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Saving America's National Treasures

October 13, 2014

President John F. Kennedy, in remarks made to honor the poet Robert Frost at Amherst College in 1963, spoke of the importance of the arts and humanities to America, and said that he looked forward "to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future."

President Kennedy's challenge to America resulted in the passage of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act in 1965, which created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which was created by Congressional charter to support the preservation of America's diverse historic buildings, neighborhoods, and heritage, predated the creation of the federal endowments in 1949.

Today, the National Trust works to preserve and protect landscapes, buildings and neighborhoods that have played a meaningful role in our past. It wants future generations to be able to experience and discover their connections to these places as well.

American Express has supported historic preservation since 1974 when we contributed $50,000 toward a feasibility study for restoring the Statue of Liberty. In the past eight years, we have contributed over $15 million to the National Trust for Historic Preservation toward the preservation of over 200 historic sites around the country through the Partners in Preservation program (2006-2013) and recently through the National Treasures Program.

National Treasures is an innovative campaign to save irreplaceable historic sites that are facing imminent danger or a significant threat. With the support of thousands of local preservationists and preservation professionals from coast to coast, the National Trust is identifying National Treasures and taking action to save them.

As the national sponsor, American Express is assisting the National Trust in mounting campaigns to save these sites from destruction, and we are making grants to support a limited number of these sites with their preservation and restoration projects.

Last year, we assisted the Miami Marine Stadium in Miami, Florida and Union Station in Washington, DC (see my blog post of November 4, 2013). This fall, we are announcing major support of the Haas Lilienthal House in San Francisco and the Nantucket Lightship in Boston.

How can you help? The National Trust reminds us that historic preservation is all about getting involved in saving these sites, but that our involvement doesn't have to be complicated. For example, have you...

  • Taken a house museum tour?
  • Shopped in a local store on a Main Street?
  • Volunteered at a historic site or community event?
  • Stopped to appreciate great architecture?
  • Detoured from the highway to follow the historic site markers?

If you have, then congratulations, you're a preservationist!

If you have a comment or question, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and let's start a conversation there.

Next week: Saving World Monuments and Heritage Sites


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