Saving Tulane's treasures

March 12, 2001

Arthur Nead

Several of the jewels in Tulane's crown may soon be shining more brightly than ever. Save America's Treasures, a federal program established to promote vital preservation efforts, has named seven of Tulane's historic buildings as official projects.

The buildings are: Dinwiddie Hall, Tilton Memorial Hall, Richardson Memorial Building, Cudd Hall, Dixon Hall, Newcomb Hall and Norman Mayer Memorial Building. Tulane applied for the designation of national historical treasure for the seven buildings in September.

"We found out in December that we made the list, which was very exciting news," says Anne Normann, development officer for Tulane College who coordinated the initiative. "Now these seven buildings are included on a list of the most important cultural treasures of the United States."

"This is an interesting program that will allow us to propose for federal funding to help renovate some of our historical buildings on campus," says Teresa Soufas, dean of the faculty of the liberal arts and sciences, whose academic departments are well-represented within the seven buildings.

In order to be able to do that, she says, the buildings must be designated historical treasures. The university can apply for matching grants in the amount of up to $200,000 per building, which will allow Tulane to fund renovation projects within the structures.

The Save America's Treasures program was created in 1998 to address the country's unmet preservation needs, says Normann. It began as a two-year initiative of the White House and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, funded by corporate and private donations. The program is now being operated by the Department of the Interior, with the National Park Service currently operating the program in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

The program is helping fund the preservation of a broad range of American cultural treasures, including historic structures and sites, documents, works of art and cultural artifacts, maps, collections and other entities that document or illuminate the history and culture of the United States.

Among the program's restoration projects to date have been the Star Spangled Banner in the National Museum of American History, Frank Lloyd Wright's house "Falling Water," Rembrandt Peal's 1799 portrait of George Washington, the Touro Synagogue National Historical Site in Rhode Island and the African Meeting House in Boston.

The seven Tulane buildings that are now eligible for the Save America's Treasures grants were built between the 1890s and the 1920s, and in most cases are in need of major renovation or upgrades.

"For example, Dinwiddie Hall, the second oldest building on campus, is occupied by the departments of ecology and environmental biology, geology and the Middle American Research Institute," says Gary McPherson, associate dean of the faculty of the liberal arts and sciences. "They have all requested an elevator and improved climate control through installation of central air conditioning and heating. Such a project would cost a whole lot more that $200,000. "We could easily spend several million dollars on the building," adds McPherson.

Due to the federal-funding level, grant proposals for the buildings to Save America's Treasures will have to focus on minor improvements. Typical of the projects under consideration is a limited air conditioning upgrade in Dinwiddie Hall to preserve the Koch Botanical Library and the herbarium, a collection of some 2,000 plant specimens assembled from 1830 to 1855 by faculty of the Medical College of Louisiana, a precursor of Tulane University.

Robert C. Cudd Hall, which houses Tulane College, has already received substantial structural renovation and now landscaping around the building is being planned. Similar projects are currently under consideration for Tilton Memorial Hall, which houses the Amistad Research Center; Dixon Hall, home of the Newcomb Music Department; and for each of the other buildings.

"Our hope is that this program will attract attention to the fact that these are special old buildings," says McPherson. "Having them designated as treasures, and having a little money that would be 'seed' grants, might result in attracting more money that will allow us to deal with the real needs."

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