The Importance of Community Preservation and History: Observations by a Spring Intern
By Guest Blogger Dylan Glenn
This spring I had the pleasure of interning with Historic Seattle as I work toward a bachelor’s degree in history at Seattle University. It was a great way for me to observe how historians work in the field as I learned about research methods and resources, local history, and how historians and preservationists can work together to protect and improve historic communities. I really admire the kind of community preservation work that organizations like Historic Seattle do, and being able to work alongside them on the Melrose Building (home to Bauhaus Books + Coffee in the Pike/Pine neighborhood on Melrose and Pine) showed me firsthand what a vital resource preservationists can be for communities; far from obstructing legitimate and beneficial commercial progress in favor of preserving outdated, irrelevant structures, Historic Seattle was able to assist a movement that began and was supported at a grassroots level. I think the publicity and the success of the Melrose Building project opened a lot of minds to the validity and importance of organizations like Historic Seattle, and the project itself certainly kept me busy during the second half of my internship!
Working on the Melrose Building project, I learned a lot about the building’s architect, John Creutzer. Creutzer was also the architect on the Times Square Building and the Medical Dental Building downtown, and many of his large apartment buildings (most of them constructed during the early-to-mid-1920s) remain prominent elements of the built environment in the neighborhoods where they reside. Seattle has a very unique built environment, and its many distinct neighborhoods have a welcoming vitality that is missing in a lot of big cities; places like Capitol Hill and Columbia City have a sense of personality and community that is usually swallowed up in the anonymity of urban sprawl. As I learned more about Creutzer and his prolific output, I realized what an impact his work has had on many of Seattle’s neighborhoods. From local institutions like Bauhaus Books + Coffee to the distinctive-looking apartment buildings such as the Granada, spread across Capitol Hill, Creutzer’s work has made a valuable contribution to the way we live, work, and connect in this city. Our success in preserving his work means more than saving a building of historic value or pleasing aesthetics, it means hanging on to part of a way of life that makes Seattle unique.
Now that my internship has ended, I have a new appreciation for preservationists’ work. I also see a possibility to make a difference in my community as an historian, moving past the image people tend to have of us as stuffy academics who live mostly in classrooms. Preservation organizations like Historic Seattle not only record and preserve history, they help shape it by empowering communities with the tools and resources that they need to preserve their values and way of life in the face of damaging change and development. By focusing on the human impact of development and property maintenance, preservationists can make a community a better place for businesses and residents alike. This element of preservation is what makes the profession so unique and so appealing from the perspective of an historian, and I am very happy to have been a part of this process as an intern. Regardless of what career path I choose after I graduate, the values I saw in action at Historic Seattle will remain important to me, and I hope, in whatever position I end up serving, to make the same kind of impact that I was able to be a part of over these last few months.
Dylan Glenn (of Louisville, Kentucky) interned with Historic Seattle during the 2012 Spring Quarter through the Seattle University Public Histories Program. He is an undergraduate in the University Honors Program, and is working toward a B.A. in History. After graduation he is looking forward to graduate school and a career focused on archiving and research.