This summer, I am interning for City of Walla Walla Development Services. I work closely with city planners in my office, but I also attend meetings with engineers from public works, building inspectors, firefighters, and county representatives. For the majority of the summer, I will be working on historic preservation. Walla Walla has a rich history dating back to the 1800s, and it is home to many buildings that are just as old. The purpose of the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is to identify, designate, and protect historic resources within the city. To preserve resources and history, the HPC encourages and provides incentives for property owners to restore their older buildings or homes rather than demolishing them.
One aspect of my work has been to help Development Services apply for a state grant that would fund the designation of Downtown Walla Walla as a historic district. Using GIS mapping software, I created a map to outline which buildings within the district could be considered historic. I featured my map in a PowerPoint presentation that I created to share with members of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Then, last Friday, my supervisor and I presented it and discussed the terms of the grant.
Moreover, I’ve spent a lot of time organizing/ cataloging historic documentation of properties, agendas and minutes from HPC meetings and any other information we keep on file. While organizing, I often come across documents about buildings that I’ve seen around town. I’ve read up on the history of the Whitehouse-Crawford property, the Pantorium Building, the historic elementary schools in Walla Walla, and the 1902 Oddfellows Temple wall that has been relocated to Heritage Park (go check it out downtown!). When my housemate and I drive to the grocery store or walk around Main Street, I can’t help but point out every building that is registered historic (and there are many) and give her a history lesson for each one.
I get asked a lot if I am a history major, and many are surprised to hear that I am actually majoring in economics. However, the work that I’m doing often is related to economics in some way. One reason we applied to register Downtown Walla Walla as a historic district is so that property owners may qualify for tax breaks to maintain their historic buildings. When encouraging owners to invest money into old buildings rather than tearing them down and building new ones, we must be realistic economically. Economics is the study of how society can best allocate its scarce resources. And in regards to historic preservation, the HPC helps property owners conserve resources by maintaining their historic buildings or homes rather than rebuilding them with new materials. However, when the property is clearly no longer of historic integrity or value, or when financing the costs of maintenance becomes unfeasible, the HPC and Development Services work with individuals to salvage historic materials and then rebuild in a way that maintains the character of the historic neighborhood or area.
Although their work is largely unnoticed, Development Services and Public Works do a lot to improve our community. They decide where Walla Walla city limits may expand in the future, which types of buildings you can construct in different areas of the city, and whether you get sewer and water connecting to your street. Before I started working here, I never really questioned where my water came from, or why people had to get permits before remodeling their homes. But now that I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning a city and preserving its historic resources, I am appreciative of the City of Walla Walla’s commitment to setting its residents up for a great future.
Experiences like Quinne Woolley’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Mitzy Rodriguez