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Monday, June 11, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Dick and Sam


I was sorry to learn recently of the passing of Richard (Dick) Jenrette and Alexander (Sam) Aldrich, on April 22, 2018 and July 19, 2017 respectively.

Each man had many accomplishments; you can read Dick’s bio at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/obituaries/richard-jenrette-89-wall-st-power-and-preservationist-dies.html and Sam’s at http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/saratogian/obituary.aspx?n=alexander-aldrich&pid=186166416&fhid=15540. I knew them both as Chairmen of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation during the turbulent 1980s. And yes, both wanted to be called by their first names.

Dick was appointed to the chair by President Jimmy Carter. The rather legendary founder and long-time head of the Wall Street investment firm Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette, Dick was a solid old-school preservationist from the Carolinas. He employed creativity and strategic sensibilities to do well on Wall Street, and he played important roles in the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Dick and the Council’s Executive Director, the late Bob Garvey (also a Carolinian), saw eye-to-eye on most things, and they navigated the Council through the difficult transition into Ronald Reagan’s administration. Specifically, Dick – having been appointed only a short time before Reagan’s election and thus having time on the clock before the new president could replace him, politely declined the White House’s invitation to tender his resignation. He let it be known, though, that he would resign if the new president would appoint a replacement who – unlike Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James G. Watt – was not devoted to unraveling the last (then) twenty years or so of environmental and historic preservation law and regulation. The White House fulminated, but eventually agreed to appoint Sam.

Sam had Rockefeller family connections, and a long history of work in preservation in New York State, particularly in and around Saratoga Springs. He was charming, politically astute, and often a lot of fun to work with.

As head of the Advisory Council’s Section 106 shop, I was somewhat insulated from the Chairmen, but I very much respected both Dick and Sam. Dick oversaw our bruising encounters with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city governments of New York and Detroit over the Morosco Theater (New York) and Hudson’s Department Store (Detroit). We failed to achieve meaningful preservation of anything in either case – both buildings were demolished – but we tried hard to make sure that local preservation interests had such opportunities as realpolitik allowed to influence government decision-making. In the Morosco Theater case, one of my letters was accurately characterized in the media as “the plaintive wailings of an embattled bureaucrat;” in the Hudson’s case, Detroit mayor Coleman Young let my colleagues and me know in no uncertain terms that no honky bureaucrats were going to stand in the way of his redevelopment schemes. And he was right, but we in the trenches appreciated the support and insulation from the White House that Dick gave us.

Sam was much more part of my life, overseeing the rework of the Section 106 regulations and the complex struggle to keep the Department of the Interior from emasculating the Council, un-funding the State Historic Preservation Officers, and generally wreaking havoc with all aspects of federal historic preservation other than tax credits; those were OK, since they benefitted well-to-do property owners. It was also on Sam’s watch that we began serious interactions with Indian tribes. Highlights I remember are the Council meeting on the Navajo Reservation as guests of the Navajo Nation and our consultations with the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, and American Indian Movement about how tribal historic properties and concerns (notably about ancestral graves) should be addressed in Section 106 review. Though Sam had little personal acquaintance with tribal concerns, he had marched from Selma to Montgomery with Martin Luther King, and was unfailingly considerate and respectful of tribal and minority concerns.

Both Dick and Sam, of course, interacted with the Council staff through our inimitable executive director Bob Garvey, without whose energy, intelligence, and political wile nothing would have been possible.

Sam was eventually succeeded by Cynthia Grassby-Baker, who was very much part of the G.H.W. Bush administration. Though I – like my colleagues – was pretty dubious about Cynthia, it intrigued me that unlike Sam and Dick, she was not part of the traditional eastern preservation establishment. It was on Cynthia’s watch that the Council approved what was (under National Park Service auspices) to become National Register Bulletin 38, addressing the need to respect the significance of traditional cultural places. Bulletin 38 was in many ways a reflection of Reagan-era populism.

But Dick and Sam – with Bob – made it possible for the national historic preservation program to survive and thrive during the difficult years of the Reagan administration, and to maintain and improve a regulatory process built on broadly-defined multi-party consultation. I’ll remember them all with respect and admiration.

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