A Few of Malvaney’s Favorite Things

Since this is the week before Christmas, we authors of MissPres thought we’d look back at some of our favorite posts and re-gift them, adding value with a few thoughts about why we liked them so much. It’s the closest we could come to raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, and hopefully these won’t be as annoying as some other re-gifts you’ve received.

Picking just a few posts seems like deciding which child is your favorite, but I really enjoyed the “From the Archives” series of posts from March 2010 re-printing William S. Hull’s Governor’s Mansion Report of 1908. If you weren’t around these parts back then, I highly recommend reading the four-part series, starting with Hull’s estimate and description of the renovation costs in his Introduction. He later proceeds to lay out a passionate plea for preservation–certainly one of the earliest in the state that I’ve seen. The report was written in response to arguments for selling off the mansion (!) and building a new residence somewhere outside of downtown, and Hull marshalls every argument he has to save the building. He didn’t have all the catch-phrases and automatic replies we do today, but his apologetics in favor of preservation still ring true today. To those who said that preservation was too sentimental, he had this classic retort, which I’ve quoted several times since:

An effort to cloud the value to the State of the mansion is the charge that its preservation is a foolish sentiment and not up to date. All acts of life are based on sentiment. It is only a matter of degree, it may be a large sentiment or it may be a small sentiment. Every appropriation is based on sentiment. . . . The scheme of destruction is devoid of all practical ideas and belongs to the philosophy of him who consumes his substance day by day. Inconstant, frivolous, opportune.

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Another of my favorite posts is “Getting Back to Myths.” In it, I quoted at length from an article by Pamela Simpson, professor of art history at Washington & Lee University, about the myths of architectural history handed down by authoritative docents (taxes on closets, petticoat mirrors, etc) in house museums across the country. Simpson’s article shows the range, imagination, and wit of a legend in the field of architectural history, and it made an impression on me that has persisted. As I’ve thought back on it over the years, I’ve been reminded that the thing I love about architectural history is what it tells us about ourselves, if we’ll allow ourselves to be told.

I met Pam Simpson at my first meeting of the Southeastern Society of Architectural Historians in Mobile, AL. A mentor to hundreds of students in her decades-long career at Washington & Lee, she was also a friend to many colleagues in the various professional organizations she helped found and maintain, including SESAH and the Vernacular Architecture Forum.  Her book Cheap, Quick, and Easy looked at common and low-cost building materials such as concrete blocks and pressed-metal and showed the genius behind them. An always curious researcher, her latest fascination was the butter (and other food) sculptures at the state fairs of her native Midwest. She was a force for preservation in Lexington, VA, and a MissPres subscriber. Pam died in October of this year. Her work will live on in her books and articles and in the many art and architectural historians she helped train, but those of us who knew her will still miss our friend.



Categories: Historic Preservation

2 replies

  1. I am saddened to learn of Ms. Simpson’s death. Her book Cheap, Quick, and Easy is one I always keep near by. I enjoyed the “Getting Back to Myths” post but never made the connection between the quoted article and book that they were authored by the same person.

  2. I had forgotten about the Gov’s Mansion report post – thanks for the reminder among your favorite things!

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