Preserving history

When you think of historical preservation the image that most often comes to mind is a group of baby boomers and, more likely, their parents. It definitely isn’t 20- and 30-somethings.

But this spring more than 250 from the 21-35 age group descended on downtown Baton Rouge for the debut of Inherit Baton Rouge’s “Huey LongNeck Pub Crawl.”

Under the auspices of the Foundation for Historical Louisiana, the event began at the Old Governor’s Mansion with a video about Inherit and the importance of preservation. From there, crawlers traveled to Third Street and stops at The Roux House, Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar, Happy’s Irish Pub and, around the corner, the Red Star Bar.

En route they learned that Roux House’s original Italian immigrant owner lived upstairs; that Lucy’s used to be a livery stable; that Happy’s once was home to Esnard Jewelers, where LSU seniors purchased their class rings; and that five movies have shot scenes at the Red Star because of its unique ambience and architectural details. Those who remembered the trivia they’d heard walked away with prizes at the end of the night. They also came away with a new appreciation for historical preservation, which was the ultimate goal of Inherit Baton Rouge.

Inherit Baton Rouge was the brainchild of LSU Manship School of Mass Communication senior Emmy Gill, who worked as an intern at the Foundation for Historical Louisiana for several semesters. “I knew I wanted to intern with a nonprofit but, until I went to work at the foundation, I didn’t realize how interested I was in historical preservation,” said Gill. “I’ve always loved history and architecture; I’m a big Louisiana history buff.”

So, when Professor Jinx Broussard challenged her PR Campaigns class to form groups and come up with a public relations campaign for local nonprofits, Gill immediately knew which one to suggest. She presented her idea to her fellow senior classmates, Angela Campiere, Amanda Eisman, Megan Johnson, Zac Lemoine, Silvia Medrano, Lindsay Rabalais, Victoria Schmidt and Savannah Urban — come up with a way to attract younger members to the Foundation for Historical Louisiana and its cause.

“We were shooting for 100 people (to attend the pub crawl) but we had more than 250, way more than we expected,” confessed Gill, with a laugh. “We were a little unprepared but we felt everyone had a good time. There were about 100 still with us at midnight.”

“They’re the best thing since sliced bread,” said FHL Executive Director Carolyn Bennett. “They’re just a terrific team that’s added zip and vigor. They’re really focused on the foundation; they’re bringing in new people not creating a new group. Inherit is just a sub-group of the foundation; they’re picking up the torch.”

The contribution of Gill and her fellow students also caught the attention of the committee charged with selecting the honorees of the foundation’s 35th annual Preservation Awards. In an unusual move, the students received a special award at the July 12 banquet.

While recognizing that preservation can get a “bad rap” as something important to only an older generation, Gill and her fellow committee members wanted the under-35 crowd to see that preservation plays into things they’re already interested in, such as the green movement.

She pointed out that restoring, rather than demolishing, an existing property minimizes the environmental impact by “recycling” old buildings, and many of those old buildings were built a lot sturdier than newer construction and feature architectural details created by craftsmen who no longer exist. Since it’s safe to say most of the 25-35 year olds probably grew up in cookie-cutter houses in cookie-cutter neighborhoods, it’s easy to see how they would be attracted to the charm and character found in the older homes of historical neighborhoods. And that leads to the next mission of Inherit Baton Rouge.

While Gill, who now works as an executive assistant/communications intern with the foundation, and former project partners Lemoine and Medrano hope to make the pub crawl an annual event, she and Deputy Director Danielle Honeycutt, who falls into the target age group, are currently working to build Inherit’s membership, set up a board and plan educational events, such as one targeting young first-time homebuyers on the perks of preservation and renovation. Gill explained that a historic structure offers direct financial incentives such as tax credits, easements and even grants.

She’s headed to law school this fall, so she should be able to assist her friends in dealing with all the paperwork involved. Gill might even take Bennett’s advice and become a preservation attorney.

Meanwhile, keep up with Inherit Baton Rouge on Facebook.

ON THE INTERNET:

Foundation for Historical Louisiana: http://www.fhl.org

Inherit Baton Rouge promo film: http://www.youtube.com/user/brianpavlich210?feature=mhee#p/a/f/0/MHWDJUEMVxc