by Barbara Wyatt, ASLA
The National Park Service (NPS) has announced the appointment of Sherry Frear, ASLA, RLA, as the new chief of the National Register of Historic Places / National Historic Landmarks Program. Supported by credentials in landscape architecture, historic preservation, project management, and sustainable practices, her experience encompasses programming, planning, compliance, design and construction, operations and maintenance, interpretation and outreach, and policy development.
She spent her formative professional years with a large Washington, D.C., law firm with a specialty in construction litigation. Volunteer work at the National Building Museum led her to Cornell University, where she earned her MA (Historic Preservation) and MLA. Sherry has worked at the city, county, and federal levels. Most recently, she worked with the General Services Administration in the Office of Design and Construction—part of the Public Buildings Service. In that position she focused on program-level responses to documentation efforts, sustainability issues, and compliance challenges.
Sherry Frear is the first landscape architect to lead the nation’s flagship historic designation programs. The National Historic Landmarks (NHL) Program has long been a designation program for historic properties of exceptional national significance. It evolved from the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which gave the NPS the responsibility of conducting surveys to identify properties that “possess exceptional value as commemorating or illustrating the history of the United States.” Today, there are nearly 2,600 National Historic Landmarks—both privately and publicly owned—but all of exceptional historical, architectural, or archeological significance.
The National Register of Historic Places was established in 1966 with passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Act gave the NPS administration of the designation program that recognizes local, statewide, and national significance. State, federal, and tribal historic preservation offices are partners in the National Register program. Today, nearly 96,000 properties are listed in the National Register, which includes many historic districts, each encompassing hundreds, thousands, or a few historic sites, buildings, structures, and objects.
The NHL and National Register programs include numerous listings of significant landscapes, both designed landscapes, rural districts, industrial districts, tribal landscapes, and more. Landscape architects and others have long worked to increase the recognition of landscape significance in both programs, and Sherry Frear’s appointment is a good sign that the recognition of historic landscapes has a bright future. In her own words, she plans to continue “efforts to raise the visibility of historic and cultural landscapes.” Her appointment is a major step forward for the profession and the protection of significant landscapes.
Barbara Wyatt, ASLA, is a Landscape Architect / Historian for the National Park Service. She serves as an officer for ASLA’s Historic Preservation Professional Practice Network (PPN) and on the PPN’s Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Subcommittee.