Preserving the Recent Past Initiative

From its inception in the early twentieth century, the historic preservation movement in the United States was focused on protecting and rehabilitating buildings that represented the country’s distant history: Colonial-era homes of distinguished founders and leaders, antebellum neighborhoods and plantation houses. In the 1950s and 60s, preservationists came to value Victorian homes and commercial buildings, as these structures were increasingly targeted as out of date and no longer useful by a rapidly growing country.

With new development accelerating in the 1980s and 90s, the preservation community recognized the threat to designs from early in the century (including some that had replaced treasured historic architecture when first built in the postwar era). Organizations including the Historic Preservation Education Foundation, undertook initiatives to  bring the condition of these resources to the attention of the preservation community and the broader public. Federal, state and local organizations undertook surveys, theme studies and other documentation projects. Conservationists explored the technological challenges of preserving and rehabilitating recent past architecture and materials.

In 1995 the Historic Preservation Education Foundation and the National Park Service co-hosted the first national conference to examine the evaluation and preservation of twentieth-century resources, Preserving the Recent Past.  It was followed five years later with a second conference, Preserving the Recent Past 2 in Philadelphia. In March 2019, Preserving the Recent Past 3 brought renewed attention and a new generation of preservationists together in Los Angeles. Through these events, their associated workshops, trade shows, and published notebooks, as well as subsequent training and publication activities, HPEF has continued to encourage the thoughtful documentation, rehabilitation, and preservation of architecture of the recent past.

1995 Preserving the Recent Past Conference Program

2000 Preserving the Recent Past II Conference Program

Sample papers, tables of contents, and ordering information for the first two Preserving the Recent Past conference proceedings are available on the Preserving the Recent Past publications page.