The nature of the Section 106 process means that historians sometimes approach a historic resource when it is either “too soon” or “too late” to have a meaningful impact in preserving its history. For some properties – especially those that are important for a more recent association unrelated to the first use – Criteria Consideration G can present a hurdle. In other cases, we survey a resource that is already slated for demolition not directly related to the project that triggers the Section 106 process. In that scenario, no direct mechanism exists to either protect the resource or mitigate its loss. Both of these situations can disproportionately affect resources significant to historically excluded groups – these histories may not be as visible in the “traditional” archive, and gentrification and redevelopment can erase these communities without direct accountability in the Section 106 process.
A presentation I delivered at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) AME60 Summer Meeting discussed two case studies in Maplewood, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Both case studies involved properties associated with a historically excluded minority group and were clearly significant under Criterion A – meaning they were associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. Nevertheless, following the Section 106 process did not have an outcome that actually furthered the greater goal of recognizing and preserving these resources. These examples highlight the gulf that can separate the Section 106 process and National Register framework from the moral imperative of recognizing and preserving these stories. In both cases, the consultants and state agency staff involved did their jobs and followed the process correctly – and yet neither scenario resulted in a historic resource being determined eligible and preserved. We can do everything right and still not end up with an eligible resource that lives happily ever after.
While I don’t have a brilliant solution to the problem, my hope is that these examples will provide some food for thought. Perhaps that means changing the way we approach the process – or perhaps the Section 106 process and/or National Register framework itself need to evolve.
Moose Lodge 963
This property is a postwar fraternal hall. What made this particular building significant was not who WAS associated with it, but who WASN’T. While its establishment and architecture were unremarkable, additional digging turned up a compelling story related to African American history and suburban civil rights activism.
Against the nationwide backdrop of the growing Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag emphasized the importance of local governments’ enforcement of laws regarding fairness and equality. This also extended to the involvement of individual citizens, and the Governor’s Human Rights Commission (GHRC) was charged with “the responsibility of developing human relations committees in the suburban areas and other parts of the state.” [i] With the lack of substantial racial minority populations in most Minnesota communities outside the Twin Cities, the language used by the GHRC indicates that the intent was to be proactive, and “create a climate that will preclude the development of any human rights or human relations problems in local communities.” These efforts led to the creation of the Department of Human Rights (DHR), which actively encouraged formation of more local human rights commissions (HRCs) late in 1967. In less than two years, groups were active in at least 47 suburban communities.
Systemic racism kept most of the Twin Cities’ African American population from participating in the postwar American Dream experience of moving to the suburbs and buying a home. While most of the area’s suburbs had fewer than forty Black residents at the time, Maplewood was home to nearly a third of the Metro area’s suburban African American population throughout the 1960s. Issues of diversity may have felt largely hypothetical in suburban communities with only a few African American families, but this was not the case in Maplewood, which by 1970 had what one newspaper noted was “probably the largest proportion of [African Americans in] any suburb in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.” [ii] The village formed its own HRC in November 1967, and in January 1969, was one of six suburban HRCs singled out by the DHR as an exemplary group. Unlike many of the suburban groups, the 15-member Maplewood commission included at least four African American residents. In just over a year since its formation, the group had accomplished a lot, and many of its activities still seem familiar and necessary fifty years later. The commission met with candidates for local political offices, held public informational meetings, engaged with local police in how to interact with members of minority groups, and worked with the school board to hold sensitivity trainings for teachers. The HRC also worked with the Maplewood school system to incorporate Black history into the school curriculum.
So what does this have to do with the Moose Lodge? By the end of 1970, the Maplewood HRC had taken aim at the discriminatory policies of Moose Lodge 963, which did not permit non-Whites to join. The HRC laid part of the responsibility at the feet of the Village Council, which had allowed the racist practices to continue by continuing to renew the Lodge’s liquor license. In identifying the village’s role in perpetuating the situation, he pointed out that the community was capable of solving its own problems without relying on state law. A newspaper article quoted him as saying that “The people of the Village of Maplewood who are in a position to do something should have the courage enough to go out on their own without passing the buck.”
In January 1971, the Maplewood HRC announced it would draft an ordinance banning the issuance of liquor licenses to organizations that discriminated on the basis of race. The ordinance was approved unanimously by the Village Council. In order to remain open, the Maplewood lodge removed the “Whites-only” clause from its own chapter’s membership oath in 1971. The success of the Maplewood ordinance as a local antidiscrimination measure served as a precedent when other suburbs considered similar action. It stands out as an early suburban example of this tactic – local ordinance rather than relying on state or federal laws – in attempting to further civil rights.
Although the building was determined eligible, in this case, we arrived on the scene at a point where it was already too late. It is currently slated for demolition, but because any redevelopment will be private, the Section 106 process offers no mechanism to protect or mitigate. The determination of eligibility documents this history, but it will live in a drawer at the State Historic Preservation Office once the building is gone. The local Historic Preservation Commission has no means or plans to save the building and whatever happens going forward is outside the purview of state or federal agencies.
The Section 106 process doesn’t guarantee the survival of all eligible resources, but this certainly felt like a missed opportunity. There are no easy answers, but this case study raises several questions to consider:
- With so many players – the consultant, the sponsoring governmental entity, state and federal agency reviewers, and a municipal government – what could have been done to recognize this part of Maplewood’s history in a lasting way?
- Who should be responsible for that, and how could it be implemented?
Legacy Funeral Home
In this case, the property’s historical significance derives from the second use. Originally constructed as Lions and Lioness Hall, in the 1990s the building was repurposed as a funeral home for an immigrant group with very specific funerary practices that struggled to find accommodation elsewhere.
Hmong refugees began to arrive in Saint Paul in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and Hmong immigration to Minnesota accelerated rapidly after the passage of the U.S. Refugee Act in 1980. Today, the Twin Cities are home to one of the largest Hmong communities in the United States. As the size of the Hmong community grew, its members faced difficulty in maintaining traditional funeral practices – funerals are a hugely important cultural event. Hmong funerary tradition often requires 24-hour-per-day, multi-day observances, and in the mid-1980s, these observances were at odds with typical American funeral home practices in Saint Paul. Without a dedicated facility, Hmong families were forced to modify their traditional practices and held services at other funeral homes. The first Hmong-owned funeral home opened in St. Paul in 1993. It remained the only one until 1996, when Legacy Funeral Home opened in Maplewood. As of 2003, these two funeral homes served a community of more than 40,000 Hmong residents. The Dale Street funeral home was razed ca. 2008, but since the early 2000s, several other Hmong funeral homes have also been established.
Legacy Funeral Home is undeniably important within the Hmong community, but how do we argue National Register significance for a property that is only 23 years old? It is the earliest extant example, but not the first, and we would have to make a case for exceptional significance because this use of the property began less than fifty years ago. While this isn’t an impossible task by any means, it is one that goes beyond a reconnaissance survey form. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an opportunity to go to a Phase II evaluation. The original survey area was intentionally very broad, but as time went on, several of the agencies involved decided that due to the nature of the project, there was no way this property would be affected by any associated activity. At that point, a Phase II was out of scope, and we didn’t have the opportunity to make the case for exceptional significance applying Criteria Consideration G. So our reconnaissance level survey form noted that the property was important for this reason, but that it should be revisited when it got closer to 50 years in this use or when sufficient context became available. While I am hopeful and confident that future efforts would result in a determination of eligibility for Legacy Funeral Home, there is ultimately no way of knowing when those efforts may occur.
Question to consider:
- What if there is no follow-up survey for this property?
This experience highlights another important issue for historically excluded groups. Criteria Consideration G can create an undue burden on communities historically excluded from the mainstream archive. If you look at what National Register (NR) Bulletin 15 actually says on the subject, it sets an extremely high bar – the examples given (the Chrysler Building in New York City and the launchpad at Cape Canaveral that sent astronauts to the moon in 1969) are nationally significant. This sets historians up for an uphill battle for a property that may be significant at the local or state level. Then there’s the question of how to obtain the necessary historical perspective to make the call about whether it is exceptionally important. Bulletin 15 says “Scholarly Research and Evaluation.” So I would ask the question, who are the scholars? And does this aspect of the NR framework tilt the scales by privileging outsider scholars over community members?
Yes, in some cases members of the community may in fact be scholarly experts, but we cannot assume that will always be the case – and who counts as a scholarly expert anyway? In the case of a group such as the Hmong, who first came here as refugees less than 50 years ago, do members have to attend graduate school to specialize in their own history within a generation of their arrival in the U.S.? Otherwise, are they are forced to rely on outsider experts to produce “acceptable” historic context for use in evaluating cultural resources? Luckily, there are members of the Hmong community who ARE producing scholarly work. But looking at the way Bulletin 15 is written, it is an extremely high bar that does not have a lot of wiggle room for properties that are extremely important within an underrepresented community.
At a time when the regulations themselves are now more than 50 years old (remember the Cape Canaveral launchpad?), I would also ask the question, “Why 50 years?” Does this number still make sense, or should it be recalibrated to remove an unreasonable bar for some properties? What purpose does this number serve or what is it meant to represent? Two human generations? The maximum span of a consultant’s career? One side effect is that waiting that long can mean that many firsthand accounts are no longer available. If it wasn’t written down and preserved in an accessible archive, the people themselves might not be around to tell us what happened there or why it was important. By privileging the idea of a traditional archive when it was developed, the National Register guidance may have literally written communities out of direct participation in an attempt to be “objective.”
Returning to the larger questions, I would invite cultural resources professionals to consider:
- What happens if our piece of the process doesn’t actually result in anything meaningful? Are we just done here, or are we missing the point?
- Can the consultant or responsible agency have a role beyond identifying potentially eligible resources that could be affected by the project?
[i] Calvin L. Walton, “Letter to Mrs. Richard Cunningham, Chair, Brooklyn Center Human Relations Committee,” December 31, 1964, Box 127.L.13.4 F, Brooklyn Center Human Relations Committee, 1963-1966, Minnesota Historical Society, Gale Family Library, Saint Paul, Minn.