Track 5: CANADA 150 – INDIGENOUS HERITAGE, DIVERSITY, and NEW DIRECTIONS / Volet 5: Canada 150 – Patrimoine autochtone, diversité et nouvelles orientations

Restored by Light: Using Policy and Technology to Facilitate Interpretation and Community Engagement with World Heritage Sites

Saturday, October 14
1:30 PM - 3:00 PM

San Antonio's five Spanish missions, including the Alamo, gained World Heritage status on July 5, 2015. The missions were established between 1718 and 1731 by Spanish priests of the Franciscan order who were sent to Texas — then part of New Spain —to settle and protect Spanish territory. The missions, their connective waterways (called acequias), and associated archaeological resources are one the largest and most intact examples their kind in the Americas.

In preparation for the World Heritage nomination, the City of San Antonio developed a new zoning buffer which regulates building height based on proximity to the missions. These Mission Protection Overlay Districts have proven successful in providing safeguards against incompatible development and contributed to the successful nomination. Following the World Heritage Site inscription, the City has taken major steps to ensure the long-term stewardship of the missions and their surrounding vicinity to re-introduce the public to these important sites.

At least two missions, built of local limestone, were likely adorned with colorful frescoes atop stucco when construction was completed. Over time, these frescoes faded due to secularization and decreased maintenance, though visible remnants remain. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior standards, when a property’s architectural or historical significance during a period of time outweighs the potential loss of extant materials, features, and finishes - and when there is substantial physical documentation - restoration may be considered as a treatment.

But to what extent should the missions be restored? Even today, preservation experts do not know exactly what the frescoes looked like, and there is a sense that any re-creation would have a negative impact on authenticity. However, there is still a need for interpreting the finishes of the missions, as they give us a better understanding of the visible impact that they had on the landscape.

One solution to this complex issue is using light as a form of temporary restoration. The City partners with the National Park Service to host a community-wide showcase of the intricate ornamentation that was once visible on the mission facades. Called Restored By Light, the first “restoration” was held in 2015 at Mission Concepcion, where there is the most remaining evidence of the frescoes. Now on its third year, Restored By Light is expanding to the other missions, drawing large crowds and gaining national attention.

This presentation will discuss:
1) Challenges associated with providing local controls for development within a World Heritage Buffer Zone;
2) The use of participatory engagement to connect the present-day community to San Antonio’s heritage;
3) The use of creative and innovative approaches to provide interpretive solutions and a deeper understanding of heritage resources; and
4) The use of temporary measures to achieve high-impact results.

Learning Objectives:

Stephanie Phillips

Senior Historic Preservation Specialist
City of San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation

Stephanie Phillips is a Senior Historic Preservation Specialist with the City of San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation. Her role facilitates the design review process and contributes to the development of community-based projects centered around the city's many historic resources. Prior to joining the OHP team, Stephanie served as a Project Design Assistant with the State Preservation Board in Austin, primarily in the coordination and execution of a comprehensive Exterior Preservation Project of the Texas State Capitol building. In 2016, Stephanie joined the inaugural class of ARCUS leadership fellows, organized by the Preservation50 Coalition. Additionally, she attended the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Houston as a Diversity Scholar. She is the San Antonio Regional Director for the Texas Chapter of APTI and a member of the Mid Tex Mod chapter of DOCOMOMO US. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and received her Master of Science in Historic Preservation degree from The University of Texas at Austin.


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Tom Urbaniak, PhD

Tom Urbaniak, PhD, is the past chair of the National Trust for Canada’s board of governors. He has championed the Trust’s role as a high-profile, accessible, engaging organization, which links heritage to social justice, sustainability, reconciliation with Indigenous nations, and cultural diversity. He is a political scientist at Cape Breton University and also teaches in CBU's MBA program in Community Economic Development. Tom is the director of CBU’s Tompkins Institute. He is the author of four books, including Action, Accommodation, Accountability: Rules of Order for Canadian Organizations and Her Worship: Hazel McCallion and the Development of Mississauga. He recently co-edited the book Company Houses, Company Towns: Heritage and Conservation, working with authors from across the country. Tom has spearheaded demonstration projects in affordable housing using vacant historic properties, helping to set up a revolving fund and the Affordable Housing Renovation Partnership. Tom serves on the board of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia. He is active in Nova Scotia's Polish community, and chairs the parish council of St. Mary’s Polish Church in the multicultural community of Whitney Pier, where he resides. He has been working with the community to rebuild the historic church following a devastating fire. Tom has served as a Canadian election observer in Ukraine. He is a past board member for Centre communautaire Etoile de l'Acadie.


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Restored by Light: Using Policy and Technology to Facilitate Interpretation and Community Engagement with World Heritage Sites

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