Historic Sites Act of 1935

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (JNEM) was the first “historic site” designated by the Historic Sites Act of 1935.  After it was declared a historic site in 1935, 40 blocks were cleared between 1939 and 1942.  Further action was delayed by WWII until 1947, when Saarinen and Kiley won the JNEM design competition.  How can a “historic site” be cleared of its history?

The Antiquities Act of 1906 had already given the president power to create National Monuments – originally this was intended as a means of protecting archaeological sites from looting and vandalism, but without any effective limits on the size of National Monuments, it also became used as a means of creating many of the western National Parks.  Administration of federally-funded historic sites was consolidated under the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916.

The Historic Sites Act of 1935 was intended to increase the preservation powers of the NPS.  It required that NPS survey “historic and archaeologic sites, buildings,and objects for the purpose of determining which possessexceptional value as commemorating or illustrating thehistory of the United States”, and “Secure, collate, and preserve drawings, plans, photographs,and other data of historic and archaeologic sites,buildings, and objects.”  These requirements became the basis of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) program, followed later by the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) and Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS).  The Historic Sites Act also requires that NPS, “Restore, reconstruct, rehabilitate, preserve, and maintain historic or prehistoric sites, buildings, objects, and propertiesof national historical or archaeological significance”.

What is significant about this site – and what was so insignificant about development before the Gateway Arch?  Much has been made about what protections for the Kiley design exist – was it part of the 1987 National Historic Landmark designation, or is it “contributing”, or is it protected at all?  I am more confused by the 1935 Historic Sites designation.  What made the place historic, but not any of the stuff in it?  Whose conception of history is this – and how can site interventions at JNEM and Pruitt-Igoe tell a different version of St Louis history?

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