Proximity to Power: How the Preservation of Lafayette Square Paved the Way for the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
Kathryn Smith- National Historic Landmarks & National Register Coordinator, NPS National Capital Region
Congress has twice fundamentally changed the nature of historic preservation in the United States. Once in the midst of the Depression with the Historic Sites Act, and then again in 1966 during another tumultuous decade. Both acts increased the federal role in protecting historic sites. Each responded to the challenges of the time, and each has ties to a historic square of land in the nation’s capital at the “front” door of the White House. Several presidents and two first ladies were intimately involved in the efforts to retain the 19th century character of Lafayette Square. The steps in that battle led to high-level executive support of the federal role in historic preservation which contributed to the eventual passage of the act in 1966. This presentation will outline the roles played by President Kennedy, First Lady Jaqueline Kennedy, and the Johnsons in the preservation of the square, and show how this high-profile project reflected important coming trends in historic preservation.