The French Heritage Society Celebrates its 30th Anniversary

1. Monumental Stair of the City of Auch
Photo : French Heritage Society

4/10/12 - Patronage - France and United States - It is difficult to pin concrete numbers on the activities of various groups of "American friends" working in favor of French heritage ; the matter however, deserves to be studied more closely, especially in the current economic doldrums. Among these, the French Heritage Society is now celebrating its thirtieth anniversary ; this gives us the chance to look at the role of this association, whose mission is to contribute to the preservation of French heritage, both buildings and landscape, essentially in France but also in the United States [1]. To do so, it raises funds in order to contribute to the restoration of certain monuments. Its activities are all the more precious today as the budget for the French Ministry of Culture has been reduced to a bare minimum, as we have already seen ; in fact, since it is unable to help, the ministry emphasizes the need for others to do so by awarding the Grand Mécène de la culture, which the FHS received in 2010.

Founded in 1982 with the name of Friends of Vieilles Maisons Françaises, it was rebaptized in 2002, after acquiring two new partners - La Demeure Historique and Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins.
Its members comprise fourteen delegations, including the one in Paris, the others are all in the United States [2]. Restoration projects are submitted by the three French associations - these are often monasteries and private châteaux which nonetheless must open to the public, as well as a few historical monuments - ; the most interesting projects are selected, then each delegation picks the monument it wishes and commits to the fundraising.

2. Fontainebleau, "Pavillon de l’étang"
Photo : French Heritage Society

In thirty years, 500 restoration awards have been attributed for a total amount of about 18 million dollars. The system is based on the principle of matching funds, that is, each dollar donated by the French Heritage Society must be matched by the beneficiary.
In 2012, eighteen prizes were awarded, so far equivalent to $560,000 ; of these $216,000 will be officially donated to the city of Auch on 9 October of next week for the restoration of its monumental staircase begun in 2009. Built in 1863, it connects the upper and lower parts of the city and presents two flights of steps, displaying terraces and gardens. Another project will render its original splendor to the painted wood décor at the Pavillon de l’étang, an architectural jewel surrounded by water, facing the château de Fontainebleau ; the fundraiser is still in progress with a set goal of $60,000. Among the other monuments which have been selected, there is the Abbey of Saint Martin de Mondaye in the Calvados region ($60,000) as well as the château de Gizeux in Indre et Loire (with a goal of $30,000). The château de la Bussière in the Loiret which had already received help from this American association in 2001, particularly moved the delegations in New York and Paris ($30,000), while Louisiana and Philadelphia are providing aid to the château de Caumale in the Landes, for its roof and four towers which are seriously deteriorated. Unfortunately, in today’s economic crisis fundraising is more difficult than ever. Nevertheless, Americans continue to respond generously to the calls for help and appear to be more attached to our French heritage than the government itself.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 8 octobre 2012


[1] For example, in Texas it is helping to restore the wreckage of La Belle, one of the four ships in the La Salle expedition when he explored the Gulf of Mexico in 1685 ; it has also contributed to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia.

[2] The thirteen delegations are located in Arizona, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Louisiana, Napa Valley/Sonoma, New York, Northern California, Santa Barbara, Palm Beach, Philadelphia, Southern California, Washington.

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