Preserving American Cultural Resources with Senior Architectural Historian, Victoria "Tori" Raines
Every day, architectural historians are preserving cultural resources across America. Victoria “Tori” Raines is CP&Y’s Head of Cultural Resources and a Senior Architectural Historian working with our Environmental Permitting and Planning (EPP) Practice Group to save American history.
First, Some Guidelines
Generally speaking, cultural historians like Tori are guided by two main pieces of legislation: the National Preservation Act of 1966 (sometimes referred to colloquially as “Section 106”) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Act of the same year (also often simply referred to as “Section 4(f)”).
These two Acts along with many other governing laws and agencies set procedures for how to most effectively and ethically preserve American history and culture while continuing to implement necessary infrastructure projects to improve communities.
“Preserving historic resources isn’t just my own personal opinion or a hobby for me (though it is),” explained Tori. “It’s generally FEDERAL LAW that has to be considered.” Plus, Tori continues, “a little bit of (seemingly extra) work at the front end is far favorable to a lot of it later on.”
Architectural historians like Tori are always striving to preserve the past with the future in mind.
Identifying & Registering a Significant Cultural Resource
Architectural historians start the preservation process by identifying current or potential significant cultural resources that are affected by a project. Although there are a variety of definitions, cultural resources are broadly defined as something created by people and ascribed historic significance. Generally, these sites are more than 50 years old.
For example, your grandmother’s Victorian era house might be a cultural resource. A weird roadside attraction along Route 66 could be a cultural resource. That old factory building you pass every day on your way to work – a cultural resource!
“My absolute favorite thing is ‘discovering’ a significant historic building or area,” explained Tori. “That is, a building that’s been just sitting there, ignored, but then it has this amazing story if you dig a little.”
“It’s a wonderful feeling to find out those stories and to share them with folks.”
Once a property is identified as a potential cultural resource, Tori then presents an argument to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) explaining why it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), a database run by the National Park Service (NSP).
If a property is determined as eligible for the NRHP, Tori works to appropriately preserve the cultural resource according to the SHPO’s recommendations. Preserving a historically significant property may involve more nuance than simply canceling a project and putting up a plaque. There are a variety of paths for preservation, not all of which bring projects to a halt.
When full historic preservation is not possible, the SHPO will sometimes recommend mitigation strategies for necessary or unavoidable projects that involve significant cultural resources (i.e., those that have been determined eligible for the NRHP). These mitigation strategies are intended to allow the project to proceed with as little impact to the historically significant site as possible; or if they must be destroyed through the project activities, these strategies help to preserve history in another way.
“But on those occasions,” said Tori, “the resources that are taken get preserved in a different way, be it through thorough documentation of the resource or through education of the community about what is being lost, or both.”
Tori works closely with CP&Y’s environmental specialists and our clients, as well as Departments of Transportation, the NPS, and state SHPOs to implement strategies that minimize the negative historic preservation impacts of projects.
As an example of an alternative to full preservation, let’s look at the State Highway 33 Historic Guthrie Bridge in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
This CP&Y project was located within the Guthrie Historic District, which is listed in the NRHP. This Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) project also included the only remaining double-decker bridge in Oklahoma and was determined eligible for the NRHP on its own. The original bridge allowed vehicle traffic to pass on the upper level while pedestrian traffic crossed below.
Unfortunately, due to unsafe structural condition and periodic flood events that prevented emergency vehicles from crossing, ODOT determined it would be necessary to demolish the historic structure and replace it with a new, safer structure. It was impossible to repair the bridge since eroding concrete cannot be re-poured and moving the bridge (i.e., an alternate route) to avoid flooding would have impacted the travel time for residents and emergency services.
Knowing that the bridge could not be preserved in its entirety as it existed, CP&Y assisted ODOT with preserving the history of this unique bridge as much as possible while continuing with the bridge replacement project.
“This can feel as rewarding as preserving the actual resource,” explained Tori, “because we get to share it widely with folks now and in the future for years to come. Some of our historical documents end up in the Library of Congress, and that stuff isn’t going ANYWHERE.”
Work completed by CP&Y included preparation of an interactive GIS layer indicating the presence and absence of buildings within the Guthrie Historic District and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation of the historic bridge, which was submitted to the Library of Congress.
This documentation also included a transcribed interview with a man whose father worked on the construction of the bridge. Lastly, CP&Y created a custom-designed commemorative kiosk sign documenting the history of the bridge for educational purposes.
Tori "The Resource” Raines
When an architectural historian is called upon to provide mitigation strategies, some design teams and clients may feel that a project is being delayed or altered unnecessarily in order to save cultural resources; however, Tori and other architectural historians should not be seen as anything other than a resource themselves.
“I’m not just a hippy dippy building/bridge hugger who hates anything new or hates progress!” Tori clarified. “My main goal is to help us move a project forward while following the appropriate (and required) Federal guidelines.”
Tori wants to be your project’s best resource for architectural historic preservation.
“Call me! I love to explain the process to anyone who’s unclear or unsure if I can even help.”