Valuing our History, Valuing our Future

On July 17, 2014, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and National Park Foundation (NPF) President Neil Mulholland joined businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein at the Arlington National Cemetery to announce Rubenstein’s $12.35 million donation.  The gift, which is the leading contribution in the NPF’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks, will support restoration and accessibility improvements at Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.

This isn’t the first time that David Rubenstein and the National Park Service have shared a news headline. Rubenstein, who is co-chief executive of the Carlyle Group, recently funded half the repair cost for the earthquake damages to the Washington Monument.   

In Neil Mulholland’s words:

“Mr. Rubenstein’s transformative philanthropic support will not only restore and rejuvenate Arlington House, enlivening it for new audiences, but it also provides an inspiring example of how public-private partnership is vital to ensure these special places thrive. America’s national parks belong to each and every one of us, and, as such, we share the responsibility to protect and preserve them now and for the next generation.”

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House is located in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia. During last week’s ceremony, Director Jarvis said, “Arlington House, originally built to memorialize George Washington, tells America’s story from its founding to the shame of slavery and a nation divided, to a nation again made whole. …We are eager to start the transformation that his ‘patriotic philanthropy’ will make possible.”

The restorations will allow visitors to experience Arlington House at is would have appeared 1860. One important aspect of the project is restoring the slave quarters to better represent and tell the stories of the enslaved. New mobile and web assets will be created to guide visitors, in addition to audio tours, changing exhibits, and rangers and volunteers. Accessible pathways and expanded virtual tours will provide greater access to the Arlington House. 

These improvements will better serve visitors to the site, as well as those who can’t visit in person.

The significance of Arlington House connects many important figures, issues, and events in American history.  Built by George Washington Parke Custis and his slaves between 1802 and 1818, the home was the residence of Robert E. Lee and his family before the Civil War. The house and grounds have served many purposes over the last 200 years. It functioned as a family home for the Lees and Custises, a plantation estate and home to 63 slaves, a monument honoring George Washington, a military headquarters for Union troops, a community for emancipated slaves, and a national cemetery. With 650,000 visitors per year, Arlington House is the most visited historic house museum in the national park system. 

Philanthropy and the National Park Service: A legacy of public-private stewardship

National parks help preserve many aspects of our history. This includes the role that philanthropy itself has played in park development.

Even before Congress created the National Park Service on August 25, 1916, the park system benefited from private donations. For 100 years, generous philanthropists and advocates for preserving heritage have stepped forward to keep our parks beautiful and accessible.  Private donations have been responsible for substantial additions and enhancements to the park system, supporting planning, development, management, and interpretation.  

The role of philanthropy extends beyond providing a source of land and money for parks.  It is one of the actions that builds and strengthens ties between parks and their advocates.  With his generous gesture, Mr. Rubenstein sets the tone for the next era of investment in America’s national parks. 


Imagine your favorite park.  How much is it worth to you?  How much is it worth knowing it will still be around for the next generation to discover?

Thank you to all of those who support parks – from the few like Rockefellers and David Rubenstein, to the many who have shared a few dollars or a few hours of time during a visit.  

For More:

"What if the period of significance is now?"

Don’t miss the second in a three-part series from the National Trust for Historic Preservation blog, on the topic of Preservation in the 21st Century.  In this edition, Chief Preservation Officer David Brown considers the human element of preservation. 

Poet Peter Streckfus said, “I’m not sure old places matter. People matter. The question is how to we honor ourselves when we honor old places?”

Read the blog post here: Preservation in the 21st Century: Preservation is About People.

Shifting attention from the buildings to the people demands new ways of thinking about preservation. Decisions would be based on how people in the community might be impacted. More people would be invited to use the historic site, and its potential value as a resource could multiply.

Measuring relevancy in terms of people would mean being serious about saving the places people value. This is not only limited to architectural monuments.  Preserving shared meanings first requires identifying complete cultural landscapes as an important part of America’s layered history.

As Mr. Brown challenges those in the preservation field to bring new focus to people, he is quick to remind us that this means all people. In this way, a cultural landscape or historic building continues to hold the full weight of its significance.

Its relevancy is determined by both historic identity and the people who will carry that history forward.

Traces in the Desert- An Interview with artist Anna-Marie Veloz

Once an important stop on the steep and dry Union Pacific Railroad line between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the Kelso Depot in Mojave National Preserve stands today as a relic of another era. The prominent uses of the mid 1920s Mission Revival style railroad depot have long since ceased, and in the years between its heyday and its current stewardship by the NPS, the former oasis-like grounds were left to dry up leaving only four original Canary Island date palms. Today, however, the depot is taking on new meaning as a cultural resource and as the primary visitor’s center for the Mojave National Preserve. The landscape has recently been rehabilitated to reflect its historical significance, and to accommodate contemporary uses. 

The Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center is currently exhibiting the work of an artist who understands the importance of cultural landscapes well. We recently spoke with Anna-Marie Veloz about her show, Inhabitance, in the Desert Light Gallery through September 20.

CLP: Did you grow up near the desert? How have you been inspired by this landscape and its ruins?

AMV: Yes, I was raised in the high desert, Hesperia, CA. Growing up, there was not much to do as a young person, so my friends and I always wanted to get out of the desert. We thought it was too brown and rural. It was not until I moved away to college that my love for the desert was revealed. I found out many of my college peers did not know where Hesperia, or the High Desert was located, which became very interesting to me. I had an old Hesperia t-shirt and began wearing it around the college campus. I was very proud to represent a place that few were from or knew of. I also started to notice the beauty of the desert— color, landscape, clear skies, awesome weather, and vast empty landscapes, with occasional abandoned structures off the sides of the roads. My eyes were open, especially to the dilapidated buildings; I found such strength and beauty in these places where many see an eyesore.

As for the history, there is more than meets the eye. I am fascinated by what came before me, and the evidence left to tell pieces of the story. It makes history come alive, because I am experiencing something that existed decades ago and it is still here for me to see it now. 

CLP: How did you come across these abandoned buildings and sites?

AMV: Some were found by accident, and some by asking locals. Also, my father works in a military base out in the Mojave Desert so he is very familiar with the environment. They are mostly found through paved roads, some easily off the highway, others on dirt roads.

CLP: What was your process in creating this series of images and miniatures, from the discovery of the subject to the making of the objects?

AMV: My process is really about the entire physical experience—what I mean is engaging all my senses in the site. I am influenced by sight, touch, smell, sound, and the feeling, they all form a memory of the experience and it helps me to use this in the studio, so I am not just looking at reference photos, but also allowing that photo to act as a vehicle for that experience. To help with documenting my influences, I will sometimes, record sound, sketch at the site, journal, research and document natural objects. I may even just sit there in silence, allowing the moment to take over and listen. 

CLP: These beautifully detailed and constructed sculptures remind me of architects’ models, except that they depict structures which are headed toward decay rather than construction. What made you decide to make miniatures for this project? Is it a way to preserve these buildings as they are? Or a way to understand them in differently?

AMV: The interest in the miniature goes back to my childhood. During the summer months I would make miniature theme parks, complete with log rides, park maps and little gift shops. These parks acted as a vehicle for the memories I had with my family going to parks and how they were so transformative, making me feel I was in this other world.

This series of miniature abandoned structures is meant to bring the experience to the viewer how I remembered it. There are no exact replicas as I would feel too contrived as an artist, to measure dimension by dimension and recreate a blueprint. As funny as it sounds, I used a miniature doll to act as the scale. In order to create structures that acted as an invitation for the experience, I focused on the memory of the space. 

CLP: How would you explain the term cultural landscape? Is this something that inspires you?

AMV: Cultural landscape means to me how humanity (society) has influenced the landscape, bringing a sense of place and identity and showing a tracing of our lives overtime. Yes, I absolutely think my work connects to that.

CLP: How did you decide to have this show in the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center?

AMV: Kelso Depot represents a passion for preservation, awareness, and history and that fit my body of work, Inhabitance. 

CLP: As someone who has spent time working with and contemplating these places, what do you think we can learn from them?

AMV: We can learn to appreciate what we have and where we came from. It is so fascinating to see how others lived just 50 years ago; the décor, style, and most of all why they came.

These places that once held an importance within our society, whether it was railroad, mining, agriculture, recreation or estate development, all reflected western exploration and settlement. People came to the desert with a purpose. Although many of these specific purposes no longer function as a way of life today, we still see remnants of the past. I traveled through the Mojave Desert in search of remote places that have been left empty by the progression of society. The American Utopian Dream is ever present and it is important to know where we came from and the rich history cultivated within the desert.

To plan your trip to the Kelso Depot Visitor’s Center:

To find out more about the history of the Kelso Depot cultural landscape:

To see more work by Anna-Marie Veloz:

How are you feeling today?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the condition of health is more than the absence of disease.  It is defined as a state of complete physical, social, and mental well-being.

So, what does this have to do with parks and cultural landscapes?

Part of the tremendous value of the parks system – from small urban enclaves to great heaps of mountains – is the range of values perceived by each individual visitor. Some come in search of quiet solitude, some come to connect with friends. Some stand back and imagine the historical influences that have altered the landscape, others dig in and plant trees that will shape the future horizon.  Some are inspired to practice painting or photography in a park.  Others practice story-telling by sharing their visit with their family and neighbors, the details providing evidence of why place continues to matter.


Nurturing that sense of complete well-being is associated with how we connect to our environment, our neighbors, and ourselves.  Park cultural landscapes, as spaces and as values, provide a way to personally and collectively explore these connections.  

This week, a story on NPR’s Your Health introduced us to Dr. Robert Zarr in Washington, D.C. He routinely prescribes park visits to young patients as a strategy to treat obesity. With the help of the National Park Service and other partners, his efforts led to the creation of a database of D.C. area park information.

Of course, getting healthy is not always just a walk in the park.  Improving health and modifying habits requires a patient’s willingness and involvement.  Dr. Zarr says a challenge in getting people to go outside and into parks is making it feel comfortable and familiar, especially for those in urban environments who might not have grown up with such activities.  Zarr suggests his program helps families to think, “Hey, I belong here too.”

One goal of the National Park Service (NPS) is to connect people to parks. The Healthy Parks Healthy People US program was established in 2011 as a way to frame the roles that parks play in Americans’ lifestyle choices and health. This NPS program works closely with national, state, and local parks, as well as businesses, healthcare leaders, scientists, and advocacy organizations, to expand the role of parks in the health of our society.


Cultural landscapes in parks provide a unique way to enter and connect to our surrounding environments. This applies if you visit a park to be active and stretch your legs. It also applies if you are seeking a moment of stillness and a place to stretch your mind, observing the traces of action that have shaped the landscape and our place in it.

Tell us: has a park visit or cultural landscape ever made you feel more complete or connected?

What does well-being feel like to you?

Making the Move to Preserve: Vol. I

Here at the Pacific Northwest Regional Office we are assisting efforts to inventory and manage a new addition to the Fort Vancouver Historic Site. Across the Columbia and down the Willamette River in Oregon City, Oregon, McLoughlin Park is being recognized as a cultural resource- not only because it contains the preserved home of John McLoughlin, the “Father of Oregon”- but because of the landscape itself and its connection to the urbanization and preservation movements in the region.

Dr. John McLoughlin served as the Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Vancouver from 1825 to 1846 and was a distinguished, influential, and humanitarian leader in the settlement of the Oregon Territory. In 1844, he established Oregon City and he and his family moved there in 1846. McLoughlin Park was established by the city in 1851, making it one of the oldest public parks in the Pacific Northwest.

Sixty five years after Oregon’s founding, the McLoughlin House had become dilapidated, and was threatened by expanding industry at the river’s edge. In response, the McLoughlin Memorial Association formed to protect this piece of history by moving it to this park whose existence McLoughlin had ensured. 

The significance of this relocation was not lost upon Rev. Thomas Sherman, son of General William T. Sherman of Civil War fame, who spoke at the dedication ceremony in 1909. He said that,

The Catholic church, before departed members can be canonized and enrolled as saints, requires that they must have a miracle performed by the agency of their relics or remains. A miracle is something beyond the power of man, and the fact that Dr. McLoughlin’s old home traveled from its old site in a dingy part of the city, soaring upward, overcoming all obstacles placed in its path of travel by ignorance, prejudice and bigotry, reaching its goal high up on the bluff where it now sits, a queen upon a throne, overlooking and smiling upon the ancient city below, is a miracle, and the good old doctor must be a saint. (From The Oregon City Courier on Friday, September 10, 1909)

With ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry, Sherman was referring to a series of injunctions made by certain Oregon City residents to prevent the moving of the house. These were overturned in court and the relocation was finally undertaken successfully.

 After the move, the McLoughlin House was restored, and has been open to the public as a museum ever since. The landscape, which until then had not been developed, underwent a number of improvements, including the addition of garden paths, a fountain, and abundant plantings in the Victorian style in the 1920s and 1930s. More recently, a cannon found in the Willamette River was placed on location. In addition, there is a Civilian Conservation Corps stairway that leads from the western corner of the park down the bluff into town.  

McLoughlin Park is also home to another moved building, the Barclay House. Dr. Forbes Barclay was a contemporary of McLoughlin who served as a surgeon and clerk in charge of the Indian trade at Fort Vancouver. Barlcay and his family moved to Oregon City in 1850.

To see the McLoughlin House as it stands today, shaded by venerable trees and hugged by sweet gardens and lawns, you might never guess that it had been hauled up from below by a single horse and the willpower of a group of citizens to preserve their heritage. Lucky for us, these movers and shakers have provided us with a place to learn about this chapter of history through experience, not just in the pages of a book. 


Make a move to visit this historic house and grounds:

Rocky Mountain Youth Corps HOPE Crew Revitalize Old Santa Fe Trail Building

Recently launched by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Hands-On Preservation Experience (HOPE) provides young people with the opportunity to engage in the development of hands-on preservation skills, while helping restore important historic places across the United States.

In May 2014, eight young people associated with the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps based in Taos, New Mexico engaged in preservation maintenance activities at the Old Santa Fe Trail Building (OSFTB) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. During the two-week session, craftspeople from the OSFTB and Pecos National Historical Park trained participants and engaged in various activities onsite. Results of their efforts included the repair of several stucco walls associated with bancos and the pond in the main patio area of the two-story, 24,000-square foot adobe structure. Additionally, the HOPE Crew assisted with painting the patio walls and wooden elements in preparation for the building’s 75th anniversary celebration, which was held on July 1, 2014.

The Old Santa Fe Trail Building and associated site were developed in the late 1930s during the New Deal Era. In 1987, the OSFTB was designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, the nationally-significant OSFTB historic designed landscape, which includes the main patio area, continues to convey the design efforts of the National Park Service and construction work by Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. The structural and vegetative features primarily represent the Spanish-Pueblo revival style, using revived and re-interpreted local vernacular design traditions.

Significantly, the contributions of the HOPE Crew will help ensure that the OSFTB and its associated cultural landscape will be preserved for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of future generations.

  • Read more about the Old Santa Fe Trail Building in the Cultural Landscape Inventory. (The full digital report it available for download mid-way down the page, under the “Holdings” menu.)

This is the place. Stand still, my steed.
Let me review the scene
And summon from the shadowy Past
The forms that once have been.

—From “A Gleam of Sunshine” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems (1845)

This week’s posts on the Designing the Parks 2014 blog take us to the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The contributors are participants in a summer internship program hosted by the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, introducing students to NPS design and planning professions.

During the visit, park staff introduced the interns to the Longfellow House and garden, touring the landscape’s historic associations and recent restorations.  One wonders what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow might say if he saw his garden today.  Although the formal garden has changed since the late 1900s (when it was renovated for Alice Longfellow, the poet’s daughter), these modifications help remind visitors that a garden is a place of adaptation and reflection.   

The past might be behind us, but it is not lost to us when we build upon it.

  • Follow this year’s group of interns as they document their park visits, planning projects, and landscape design experience: Designing the Parks 2014 blog