The History Tax

Try to guess the context for this piece of writing. Is it part of a scholarly study on the history of convention centers? A tourist guidebook? Is it the catalogue to a museum display on convention-center architecture?

In order to attract growing numbers of conventions in the
second half of the twentieth century, cities incorporated
convention center construction within urban renewal and
redevelopment schemes, usually at the edge of core urban
areas where space would be available for construction of
large buildings with contiguous, flat-floor space.

Los Angeles, like many other major cities, used public funds to
build convention centers in coordination with redevelopment
efforts. Other cities that did the same included Chicago
(1960), St. Louis (1977), Baltimore (1979), Pittsburgh (1981),
and Philadelphia (1993). Publicly and privately financed
suburban convention centers were also constructed, such as
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania‟s Valley Forge Convention
Center (1985) and Georgia‟s Gwinnett Center (1992). Cities
and counties with resort oriented economies also invested
public funds in convention facilities, including Las Vegas
(1958), Honolulu (1964), Anaheim (1967), and
Orlando/Orange County (1983).

In a progressively more competitive environment, cities
competed with one another to host conventions and major
events, seeking to gain advantage by planning for and
constructing new facilities. Earliest post-war convention
centers featured Modern exterior designs with flexible, high
volume interior spaces and moveable walls. Concrete was
used extensively in the formal designs of such facilities as
San Diego‟s Community Concourse (1964). Other facilities,
including Las Vegas Convention Center (1958), Honolulu
International Center (1964), and Anaheim Convention
Center (1967), all designed by Adrian Wilson, included
campuses with multiple exhibition halls and domed arenas,
unified by networks of landscaped pathways with pergolas
and colonnades. 

At it turns out, this undergraduate-style survey (based on secondary sources) is a small chunk of a larger chunk of a 10,000 page environmental impact report for a proposed football stadium in downtown L.A. The professionals at AEG, the developer that paid for the report, are of course hardened veterans of the regulatory process. Doubtless they long ago stopped questioning the sense of requiring any significant property development to generate a treatise on the history of whatever the project will replace.

In fact, they may realize that these obstructive requirements–which I will call the “history tax” as a shorthand for all of the never-read prolix paperwork that plagues any physically manifested initiative  in the United States–act as a useful isolating mechanism against competitors.

Pity the lean, mean entrant who wants to build a quality project quickly. He will be forced to go off on a mad scramble for historical expertise. Eventually, perhaps, he will be directed to

Chattel Architecture, Planning & Preservation, Inc. (Chattel)
is a full service historic preservation-consulting firm with
statewide practice. Located in Los Angeles, the firm
represents governmental agencies and private ventures,
successfully balancing project goals with a myriad of historic
preservation regulations without sacrificing principles on
either side. Comprised of professionals meeting the
Secretary of the Interior‟s Professional Qualifications 
Chattel Architecture, Planning & Preservation, Inc. 3
Standards (36 CFR Part 61, Appendix A) in architectural
history and historic architecture, the firm offers professional
services including historic resources evaluation and project
effects analysis, and consultation on Federal, state and local
historic preservation statutes and regulations.

You might worry a little bit about engaging consultants who don’t understand the proper usage of “comprise,” but your fears will be instantly allayed once you understand their “process”:

Staff of the firm engage in a collaborative process and work
together as a team on individual projects. For preparation of
this report, a team of four professionals within the firm was
assembled, with Robert Chattel and Jenna Snow assuming
the lead roles for the project and Shannon Ferguson and
Shane Swerdlow offering additional support. Robert Chattel,
as preservation architect and principal architectural historian
was responsible for overseeing the project, conducting the
initial on-site assessment of the building, and for editorial
review of the completed report. Jenna Snow, an
architectural historian, served as project manager and was
responsible for directing support staff in the research effort
and for writing and assembling the report with staff

How long does all this take? How much does it cost? How many competitors are excluded from the market simply because of the fixed costs of a 10,000 page report that few will ever read or heed? Purported inadequacies in the report might serve as the basis for obstructive lawsuits, but it is hard to believe that the vast bulk of the history tax is anything but a transfer from the public to the consultants and engineers who generate these instantly musty tomes.

It’s become fashionable recently to wonder if the United States has lost its ability to launch major innovations. To the extent that it has, much of the blame would have to be placed on our hypertrophied legal and regulatory processes. Did Los Angeles really suffer so much from allowing the Coliseum, at that point the largest sports facility on the planet, to be proposed in 1921 and completed by 1923?

2 Comments on “The History Tax”

  1. Mike Lorrey says:

    corporate welfare for overeducated trustfund babies with degrees in useless majors.

  2. RugPilot says:

    You can get paid for being an architectural historian!?! Gee, another hobby that I can make money at.

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