When you’re building a house, you need to start with a solid, sturdy foundation.
That’s exactly how Harry Heuman views historic preservation.
“Historic preservation knowledge and respect for history is the foundation that we build on every day,” said Heuman, the new president of Preserve The ‘Burg, an organization dedicated to protecting and celebrating the city’s unique historic properties, neighborhoods and resources. “What happened yesterday is how we move forward today.”
Heuman, who has a Master’s degree in urban planning from Texas A&M University and spent nearly 30 years at the Hillsborough County Growth Management Department, is passionate about helping preserve St. Pete’s history while also contributing to its economic and architectural future. During a recent conversation with the Catalyst, Heuman talked about his vision for Preserve the ‘Burg, which he hopes will involve everyone in the community, and shared his thoughts on the city’s growth and development.
The Catalyst: How did your passion for preservation start?
HH: It was just before I went to graduate school. I lived in Troy, a city in upstate New York, and they had a lot of brownstones there. I rented an apartment in one of the brownstones and I really enjoyed the comfort that I felt in that type of setting. I grew up in a very small town south of Rochester where rush hours were when the school buses went underneath the yellow flashing light. There were a lot of old buildings there and a lot of old Victorian homes, so maybe my interest in preservation even started then, but it really became focused when I was in graduate school.
What brought you to the Tampa Bay area?
I came to Tampa in 1984 and started working for the Hillsborough County Planning Department, as it was known at that time. I was sort of between jobs and I needed something different, and it just so happened that my mother was a widow and she lived in Madeira Beach, near where I live now. Between my mother and the opportunity that Hillsborough County afforded me, it was a wonderful chance for me to do something different. I like different. I can never learn from the same. It’s wonderful when I can go someplace and whether it’s an arboretum or a historical structure or anything of that nature, it just gives me an opportunity to learn.
How did you get involved with Preserve The ‘Burg?
I’m a person that needs to keep my mind active and I feel I have much to still bring forward. I like working with people. I’m very active and continue to be active with the Florida Holocaust Museum. My parents were survivors of the Holocaust. They were married in 1940 already in spite of the craziness and they were together awhile and separated. My mom was liberated from Auschwitz and dad from Dachau and when they finally got healthy, I was born in a displaced persons camp and we emigrated to the U.S. in 1947. The best thing about being a naturalized citizen is that per the constitution, I can never be president of the United States so there’s a sort of a benefit on that, but more to the point, I like to share. I’m a very sharing-oriented person. I like to help people understand and learn. I did that in my work life. I do that in my personal life. I do it in my volunteer life. I view every challenge as an opportunity not only for myself but hopefully to allow others to move forward and succeed. That’s how I stay active and keep my grey matter alive.
How do you intend to carry out your vision of involving everyone in the community?
I want to have an open-door policy where people can come and talk. I’ve already begun to arrange one-on-one meetings with our board members and I hope to do the same with the city council and its associated committees as well. I really would like to have Preserve the ‘Burg work with organizations such as the St. Petersburg Museum of History and Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum maybe on an ad hoc basis. We have great opportunities for synergy. That’s basically the essence of where I’m at right now. We have to communicate. We have to share thoughts. We have to find where things are different and look at how we can work together. I’m a strong believer in consensus and there’s so many great opportunities in this wonderful city.
How do you get the younger generation excited about preservation?
I would like to have the opportunity for students at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus – or maybe at the high school level – to look at one piece of history and potentially write an article and have it published in our newsletter. We could work together with teachers and professors and get people at the younger age engaged in the importance of knowing history as a foundation, whether it’s the foundation of our country, the foundation of our city or anything in between.
How do you feel about the future of St. Pete in terms of new development coexisting with the city’s historic elements?
I feel good about where the city is going. I have seen how the city has, for decades, worked in cooperation with Preserve the ‘Burg. I would hope that some of the historical opportunities we have here in St. Petersburg can be included in however the Tropicana Field redevelopment is going to happen, as well as the StPete2050 plan. I’m hopeful that we all work together and allow our community to have their appetite for history satisfied.