Historic preservation is often viewed as a niched cause, yet we at Utah Heritage Foundation are reminded every day that our issues actually do have remarkably broad-based support. What’s often lacking, however, is self-awareness of how a historic building may actually be personally meaningful. Proponents of historic preservation aren’t always the ones waving signs at rallies or quizzing candidates with probing questions at community meetings (though perhaps they should!). There is a more casual, everyday variety of historic building advocate that we encounter daily in our work. These are the people who may not love and cherish every historic building, but hold some historic places verynear and dear to them because of a special, personal connection. This may not have even been their choice, but, rather, a legacy passed on to them from earlier generations. Family traditions and milestone events can play a crucial role in instilling a preservation ethic in those who might never normally consider the value and importance of historic buildings. In life’s events – birth, education, marriage, work, leisure, death, and everything else in between – historic buildings form the settings and backdrops that become indefinitely intertwined with family history in stories, photographs and memories. This connection is a powerfully ally in the stewardship of historic places.
Undeniably, our built environment assumes a large part of our group and individual identities. Historian Joseph Amato elaborates upon this basic principle in the book Why Place Matters, writing that “sidewalks, storefronts, alleys, fields, churches, and schools host the rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations by which individuals and generations experience and know, make and represent their lives.” From our offices in Memorial House in Memory Grove Park, Utah Heritage Foundation has an ideal vantage point for observing families’ bonds with historic places. As Manager of Memorial House, it thrills me when I hear a visitor or client say that that their parents or grandparents were married here. These are rewarding moments, as we can acknowledge that we are not just providing a space for an important event, but we are enabling a beloved tradition to continue into new generations of a family. Connecting different life milestones, Memorial House and the surrounding park have also provided a historically rich setting for weddings, anniversary parties and celebrations of life for people who previously became engaged or were married here, or whose families have ties to the park’s war memorials. Memorial House may be a new figure in a family’s history, but the connection is strong and growing. Every event we host introduces a new group of people to the merits of historic preservation and introduces Memorial House as a potential recurring character in a family’s future.
One excellent example of strong family ties to Memorial House came by our offices just recently, when a newly engaged couple, Amanda Dibblee and Cullen Clark, booked their fall wedding here. When I asked how they had heard about Memorial House, they explained that they were already quite familiar with it: Amanda’s grandparents, Fred S. Ball and Joyce Worsencroft, were married at Memorial House in 1952. Fifty years later, Amanda’s grandparents followed with an anniversary celebration here, accompanied by their four children, their children’s spouses, fifteen grandchildren, and about one hundred friends. Being able to dance on the same wood floor in front of the familiar fireplace was such a special experience for the family, especially with so many new friends and loved ones present to share their joy.
There is no doubt that the Ball and Dibblee family loves Memorial House, as a part of their family history and also as anotable, local, historic place. As Amanda’s mom Kristy told us soon after booking , “Amanda can’t wait to be in the same beautiful home where her grandparents and great-grandparents celebrated over 60 years ago. It will be a very full-circle moment to realize generations before us graced this wonderful facility. Amanda’s grandparents will be at her reception in person and she knows that her great-grandparents and relatives will be there in spirit. What a celebration it will be! Amanda is now thinking, could it be possible that one of her future children could celebrate their wedding at Memorial House in Memory Grove? She hopes so.”
With such strong family bonds in mind, our duty as stewards of the building assumes a weighty role. We are not just preserving the building for the sake of the structure itself, but to allow this piece of so many families’ histories to persevere through the tests of time. Not only do we need to look after the building, but we need to do it well. With every event held at Memorial House, our circle of acquaintances grows. By operating Memorial House for events, we hope that our clients and their guests will view historic preservation fondly into the future. But there is the flip side of this: they will expect to see the building in similar resplendency as it was when they first got to know it. If we ask the public to believe in preservation, we must also give them reason to have trust in it, through attentive, lasting stewardship.
Essentially, this is why families and historic buildings are such a perfect match in the game of preservation. In Why Place Matters, Wilfred McClay states that “there is no evading the fact that we human beings have a profound need for ‘thereness,’ for visible and tangible things that persist and endure, and thereby serve to anchor our memories in something more substantial than our thoughts and emotions.” Both families and historic buildings (can) exist through generations, witnessing the good times and the bad, as well as regrettable trends and moments of misguidance. In the passing of time, they can hold each other accountable. Buildings remind families of their heritage and provide space for traditions to live on. In turn, families expect to see these places last into the future as reliable figures in their families’ narratives. This interdependency pushes for the upkeep and maintenance of these places of significance. Buildings age just like families, but with each generation can come new life, as long as people keep trying, so to say.
While it is no surprise that people are likely to be more invested in preserving a place if it has more personal meaning to them, this is still an area of understanding that beckons more attention. Academically, some strong foundations have been laid in this area of study, but research is still evolving. Experts have noted that in our heavily future-minded and constantly on-the-go society, pausing to pay attention to the past often seems like a deterrent to personal growth andsuccess. But actual research indicates otherwise. Maria Lewicka, who has studied family-related place attachment, finds that “interest in the past fosters a sense of personal and place continuity and may facilitate attachment to new places among mobile individuals.” In connecting this notion to historic buildings specifically, research has shown that people tend to consider historic places to be more personally meaningful than places that lack a strong expression of history or rootedness.
In our local context, we are lucky to have communities that still show strong ties to their pasts as well as families that take interest in genealogy and preserving traditions. And there are still many notable historic buildings that serve these communities and populations, creating quantifiably great impact. Memorial House now hosts around 100 events per year, most of which are weddings, and many places see even more traffic. The Cathedral of the Madeleine, for instance, has hosted around 1,600 to 1,700 marriage ceremonies and approximately 5,000 to 6,000 baptisms in the community since 1909, in addition to the daily worship times that regularly bring people together. The Salt Lake Temple, although perhaps too distinct to be held as a benchmark for such things, has served a very large population with its busy calendar since 1893, scheduling endowment sessions, sealings and baptisms from 5 am to 8 pm five days a week. There are numerous smaller churches, congregation halls, and meeting spaces in Utah that should not be overlooked, as they have also hosted countless marriages, baptisms, coming of age ceremonies and memorials. Not only may families have strong faith-based connections to these places, but they also cherish them for personal, family-specific reasons. The smaller, more locally-focused centers are likely subject to greater preservation threats, especially if their patrons do not take a stand for maintaining their own family’s traditions.
So, what’s in it for families, other than having a reliable gathering place across generations? Research has indicated that maintaining a connection to one’s family history plays a key role in the development of one’s personal integrity and senses of self-identity and self-esteem. Furthermore, historic places foster a sense of nostalgia that can be both healthy and restorative for an individual or family. Maria Lewicka writes that “nostalgia is adaptive: it helps to put together broken parts, builds a bridge between past and present, increases self-esteem and life satisfaction, and reinforces social ties”. Basically, paying attention to the past comes with some pretty big perks.
In the case of Memorial House, providing an aesthetically pleasing setting for people to gather and celebrate may bereason enough for historic preservation. But the truly powerful impetus comes from the people who personally love and care about the place because it is more than just a building but the embodiment of decades of dancing, dining, laughter, tears, and love. If anyone asks you why preservation matters, think about the places your family has relied upon to gather, celebrate, mourn and reflect. Most likely, historic buildings have been there supporting you all along. In acknowledging this, it only seems fair that the support should be mutual.
Thank you to the Ball, Dibblee, and Clark families for sharing your stories, memories and photographs with all of us.
Written by Jada Lindblom, Historic Sites Manager
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Thank you for your donation,
Chris Anderson, Chair
Kirk Huffaker, Executive Director
By making a donation today, you will be playing an important role in the future of UHF and Utah’s preservation movement.
Lewicka, Maria. “In Search of Roots: Memory as Enabler of Place Attachment.”
Place Attachment. Ed. Lynne C. Manzo and Patrick Devine-Wright. New York:
McClay, Wilfred M., and Ted McAllister, eds. Why Place Matters. New York: New
Atlantis Books, 2014.
Nowell, B.L., et al. “Revealing the Cues Within Community Places: Stories of
Identity, History, and Possibility.” American Journal of Community Psychol
ogy, vol. 37, 2006.