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An Interview with Boston Preservationist David Rodrigues

David Rodrigues is the Manager of Facilities and Preservation at Revolutionary Spaces, the organization that stewards the Old South Meeting House and Old State House. David is also a member of our Young Advisors Board, and contributes to the Alliance’s mission to promote, preserve, and protect Boston’s treasured places.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Photos by Matthew Dickey.

David R.

Boston Preservation Alliance: Can you share a little about your work?

David Rodrigues: I LOVE MY JOB! When I read the description for my current role, it sounded like all of my favorite past work experiences rolled into one, so I followed an opportunity that sounded too good to be true. “Facilities & Preservation Manager” doesn’t scratch the surface—there’s a broad variety of responsibilities with the role. I monitor facilities for potential hazards or violations, train staff on proper safety practices and lead our “Disaster Team,” a task-force of managers who mitigate potential hazards. I patrol the surrounding public space and ensure that protestors, street performers, or anyone engaged in public discourse around the building conduct themselves respectfully. I’m the only person within the organization to actively address any type of rapid-response issue—I have a Boston CEAS ID (corporate emergency access system) which allows me to cross any police or fire barricades/quarantines to get to the property during an emergency situation. I help facilitate any special events within the space, and make the proper adjustments to the property to suit their needs. Because the properties are active museums with artifacts that demand specific environmental conditions, I spend a lot of time ensuring proper temperatures, humidity and lighting levels are achieved throughout the building at all times….Essentially, I keep the ship afloat!

I love all my responsibilities, but preservation is my favorite. Actively engaging in hands-on projects to replace, restore, or repair any at-risk or damaged building elements. Preservation is more than maintaining historic fabric; preservation speaks to communities and how people interact with them in a meaningful way. I use the building and coordinate with local orgs to ensure that the property is a positive and upstanding beacon for locals and tourists alike.

BPA: What is it about historic places/buildings that inspire you?

DR: I’m drawn to what these places CAN mean to people NOW. The culture behind historic properties had always been about what HAD taken place there or who USED TO make use of that space in a meaningful way. Preservation as an art was cast in amber, but these properties have a lot more to say and do for their communities to come. True preservation is about serving the current people, and so I’m very excited to make these places the best possible stage for my organization to program with invigorating speakers and discourse and to continue the same conversations that had taken place there, but in a meaningful way that speaks to modern Bostonians.

Old South

BPA: How does it feel being a steward of two of the United States’ most important revolutionary era buildings?

DR: Blessed and fortunate. I respect and honor their history and heritage, but I see enormous potential in what they can offer the world currently. My primary goal as steward of these properties is to walk the line between adaptive re-use and preservation of the historic building fabric. Modernizing these facilities in a respectful and responsible way will allow them to be relevant stages for modern conversations within the context of their historical meaning.

Gears

BPA: Has there been a project at the OSH (or OSMH) that stands out as your favorite? What was it and what work needed to be done? Is there an upcoming project that excites you?

DRThere have been many other projects, but my favorite to tackle is the lighting elements. Illumination is the most impactful building resource for the presentation of any interior or exterior space. I always felt that lighting had one of the most meaningful architectural impacts to a space. After spending the day chasing down the exterior lighting circuits with the electricians at Old South, we discovered that our repair also activated an old building illumination system that had been installed in the late ‘90’s as part of an “illuminate Boston” initiative. It still needs lots of work, but it’s a first step. At night both buildings were cast in shadow, but now when I see Old South at night a lot of the old tower lights are back on and some of the backlights behind the oxeyes are working again. That has probably had the biggest impact on my own satisfaction is seeing these properties little by little starting to shine again.

BPA: Any trade secrets to share for those who are looking to restore their old buildings?

DR: Don’t be nervous, anyone can do it! These properties have lived through challenges beyond your wildest thoughts, so your best intentions can’t cause any damage that’s not reversible. Practice, make mock-ups, test new materials before you use them, and have fun. It’s arts-and-crafts for adults, all of your years playing with legos and play-dough have prepared you for replacing or repairing some piece of moulding.

BPA: What are your current preservation challenges?

DREverything. Literally there is no plan. The institutional knowledge surrounding these properties is heavily focussed on looking backwards, not forwards. My biggest challenge in the coming months will be to review all of the Historic Structures Reports, any Preservation Plans, any Capital Needs Assessments, and any Master Plans to begin planning what the future of these buildings is going to look like over the coming decades…AND STICKING TO THEM! Most preservation plans don’t get to be initiated. Ours will be clear, achievable, and active.

David

BPA: And finally, what, in your opinion, makes Boston, Boston?

DR: The city is truly a beautiful melting pot, and new immigrants bring positivity that they share with all of Boston, making the city feel like a much more inclusive place than before.

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