National Trust for Historic Preservation President and CEO Paul W. Edmondson steps down

Pass The Torch

National Trust for Historic Preservation President and CEO Paul W. Edmondson steps down

Outgoing President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Paul W. Edmondson (Courtesy National Trust for Historic Preservation)
The head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Paul W. Edmondson announced he is leaving his leadership role at the influential preservation nonprofit. The President and CEO of the National Trust, will step down from his position sometime in spring 2023, and step away from 36-year career as a legal advocate at the organization. Board chair Jay Clemens is convening a search committee for a new president following Edmondson’s departure.

“In 2019, when the National Trust’s Board of Trustees asked me to take on the role of president and CEO, I did so with several main goals: to strengthen our relationships across the preservation community—but also to redefine that community in the broadest possible way,” Edmondson said. “To institutionalize the notion that telling the full American story must be a core element of all of the National Trust’s work. To expand our efforts to assert a strong national voice articulating the value and relevancy of historic preservation. And to promote continued innovation and inclusive public engagement at our historic sites. Of course, the pandemic threw another goal in our direction: to maintain a stable operational base for the organization—and not simply to ride out the storm, but to ensure that we had a strong platform for future growth.”

The National Trust is a Washington D.C.,–based privately-funded nonprofit organization that preserves and celebrates America’s historic places. A perpetual problem for the field at every level is a lack of funds to support every aspect of preservation, from building conservation and research to outreach and advocacy. In his almost four-year tenure, Edmondson oversaw a grant-making budget that swelled from $3 million to more than $18 million.

He also stewarded The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program founded five years ago as a $25 million fund to support preservation of Black History sites, helping to raise $80 million for the program from 2017 to the present. Among its many initiatives, in October 2020, the fund produced a report, Preserving African American Places: Growing Preservation’s Potential as a Path for Equity, that sought to better understand place-based injustice and its impact on historic preservation as well as identify strategies to spur preservation-based equitable growth strategies in Black neighborhoods.

black and white image of a multistory building in the midground of a construction site
Norma Merrick Sklarek, the first Black woman registered architect in the U.S., designed San Bernardino City Hall, seen here under construction. Under the leadership of departing National Trust for Historic Preservation President and CEO Paul W. Edmondson, funding increased for programs to study and preserve Black modernism and other Black histories of the built environment throughout the country. (Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C)

(Interested parties can apply for Action Fund National Grants to support work that “advance[s] ongoing preservation activities for historic sites, museums & landscapes that represent African American cultural heritage.” The Letter of Intent deadline is December 19.)

At the same time as these initiatives, a switch to virtual conferences during the pandemic allowed more than 2,000 people to sign up for the National Trust’s annual conference; 30 percent of whom attended for the first time.

Edmondson succeeded Stephanie Meeks, the Trust’s eighth president and first woman chief executive officer, who served in the role from 2010 to 2018. During her tenure Meeks executed a five-year strategic plan for the organization, initiated National Treasures, a program that highlights endangered structures, and launched the aforementioned African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Clemens offered a tribute and parting words of gratitude to Edmondson in a statement shared by the National Trust: “I would like to thank [Paul] for the many years in which he led the foremost legal advocacy team for historic preservation in the country, as well as built the preservation easement program of the National Trust, not to mention directing the variety of corporate legal services needed to operate a complex nonprofit organization. The influence of Paul’s work over the years cannot be viewed in small measures, for its impact has been far-reaching, field-defining, and a leading model for preservation.”