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On a summer day in 1979, Washington fluttered with green banners, each embellishing a stately old structure and proclaiming its bearer to exemplify the city's "Buildings Reborn. . . New Uses, Old Places." At the same time, the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery was sponsoring a photography exhibit extolling the "adaptive reuse" of old buildings; the American Institute of Architects' Octagon House (itself a recycled eighteenth-century residence) housed "Capital Losses," a photographic exhibit of the city's demolished or threatened old landmark buildings; and renovations were underway in the cavernous interior of the Pension Building, another reclaimed architectural relic. Such a day in the nation's capital reflects an interest that has sprung up in cities all over the country: Preservation of old structures has become a vogue.
The volume of preservationist statutes, grant programs, regulations, and lawsuits over the past few years attests the major role of federal, state, and local governments in contributing to historic preservation's new stature. With the arrival of budget cutters in Washington, however, the preservationist flags may soon come down; sharp questioning of federal involvement in preservation has already begun. The potential retrenchment in Washington pointedly raises the question whether current programs serve the public well-being. Why should our public institutions take an interest in preserving the nation's architectural heritage?
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