Tribute to Virginia Savage McAlester

I learned over the weekend about the death of Virginia Savage McAlester, the well-known preservationist and author of A Field Guide to American Houses.

I have a copy of her book on my shelf, and have found it very useful over the years (Purchase a copy here). In fact, I just referenced it a couple weeks ago to prove to my friend that her Massachusetts home was indisputably a Queen Anne Style, using the diagrams in Ms. Aclester’s book as evidence in my case.

Below is a beautiful tribute to Virginia Savage McAlester, that I picked up from the AIA’s 2017 Honorary Membership Recipient.

“A historian, preservationist, and, perhaps most notably, an author, Virginia Savage McAlester has literally written the book about identifying and understanding America’s residential architecture.

The daughter of one of Dallas’ most progressive mayors, Wallace Savage, and early preservationist Dorothy Savage, McAlester has been a champion of the built environment for 50 years. In the early 1970s, she helped found the Historic Preservation League—now Preservation Dallas—an organization that actively advocates for the city’s historic structures. Since its founding it has helped designate more than 4,000 local landmarks.

McAlester’s efforts to save Munger Place, a 1905 Arts & Crafts neighborhood in East Dallas, led to the establishment of the Historic Dallas Fund, backed by Fannie Mae, to fuel the rehabilitation of inner-city homes. The model would later be applied to residential preservation projects across the country. Later McAlester formed Friends of Fair Park, which successfully lobbied to protect Fair Park, a National Historic Landmark that boasts the world’s largest collection of Art Deco architecture, sculpture, and murals.

Beyond her accomplishments in preserving many of Dallas’ most important buildings, McAlester is likely best-known as the author of A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture. Originally published in 1984, and updated in 2013, the volume covers more than 50 American residential styles, from 17th-century settlement homes to what she calls the “millennium mansions” of today. Lauded by architects and preservationists since its first publication, the 880-page tome has been well-received by the public, with pop culture magazine Entertainment Weekly giving the 2013 edition an A review. Her other publications, such as Great American Houses and Their Architectural Styles and Great American Suburbs, further demonstrate her passion for exploring the variety of architecture in our communities.

McAlester has built a distinguished career by celebrating the achievements of architects, and her endeavors to educate the public about the importance and diversity of America’s architecture is nothing short of remarkable.”

Read more about McAlester in this 2013 New York Times piece. Additionally, here is a link to her obituary in the Dallas Times.

Thank you, Virginia, for your work and contribution to the preservation field.

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