Let’s talk about cultural resources and historic preservation. Would you put your initiatives in the area of historic preservation in the broader context of the historic preservation movement at that time, and maybe talk a little bit about the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and what that meant for the Park Service?
Well, I looked on the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 as being the mechanism for the Park Service to extend its influence [in historic preservation], which began with the Antiquities Act of 1906 and increased with the 1935 Historic Sites Act. The 1935 legislation was the first time that the Congress assigned the Park Service responsibility for the preservation of our national history. Prior to that, the president was authorized to establish national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The president established national monuments by presidential proclamation. But in 1935 this young bunch of creative people came in the government as a result of the federal [New Deal] programs to put people back to work. I forget all their names, but it started with Ronnie Lee and Herb Kahler.
The 1935 act was the one that authorized Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to recognize historic sites. That was the basis for St. Louis JNEM [Jefferson National Expansion Memorial]. JNEM was the first area established under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. The legislation gave us a broad charter, but it didn’t provide any money. By the time the 1960s came around, there were a lot of areas and program activities and other departments that were eroding the responsibilities in the areas of the National Park System (both the natural areas and especially our historic and cultural areas) [like] tearing down historic buildings, putting roads through the center city, knocking down historic districts.
Yes. The whole works.
Could you tell me a little more about your role in securing passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966?
In 1964, Rep. Albert M. Rains, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Housing, indicated to Laurance G. Henderson that he would be interested in pursuing a project of public interest after retirement. Henderson and Carl Feiss, a trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, decided that the former congressman should lead a special committee that would examine preservation activities in Europe and prepare a report detailing the need for preservation in the United States.
[There was] a young man, Larry Henderson, who was an assistant to Senator [John J.] Sparkman of Alabama, and Casey Ireland, assistant to Bill [William B.] Widnall. Bill Widnall was a Republican congressman from New Jersey on the House Subcommittee on Housing. Larry and Casey persuaded these legislators of the need to have a look at what was happening. They persuaded them to look at historic preservation in America using the insights that could be garnered from the restoration of the face of Europe after World War II. They went to the Ford Foundation and got financing for a grant from the Ford people to do this.
Gordon Gray, former secretary of the army in the Truman administration and former president of the University of North Carolina, was then the chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which was an organization [that had grown] out of the 1935 Historic Sites Act. The Trust was established in 1949. The Park Service had played a key role in that with Ronnie Lee and Herb Kahler and others. I was an ex officio member of the board of directors of the National Trust. But the moving force in it was Gordon Gray. They [the board of directors] had enticed Gordon Gray to take over the leadership of that organization. Gordon Gray gave political muscle and enlarged the perspective of the Trust.
Henderson, Feiss, and Rains recruited members for the special committee. They invited heads of federal agencies involved in financing public construction projects or pursuing preservation activities to serve as ex officio members. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall was one, and [Secretary Robert C.] Weaver of Housing and Urban Development was one, and the [secretary of the] Department of Commerce was one.
It was [urban renewal] programs that impacted the core of the cities, which is where you find most of the cultural resources in America. And the highways were just busting right through cities, destroying neighborhoods and historic heritage right and left. The money the Ford Foundation put up enabled them [Henderson and Feiss] to involve the Governors Association, and the League of Cities, and the [U.S.] Conference of Mayors, all of which were very potent political organizations. And in the league there were prominent preservationists.
Henderson served as the committee’s director and made the trip arrangements, assisted by Casey Ireland. The special committee, which became known as the Rains Committee, visited eight European countries with notable records in preservation.
They went to Europe to discuss [restoration], and to discover, and evaluate what had happened on that continent after the devastation of World War II. The secretary designated me as his representative on that task force. That’s where my involvement started. So it was there that I made all of my contacts, with Phillip Hoff, governor of Vermont and a very prominent Democrat in the establishment, and Gordon Gray, whom I got to know very personally, and Casey Ireland and Larry Henderson.
Several weeks after returning from Europe, the Rains Committee met in New York City and approved recommendations that Feiss and Ireland had drafted for a new national historic preservation program in the United States.
It just kind of evolved that we wrote a report. With Heritage So Rich [Random House, 1966] was the name of the final publication that included the report we wrote. One of the recommendations of the report was that [the federal government take an active role in historic preservation]. We took the position that the most important thing we needed was money to support state and local and private historic preservation efforts, which was a key to the success in Europe with the local government and private enterprise.
That [financial imperative] was something that the trip highlighted?
That trip brought all of this together. I reckon [the reason I was included] was primarily because I was an ex officio member of the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but also because I was director of the Park Service, and the fact that I was a damned good lobbyist. I got a note from a guy that I have a great deal of respect for, Carl Hummelsine, who used to be the chief lobbyist for the State Department before he went to Williamsburg, as the president of Williamsburg, for the Rockefellers, and developed that. He wrote me one day a note [calling me] “the second best lobbyist in Washington.” Then he put, “P.S. I’m the first.” And he was, because he was there with John Foster Dulles, and he was the face of the State Department on the Hill. I don’t think there was a more prominently associated politician in Washington. He [later] went to Williamsburg.
Out of that Rains Committee came this proposal for legislation that would not only set the dimensions and create a National Register of historic sites and structures, which we found to be of special significance, especially in France, but would also provide money to match state and private money to give spirit and body to the historic preservation effort in America. It was left to Gordon Gray and me to get that legislation through the Congress.
As I understand, it wasn’t easy initially to get the draft legislation through Congress.
It wasn’t. I’ll tell you about it. Nobody paid much attention to the legislation until I got it to the Hill. And then when I got it to the Hill, then the HUD [Housing and Urban Development] people decided, “Oh, there’s money here.” Then all of a sudden Dillon Ripley of the Smithsonian discovered, “My goodness, there’s international representation here.” And this gives the Smithsonian a chance to branch out. Both of those [groups] tried to raid that legislation. I don’t take any credit for writing the bill, because that was done in the committee. But I was the principal [person] who got the [National] Historic Preservation Act of 1966 [passed]. And I’m the guy who saved those provisions of the international representation, the IUCN [The World Conservation Union]. The matching grants program which HUD wanted is in the Park Service today as a result of what I did in getting that bill through.
As you say, it wasn’t easy. But I had the confidence of Casey Ireland and Larry Henderson, a Republican and a Democrat, both of whom were most intelligent, articulate guys, who believed in me as an individual and who believed in what I was trying to do. They, too, believed in the concept of keeping the various historic preservation responsibilities together under one agency because of the close coordination required, rather than spreading it all over hell’s half acre. So yes, with Gordon Gray I take credit for having passed the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. There were many hands on the tiller getting to that point, but when it came down to the bottom line, it was Gordon Gray and I who got that bill through.