Preservation Builds Community

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation to board members of the Greater Litchfield Opera House Association. GLOHA, as the group is affectionately known, has done great things in Litchfield, first by challenging the city’s proposed demolition of the landmark 1900 opera house, then by leading a volunteer effort to restore the building, and ultimately by helping to build a preservation ethic in the city of Litchfield.

I made an observation to this group that resonated with me and, I think, with them. I was listing reasons why we at PAM think historic preservation is worthwhile—job creation, sense of place, economic and cultural vitality—and concluded with this statement: “Preservation builds community.” In addition to all of preservation’s other great benefits, the fact is that we’re all human, first and foremost—social creatures prone to living in groups. We need to work together to achieve our goals, whether it is raising and educating children, caring for people who are sick, injured, or elderly, constructing places to live and work, growing, gathering, and sharing food and drink, or funding the economic engine that powers our modern society.

In the case of the Litchfield Opera House, I observed that many of the people assembled for that meeting would not have had reason to be in the same room together—much less work together for a common cause—if not for the preservation of the opera house. This project has brought together retired carpenters, teenagers, middle-aged moms, bankers, shoe salespeople, politicians, and performers. Through preservation, these folks have had a chance to get to know each other in a way that they otherwise might not have, even in a relatively small town of 6,500 people. In the process, they’ve created—or recreated, rather—a community gathering place for celebrations, performances, civic events, and many other activities that people engage in as a group. Through restoration, they’ve secured the future of the Opera House for many generations to come.

As we embark on another round of our annual 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program, we are continuing this focus on building community—bringing people together to share their ideas, resources, and labor for the benefit of the historic places that are the fabric of their communities. At our second-annual (Anti)Wrecking Ball on May 12, we plan to share with them critical information for making the case for preservation, to celebrate their willingness to engage firsthand, and to encourage them in their efforts. We hope you’ll join us.

Erin Hanafin Berg, Field Representative

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