That realization was a crucial step in the ongoing Franco-American initiative to preserve cultural treasures in both countries. As Europeans repaired the damage inflicted by war, Americans questioned the destruction of fine older buildings in the name of urban renewal. The desire to protect and preserve landmarks and historic monuments inspired the creation of organizations that pursue this aim. In 1982, French Heritage Society took its place within this larger movement.
Today, it partners with three French preservation associations, Les Vieilles Maisons Françaises, La Demeure Historique, and Le Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France, and with several groups in the United States to preserve the rich architectural patrimony in France and those monuments in the US with roots in French tradition. It is apparent that this precious heritage is our common property and our shared responsibility. Preservation is at the core of French Heritage Society’s mission. It has awarded nearly 500 grants, amounting to more than $17,500,000, which include matching funds. While fulfilling its mission, the fellowship among members and the friendship between the two nations remain at the heart of the association.
It’s not just about making a contribution or sending a check. Perhaps just as important as fundraising, it’s about Americans who share their love of France. They are able to visit select châteaux through exclusive trips. I often say: ‘Join FHS and you will have access to the historic treasures of France like no travel agency can allow you to have. Just by joining, you become a member of a large family, the family of all those involved in the protection of the rich historic heritage of France; and then we will open for you the doors of the most secret and magic places where you will be treated as a friend.’
Trips often take members to the countryside in the provinces, to places that received FHS grants. The exchange between the American donors and the French owners is very moving indeed. They are so grateful and try to express their thanks in their often limited English, that spontaneous friendships develop. It is this ‘coup de coeur’ – the emotional response – which is the true value of the organization.
Restoring a château and keeping it in the family is only part of the challenge. A château must live by adapting to current times and needs, where one can enjoy not only the history, but all the “art de vivre” linked to the treasures of the past, finding the right balance between authenticity and the necessary adaptation to modern life, in terms of comfort, lifestyle, gastronomy, tourism, etc.
Châteaux owners are justly proud of their domains, but they are their prisoners as well, with constant repairs, high taxes, costs of upkeep… So when the mythic American ‘liberators’ arrive, a warm feeling of mutual understanding and friendship develops. The Americans then become good apostles for French patrimony, encouraging their friends to join the club, helping the cause and getting to know France on a whole other level.