weather icon Clear

Preservation requires proper planning, prioritizing

Preserving the past. It’s vital in a city like ours. After all, we’re the town that built Hoover Dam. But over a lifetime, I’ve learned some important lessons about historic preservation (both do’s and don’ts) that I think are worth sharing.

First the do’s, or what I refer to as the five p’s of preservation.

Priorities. Lesson No. 1 is that you can’t save everything. If you try, you’ll fail. There’s not enough money or space in the world, let alone enough time and energy, to salvage every building and artifact that’s old. Nor is everything worth saving simply because it’s historic. In fact, one of the things that makes a treasure a treasure is that it’s unique or at least rare. But if you saved everything, then very little would be unique or rare, meaning that we would no longer have any real treasures.

So the most important step in any successful historic preservation effort is to prioritize — in other words, to identify the top treasures that are truly worth focusing on. There’s no magic number, but in a city the size of ours, I’d wager that at any given time you can probably count the treasures worth saving on your fingers (with perhaps a few toes thrown in to help).

Next, procedures. You can’t prioritize without standard procedures in place to assist in deciding what’s a treasure and what’s not. Again, there’s no magic formula. But there at least needs to be some guidelines so that decision-makers know how to pick and choose from among the many possibilities. For instance, if there were, say, 4,500 homes in Boulder City and another 250 nonresidential structures but only 15 could feasibly be saved in any given generation, then what factors should decision-makers consider, and how much weight should be given to each?

If you and I were asked to decide, we might disagree about the relative importance of aesthetics, architecture, age, salvageability, acquisition and rehabilitation costs, historical significance, deviations from the original, sentimental value, public accessibility and other such tangible and intangible factors. So procedures are important to ensure that there’s at least a measure of uniformity in the decision-making process, regardless of who’s making the decisions or when.

Third, plans. Once priorities are identified using standard procedures, plans become essential to preserve these assets into the foreseeable future.

And because every asset will have its own unique set of characteristics and circumstances, each one will need its own tailor-made plan, including, of course, how to fund it, whether incentives (carrots) or restrictions (sticks) will be the prime motivators and so forth.

Incidentally, it probably won’t surprise you that successful preservation plans for privately owned buildings and heirlooms are almost always very different than those that work best for publicly owned structures and artifacts.

Purpose is also critical. Without a sustainable reason for being, no treasure will long survive. If it’s a home, will someone continue to live in it at a reasonable price? If it’s a boarded-up business, can it be revitalized into a venue that people will want to patronize, or does it instead need to be repurposed into something more attractive?

Regardless, every preservation project’s purpose needs to be well-publicized and readily perceptible with significant buy-in from the public. Its purpose also needs to be legitimate and sustainable (including monetarily), rather than strained or fabricated (such as subsidized ventures).

And that leads to the final p: the public vs. private dichotomy.

Although preservationists often look to the government to fund their efforts, I’ve observed that, almost without exception, private individuals, ventures, businesses and nonprofits are much better equipped to preserve history than their public counterparts. Governments can assist and often do, especially with priorities, procedures and plans, but the private sector working in a market economy is far and away the best-suited to create sustainable purposes for our treasures and to provide the funding to get it done.

Our city’s most prominent example of that is the Boulder Dam Hotel, a treasured community icon saved primarily with lots of volunteer sweat equity and lots of private dollars, together with a little public assistance for the Boulder City-Hoover Dam Museum, its historic preservation sister.

Speaking of p’s, that’s a pretty perfect public-private partnership that we can all learn valuable lessons from.

Well, I’ve run out of space for all the historic preservation don’ts, but those would include trying to force private property owners into a box by dictating to them what they can and can’t do with their own property; taking reactionary, knee-jerk and very fleeting stabs at historic preservation in highly energized spurts just once in a blue moon when somebody decides to demolish or discard a perceived treasure (as opposed to steady and sustained efforts over time); and baiting private owners into protracted and very expensive lawsuits with inflammatory political rhetoric and ill-advised preservation policies.

In the long run, employing methods such as these will only make historic preservation less likely, not more. Let’s hope that 20 years from now, history will look back on us and note with approbation that we all learned our historic preservation lessons well.

Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing share

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Give thanks for holidays

Happy Thanksgiving.

Fight to protect freedoms

I appreciated the recent commentary by Daniel Benyshek regarding vaccine and mask mandates. He points out the “dutiful responsibility” that freedom-loving Americans should embrace, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Annexation is not development

I wanted to take this opportunity to share more information with our Boulder City neighbors about the city of Henderson’s proposed annexation of portions of Eldorado Valley, located along the southeast boundary of Henderson and south of Railroad Pass.

Life is like box of chocolates

In the movie “Forrest Gump,” the titular character says, “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

We must balance freedom, civic responsibility

Despite the overwhelming consensus of the American professional medical community (including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health) that advocate for COVID-19 vaccination and basic disease prevention behaviors such as mask wearing in public in order to lessen the savage toll of the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans remain skeptical of the necessity, safety and efficacy of these public health measures. Indeed, it is likely that no amount of expert medical advice or corroborative scientific data will convince these skeptics and conspiracy theorists otherwise.

Let’s get educated

Following events in Boulder City can sometimes feel like riding the wave machine at a water park. Lots of highs and lows. Some of us are just along for the ride. Some are determined to get to the front, pushing and shoving as we go. Then, some of us like standing on the edge and blowing a whistle.

It’s an honor to serve

Today is Veterans Day. It’s a day we set aside to recognize and thank those who served our country in any branch of the military.

Action needed to halt Henderson’s sprawl

Mayor (Kiernan) McManus’ Sept. 1 column touted his future plans to conserve wastewater. At the tail end, he offhandedly mentioned Henderson’s intent to annex county land below Railroad Pass to promote its own expansive growth plans. You and I might have missed those three sentences if we weren’t paying close attention. But somehow Henderson’s mayor, Debra March, was well aware.

You have to know how to say no

It’s just two letters. One syllable. But “no” is one of the hardest words in the English language to say.

Plans for city reflect residents’ desires

We all make plans. Some are good and make life better for us. Some plans just don’t pan out. Other plans are bad plans but we don’t always know that until some time passes. And then there are plans presented that were never intended to be a plan because there was another plan being put in place that would never have (been) accepted if it had been presented honestly and openly.