March 21, 2007
Preservation isn't just about buildings

I want to highlight a comment from this story about the removal of an iconic Maxwell House sign from the East End plant where the coffee was ground (here are the before and after pictures so you can see what's changed) because I think it gets to the heart of what preservation is all about.

While acknowledging that the sign wasn't folk art, Susanne Theis, executive director of the Orange Show for Visionary Art, asserted that it was "always a friendly presence."

"You smelled the coffee, you'd see the coffee cup drip," said Theis, who lives near the plant. "It meant that this was our neighborhood, and our neighborhood was different."

Emphasis mine. That's it in a nutshell: Whatever the icon in question is - building, sculpture, sign, old tree, etc - it's something that tells you in no uncertain terms that you're in a particular place, and that this particular place is the only place you can find that unique thing. We unfortunately tend to take things like them for granted, and don't realize how much they mean until they're gone or threatened. But they matter and they have value, and the key to ensuring that they stay around for the next generations to enjoy is to make sure that their value can be expressed in a tangible way, so that whoever is responsible for it doesn't come to see it as a burden.

That wouldn't have helped in this case, as it was more a question of intellectual property, but the principle remains. Icons have value and should be treated as such. Otherwise, they're just things that can be disposed of at will. How that's done is up to us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 21, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston

This reminds me of a similar situation in Seattle. There used to be a Rainier Beer Brewery on I-5 with an iconic neon 'R' on top of it.

The brewery was closed and then sold in 1999. When Tully's Coffee purchased the plant, they replaced the famous red "R," with a neon green "T" and donated the old sign to the Museum of History and Industry.

Hopefully, something similar can take place here.


Posted by: kh on March 21, 2007 10:56 AM