Past, Present, Future
A core belief of this newspaper is the critical importance of our collective history. History is actually a composite of imperfect memories colored by individual prejudices, preferences and circumstances, recorded to reflect a mosaic of approximate truths. To guide those who have no personal recollection of their predecessors and events that shaped their lives, tangible evidence assists but cannot accurately reflect the totality of that existence. Time is, according to physicists, a relative matter. Although we, as humans, perceive it as strictly linear – beginning to end – it may actually be much different. However, that is for theoreticians to debate. For the rest of us, categorizing time remains as a method to label our universe as antecedent, present or future possibility.
The inaccuracy of dividing experience into past, present and future is complicated. These aspects of existence tend to blend together depending on individual perspective. Language expands the present by using what is called “present progressive” to indicate ongoing actions that are expected to extend to the future. For instance, if you are “looking” for something, the phrase indicates a present action that may continue into the future. In this case, we are describing an action that is both present and future. Eyewitness accounts, even immediately following an event are notorious for inaccuracy, so even while we might agree on the result, details, even when supported by physical evidence, may be open to debate.
A continuing struggle in our society is the value of historical preservation. The debate rages at many levels – family, ethnicity, tradition, community, society. As many cultures blend in the Greater Tri-City Area, a tug-of-war exists between traditions and values of different generations and homelands. The tapestry of our present is woven from a multitude of threads from the past, present and present progressive. What does this mean and how does it look? Each of us makes our own decision about that.
Representations are a conglomeration of views that can differ between those who present them and other observers. Even artifacts and physical relics are open to interpretation. Although valuable as substance to dialogue, they cannot and do not represent the totality of our past. Those who pass on memories of people, places and events, give life and meaning to them by introducing anecdotes and personal references to relics that may not, without context, convey reality. Docents and historians are often given the task at important sites to interpret physical remains. For this reason, preservation of some artifacts is critical for historical relevance, but simple retention of any and all remnants is not a justification without a concomitant explanation of its importance.
Recent discussions by the Fremont Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) and Planning Commission about the future of the Centerville District centered around the development of a major stretch of Fremont Boulevard and a vacant fire station in the midst of the proposed development. While some historical structures remain in this area, many are vacant and do not convey a sense of the past vibrant community. The proposed development will not bring back the historic district but how much of it remains? And does the old firehouse actually give true representation of past Centerville life? While some structures and settlements such as the Masonic Lodge and Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Centerville as well as Mission San Jose, Ardenwood Farm, California Nursery and Shinn House are excellent representations of the foundation of the Greater Tri-City area, some structures are less iconic. Therefore, it is important to strike a balance between strict preservation, historic relevance and the present progressive. Artifacts, small to large, may point to a relevant narrative but without context, are not representative.
Many communities, including our own, have memorialized their past with investments in museums of one sort or another. Selection of the method and materials to be preserved should be determined by those who can evaluate and interpret but those entrusted to this task must also resist the temptation to equate age and value. As with each of us, our existence is, to some measure, part of a continuum. Is it the firehouse structure or the equipment used within that will contribute a valuable peek into the past? A proper balance between past, present and future allows all to exist in context – while the firehouse itself is not a critical structure, maintaining its legacy through preservation of artifacts and historical remembrances is essential. Debates about the merits of the Centerville development may be open to debate, but retention of the firehouse should not be a limiting factor. The past should be honored, but the future served as well.