Sofia Bosco, the Rome director of Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), an Italian preservation organization, told me recently, “These places are testimonials of who we are. They represent the identity of every one of us.” Old places—our homes and churches, our neighborhoods, schools, main streets, and courthouse squares, are all part of our identity and of who we are.

Ramah Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, Huntersville, N.C. | Credit:  Thompson Mayes

Ramah Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, Huntersville, N.C. | Credit: Thompson Mayes

People have long recognized the crucial connection between identity and old places. In the ancient world, Cicero chronicled the “indescribable feeling insensibly pervading my soul and sense” on returning to the place where he was born and where his father and grandfather lived. 1 More recently, architect and preservationist James Marston Fitch wrote that “[preservation] affords the opportunity for the citizens to regain a sense of identity with their own origins of which they have often been robbed by the sheer process of urbanization.” 2... Read More →

About Tom Mayes

Tom Mayes is the deputy general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2013 Mayes was awarded the Rome Prize in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome.