Earlier this summer, I wrote about processing the Wayne Bell papers. Because of my resulting familiarity with his work, I went on to work with the records of the Winedale Historical Center, the historic preservation program in the School of Architecture that Bell directed for many years.
When we interviewed Bell, we asked about the unique challenges of preserving historical sites, especially when a property or features of it have deteriorated beyond repair. His answer? You can preserve by creating a historical record. Throughout the Winedale Historical Center records are field notes, site plans, drawings, photographs, oral histories, and other materials kept safe in the Alexander Architectural Archive, documenting important information about buildings from across central and south Texas.
You hope that, with good preservation work, the building will remain. Sometimes, however, disaster strikes. In 1981, just five years after UT historic preservation students worked on the Zimmerscheidt-Leyendecker House in Colorado County, an arsonist destroyed the property. The students’ records are now that much more valuable to maintaining the cultural memory of this home. By Amanda Keys, processing assistant in the Alexander Architectural Archive and School of Information student focusing on archival enterprise and special collections
Think of historic preservation in Texas and you think of Wayne Bell. So when my Introduction to Archival Enterprise group was assigned to process the papers Bell donated to the Alexander Architectural Archive, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview the UT professor emeritus who was instrumental in founding the historic preservation master’s degree program.
When organizing an individual’s papers, you hope that they left enough reports, notes, photographs, and more to be able to piece together a story, to understand the person and his or her work. Bell had—for projects like the Inge-Stoneham House (1982-1987) and its relocation as part of the Winedale Historical Center program, we discovered day-to-day memoranda of contractor decisions, in addition to numerous photographs and other documentation. However, there also were many unlabeled contact sheets, research files without a clear project affiliation, and other records that only Bell could explain to us.
What we learned in chatting with Bell was even more revealing—while he showed remarkable powers of recollection about 40-year-old photos, there were a few photos and documents in the Wayne Bell papers that even Wayne Bell couldn’t explain. Sometimes an archivist just has to make an educated guess about a record and how it fits into the narrative—and hope that researchers will be able to complete the story.
Blog from the University of Texas Architecture and Planning Library