Thursday, July 18, 2013

A National Guerrilla Register of Historic Places in Brooklyn

National Register of Historic Places, 2013 Additions
An article from Hyperallergic alerted me to a neat guerrilla history project in Brooklyn. In some ways, it's kinda like a much better version of my sticky plaque project, so I thought I'd share. An artist by the name of Anna Robinson-Sweet has silk-screened plaques made to look just like the official ones from the National Register of Historic Places. She puts them in NYC in spots that haven't been added to the official register, which she picked at random off a fire insurance map, but have all revealed interesting stories as part of the history of the neighbourhood. Her first round of plaques highlighted ten different locations: an old baseball field, a roller rink, a bath house, factories...

Robinson-Sweet has more information, photos and a map of the locations on her blog, which you can check out here.

An excerpt of some of my favourite bits:

"New York City’s history is shaped by what has survived constant destruction and remaking. Collective memories are often lost along with the alteration or destruction of buildings. National Register seeks to bring ten places back into the visual history of our city, in a borough that finds itself the new playground of developers and speculators... The contrast between these vanished buildings and what now stands in their place is often stark: where the bath house once stood is a glazed condominium tower; a self-storage complex now occupies the footprint of the rink where roller disco was born. This contrast between our contemporary urban environment and that of the past can be more informative than the physical remnants of the past that still remain...

"As the title suggests, National Register adopts the official language and plaque format used by the National Park Service (NPS), which sets supposedly stringent guidelines for what may be deemed nationally significant. Yet official historic designation is often arbitrary, subjective and corrupt. The NPS’s self-written history tells the story: “like any government program it has not been immune to extraneous influences. Such influences are manifest in landmarks illustrative less of American history than of the force behind their designation...

"Taken as a whole the ten plaques suggest that every lot on any block can reveal historical understanding of place; the historical narrative told by the structures that survive the ravages of time or are intentionally preserved is only one of many."

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