Preservation Matters: Historic Buildings & Our Community Memory

Samantha Bosshart, SSPF Executive Director

You can see it in the Saratoga Race Course, which next year will celebrate 150 years of racing. You can see it in the Canfield Casino, the embodiment of Saratoga’s Gilded Age.

You can see it all over the city from the stately commercial buildings that line Broadway to the hundreds of homes that – from Beekman Street to Union Avenue — give each of the city’s seven historic districts its own distinctive character and charm.

Saratogians have an innate understanding of the value of historic buildings, sensing better than the residents of most communities how historic buildings serve as a collective memory, communicating to us the values and history of earlier generations and giving us a distinctive sense of place.

Saratogians also realize that our historic buildings are a priceless asset, essential to our economy because they attract to our community new residents, businesses and visitors of all kinds — tourists, racing fans, ballet and music enthusiasts, college students, and others.
May is National Preservation Month, an appropriate time to reflect on gains we have made since the beginning of the historic preservation movement, which in the US is often traced to the campaign to save New York’s Penn Station from demolition in 1963. For Saratoga Springs, the watershed moment took place in 1968 when concerned residents came together to halt the construction of a 150-room hotel in Congress Park. Born out of the Plan of Action, the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation was established in 1977 to assist in the preservation of our downtown, which most recently was recognized by Travel and Leisure as having one of the “greatest main streets” in America.

The specific challenges we face today have changed, but our mission to preserve and enhance Saratoga Springs’ architectural, cultural, and landscaped heritage is the same, We still take a four-fold approach through educational programs, technical assistance, preservation projects, and advocacy.

Among just a few of our major initiatives in recent years:

 

  • Secured a $190,000 New York State Main Street grant to rehabilitate seven historic properties on Beekman Street that resulted in additional investment by the owners in excess of $500,000;
  • Raised over the past ten years more than $120,000 in grants to restore the Gideon Putnam Cemetery, and to complete an inventory and condition assessment of all the gravestones;
  • Secured $89,000 in funding to assist the Local Advisory Board with the unfunded state mandate to inventory the historic features of the Saratoga Race Course. This inventory will help to ensure that the much-needed capital improvements at the track will be undertaken in a manner that is sensitive to its rich architectural and landscape heritage.

This past September, the Foundation, in partnership with the City of Saratoga Springs, began a Spirit of Life & Spencer Trask Memorial Restoration Campaign.  This four-year campaign will preserve for future generations a vital symbol of our city.

Many more of our activities and programs are listed on our Web site at www.saratogapreservation.org.

We are pleased to be able to share with you the pride, activities and issues concerning historic preservation in Saratoga Springs, and we are grateful to The Saratogian for the invitation to do so.  In coming months, we will  share with you some of the glorious architectural features within our community; recall bold and innovative rehabilitation efforts undertaken by many individuals; discuss the economic importance of preservation; review sources for technical and financial assistance; and explore how preservation efforts can help keep this community viable. I welcome your comments and feedback at sbosshart@saratogapreservation.org.

By Samantha Bosshart, SSPF Executive Director

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