Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Does Historic Preservation Have Relevancy Today?

After scanning a bunch of depressing headlines about all the usual perplexing, insoluble issues of the day one stood out as different –– something that someone could do something definitive to correct.

"Rome's Trevi Fountain is Crumbling for Lack of Maintenance."
In a world rife with poverty and injustice, where violence threatens to erupt at nearly every street corner, where racial, ethnic and religious divisions seem deeper than ever, where imperfect and pernicious ideologies and divisive, destructive interpretations of religious doctrine compete for allegiance could there be any justification for showing concern over something as small and seemingly irrelevant as the preservation of a beloved, ancient landmark such as the Trevi Fountain?

~ FreeThinke


  1. Why should the poor, the long-term unemployed, and the ever-increasing permanent underclass created by the Welfare State care about old buildings, monuments and historic art treasures?

    We especially welcome creative thinking. Don't be afraid to use your imagination. Statistics, selected facts, and well-worn slogans can carry us just so far. Original, new-minted –– even far out ––perspectives are eagerly sought.

    ~ FT

  2. Yes, preservation is important, but we must also realize that at some point, a completely reconstructed building is no longer "ancient."

    Socialist societies are learning there is no utopia. Facing the reality that “other people’s money” has been spent and future revenues borrowed upon to the max, Socialist government must now prioritize spending. Naturally, human need must take precedence over restoring a fountain. Yet, here is a sad postscript. Socialism has destroyed private charity fundraisers that, in an earlier time, could have helped to pay for the restoration project. The same is true for what we once called “the community chest.”

  3. Hi FT,
    I just want to say Hi and congratulations on your new blog and your first post.

    Soon as you figure out how to post pictures, put up one of the fountain.

  4. Although I've never visited there, I know from the Academy Award winning film Three Coins in a Fountain that the fountain holds quite a bit of pop culture as well as a history dating back to the 1700s.

    Once the fountain gone, it's gone. The same applies to deterioration as restoration always costs a boat load.

    This short video shows a bit of the damage.

    We SHOULD care about such monuments, I think. They ground us culturally -- and bind us together, too.

  5. More details HERE about the deterioration of the fountain.

    Have you by chance seen this story? Europe is in real economic trouble, and there is even talk of limiting people's movement.

  6. Sam has raised an ages old issue important to serious collectors of antiques, old buildings that witnessed or in some way participated in important historic events, and to lovers of artifacts and ruins from the ancient world.

    Should we enjoy bits of antiquity as they are -- complete with the patina and often-destructive effects of old age -- or should we "restore" these things to their former glory?

    Williamsburg, Virginia, a vitally important place in the history and eventual founding of our country is not truly a restoration. Instead it qualifies as a reconstruction -- a faithful simulation of what once had been, although much of Colonial Williamsburg was reconstructed on what-was-left-of the original foundations.

    Collectors of antique furniture are almost uniform in their understanding that while skillful repair of a broken chair leg, or replacement of missing parts of a desk or chest of drawers is sometimes unavoidable, complete 'refinishing" of the piece is undesirable. The aim should always be to keep as much of the original piece and its original finish intact as possible. The market value of an antique diminishes with each bit of "new" material added to keep it looking good and to keep it functioning.

    In the case of special landmarks that give a cityscape its unique character and preserve links with its past I should think any amount of sacrifice would be worth making on their behalf.

    In our own country, for instance, the Washington Monument was recently damaged by a freak earthquake -- as was the Washington Cathedral. I have seen little news of how the District of Columbia and our illustrious federal government are dealing with the need for repair and restoration, but it would be a scandal as far as I am concerned if the damage was not addressed and corrected quickly, and a tragedy if it remains permanently neglected.

    I many ways buildings and monuments are not merely functional, but representative of the kind of people we are, and the quality of life to which we aspire.

    The world won't come to an end if the Trevi Fountain is not repaired or even if it crumbles to dust, but like that piece of the continent made famous by English poet and clergyman John Donne, Europe will be diminished by its absence.

    The great gothic cathedrals in the Old World were built over centuries as a testament to faith and with the implicit understanding that "Man does not live by bread alone."

    The cave paintings may be the earliest evidence we have that there's an innate need in human beings for tangible evidence that there is something greater than our individual need for food, clothing, shelter and sex.

    ~ FT

    PS: Thanks, AOW, for the links. - FT

  7. Actually, standing in an ancient city full of ancient things, the Trevi Fountain ain't nothin' but a tourist attraction, nothing historically significant about it. As AOW mentioned, it held no special cache' until the movie came out.

    Congrats on the blog!

  8. I’m not certain how relevant this is to your post, but one of my favorite television programs is aired by the History Channel; I think they call it “Cities of the Underworld.” Apparently, beneath the modern city of Rome are a significant number of ancient structures, buildings, alley ways, catacombs … and I think the Italian government spends quite a lot of money excavating these and maintaining them.

  9. FT,
    Interesting that you mentioned the Washington National Cathedral.

    I'm going there soon to attend a concert and will get to see for myself how the damage repairs are proceeding.

    Also, I have quite a collection of antiques here at my house -- inherited items for the most part and many from the mid-1800s (I do have one very old item from China: "the jade bird" statue. I also have my great-grandparents' 1880 four-poster bed, the bed in which my maternal grandmother was conceived. All of the antique pieces here give me a feeling to ties and a feeling of reunion with long-dead family members, some of whom I didn't know personally, of course).

    Now, I did refinish the antique pieces that looked the worst and, of course, re-glued some so that the furniture pieces would be functional. Nevertheless, many of the pieces have scars on them, and I made no attempt to get rid of those scars as they are testimony to the authenticity of the items.

    Yes, we do use our antiques here in the AOW household -- even my grandmother's china set as part of my everyday dinnerware. She was born in the 1870s, I think, and specifically willed that china set to me, her younger son's only child.

    Old house, old people, antique furnishings (except for the television sets and the one lift recliner) -- it all goes together very well, especially with these hardwood floors.

    I even have a wind-up RCA Victrola that plays 78 rpm platters, and I have many such platters, including one from 1928 or so (Jimmie Rodgers, the Yodeling Cowboy). I feel closer to Mom every time I play that old 78 rpm.

    All this blabbing to say that I do have a particular love for pieces from days gone by.

  10. Thanks, AOW, from what you have said I believe our views in the value of preservation are very similar. I too am surrounded by personal memorabilia and old things I have acquired in a lifetime of collecting, buying and selling.

    Antiques give me courage. I look at a chest of drawers I have in a bedroom that was made before the American Revolution or at three pieces of ante bellum furniture in the living room –– and a lot of other stuff as well that belonged to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and I think, "Hey! If you could survive the Revolution, the Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, FDR, WWII, the Sick-sties, LBJ, Vietnam and Watergate, I guess I can make it too."

    That may sound silly, but it's true enough. I admit to being sentimental. Things my mother and father acquired –– many of them before I was born –– have been with me all my life. It's a great comfort to be able to touch these things that were around back when we were all together -- witnesses to the personal drama of our lives.

    Mustang, I think your observation is completely relevant. I get a similar thrill whenever I look at well made documentaries about the ancient world, and about archaeologists discovering and beginning to solve more great mysteries from the past.

    Kurt, I remember Three Coins in the Fountain from when it first came out –– was it 1954? Saw it in Chicago at the Oriental Theater as a matter of fact. That fountain had been there a helluva long time before that movie was made. Whether you see great beauty in it, or merely grotesque, rococo eccentricity doesn't matter. It's uniqueness make it valuable and worth preserving.

    I happen to think The Statue of Liberty is absolutely hideous, but New York would cease to be New York if The Lady with the Lamp should disappear.

    Reminds me of the limerick I made up in honor of Lady Liberty's Centennial Celebration back in 1986:

    The statue of Liberty's gender
    'Snot clear. I fear she's a pretender.
    Hordes of kids –– and the press ––
    Have been up in her dress,
    And found nothing to goose or surrender!

    ~ FreeThinke

  11. Kurt,

    The Fontana di Trevi dates to 1629. It was designed and its construction supervised by the great sculptor Bernini who was responsible for adding the great twin colonnades to St. Peter's basilica.

    In the world of Renaissance sculpture, Bernini is considered second only to Michelangelo. His sculpture entitled The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is one of the greatest marvels of Western Art.

    The fountain ranks high among the many art treasures The Eternal City has to offer.

    I hate to be the one to have to tell you, but your dismissive assessment is way off base. But, I suspect you were only pulling my leg, right? ;-)

    Anyone who wants to learn more, and see any number of pictures should follow this link:


    ~ FreeThinke



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