Tom Vitanza is an NPS Experienced Services Program enrollee who has spent his career as an architect. Before his retirement, he was the Architecture Team Leader and the Senior Historical Architect at the Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC) in Frederick, MD. This Center is dedicated to the safe preservation and maintenance of national parks and partner facilities and utilizes historic preservation projects as the main vehicle for teaching preservation philosophy and building crafts, technology, and project management skills.
Mentorship has been a strong theme throughout Tom’s career. For 42 years, he worked as an architect for the NPS at HPTC. He started there as a young architect when the program was known as the Williamsport Preservation Training Center (WPTC); it was an intake training program which focused on historic preservation in the NPS. Tom was part of the third generation of preservation trainees and only the third architect hired by the Chief of the program, James S. Askins. Prior to that, he had worked for a year at the NPS North Atlantic Regional Office (NARO) in the Division of Maintenance & Operations; he was privileged to spend that year working with renowned NPS architect George Stephen, the NARO Regional Architect. George was patient with him – it was Tom’s first job out of college, and although he did not realize it at the time, this was a formative experience for him, as George provided guidance and mentoring to a very young and somewhat naïve architect. Tom also worked for a young architectural start-up firm for a few years between jobs with the NPS, and in that practice, appreciated the mentoring that experienced architects provided to the less-experienced ones. Once at WPTC/HPTC, and upon completion of the three-year training program, part of Tom’s job was to instruct other NPS employees in the practice of historic preservation according to NPS policies and programs. All throughout his career with the NPS, teaching and mentoring was a major component of his daily practice. This naturally continues with the ESP program and what he hopes to do as a mentor.
Tom heard about the ESP while he was employed with the NPS and thinking about retirement. He began working with National Park Service Experienced Services Program in October 2022, and works with the Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC)’s Historic Architecture Team. In that role, he mentors younger architects (those who are working on earning their architectural license); he works with them on HPTC projects such as historic structure documentation and researching and producing various NPS planning documents such as Historic Structure Assessment Reports, Historic Structure Reports, and Character-Defining Feature Reports. He also orients them to NPS systems and programs that will be useful to them in their careers.
In summer 2023, HPTC was tasked with doing the architectural fabric investigation at a historic house which is part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. This particular building had been mothballed for years with boarded-up windows and doors, no electricity, no water, no toilets (3 miles to the nearest port-a-potty!), was dirty, etc. All through the summer Tom and the team made numerous trips to the house to document, investigate, assess, and understand its design, construction, and history. Many days, due to the high heat and humidity, work had to stop by 1PM so as not to effect heat stroke on the employees. It was sweaty and dirty work, yet they managed to get through it, and by August realized the worst was behind them.
The best part of the ESP for Tom is getting to know the younger architecture employees and bringing them up to speed in the “ways of the NPS”. He also appreciates being able to officially mentor them through the architectural licensing procedure known as the AXP – Architectural Experience Program – coordinated by the National Council for Architectural Registration Board (NCARB); as a licensed architect, that is one thing he uniquely can provide at HPTC, and it assists them with their career goals of becoming a licensed architect, which is so important for the credibility of the NPS. The HPTC always has an interesting array of historic structure projects – each one with its own particular mysteries. Tom enjoys exploring historic buildings, figuring out their history, and assisting parks with the future preservation planning of the structures for the NPS.
There’s an old saying that architects don’t retire, they just keep doing projects until they keel over. That is in his blood too, and continuing to practice architecture – whether it be investigating historic buildings, trying to prevent the demolition of perfectly good modern buildings, documenting buildings that may be lost, or trying to convince clients that everything doesn’t need to be new and shiny to be good design – is a calling. It’s very fulfilling to be able to continue the work and share the knowledge that has been accumulated over 40 years of practice. Working with the younger architects at HPTC demonstrates that in order for NPS to fulfill its mission it must have trained professionals in-house. Tom feels that the ESP has allowed him to continue to work with some very promising young professionals and hone their skills for the NPS.
When Tom is away from those things, he is an avid swimmer, reader, cook and eater, gardener, occasional cat wrangler, and Soleri Bell fixer! He plans to travel with his spouse of over 30 years to those places that manifest interesting architecture, cultures, and people, and try to learn to relax.
Photo caption: From left: Rebecca Cybularz – Architecture Team Leader, Matthew Maggliozzi – NCPE Intern, Tom Vitanza – ESP Senior Architect, Jen Leeds – Architect, Emelia Lehman – Architect, and Trina DeNuccio – recently hired Architect.