I entered the world of historic preservation fresh from college, armed with my English and Art History degree, a love of old houses – and not much else. I knew virtually nothing. Worse, I really had no concept of how buildings work. Fortunately, I met Scot Walters before I bumbled too far. Scot, with his architecture school background, well-formed opinions, and colorful descriptions of places, buildings, and people, contributed so much to my knowledge and appreciation of design, the mechanics of historic preservation, and the realities of dealing with leaking roofs, crumbling plaster, and idiot contractors. Scot Walters died yesterday morning, and Kentucky preservation has lost a strident and ardent champion.
I am not the person to eulogize Scot. Other people knew him better, worked with him longer, raised all kinds of hell with him. I don’t know that anyone possesses the talent to sum up the sometimes brash and fiery temperament, always keen intellect, and sharp wit that defined him.
I only worked with Scot for four years at the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC), the State Historic Preservation Office. But I knew him long before that, first as a neighbor, and then as the occasional “House Doctor” for the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation (BGT).
During Preservation Month, the BGT would hold a “House Doctor” Clinic, where for $25 or so, you could reserve an hour with our expert, Scot Walters. I worked for the BGT then, my first job in the preservation field, and accompanied Scot on his house calls.
On the way to and from our various appointments, Scot would hold forth on any number of issues. Sprawl, the evils of the automobile, the difficulties of preservation in Kentucky, beer, music, architects…but when we arrived at the site, he turned quiet and contemplative, clambering all over the house in question, nodding or shaking his head, making notes in his mental filing cabinet, or pointing things out to me. And when we sat down with the homeowner at the end of the session, he addressed their questions or concerns with grave respect and humor.
One older lady, in a ranch house in Lexington, was tremulous and faltering, her fear about her foundation transferring to her shaking hands. Scot handled her fear like he was holding a tiny kitten, kind and thoughtful, assuaging her concerns and writing down exactly what she needed to do next. I learned so much on these occasions, not just that “water is the enemy” and the proper mortar to use with 19th century bricks, but how to deal with all sorts of homeowners with ease, humor, and patience.
Scot espoused urban living. I grew up on a farm, and all I want to do is go back there. When he and Marnie bought the Mucci Building in downtown Frankfort, they invited me over to look at the building (this was pre-restoration). I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to live in a commercial building with no yard!
During demolition and restoration work, Scot called to ask me if I wanted some historic bricks. I’m not sure how many bricks I ended up getting, but I toted them around from rental to rental (building patios and then taking them up) until finally carting them home to the farm to use for landscaping efforts. I think I him every time I see those bricks.
Scot transformed the Mucci Building, and then bought the building next door. He was on his way to transforming downtown Frankfort.
I’m not sure that I had ever heard the phrase “rat bastard” before I met Scot. When I joined the staff at the KHC in 2005, I got to know Scot not just as a friend and professional, but as a co-worker. Sometimes he made me so mad…and sometimes he made me laugh until I thought I would fall on the floor.
We worked in different program areas at the KHC, but whenever I had a question about a plan, or drawing, or how to handle a particularly demanding architect, I climbed up to the third floor and asked Scot. He always took the time to answer. And if I was being stupid about something, he told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was being stupid.
The most stupid thing of all is that I am writing this – because cancer is stupid and senseless and hotheaded, opinionated Scot fought it like he fought all of his battles – with determination and vigor and stubbornness – and yet he lost.
I hope so much that he knew how much he mattered, and how much he impacted the world around him.
You couldn’t be involved in historic preservation in Kentucky and not know of Scot – or be impacted by his work. Simply put, there would be no state historic tax credit without Scot.
And the successful implementation of the tax credit program, and the many people (and communities) who have benefited from the economic stimulus of the tax credit owe him many, many thanks.
Scot had so much left to do – so many more people to piss off, windmills at which to tilt, and preservation problems to solve. He taught me so much, and likely was quite unaware of that fact. Drink a toast in his honor. Carry on the good fight. Rally for smarter, walk-able town centers, the retention of original windows, good design, and if you get frustrated, just mutter “rat bastard” under your breath.
My deepest sympathies to Marnie, Margi, and the rest of Scot’s family. He will be so deeply missed.