PS Picks: The National Trust for Historic Preservation's 'Preservation Personals' Feature

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine’s staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.

Michelle Obama says hello to sixth graders from Fairfax, Viginia’s Willow Springs Elementary School during a surprise visit to the Decatur House in Washington, D.C., on May 22nd, 2013. The Decatur House is a National Trust for Historic Preservation Site that received a $ 1 million grant to fund educational programming.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has spent the last 70 years trying to save historically significant structures and landscapes from destruction and to preserve them against the degradation of time, but the trust is also tasked with getting people to care about those structures and landscapes in the first place. Considering that what passes for “old” in America would be practically brand new in, say, France, and given our national love affair with McMansions, smart homes, and tiny houses, it can also be a tall order.

“Preservation Personals,” a feature in the National Trust’s Preservation magazine, attempts to bring readers and buildings together by profiling for-sale historic homes and commercial structures, and suggesting to readers that owning—and living in—a piece of history isn’t actually a crazy idea.

A recent perusal of the site brings up listings for a former speakeasy in Alabama, a Gilded Age Newport, Rhode Island “cottage” (it’s 9,000 square feet), and a pre-Revolutionary Connecticut house that could easily serve as headquarters for a group of deeply committed colonial re-enactors. It’s easy to while away hours clicking from house to house, imagining life in a classic 1950s tract home or a 1730s inn. Not every house is affordable (though plenty are), and some of them come with difficult histories. The experience of browsing is akin to binge-watching a historical drama—on the surface entertaining, but also an invitation to consider the role these structures might have played in American history and all that this entails.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December/January 2019 issue of Pacific Standard.
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