Over 150 people contributed to the Cleveland Park Historical Society survey recently. We were thrilled to hear about the survey and even more excited about the possibilities that could emerge. Some highlights from the survey include:
- Planning more talks and tours for the coming year, including walking tours in September and a house tour in October.
- Planning more historical content for the Historical Society’s site and for upcoming issues of Voices.
- Working on providing specific design advice to homeowners and builders.
- Meeting with the city’s Historic Preservation Office to offer support for the preparation of Cleveland Park-specific design guidelines.
- Continuing to seek ways to coordinate the Historical Society’s design review with the ANC’s in order to streamline the process for property owners and architects.
- Forming a working group to bring together neighbors interested in an oral history project.
We think that CPHS could and should take a leadership role in the neighborhood. There’s only one problem… it’s understaffed. CPHS consists of one quarter-time staff member, Carin Ruff, who also moonlights as a full-time student in historic preservation. According to Ms. Ruff, she does the following: “maintain the website, Facebook page, and Twitter account; write content from my own research and reading; respond to residents’ queries by doing historical research and connecting residents with city officials or whoever else has the information they need; coordinate and attend meetings of the Architectural Review Committee; answer architects’ questions; liaise with Historic Preservation Office staff; maintain membership records and coordinate membership and other event mailings; help plan events; edit and lay out printed publications like our newsletter; etc.” In other words, as much as we’d like to see CPHS do more, it faces significant institutional constraints.
Therefore, the onus is on us as volunteers to help propel CPHS forward. This can mean simply putting CPHS in touch with the “historians” in the neighborhood or volunteering to take on one of the initiatives listed above. Ms. Ruff mentioned to us that, “We’re especially interested in hearing from people who might like to participate in a neighborhood oral history project or who might like to write blog posts about neighborhood history for our website.”
Some of the survey responses indicate that there may be room for CPHS to partner with other DC organizations to help achieve its goals. For example, Ruff mentions that “The Washingtoniana Division at the MLK Library already runs regular workshops on researching house histories, so that’s an example of an area where we might be looking to collaborate with other local history organizations, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel or duplicate what’s already out there.”
We also believe that neighborhood businesses should take an active role in partnering with the organization. Sponsoring events that bring people to the neighborhood during the daytime on weekends would be mutually beneficial. We’d love to see a Cleveland Park Holiday House tour, or some variation, to mimic the successful tour in Logan Circle. That could be hard Ruff mentions because “the calendar gets really crowded around the holidays, it’s hard not to end up scheduled opposite another event that attracts the same audience, and the people who need to do the heavy lifting for a big event like the house tour are less available.”
Despite the difficulties involved in implementing some of the survey results, such an initiative helps create a road map for the CPHS. In addition, we hope that it is the impetus for desperately needed neighbor participation in the organization.