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woven together the remaining historic fabric with the human energy that had been its making. That’s not what the proponents of the expanded Arlington nomination submitted. They had wanted the boundary expansion request to come before the Board in advance of the original nomination being submitted to the Keeper of the Register in Washington, D.C. Lacking time, access to, and/or awareness of the historical record, within months they had prepared a nomination that can take years to produce. Critical problems with argument and evidence were only part of the reason why the public hearing in July 1999 was so contentious, the most heated I had witnessed in my six years on the board. Executive staff of the Board and the Commission opened the meeting with pleas for political sensitivity and the intimation that we might finesse some of the Interior Department’s stated guidelines; from the floor came veiled charges of racism and threats of a lawsuit should the nomination fail. The board ultimately voted to postpone its consideration, pending much-needed archival and archaeological research that might better establish the context and construct of The Hill. The postponement \(which came only after a majority opposed rejecting the dodge: some members believed that the lacunae in the nomination could be filled in with extant historical data evidence as yet unexamined; other gaps might be plugged by putting a shovel to work, unearthing the shards of the community’s past material culture. In late November, however, after a three-month investigation, which “clearly established that The Hill developed separately isolated both physically and socially,” Larry Oakes, executive director of the Commission, formally announced that the North Arlington Residential Historical District would be submitted to Washington “within the boundaries approved at the March 1999 meetings.” The process had ended where it had begun. Yet the protracted fight had not been for naught. Certainly Arlington’s historical consciousness had been raised to hitherto unimagined levels. In the months preceding the nomination’s submissions, there were numerous and noisy public discussions in city council chambers and neighborhood gatherings; local media had a field day with the controversy. In its best moments and they were some ugly ones the debate galvanized all stakeholders, regardless of whether they approved of the district and its proposed expansion. This led to an unusual, and gratifying, sight: people jousting over the memory of a place as if it mattered. Entering the list of books these newly engaged, historically sensitive citizens must read is the late David Hamer’s study of historic districts in the United States. Lesson Number One: what frustrated some in Arlington about the National Register nomination process its decentralization was what the New Zealand scholar believes is its unique strength: “In inspiration and development it is a very ‘democratic’ creation, very American.” All the more reason why its outcomes should be analyzed as “examples of applied urban history.” What Hamer means by this is that a close examination of the nominations will offer up compelling insights into the historical and cultural significance of the districts as districts. In pursuing that end, he has done a wonderful job, with this important caveat: he has chosen not to probe the often-fraught arena in which applications are read and debated, and then, if acceptable, sent on to Washington as formal submissions; the book does not examine those rejected at the state level, which is too bad, for the negative examples \(pace have a revelatory power all their own. More positive is Hamer’s careful delineation of the origins and outcomes of the National Register process. It was Williamsburg, Virginia, whose massive restoration, beginning in the 1930s, gave rise to the notion of “heritage villages.” This recreation of an intimate, walking community was not supposed to rehabilitate a dilapidated neighborhood, but to create a museum of sorts, reconstructing then freezing the historical references so that tourists can experience the “feel” of a past that no longer exof Williamsburg prompted imitations, such as San Antonio’s La Villita, another. Depression-era attempt to restore an eighteenth-century colonial town. But in stripping away the “accumulated effects of time” to gain an “historic accuracy of an earlier moment,” Hamer cautions, these re constructions lock themselves into a “fake `old’ that “quickly fades and appears dated.” Worse, we necessarily cut off, in the words of preservation scholar Roberta Gratz, “the organic development of a community” and substitute “a stage set.” Neighborhood districts can act in the same fashion. Developed in response to the rapid leveling of American cities through urban renewal in 1962 nearly 600 communities had such projects underway these smaller historic landscapes became stop-gap tactics preservationists employed to stall earth-moving equipment long enough to fence off portions of formerly intact blockfaces. These remaining fragments have been made “to fulfill a symbolic function as representative of all else that has been removed,” their status as salvage narrating a “drama of survival.” Yet in that, Hamer suggests, they are as unrepresentative as Williamsburg, “for the history of American urbanization has overwhelmingly been the history of change and destruction of the impeding features of outmoded forms of urban life.” That trend may change. As the furor that surrounded the Arlington nomination indicates, historic districts \(and the tax breaks able, so much so that the failure to obtain the coveted designation seems a slap in the face, a denial of a community’s historical legitimacy. With local, state, and national bureaucracies devoted to their existence, governmental funding available for their rehab, and professionals and grassroots activists dedicated to their conception and sustainability, historic districts have almost become immutable forms on the urban landscape. This significant alteration \(and have become historical phenomena themselves; by their sheer weight currently there are more than 8,000 they have the potential to influence future developmental strategies. Historic districts contain this lure as well: they buttress our faith in the possibility of reproducing the kind of faceto-face communities, well grounded in the past, that we imagine gave such texture to urban life in earlier times. Contributing Writer Char Miller served on the State Board of Review for the Texas Historical Commission from 1993-1999. 34 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 31, 2000