(Kendra at Gillson Park in Wilmette, a 2022 Most Endangered site.)
December 12, 2022
(This is an extended version of an article that originally appeared in our November 2022 edition of our print newsletter, The Arch. Read The Arch here. )
Landmarks Illinois proudly welcomed Kendra Parzen this summer as its new Advocacy Manager. In her new role, Kendra supports preservation across Chicago and its suburbs, collaborating with local advocates to help them save and reuse historic places. Kendra most recently worked as a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Washington, D.C. Below, Quinn Adamowski, Landmarks Illinois Regional Advocacy Manager, talks with Kendra about her career in historic preservation and what excites her about her position here at Landmarks Illinois.
Quinn Adamowski: What led you to a career in historic preservation?
Kendra Parzen: I grew up in a historic Queen Anne house, and when I was 11 years old, we had a terrible fire. No one was injured, but the house was absolutely devastated. My parents, along with a fantastic architect and contracting team, spent over a year restoring it. Seeing the amazing care and craftsmanship that went into bringing that house back to life when it would have been much easier to demolish inspired me to become a preservationist, though it wasn’t until after college that I decided to pursue it as a career.
QA: In your previous role as a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, you had the experience of working for a preservation organization with a national reach. From that lens, how does historic preservation advocacy in Illinois compare to other states? What is Illinois and groups like Landmarks Illinois doing well?
KP: Historic places in Illinois face many of the same challenges as across the country—funding challenges, lack of recognition for places that fall outside a traditional understanding of preservation, a lot of misconceptions about what preservation is and is not. A few years ago, after dedicated advocacy efforts by Landmarks Illinois and others, Illinois took the excellent step of enacting a state historic preservation tax credit program, though I hope to see that program expand and become an even stronger tool for rehabilitating historic Illinois buildings.
QA: Had you ever worked with Landmarks Illinois before being hired this summer? What kind of reputation did the organization have in your mind, and why were you interested in joining the team?
KP: Although I grew up in the Chicago area, my preservation career has been primarily on the East Coast, so I had never worked with Landmarks Illinois before, but certainly knew it by its excellent reputation. What attracted me to work for Landmarks Illinois is the opportunity to be part of an organization that is considering how preservation needs to evolve and is willing to think creatively about new approaches. Landmarks Illinois understands how critical it is for preservation to become more people-centric and more attuned to companion issues like sustainability and community revitalization.
QA: What do you like best about being LI’s new Advocacy Manager so far? What are you looking forward to in the role in the year ahead?
KP: So far, what I like best is the amazing variety of places and issues that come across my desk. There are constantly new people and topics to engage with, so it’s impossible to be bored. What I’m most looking forward to over the next year is developing relationships with partners and communities across Chicagoland.
QA: Do you have a historic place in the Chicagoland area that holds special meaning to you? If so, can you tell us a bit about it and why you value it?
KP: The Frances Willard House Museum and Archives in Evanston is a special place for me because it was the location of my first ever preservation-related job, as an extremely part-time administrator. I learned so much there about the challenges facing small historical organizations, and it’s where I really started thinking about how we make history and preservation relevant to the public.