Historic Preservation and Fun Home Part One

Alison Bechdel’s father, Bruce, is characterized in Fun Home by his passion for historic preservation and obsessive desire to restore their historic home to its original glory. As a historic preservation major, I thought it might be nice to provide some basic background information about the subject.

Standards for historic preservation are set by the Secretary of the Interior. The National Park Service was integral in the development of historic preservation. In historic preservation, there are four kinds of ways to treat historic properties: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction.

3 logos for the National Historic Preservation Act's 50th anniversary: lighthouse, pueblo, downtown

Preservation means maintaining and repairing the historic integrity of the structure or site. Rehabilitation can also be referred to as adaptive reuse. An excellent example of rehabilitation is the Workhouse in Lorton, which was formerly a prison and has now been converted into art galleries and studio space for local artists. Restoration entails restoring a structure to how it was during the period of time in which it was significant, while removing things that do not date to the period of significance. Determining the significance of a structure or site has its own set of four criteria which I will address shortly. Reconstruction can be controversial—it means reconstructing a structure based on historical records. It is expensive and in some cases may not be entirely accurate as historical records can be incomplete and lack important information. However, reconstructions can be excellent educational resources.

Determining the significance of a structure/site is based on four things: association with important historical events, association with important historical figures, architectural significance, and importance or potential importance as an archaeological site. Significance is vital when making the case that the historic value of structure/site should be officially recognized in some way, be it at the local, state, or national level. The National Register of Historic Places requires a strong case supported by one or more of these criteria in order to be placed on the list.

If you’re interested in learning more about historic preservation, the National Park Service is a great resource.

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