The House Museum
The Four Levels of Intervention within the Standards for Preservation as set out by the National Parks Service include Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction. In class recently we briefly discussed examples for each. Someone mentioned Elvis’s house as an example of rehabilitation, given that the building has changed use, from a house to a museum. However, within the field of historic preservation, house museums are considered merely preservation, despite the obvious change in use. While the buildings are meant to look like they once did – when a famous person lived there, for example – , often times old furniture is brought in to help recreate the look of the place, putting the visitors under the assumption that furnishing belonged to the original resident. This can be viewed as a deceptive tactic toward authenticity. A stronger argument for the classification of the house museum as something more like rehabilitation lies in the physical changes made on a structure that turn change them from homes into museums. Adaptations for safety as well as much heavier and frequent foot traffic, particularly on stairs, change the aesthetic of the home from something domestic to something public or civic. Coverings with rough gripping material and incongruous railings pull the visitors back from the past into the present day. Oftentimes a portion of the house museum will have been converted into a gift shop, a move that completely ruins the authenticity of the site, and prevents the building from falling of the category of strict ‘preservation’. Furthermore, guardrails or ropes often prevent visitors from having free range of the house, limiting the experience of them from being totally immersive.
Cases such as Independence Hall are equally altered. Once used as a house of government, the building and space within it lack the qualifications for a strict definition of preservation. Alterations have been made to accommodate the program of museum.
A house that is not lived in has a different feeling than house that is lived in. Museum houses lack the life that an actually preserved house provides.