c. 1980s, San Diego
Winner of SOHO's Lifetime Achievement Award
for People In Preservation, 2009
Robert Miles Parker 1939-2012
Save Our Heritage Organisation is sad to report the passing of our founder Robert Miles Parker. Miles died last night between midnight and 9am this morning, his longtime partner David Vanleer reported to SOHO. Miles spoke about his founding of SOHO with great pride: "I don't think about pride much. I don't think about that stuff...but I am prouder than I know how to define the word. It is pretty amazing to look at what SOHO is doing still."
Miles was a colorful, charismatic, and outspoken man. A renowned artist, his drawings have been published in magazines and newspapers such as San Diego Magazine, Sacramento Magazine and the New York Times, and collected in the books Images of American Architecture (1982), L.A. (1984), and Upper West Side: New York (1988). His work garnered him national attention, including two appearances on the Today Show with Barbara Walters. Additionally, he taught art at both Adult Night School and at College level.
Miles began SOHO with a sign on a plain board that he put up at the Sherman-Gilbert House reading "Save This House" along with his phone number. "A billion people called," he remembered. "I had no plans for that...evidently a whole lot of people felt the way I did."
He saved all the money he earned teaching for travel. "My plan was to always travel," he said. "I could never get a normal job; I just couldn't be structured." Miles had just returned from hitchhiking around Europe for a year when he heard about plans to tear down the Sherman-Gilbert House and replace it with a "two-story cement beast."
Miles recalled the very first SOHO meeting: "I'd like to think it was about 50 people showing up at my house on a rainy dreary early January Sunday afternoon in 1969." He told the gathering, "I don't know what to do. I don't know what WE'RE going to do. It was Carol Lindemulder who kicked me and said, 'Well, you're going to start an organization, and your life will forever be different.' She was right, it was forever different, certainly in a better way."
Robert Miles Parker credited his caring for his neighborhood and city to his Southern upbringing. "I was born in the South, of a billion generations of Southerners." He spoke about being taught to respect country, society, and community, but to do things for the community. "I grew up believing, still, that we have an obligation to take care of our place. We have to make it better. We have to do that...I just think it is my duty to do my job. And SOHO was my job!"
He spoke about his love for the city, and it was his interpretation of San Diego history that shaped his views as a historic preservationist. "San Diego, I think, is a holy place. Madame Blavatsky (through the mission of Madame Tingley's Theosophical Society in Point Loma) was here. The Rosicrucians were here. The Indians considered this holy land. The first settlers, I think appreciated that. I think the monied families, like the Klaubers, appreciated that, and built wonderful things. Jessop comes to mind. Walker Scott comes to mind. But then the next generation didn't care and began to tear them down. And I don't think anyone has cared since."
"In the old days it was the 'geranium growers' vs. the developers. I came here in the 1940's as a little boy. It was the 'geranium growers who were in power, and it was such a neat place. It was just so comfy. I think it is interesting the city went from being a holy place to a place of destruction. So it is our battle to pull it back."
Miles spoke about his role as SOHO founder. "I delegated like mad. There were Carol Lindemulder and Nick Fintzelberg who understood money and land, all the things that never interested me. All I had to do was to be outrageous, which is my nature, so I didn't have to do anything! Except of course I really believed in what was happening. It became more than saving the Sherman-Gilbert House, it became about saving the city."
"I discovered when I traveled around if there weren't a little Miles Parker there, then the city was doomed. But there were Miles Parkers. I met one in St. Louis who saved his neighborhood. I met one in Washington. I met one in Northern California. But it didn't happen if there wasn't a rebel rouser. Most places didn't have it, and most places are horrible looking. We were lucky. San Diego was lucky. We were all lucky."
Miles eventually left San Diego to live in New York City. "I had super adventures as a San Diegan. But I spent all my years in San Diego battling, I think."
Rest in peace, Miles. We're proud to carry on the battle for you, the battle you so passionately fought. You inspired us all.
The above quotes are from an interview by Ann Jarmusch and Dan Soderberg on May 30, 2009 at the SOHO offices in the Derby-Pendleton House in Old Town San Diego.
New York Times
San Diego Gay & Lesbian Times