Over the five decades of AHF’s existence, the focus of historic preservationists has undergone a dramatic change. AHF pioneered adaptive reuse at a time when house museums dominated the preservation landscape and urban planners favored replacing historic structures with modern ones. In 1969, the organization redeveloped Boston’s Old City Hall into a thriving office and restaurant building, demonstrating that vacant historic properties could be reintegrated into the urban fabric. AHF managed Old City Hall for the next fifty years, during which time adaptive reuse grew increasingly popular as a community growth and empowerment strategy. While AHF occasionally departed from its primary role as a historic property manager to rehabilitate underutilized buildings, it was not until 1999, under the new leadership of Sean McDonnell, that the organization began to devote more attention to the trend it helped to initiate: stimulating economic development in disinvested places through historic preservation.
“This has been a long time coming,” says McDonnell of the rebranding. “The name Architectural Heritage Foundation no longer reflects the work we’ve been and are doing over the past two-plus decades to help communities ‘unstick’ preservation projects and generate economic development. People mistook us for an architectural firm or preservation philanthropy. We’ll always be the “Architectural Heritage Foundation” entirely, but referring to the organization consistently as AHF, not to mention the new website, will help us simplify and amplify our message as the go-to agency for historic preservation and economic development for critical community projects.”