Preservation50 — Our Legacy, Our Future (Part I)

“The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people…the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans.” – National Historic Preservation Act, 1966

Preservation50_small-logoThe National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law in 1966, formally acknowledged historic preservation as an important policy of the Unites States. This Act transformed America’s communities by serving to preserve our nation’s historic buildings, landscapes, and archaeology.

Dubbed Preservation50, 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation that transformed our nation’s communities. To commemorate Preservation50’s celebration of “Our Legacy, Our Future,” GAI Consultants’ Cultural Resources Group will feature a series of historic preservation case studies throughout the year. For the first article in this series, we present the Lake Helen Historic Preservation Planning project below.

Lake Helen—The Gem of Florida

This year, GAI’s Cultural Resources Group partnered with our Community Solutions Group on a unique opportunity—a preservation planning effort for the City of Lake Helen, Florida. Lake Helen is a residential community with a significant historic district and a traditional lifestyle. Known as “the Gem of Florida,” the City was incorporated in 1888 and is an important part of Florida’s Gateway Corridor historic district.

Town Hall Historic Preservation Workshop

As part of this project, Architectural Historian Amanda Stander, AICP moderated a Town Hall historic preservation workshop. Attendees included Lake Helen residents, the Mayor, town officials, and prospective home builders. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the historical significance of the City and the specific historic architectural types that it includes. Lake Helen is proud of its cultural and historical heritage, and the City charged GAI to equip it with insights that would allow it to develop responsibly in the future. While they know it is important to grow and expand, residents and City officials do not want to do so by compromising their community’s historical integrity. Or, as City Administrator Jason Yarborough put it, “We don’t want to lose our souls in the process.”

Incorporating Historical Architecture into Conceptual Drawings—An Interactive Discussion

As a starting point for thoughtful growth and prosperity, GAI served as “subject matter experts” and hosted an interactive discussion on the historic nature of the City and its architectural styles. GAI presented information that outlined all nine of the Gateway historic architectural styles represented in the community. Following that discussion, potential builders presented conceptual drawings of homes they hoped to build for current and future residents. All participants then discussed these concepts and whether or not they would fit with the City’s historic architectural styles. The goal was to understand the nine architectural styles and then design future housing in a manner that retained elements of those styles. Of course, replicating existing historical structures is not practical, but it is important for new development to strive to successfully incorporate the community’s historic fabric.

The goal was to understand the nine architectural styles and then design future housing in a manner that retained elements of those styles.

Architectural Styles in Lake Helen


Proposed Homes—The Drawing Review Process

Additionally, the workshop discussions led to a review process in which GAI commented on proposed drawings and provided insight on how well the concepts would fit into the overall objective of preservation planning. As a measure of the initial workshop’s success, it appears that many of these proposed homes would blend in, while others will only need minor modifications before moving into design. The drawing review process and the successful workshop will allow the City’s stakeholders to arrive at a consensus during their move to the future while protecting their past.

Ben ResnickFor questions or additional information about the Lake Helen Historic Preservation Planning project, contact Ben Resnick, MA, RPA at 412.476.2000. 


Visit to learn more about the NHPA, which established the legal framework and incentives to identify and preserve our nation’s cultural and historic heritage. And stay tuned for the next installment in our Preservation50 Series!

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