Metro Parks manager honored for leadership in historic preservation

melissa slide show at pagodaTacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission praises historic and cultural resources manager

A 25-year Metro Parks Tacoma employee, Melissa McGinnis, has been acclaimed for her leadership in preservation by the Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“Her influence on the awareness of preservation of park history has been immense, and this recognition is both overdue and well deserved,” presenters said.

McGinnis, Metro Parks’ historic and cultural resources manager, was among eight recipients for awards given in a ceremony May 22. She received a commemorative certificate.

The commission praised McGinnis’ work at Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, where she oversaw the restoration of the chief factor’s house and the stabilization of the granary, both landmark structures. The group pointed out that McGinnis guided the reconstruction of the Point Defiance Pagoda after a devastating fire and shepherded its designation on the National Register of Historic Places. The commission also highlighted the three books on Tacoma parks that she has coauthored.

McGinnis has worked for Metro Parks since 1990, most recently as historic and cultural resources manager. Her initial Metro Parks position was manager of Fort Nisqually. Originally from Florida, she was chief of interpretation at another living history museum, Historic St. Mary’s City, in southern Maryland, immediately before coming to Metro Parks.

“History is my passion,” McGinnis said. Still, she said she was surprised and a little embarrassed by the recent honor, in part because she’s never thought of herself as a preservationist.

This is not the first time Metro Parks has been recognized by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, an appointed body charged with the review of proposed changes affecting historic sites and structures. Previously, the commission celebrated the Pagoda restoration and improvements to Wright Park.

A commitment to culture and heritage has been an official part of Metro Parks’ mission since 2006, a year after the Point Defiance Park centennial. All the interest surrounding that event is part of the reason why Metro Parks is now fully vested in sharing its own story, McGinnis said.

“At that point, there was a realization that Metro Parks has a rich history with many stories to tell,” she said.

At the same time, McGinnis said her job has evolved and grown. One of her current projects is working with Claire Keller-Scholz, curator for Fort Nisqually, to create a catalog of the district’s cultural and historic assets, with descriptions and photographs of each. So far the list includes high profile features, such as the Pagoda, as well as lesser known ones such as artist Stephen Wong’s three tall and wind-driven kinetic sculptures near the Point Defiance Boathouse. After the inventory is compiled, it will be posted on the Metro Parks website for public view.

She’s also preparing the nomination of the Point Defiance Park Lodge – the present Visitors Center – for the National Register of Historic Places.

She says it’s not enough just to save landmark structures. It’s important to help people understand the story behind them. “Historic preservation is bigger than just the building: it’s the context. We need to make it real to people. Take it out of the timeline and put it in the tapestry of life,” she said. “I love it. There’s always something more to learn.”

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