Top 10 Historic Preservation Related Movies

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A while ago I spent a few days on a research retreat and my friend Chad and I got to talking about the movie Cars and its preservation message. My first experience with the movie was at the 2008 Historic Roads Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Michael Wallis, an author and historian who has written much about Route 66, was our keynote speaker. He also happens to have been a consultant on the Cars movies and is the voice of the Sheriff. It was a wonderful and inspiring speech he gave in the historic KiMo Theatre, and we watched the opening sequence of Cars, where poor Radiator Springs is bypassed by I-40 to the sounds of James Taylor. I’m not going to lie, I was definitely weepy, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

Well, the historic preservation movement may not get quite as much glamour and media coverage as certain other phenomena, but every now and then, we get a little shout out. Here, I introduce my list of 10 feature films (in no particular order, and I won’t claim that they are the “Top” of anything) that refer to, include, involve or are otherwise somehow related to historic preservation.

Cars – see above.

Two Weeks Notice – Sandra Bullock meets evil real estate developer Hugh Grant while trying to save a historic Coney Island building from destruction. They fall in love, of course.

Somewhere in Time – Christopher Reeve hypnotizes himself back in time to meet and fall in love with Jane Seymour at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. For those of us who feel we were born in the wrong decade.

Money Pit – Tom Hanks and Shelley Long live every historic homeowner’s worst nightmare.

The Shining – “Hey honey, let’s go spend the winter in this empty historic hotel! How bad could it be?”

For Love or Money – Michael J. Fox tries to rehab a decrepit historic hotel and falls in love with his boss’s mistress in the process. Best scene: he has a glass panel that he can hold up in just the right spot in front of the hotel to show how amazing it will look when it’s restored.

The Portage Trail – a recently-discovered 1915 silent movie set in Akron, Ohio, showing many buildings and sites that are no longer standing.

Sing! – plucky koala hosts a singing competition to save his failing theater. Great way to introduce kids to both historic preservation AND good music.

Many, many Hallmark movies – [Down-on-her-luck/Brokenhearted/Jaded/City-slicker] heroine is forced to move back home to save her family’s rundown [B&B/winery/bookstore/ski resort] meets and immediately gets off on the wrong foot with handsome [high school sweetheart/contractor/mayor/widower dad/prince in disguise] but the building is saved by a [surprise windfall/community fundraiser/restoration montage/Christmas miracle]… and they fall in love.

West Side Story – I have loved this musical since I was a kid but it wasn’t until later that I learned that the “West Side” was a real-life neighborhood made up primarily of Latino and Black residents that was completely demolished to build Lincoln Center – an urban renewal project spearheaded by Robert Moses. The original movie was filmed in 1961 against this backdrop of demolition and displacement. Real and heavy, but that’s what makes this entire movie so good.

What are your favorite movies that feature or reference historic preservation?


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Courtney is the owner and principal of Aurora Research Associates, LLC, an historic preservation consulting firm.

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