The Preservation Roundtable is an informal gathering of historic preservation professionals and advocates founded in February 1969 by Frederick Gutheim, an urban affairs consultant and well-known author of The Potomac and Worthy of a Nation. Original members were Ernest Connally, Carl Feiss, John H. Hill, Richard H. Howland, Dorn C. McGrath, Jr., William J. Murtagh, Constance Werner Ramirez, Joseph Watterson, and Russell B. Wright. Within the first ten years, membership grew to 35, including Charles H. Atherton, Gretchen Gayle, George Karas, Russell Keune, Francis D. Lethbridge, James C. Massey, Hugh Miller, M. Hamilton Morton, Terry B. Morton, Donald Myer, John Poppeliers, Robert Rettig, Theodore Sande, Nancy Dixon Schultz, Ralph Schwarz, Ann Webster Smith, Margaret Sweeney, and Wynant D. Vanderpool, Jr.
The Roundtable encourages a broad and vigorous discussion of topics important to historic preservation. As Gutheim wrote in 1979, “In their specialized capacities and official positions those who compose this Round Table have little periodic opportunity informally and in a relaxed atmosphere to exchange experiences and views with their peers, and thus contribute to the larger understanding of their professional lives. Without this opportunity each of us would be poorer. It is a continual reminder of what we owe to each other. Over the years it has provided the social adhesion that has allowed the Round Table to continue.” Noted in Keeping Time by Roundtable cofounder William J. Murtagh, the monthly luncheon is now a preservation institution in itself. Besides libations, lunch, and opportunities to meet fellow professionals, the Roundtable provides an opportunity to introduce guests and make announcements about historic preservation activities. Guests have included Ada Louise Huxtable, Barclay G. Jones, and Sir Nikolas Pevsner.
The Roundtable has always met at The Arts Club of Washington to provide support for the preservation of this architectural survivor of decades of building activity west of the White House. The charge for lunch in 1969 was $2 and in 1975 the members agreed to an assessment of $7 annually to cover administrative costs. In 1979, it adopted the official name of The Round Table for Historic Preservation and celebrated its tenth anniversary with a black tie dinner at which was served such delicacies as “The Bonhome Richard (salmon dish, with sauce Howlandaise, discovered on a remarkable Smithsonian voyage),” “Murtagh’s Pearls of the Maine Soil (boiled potatoes of National Register quality),” and “The Importance of Being Ernest (ICOMOS green salad laced with a Feissty dressing).”
The Roundtable has no elected officers, but the position of President pro tem has been handed down from Frederick Gutheim to Richard H. Howland, and from Constance Werner Ramirez to C. Dudley Brown. The position is held currently by John H. Sprinkle, Jr. To meet at The Arts Club of Washington, the Roundtable must be sponsored by a member of the Club. Sponsors have included Frederick Gutheim, Richard H. Howland, M. Hamilton Morton, and C. Dudley Brown.
The administrative details of the Roundtable have been provided over the years by a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (US/ICOMOS), the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, The Accokeek Foundation, the Preservation Action Foundation, and the National Preservation Institute.
As Gutheim said in his remarks in 1979, and it is still true today, “Once a month we have found a moment to put aside other cares and relax in the atmosphere of fellowship, to share common interests, to exchange views, to open our minds, and to grow a little. What more can we ask?”
History compiled by Constance Werner Ramirez, revised December 2010
On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the founding of the Roundtable on Historic Preservation by Frederick Gutheim, a survey was conducted to find out if it was still relevant. While some respondents gave suggestions on how the Roundtable could improve, everyone seemed to agree that it is still a very relevant institution. Often members said that they couldn't attend on a regular basis due to living far away or not being able to take time off from work. One let us know that he drives 45 minutes each way just to attend! Many regular lunchers sited main reasons for attending the Roundtable as learning, networking, seeing and meeting colleagues, and seeing friends in the preservation community. Here are some of the responses we received—
“To stay in the preservation loop; to keep abreast of what’s going on locally.”
“Learn of current happenings in the world of preservation.”
“I know we’ll find interesting people at the Roundtable.”
“[To] see and hear from other preservationists working on matters that may be relevant to what I do or give me insight as to what is going on elsewhere.”
“As a retiree, to keep up with developments in the field, and to meet old friends who otherwise I would not see.”
“It is a good venue to get caught up both with what is happening and people in the field.”
A founder wrote that original goals of the Roundtable were to “ . . . create an organization with no organized program and no dues, to provide a platform for interchange (informal) among fellow preservationists one might not otherwise see.”
“Thanks for the good work. The Preservation Roundtable is very important to me.”
“I definitely think the Preservation Roundtable is relevant, and I thoroughly enjoy coming when I can.”
“I come to see old friends and to meet new people engaged in the work of preservation in our area. I never fail to learn something at one of these lunches.”
“. . . the format . . . blends just the right amount of formality and routine on the one hand, with open-ended discussion and socializing on the other.”
“I attend the Roundtable to see old friends and catch up on preservation news, particularly in the Greater Washington area but also elsewhere. Should the Roundtable cease to exist, I would have no good way to see most of these old friends or to keep current on area-wide preservation news.”
“And I for one very much want it [The Roundtable] to continue. It’s a neat institution, and it fills a need.”
“The Roundtable is very relevant, and [presents an] excellent opportunity to keep in touch with colleagues and meet new ones. That is all it was ever supposed to be and it does the job well.”
“The main reason I attend the Roundtable is to meet others in the field of
preservation. A secondary reason is to get professional gossip about what’s happening in the field.”
“The current length of the lunches is just right for me—long enough to talk to folks without feeling guilty about being away from work.”
“[I] enjoy the informal nature of lunch.”
“I’m somewhat on the periphery of the preservation field, yet have found the Roundtable an excellent way to network and to find out what other people and organizations are involved in . . . I very much like the opportunity for anyone to stand up, within a specific timeframe, and briefly describe a project or introduce someone.”
“The Roundtable serves an important function in bringing together people, who all work in various aspects of preservation and may not see each other often. I find I can catch up on news and activities.”
“. . . the time to enjoy and network is a serious advantage—and pleasure, too.”
“The Roundtable is a great venue to meet with fellow preservationists in the city and their guests. Otherwise, there are some people in the group, that in the normal course of business, one would never see or run in to elsewhere. A chance to meet new professionals (the guests and new members) outside of an official meeting is very conducive to developing good working relationships and for exchange of information.”
The Roundtable meets every second Wednesday of the month, except July and August, at The Arts Club of Washington (2017 I Street, NW, Washington, DC). Members are encouraged to bring guests. There is a standard charge for lunch and a separate charge for drinks consumed from the bar. Members are expected to pay at the close of the meal; those who make reservations and do not attend are billed. Members receive monthly notices, and reservations are requested by noon on the Friday prior to each lunch.
Annual membership dues are $30 for individuals and $40 for two-membership households. The $50 rate for institutions includes two entries in the directory, $10 for each additional entry, and the ability to invite other staff members to lunch at the member rate.
Administration of the Roundtable is a contribution by the staff of the nonprofit organizations Preservation Action Foundation and the National Preservation Institute. The Preservation Roundtable Directory is produced annually for use by members only. Membership information and an application form are available online at www.npi.org/presround.html or contact:
National Preservation Institute
P.O. Box 1702
Alexandria, VA 22313-1702
Click here to open the Membership Renewal / New Member Application