How I Met Your Mother and Historic Preservation


It all makes sense, just keep reading…

I’m a big fan of the CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother (Monday, 8 pm EST), essentially it’s a father retelling all of these crazy things he and his friends did prior to meeting their mother. Hopefully some of you have seen it, but the story as a whole is less important in this instance because it is another example of historic preservation getting portrayed in less than positive light (I’m being generous here).

Ted Mosby, the main character in the show, has realized his life long dream and been given the opportunity to design a skyscraper in New York City. The only problem, in order to do so, the “old Arcadian Hotel” must be torn down, it’s okay because it’s now inhabited by junkies and transvestites according to the show. Because the Arcadian is considered an architectural landmark, there are a number of protesters (with the bullhorns, petitions and home made signs) led by Zoey Pierson. Ted, a lover of architecture and hopeless romantic, meets Zoey and falls for her, leading him to spend all night coming up with a design that preserves the historic facade of the Arcadian, while still allowing for a new skyscraper to be built. However, when he finds out that the beautiful protester happens to be married and crazy (she attempted to bring him a dozen lab rabbits that she had decided to rescue), Ted realizes that his attempt to preserve the building was borne out of lust and not reason. So once again, we see historic preservationists treated as the “crazies” and acting without reason. The Arcadian Hotel has been a recurring theme throughout the season of the show and it’s a frustrating subplot for a show I really enjoy.

It’s portrayals like this, that in part cause people within our field to wish that they might be referred to as something other than a “historic preservationist” or “preservationist”. This is troubling, the name is pretty indicative of our goals, we want to preserve history, but the connotations that come with the terms are problematic. It’s not as easy as blaming the portrayal, but really thinking about why this imagery exists. Preservation is not a simple field, it does not easily get broken down to black/white or right/wrong. Each day, we see examples of old buildings being torn down or significantly altered, and in almost all cases, those proposing the plans have fairly well thought out reasons for doing so. All we as preservationists are looking for, is a seat at the table, to have a discussion, to bring out all the possible options and hopefully to achieve, through a well reasoned argument and partnership, that there are better preservation outcomes for a building. History is not a cross to bear, but an advantage, sometimes it only takes the opportunity to show off the ways in which it is advantageous.

I would love it if every historic building could be preserved (using the widest definition of historic possible) for exactly the same purpose it was originally built for, without altering a thing, but that’s not really practical. Put in another way, not everything can be counted as a 10, when it comes to preservation of a building, sometimes we have to look for the best outcome that we can achieve. It might only be a 7, but it can still allow for the history and the character of the place to be maintained, while ensuring the future and continued reuse of the building. We are a small field in numbers, yet strong because of the dedication and commitment of many individuals that want to protect our history for future generations. If the individuals and organizations who act in the interest of preservation can work together, we can continue to grow in both size and results.

Will O’Keefe

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