Image: Ann Sinclair Hodges Hassett. (Donald Vish / Flickr)
The preservation movement is not the acting out of a desire to live in the past; rather, it is an attempt to fashion our world, at least in part, from the world that was fashioned for us. A society needs that continuous harmony in order to see itself as an extension of—and the improvements upon—that which came before.
“Preservation,” added Ann Hassett, “is thoughtful evolution.”
The City of Louisville, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and indeed the nation, lost a great preservationist on August 1, 2011 with the death of Ann S. Hassett. Ann was an historic preservation leader, champion, administrator, and organizer of the highest order and her presence will be sorely missed.
Ann began her formal career in preservation in October of 1972 with the formation of Preservation Alliance of Louisville and Jefferson County where she served as charter staff member and assistant director along-side Executive Director John Cullinane. Their mission was simple: to coordinate private-sector forces to teach, to advocate, and to demonstrate the value of historic preservation.
By April, 1973, Hassett had moved to the public sector of historic preservation to serve as the first Executive Director of the City of Louisville Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission under Mayor Harvey I. Sloane. She served in that capacity until her retirement in 1994.
The Landmarks Commission’s mission was to identify historically and architecturally significant sites through survey efforts and to protect those sites through National Register listing and through local landmark designation, where appropriate. The process was fraught with many a preservation battle, some victories and others losses.
Soon after her retirement from city government in 1994, Hassett was honored with the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award. State Historic Preservation Officer David Morgan stated upon on the occasion:
There are those who work with bricks and mortar and there are those who work with information, history, and records. There are those who go from person to person in search of money and there are those who know how to document and draft petitions. There are those who through the force of personality dominate the debate and carry the ball of preservation. And then there are those who work diplomatically, standing in the background so others can shine, providing the papers and information so others can sound wise and knowledgeable, doing the work so the publicly elected or anointed officials can say how much they achieved…The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Awards Foundation is proud to honor one of the quiet ones, one of those who do the research, conduct the negotiations, compose the grant applications, teach the public, win the friends, influence the authorities, and do all those things that ultimately make preservation possible.
Upon her retirement, Hassett had to her credit over 20 years of professional service to preservation. Additionally she had served as trustee for Preservation Alliance (now defunct) and was also a charter member of Third Century. She was active with Kentucky’s Commonwealth Preservation Advocates (now Preservation Kentucky) where she served on the board of directors. Nationally, she was on the Executive Committee of Preservation Action in Washington, D.C. and on the Board of Directors of Back-to-the-City in New York City, assuring Louisville a voice in national lobbying efforts.
After retirement, Hassett continued involvement with the Brennan House Inc. and with Preservation Louisville, recently completing a term as president of the organization.
Hassett received numerous awards acknowledging her unselfish energy and support during a lifetime of commitment to preservation and enhancement of the built environment. She received an Honorary Membership to the Kentucky Society of Architects and was bestowed the Helen Abell Award from Preservation Alliance. Additionally, she was recognized by two mayors, William B. Stansbury and Jerry E. Abramson, and Jefferson County Judge Executive David L. Armstrong.
Upon learning of Hassett’s passing, David Brook, Director of the Division of Historical Resources at the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources and former Executive Director of Preservation Alliance from 1981 to 1984, said:
I admired Ann for her unvarnished dedication to her community and as the saying goes “to creating a future worth living for.” To us in the private sector at the Alliance, Ann’s dogged maintenance of preservation’s place in local government was key to any success that we achieved. Ann was a great partner in community affairs. Ann would sometimes have to take some misdirected grief from people who did not share the wisdom of her long term vision, but she stuck to her guns and always showed great heart and great courage. In all, I think that is what impressed me the most about Ann—her courage on behalf of the good…. In thinking of Ann it comforts me to think of the old maxim that our true legacy is not what we do for ourselves but what we do for our community. In that definition, Ann left us riches beyond measure.
A move is underway to collect reminiscences and ephemera associated with Ann’s role in preservation advocacy. For more information, see Preservation Louisville.