Honoring Preservationist Sue Turner

This story appeared in the March issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

by Nicole Hobson-Morris, Executive Director of the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation would like to pay tribute to Preservationist Sue Turner, who passed away Dec. 27 at the age of 93.

When I began working with the Division of Historic Preservation in early 2001, my then boss, esteemed Executive Director Jonathan Fricker, introduced me to several preservationists in our state, of which Mrs. Turner was one. He emphasized the important role women played in our state’s preservation history and their significant and lasting imprints on Louisiana’s preservation footprint.

Fricker, who began working with the Division in 1977, recalled that Mrs. Turner was part of an effort in 1979 to address the unsympathetic cleaning of the exterior surfaces of the new State Capitol building. Around that time, she also joined the fight to save the Old President’s House at LSU from demolition. Constructed in 1923, the building is reminiscent of a Victorian Italianate villa. Also, this important building is one of a few buildings on campus older than the iconic Memorial Tower.

With the possibility of losing the Old President’s House in mind, she was instrumental in the creation of the Louisiana State Capitol Historic District law (RS 25:781-785). This law requires the Division of Historic Preservation to regulate the historic character of buildings, furnishings and grounds of the district through a certificate of appropriateness for work proposed on state-owned buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places within the City of Baton Rouge. She did not stop there.

Mrs. Turner worked directly with the LSU Board of Supervisors to receive approval to list in the National Register the LSU campus buildings that were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. Subsequently, the LSU Historic District was officially listed in 1988, and the Old President’s House was saved from demolition. The creation of the State Capitol District would add an extra level of review and protection for not only the new and old State Capitol buildings and their grounds, but also other state-owned historic buildings, including those on the LSU campus. Her passion for preservation was demonstrated in the strides she made through the strong networks she fostered.

Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation, said that Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Winnifred Byrd were among the founding members of his organization in 1979. “They saw the need for a truly statewide organization due to the loss of the Welham Plantation in St. James Parish and formed the Alliance,” he said. “They were both guides and supporters of the organization for the next 40 years.”

While my interactions with Mrs. Turner were few, I will always remember her as a petite woman in her signature pantsuits who commanded attention and respect as she entered a room. I had the pleasure of witnessing her in action over many years when we attended conferences, but mostly while she served on our Division’s National Register Review Committee. She served as a review committee member for approximately 25 years, beginning in 1980. In this capacity, she supported the listing of countless historic resources across the state. In this role, she shared ways to strengthen nominations and did not shy away from voicing concerns when she thought a nomination did not meet National Register criteria.

State Historic Preservation Officer Kristin Sanders said, “Mrs. Turner’s presence will be missed, but her legacy lives on.”

 

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