By David Marshall
A lot of people just can't wrap their minds around the fact that a building doesn't have to be 100 years old to be considered historic. This mental block is especially apparent when it comes to architecture designed and constructed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The uninitiated must think, "How can it be historic if I have socks that old?" No matter how hard you try to reason with them, they still can't understand how a modern building could be worthy of preservation.
Recently, a 1951 Point Loma house was designated historic by the San Diego Historical Resources Board. The house was deemed important primarily due to the fact that it was designed by a renowned architect and was once published in a national magazine. The lawyers who fought against designation had this to say about the merits of the house: "While theoretically possible, designation of such a young structure has to be extraordinarily unusual for the Board and diminishes the significance of the word historic.
Diminishes the word historic? Let's look at what historic truly means. According to the dictionary: "Historic refers to what is important in history: It is also used for what is famous or interesting because of its association with persons or events in history." The word history is defined as "something that belongs to the past" or "the aggregate of past events."
History has no minimum time limit. History, as defined, is simply something that already happened. What you had for breakfast is technically history. Is your breakfast historically valuable? Not likely.
For whatever reason, automobiles are considered classic or antique at a much younger age than buildings. Few people would dispute that a 1965 Ford Thunderbird is a classic car. This is true even though cars are mass-produced and buildings are handmade and usually one of a kind. This inconsistency has always been perplexing to me.
More and more people now recognize the historic importance of buildings constructed since 1950. There's a growing international movement to preserve buildings from this period, and SOHO's successful Modernism Weekend showed that many San Diegans are ready to embrace their recent past.
It's not the age of the building that makes it valuable. Historic significance is based upon quality of design and craftsmanship, associations with famous people or events, and integrity.
I have a suggestion. Instead of calling historically worthy buildings historic, let's simply call them what they are: "Important." After all, the qualities that make a building historic also make it important to preserve. Many developers wouldn't give a second thought to demolishing a "Historic Building" but let's see how eager they are to bulldoze an "Important Building".
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SOHO Becomes a Partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
A Partnership to Preserve America
Preservation Action Update
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Port Votes to Demolish 40% of the OPHQ
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From Lemons to Locomotives & Beyond
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A Memorial to a Friend in Preservation
A Formal Groundbreaking
1950s Wrestling & Roller Rink Building to be Razed
SOHO Forms Modernism Committee
Herbert Kunzel Residence Receives Historic Designation
Identification & Evaluation of Mid-20th-Century Buildings
Events & Education Update
Letters to the Editor
2004 Craftsman-Spanish Revival Weekend
People In Preservation
Strength in Numbers
Lost San Diego
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