For 25 years, the Historic Trust has helped preserve Vancouver’s past. Most important, the nonprofit organization has helped to move the city forward.
As it prepares to celebrate its first quarter-century, the Historic Trust can look back on a sometimes complicated relationship with the community and the historic sites it helps to manage. Members of the public see the Trust’s work, but also remember it for eliminating the traditional Fourth of July fireworks show near Fort Vancouver and for selling property near Providence Academy for the construction of apartment buildings.
Both decisions were met with some criticism, but both reflect a more focused vision for the Trust. Such a concentrated effort will be important for the organization to effectively carry out its mission. As its website explains: “The Historic Trust inspires civic pride and economic vitality through education, preservation, and celebration of our community’s history.”
In a recent interview with The Columbian, Temple Lentz, who took over as president and CEO of the Trust in 2022, said: “Even from its founding, the Trust has tried to be a lot things to a lot of people — an air museum, a STEM education center, a lecture series. What we need is to bring it back into focus. Our basic mission is preservation, education and celebration.”
Lentz added: “When I was hired, my goal was to bring stability and structure to get back on track so we could look to the future.”
For the Historic Trust, much of that future should focus on Providence Academy, which is owned by the organization. The Academy has been a Vancouver landmark since being constructed by Mother Joseph in the 1870s. It operated as a school until 1969, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and remains — at least from the perspective of Vancouver — a very big deal.
But providing necessary maintenance and renovation for a 150-year-old building can be costly. In 2018, leaders of the Historic Trust announced plans to sell a portion of the property for development and to remove a smokestack, laundry room and boiler room that many residents viewed as historic.
Last year, Lentz said: “We know that this is tough for a lot of folks in the community; it isn’t easy for us either. There is not a sense of celebration around the Trust. So much effort went into trying to find a solution to keep these buildings, but it turns out it wasn’t feasible.”
Funds from that sale are helping to refurbish Providence Academy while the new apartment buildings provide necessary housing near the downtown core. Meanwhile, the Historic Trust continues to manage the nearby Red Cross Building, Marshall House, the Artillery Barracks and O.O. Howard House. Each of the facilities — along with the Academy — offers event spaces, office space and retail space for rent. The properties are an important incubator for small business in the region.
All of that demands a tenuous balance. Preserving history while also promoting it and ensuring financial solvency can be difficult, but it’s important to the community. As author Michael Crichton is credited with saying: “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”
The need to care for that tree is reflected in the name of the Historic Trust. Vancouver has a rich history that it is proud to promote, but a history that is stagnant eventually withers. The Trust is wise to view itself as a part of the city’s future rather than focusing solely on the past.