Highlights from Real Places 2018


Community Development

Last month, the THC hosted the Real Places 2018 Conference in Austin. Guests networked with County Historical Commission members, museum and state historic site employees, travel industry experts, and many other people involved with historic preservation in Texas.

Attendees learned strategies to promote and increase visitation to historic places, and gained key insight and technical advice on design guidelines, narrative-based planning, building materials, historic theaters, and more.

Highlights from this year’s event included:

  • The Wood Window Workshop, which began with a presentation and discussion led by John Hindman of Red River Restorations. Hindman restores wood windows in Austin and the entire country, with projects ranging from private homes to historic courthouses, the Alamo, and LBJ’s Texas White House. The workshop included a tour of the Red River Restorations workshop and an up-close demonstration of basic restoration techniques.
    Afterward, Barbara Brannon, executive director of the Texas Plains Trail Region, said “The Wood Window Workshop was one of the best ways I could have devoted my day—I learned the kind of hands-on details that will help me be a persuasive advocate for preservation, gathered photos for use in my own presentations, and networked with like-minded preservationists throughout the day. And hey, now I know how to repair the deteriorated 50-year-old picture window in my own house!”
  • Attendees witnessed two excellent examples of Greek Revival architecture with an exclusive tour of the Texas Governor’s Mansion showcasing how it was restored following the devastating arson fire in 2008. Just over a mile northwest of the Governor’s Mansion, the Neill-Cochran House Museum was also designed by master builder Abner Cook and shares remarkable similarities with the Governor’s Mansion, but its history and unique features revealed contrasting aspects of mid-19th-century life in Texas.
  • Texas writer and director Joe Nick Patoski kicked off the conference’s opening reception with a lively speech that served as a musical tour across the state. He encouraged towns to roll out the red carpet for heritage travelers and polish and preserve the places they’re seeking. Texas music icon Ray Benson and rising stars the Peterson Brothers then took the stage for a couple amazing musical performances.
  • At the welcome breakfast, Donovan Rypkema, principal of PlaceEconomics, gave an insightful overview of the economics of historic preservation, the importance of preservation to community vitality, and provided lessons learned throughout his illustrious career. He later led a breakout session explaining how economic studies are conducted and how they should be used. “I was blown away by the Understanding Economic Studies session,” said Peggy Crabtree of the Heritage Preservation Commission of Waxahachie. “This information needs to be broadcast to every preservation officer and anyone involved with overseeing historic resources.”
  • The THC’s Historic Sites Division staff hosted an insider’s tour of the house and grounds of the French Legation, our latest state historic site. They discussed the site’s past, present, and future evolution as a symbol of Texas’ heritage and refuge for the Austin community.
  • During a lunch presentation, Texas A&M professor Dr. Andrea Roberts showcased several Texas preservation projects and discussed how official heritage organizations and public agencies can better serve minority and low-income communities served by grassroots preservationists. That afternoon, she led a panel discussion about how preservationists can use archives to discover undertold stories and cultural landscapes.
  • The Texas Historical Commission Awards Banquet, featuring Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush as the keynote speaker, honored nine individuals and organizations for their accomplishments and exemplary leadership in the preservation of Texas’ historic places. Many attendees appreciated hearing about plans for the Alamo straight from the Land Commissioner.
  • During breakfast and later during a breakout session, Franklin Vagnone, co-author of Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums and principal of Twisted Preservation Cultural Consulting, discussed the latest national and international museum and cultural site trends affecting community engagement efforts. His iconoclastic presentations encouraged museum and historic site professionals to examine and reimagine preservation norms and best practices. Not surprisingly, audience reactions were mixed. More than one attendee referred to his perspective as “terrifying,” while another called his “Living on the Edge” presentation “the most useful session overall.”
  • THC Chairman John L. Nau, III; Truett Latimer, former THC executive director; Jerry L. Rogers, former Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places; and Barbara Brannon, executive director of the Texas Plains Trail Region, kicked off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Texas Heritage Trails Program with a special commemorative session. They discussed the evolution of the award-winning heritage tourism initiative from its start as the Texas Travel Trails, a series of 10 driving trails developed in 1968 for HemisFair, to today's program that drives economic development in 10 regions across all 254 counties.

Real Places 2018 was presented by the THC in partnership with the Friends of the THC and many generous sponsors—including the Texas Land Title Association and Phoenix I Restoration and Construction. The conference focuses on historic preservation and heritage travel in Texas. We hope to see you there next year: January 16–18, 2019 in Austin!

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