Michael Neibauer, Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal
Apr 24, 2013, 12:00am EDT
Two dozen Washington-area historic sites, from Mount Vernon to the Metropolitan AME Church to the Marine Corps War Memorial, will compete for a slice of a $1 million grant in a voter-driven contest that kicks off Wednesday.
Partners in Preservation, a venture of American Express Co. and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will pit local historic sites and their fans against each other — for the good of them all. Most sites will get at least a small percentage of the $1 million award, but only one will receive all of what it requested once the 17 days of voting are completed.
``Many people think of us as a credit card company, but we`re the world`s largest travel company,`` said Tim McClimon, vice president for corporate social responsibility at American Express and president of the American Express Foundation. ``Keeping these sites restored and open to the public seems to have a real connection to our business.``
Washington is the eighth metropolitan area to participate in Partners in Preservation. The others are San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York. The contest brings visibility to ``hidden gems`` through increased membership, donors, media attention and social media following, McClimon said.
American Express and the historic preservation trust whittled down 150 site applicants to 24, each with a viable project ready to go now. The criteria included historical import, a pressing preservation need and the community benefit, said Rob Niewig, leader of the trust`s Washington field office.
``We look at those criteria as an opportunity to assemble a portfolio that reflects the richness of this area,`` Niewig said. ``And I think this accomplishes that.``
The top vote getter is guaranteed to get its requested amount. The rest of the money will be divvied up based on voting, social media points (10 points for a tweet or 10 points from an on-site Instagram photo) and the decisions of a local advisory committee.
You might think that a nationally known historic site, such as the National Cathedral or Mount Vernon, would have a built-in advantage. It could send a mass email to national supporters and win thousands of votes.
Not so, McClimon said.
``It`s the smaller organizations that have the passion behind their projects,`` he said. ``They`re the ones that go out and mobilize their neighbors to get behind it. The larger organizations, they might send out an email, but they don`t really mobilize behind it. It happens year after year after year.``
In Boston, for example, the top vote getter was the Paragon Carousel, which defeated better-known sites such as the Old North Church and the Paul Reverse House.
Bricks and mortar preservation dollars are extremely difficult to obtain, Niewig said. But that type of preservation is critical, not only for the good of the site itself, but for the region`s economy, which benefits from millions of visitors, he said.
Voting runs through May 10. An open house at all 24 sites is scheduled for May 4-5.
The sites, in alphabetical order, and their proposed projects:
All Souls Church Unitarian, D.C.: Historic bell tower restoration.
Arlington House, Arlington: Rehabilitation of south conservatory and windows.
C&O Canal`s Abner Cloud House, D.C.: Preservation of 1801 home.
Carter G. Woodson home, D.C.: Rebuild front and rear facade.
Clara Barton`s missing soldier`s office, D.C.: Conservation of untouched office.
Colvin Mill Run, Great Falls: Restoration of 18th century machinery.
Congressional Cemetery, D.C.: Mausoleum Row vault roof repair and replacement.
Darby Store, Beallsville: Interior restoration of general store.
Dumbarton Oaks Park, D.C.: Repair the garden`s built structures.
George Mason Memorial, D.C.: Renovation of memorial grounds.
Greenbelt Theatre, Greenbelt: Restoration of historic theater.
Heyden Observatory, D.C.: Restoration of observatory exterior.
LAMB @ Military Road School, D.C.: Restoration of building`s exterior.
Living Classrooms of the NCR, D.C.: Restoration of Chesapeake Bay buyboat.
Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington: Clean, wax, and regild the monument.
Meridian Hill Park, D.C.: Stabilization and repair of the Grotto.
Metropolitan AME Church, D.C.: North stained glass window rehabilitation.
Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon: Restoration of Washington`s dining room.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.: Major roof repairs.
Sixth & I Historic Synagogue: Stained glass window rehabilitation.
The Athenaeum, Alexandria: Exterior renovation.
The Kennel at Aspin Hill Memorial Park, Silver Spring: Rehabilitation of historic kennel.
Tivoli Square/GALA Hispanic Theatre, D.C.: Restoration the theater domes.
Washington National Cathedral, D.C.: Nave vaulting repair.