BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding Bend planner comment)
The proposed nomination of downtown Bend’s century-old Troy Field to the National Register of Historic Places has been sent off to the National Parks Service in Washington, D.C. - but with a split opinion, and recommendation by a state official that it be rejected.
“It is my opinion that the nomination for Troy Field … does not make the case for the property’s significance” under the criteria for “entertainment-recreation facilities," wrote Christine Curran, deputy state historic preservation officer, in the submission sent Monday to the National Park Service.
Curran’s conclusion is at odds with one reached in February by the Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation, which recommended the site for listing on the National Register.
In Curran’s opinion, “This nomination lacks a historic context for the property’s area of significance, which has been identified in the nomination as Recreation/Entertainment. As a result, I am unable to understand the relative significance of Troy Field, and therefore unable to determine the eligibility of the property.”
“With a property such as Troy Field, which has few character-defining features, and where those existing features reflect only the last nine years of a 62-year period of significance, it puts an even greater burden on the historic context to help determine significance,” she added.
Curran explained to NewsChannel 21 that the state advisory board makes a recommendation to her, and she makes her own, independent recommendation when the proposal is submitted to the keeper of the National Register, who makes the final decision.
She said she has to take into consideration four things: certifying the process was followed, that the site is eligible, that the nomination is technically accurate and the property was adequately documented.
“I don’t have to agree (with the state committee), but I do have to explain if I don’t agree,” she said. “It’s not a rubber-stamp process. I typically agree with the state advisory committee,” but she noted that the split opinion is not unprecedented in her 2 1/2 years as deputy state historic preservation officer or her 17 1/2 years with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) .
The reverse has happened as well, where the advisory panel believes a site is not eligible to be listed, but she believes it is, and in those cases as well, both recommendations go to the federal agency for its decision.
In her letter to Deputy Keeper J. Paul Loether, Curran requests “a substantive review and final decision on eligibility” by the Keeper of the National Register.
Curran said the National Park Service is likely to leave the record open for the full 45 days allowed, meaning a decision is likely by early July. “That gives them a lot of time to look at it clearly,” she said.
The submission included nearly 300 letters and signatures of support for the nomination, as well as a file from Bend’s Historic Landmarks Commission, with letters of both support and objection. A third file has documents from the Bend-La Pine Schools, the property owner, and its lawyers, objecting to the proposed listing.
The green space and play field has drawn greater scrutiny in recent years as the school district entered into an agreement with a Portland developer for a hotel on the site, to raise funds for school needs. That brought public protests and calls for a local entity to buy the site. That didn’t happen, but at the time of the proposed listing earlier this year, the school district said it had taken the property off the market.
Curran said the Keeper of the National Register doesn’t hesitate to ask for more information.
Explaining her viewpoint, Curran said, “It’s complicated, because it has to do with whether a property can convey its historical designation. It has to look pretty much as it did when all those historical things were happening.”
“It doesn’t have a lot of features to tell its story, so the nomination has to tell the story — and tell it well,” she said. “Sometimes, the property doesn’t speak for itself. You wonder whether a 1911 ballplayer would recognize it. It’s in the same place, but everything else has changed so much — even the field.
But she noted, “The Park Service can totally disagree with me, so this isn’t the end of the process.”
Curran noted that she had supported a proposed Pilot Butte Canal designation last year, “but they (the National Park Service) kicked it back, said it didn’t make the case. They act very independently.”
If National Park Service officials agree with the state advisory committee — not her — and Troy Field joins the list of some 58,000 on the National Register, “that’s it,” Curran said. But “if they agree with me” and reject the proposal, “the proponents of that nomination can try a different strategy and rewrite” the application and try again.
Either way, she said, won’t take it personally.
"The process works — it’s not a rubber stamp,” she said, “The Park Service could totally disagree with me, and that’s fine.”
"And a decision not to list Troy Field would not diminish its community importance," Curran said of the submission, which happens to come during National Historic Preservation Month. (A new project, the Deschutes Memories Project, kicked off recently with a gathering for people to share their memories of Troy Field.)
“The National Register is just one single tool to commemorate and celebrate historic properties, with a very high bar,” she said. “And (a decision against listing) doesn't mean at all that it’s not locally significant or historically significant, with people super-connected to it, that it is a great park. It’s an academic, super high bar, not an indictment on local significance."
As for the impact of a National Register listing, Curran said they “get automatically regulated under two conditions: relocation and demolition.” How that happens depends on the wording in local preservation ordinances, she said, “but some sort of consideration, delay, review gets applied.”
Bend Senior Planner Heidi Kennedy said if Troy Field is added to the National Register of Historic Places, "any changes to the site will require review by the Bend Landmarks Commission."
"The Bend Preservation Code will apply, as well as the Bend Development Code, depending on what is requested or proposed," she said.