LEARNING FROM COMMERCIAL THOROUGHFARES AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE RECENT PAST: AN EVALUATIVE FRAMEWORK FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATIONISTS
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Type of Work270 pages
ProgramMA in Historic Preservation
RightsThis work may be protected under Title 17 of the U.S. Copyright Law. To obtain information or permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Goucher Special Collections & Archives at 410-337-6347 or email email@example.com.
SubjectsHistoric preservation -- Theses
Using the Sun Belt city of Las Vegas, Nevada and its thoroughfares as a location of analysis, this study presents an evaluative framework – inspired by cultural geographers Peirce Lewis and Richard H. Schein – for observing and documenting the seen features and unseen aspects of commercial thoroughfares as cultural landscapes. Importantly, this framework incorporates physical features, as defined by the National Park Service and its National Register of Historic Places program, while also accounting for intangible culture and meanings. This comprehensive approach is brought about by embracing cultural landscape theory, which allows historic preservation practitioners to get beyond traditional discussions of historic integrity and significance, and move past building-by-building architecture surveys. By applying this framework to a single property, such as an indoor shopping mall, or multiple ones, such as an entire commercial strip, preservation practitioners can acknowledge and document these ubiquitous cultural landscapes. This framework is meant to be flexible, and is structured in a way that allows for preservationists to discover meanings that may be missed in a more traditional survey. After applying the framework, an actionable step can be taken. The step can be limited, such as adding a historic marker for interpretation, or extensive, like proceeding with historic landmark designation – as determined through community engagement. Commercial thoroughfares play an outsized role in the American built environment and are the key to understanding dynamic urban and suburban landscapes as cultural landscapes. This is especially true in the cities of the Sun Belt region, which experienced explosive growth in the Post-World War II years. In turn, these cities developed around automobiles, shopping centers, and parking lots. These wide thoroughfares, marked with free-standing signs and billboards, and their architecture of the “recent past” may give today’s historic preservationists pause, considering their perceived lack of “sense of place” and significant history. However, commercial thoroughfares’ strips and nodes have been serving local residents for decades, and play a meaningful role in residents’ lives. In the 1960s through 1980s, the local and national retailers found along commercial thoroughfares primarily served a White, middle-income clientele – as shown by marketing at the time. Since then, these cultural landscapes have been transformed by a social evolution, where longtime commercial spaces – including strip malls, shopping centers, and indoor shopping malls – have been repurposed, and now cater to diverse and multicultural communities. This change, which typically includes physical alterations to the exterior and interior of commercial spaces, has been accomplished in-part through the inherent flexibility of these buildings and structures. Former supermarkets and discount retailers have become swap meets and stores that sell products from around the world, and strip malls and one-time fast food restaurants now serve a variety of ethnic cuisines. By tracing this historic and social narrative, a multicultural palimpsest becomes apparent, composed of both tangible features and intangible aspects. Therefore, commercial thoroughfares and their corresponding commercial spaces are the perfect place for observation and analysis.