Preserving a Sense of Place

National Trust attorney spends his days helping save historic spaces

Ross Bradford
Dakota Fine

When he was a student at Oxford and Emory, Ross M. Bradford 98OX 00C, now senior associate general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, often would get in his car and drive into the countryside of the deep South. 

There, he says, “I’d stumble across different little towns and historic places, like Social Circle and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.” The places spoke to him of the past, of stories that might disappear if they weren’t preserved. Though he didn’t know it at the time, Bradford would end up playing an important role in saving such places. 

After graduating from law school at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill in 2003, Bradford moved to Washington, D.C., where he did two legal internships. The first was a brief stint in the general counsel’s office at Whitman Walker, the renowned health and legal services clinic; the second was at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He stayed on with the Trust after they extended an offer in 2004 and now serves as senior associate general counsel.

“I’ve been here ever since,” says Bradford, adding that the Trust’s work is important “because we work to save places that matter in our nation’s conscience.”

Among the places Bradford lists that the National Trust is involved with are the Pullman Historic District in Chicago, the nation’s first model industrial town and also the location of one of the most divisive labor strikes in American history; Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, a site of conscience that was the center of the slave trade industry, second only to New Orleans during the early to mid-1800s; and Great Bend of the Gila in Arizona, a Native American sacred site with archaeological remains, summit trails, geoglyphs, and rock panel art dating the presence of humans back to 3000 B.C.

Bradford is one of the Trust’s twelve attorneys, whose work, he says, is split into two camps: “advocacy work, or saving places, and corporate legal services—real estate transactions, tax issues, and lobbying compliance.” 

As in-house counsel, Bradford spends less time in court than one might imagine. Instead, many of his days are spent using the persuasive skills he has honed as an attorney to convince varied stakeholders that saving a place is not just in the national interest, but in their own local and individual interests, too.

“Places I spend a lot of my time on are Woodlawn and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House in Alexandria, Virginia, which is threatened by federal road projects and sprawl,” he says. Bradford relies on federal laws to keep federal agencies in check and ensure that they avoid harm to historic sites. 

“Everyone has a place that matters to them,” Bradford says. “It might be as simple as a local restaurant you ate at as a kid, a park you spent time studying in during college, or a church where your parents were married. Not every place is necessarily a masterpiece of architecture, and in some instances important places are already gone, and we are simply trying to preserve the memory of a place.”—Julie Schwietert Collazo 97OX 99C

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