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Preservation groups merge

Springfield Preservation Alliance, Westcott group get new name and add to their missions.

The Springfield Preservation Alliance is best known for its annual tours of the city’s historic architecture, while the Westcott House Foundation primarily cares for a century-old home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

But, it’s hoped that a partnership between the groups will inspire a new wave of buildings locally that the area’s children will one day want to save.

The organizations have merged into the Westcott Center for Architecture and Design, with plans to continue celebrating Springfield’s past while advocating for good design in the future.

“We see preservation as a tool as much as a philosophy,” said Kevin Rose, the local historian who founded the Springfield Preservation Alliance in 2003.

In its 10th year, the alliance wanted to maintain its current programming — particularly a slate of walking and bicycle tours each summer that have proven popular — while becoming more proactive about the treatment of historic structures. As Rose put it, they no longer want to just submit statements to the newspaper each time a historic building is torn down.

He found an ally in Marta Wojcik, the executive director and curator of the Westcott House — and not just because they’re also husband and wife.

“Historic preservation is the key to some of the most successful urban stories,” Wojcik said.

Their groups have been drifting together for a number of years anyway in programming, including the collaborative Design Detectives Summer Camp and Pecha Kucha Springfield, an outlet for the local creative class to share ideas.

“What we really want to accomplish over the next decade, the next two decades, we can’t accomplish alone,” Rose said.

The new Westcott Center for Architecture and Design will maintain the programming of both groups while also developing career discovery workshops for high school students, college-level summer architectural studios and professional development opportunities for architects, engineers, builders and designers.

“We’re hoping the Westcott name becomes synonymous with architecture locally,” Rose said.

Westcott staff already have tried to remain true to the vision of Wright, who designed the forward-thinking East High Street house in 1906. The house is the famous architect’s only Prairie Style home in Ohio, and it has been fully restored since 2005.

For practical purposes, they say, the all-volunteer alliance gains a small, full-time staff at Westcott with grant-writing experience through the merger, and Westcott gets to further demonstrate it’s more than just a static house museum.

“They have some incredible education programs,” Tess Spencer, vice president of the Westcott board, said of the alliance.

The alliance, which now will cease to exist in name, brought a $30,000 endowment to the table to support the new endeavor through the Springfield Foundation.

One of the new center’s first projects will be to create a mobile app intended to send many of the 8,500 annual visitors to Westcott — 85 percent of whom come from outside Clark County — on a self-guided tour of Springfield’s other architectural landmarks.

“Every time we hear ‘merger,’ it’s in a negative sense. We picture something desperate,” Rose explained. “For us, it’s the direct opposite.”

It’s not uncommon for the alliance to have to turn people away during the course of its summer tour series, according to Rose.

“That says more about this community than the programs,” he said. “We have a community that really loves this stuff.”

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