Party Like It’s 1969?

By Scott Sidler • December 31, 2018

Party Like It's 1969?Tonight at midnight the ball will drop and the year 2019 will begin. That means from a historical preservation standpoint anything from 1969 or earlier is considered “historic”. Historic preservation has traditionally waited until at least 50 years has passed before allowing a structure to be recognized as historic.

But, 1969 historic? That seems so close doesn’t it? Maybe it’s just my age and that now things considered historic are only one more year from the decade in which I was born. Don’t get me wrong, 1969 was definitely a year when a lot of history was made. July 20th saw the moon landing of Apollo 11, followed one week later by Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident. Later that summer, the infamous Manson murders took place in California, the Miracle Mets finished an incredible comeback season, and Woodstock changed everything we thought we knew about music concerts.

1969 was certainly a year for the history books, but what about preserving the great architecture of that year? Gone were the Bungalows and Colonials in the late 1960s.  Brutalist architecture was in its hay day, and modern architecture was waning and transitioning to the post modern style we are presently still entangled in. Vernacular styles like the Ranch Style were still popular, but other than a few notable standouts, most of the architecture of this period was departing from the quality materials and hand built techniques most of us preservationists have been so passionate about preserving.

The question then becomes, “Is it good because it’s old, or does there need to be something more to it?”

And to be honest with you, I don’t have an answer for you in this post. I’ve thought long and hard on this subject (I even wrote about it a few years back in The Historical Cusp), and as passionate as I am about preserving historic buildings, I don’t know that I would be as passionate about saving most of what was built in 1969. Certainly not nearly to the extent that I am concerned with saving things built in 1869.

Maybe that’s alright, for now. Maybe we just need a little more time to consider some of these buildings that were born around the same time we were before we can be powerful advocates for their preservation. I think time will tell, but for now, when it comes to really old buildings, you can always count on me to be a “Building Hugger” as my friend Amy Swift’s company is so aptly named. You may just have to ask me twice about those built in 1969.

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3 thoughts on “Party Like It’s 1969?”

  1. I also have trouble appreciating the Brutalist style–but I LOVE late mid century modern houses. In the next few years a lot of those will hit the 50 year mark, and I’m hoping that people will start preserving them instead of renovating all their cool features out of existence.

    70s interior decorating (and clothing) styles? Bleah. The 70s idea of modern residential architecture? Yes, please. (Except all those indoor planters. Baaaad idea. Although the glassed off indoor plant rooms were awesome….) Like vaulted ceilings and exposed beams and open floor plans? Thank the 70s!

  2. I agree with you but houses older than 50 years old are worth preserving, perhaps not in the same sense as older homes, because they are already built. Generally speaking, using an existing structure is greener than building from scratch, but if the original is of poor quality, then I’m less of a purist to preserve original features or opposed to gutting and turning into open concept.

    I suppose we will come to appreciate more of the features and materials of the late 60s until the 80s, but many structures of this period were built quickly and with the first generation of synthetic materials, and the last generation of toxic old ones. Many are very plain, and could benefit stylistically from being made either more contemporary or more traditional. I do think there has been some interest in some of the funkier aspects of interior design of the period, and there are quality custom homes of the period. I think we need another 10 or more years to gain enough perspective and for it to be rediscovered in thrift stores and made popular again by the younger generation, something like what was done with the early 60s.

  3. A few thoughts – under the National Historic Preservation Act, the so-called “50-year Rule” for when a property can be considered historic is not a rule; it’s a guideline. Properties of exceptional importance can be determined eligible for and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Many sites associated with the Space Program and the Civil Rights Movement are already listed in the National Register, and were listed well before they reached 50 years of age.

    Age alone does not establish a property as being historic. It’s a starting point, after which the property must be shown to have both historic significance AND historic integrity. Not everything built prior to 1969 is automatically considered historic now. Some buildings are just old and not historic. The key is that these properties can no longer be dismissed as not being eligible for the National Register simply because they’re less than 50 years old.

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