Preservation of historic buildings and sites "helps us understand who we are, who we have been and who we could be," said Ed Lentz, Columbus historian and author of ThisWeek Community News' long-running "As It Were" column.

To honor Lentz' legacy, Columbus Landmarks -- a nonprofit organization that has advocated for historic preservation since 1977 -- has created the Ed Lentz Prize, said Nicole DeVere, who's in charge of marketing and development for the group.

The $500 cash prize will be awarded annually to the person who submits the best presentation for providing a better understanding of the history, architecture and/or importance of historic preservation in central Ohio, DeVere said.

The work, which could take the form of a presentation, a film, writing or something else, must have been created within the past three years and should "document, evoke, interpret, analyze or capture the importance of place and its preservation," she said.

The prize will be awarded for the first time in February, she said.

Lentz said he is "surprised and honored" to see a prize with his name on it.

"I've said for some time one thing that's important is to get the message of preservation out to the public," he said. "I'm very much impressed that Columbus Landmarks set up a prize that deals with presentation.

"Preservation helps sell itself once word gets out," he said.

In the past century, Lentz said, a sizable percentage of the U.S. population has moved to larger cities from farms and small towns, and cities are always changing.

Amid such changes, he said, "I think it's important to remember the power of place -- who we were, where we have been, who we might be in the future. Place helps with that.

"Cities always change," Lentz said. "If place helps us keep a sense of identity and who we are, it's important. It helps."

When it comes to the significance of local buildings and sites, he said, more history remains to be uncovered.

"Every neighborhood has its own landmarks, and Columbus has dozens of neighborhoods," Lentz said. "There are a lot more places to be discovered."

Preservation of historic sites often has been promoted by those with experience in architecture or history, he said, but such a professional background isn't mandatory when it comes to discovering a site's historical background.

"I would encourage anyone out there in the community who's a little bit interested in this to visit the Columbus Landmarks website," he said. "It has a lengthy description of the prize and what's involved."

Among Columbus Landmarks' work, the organization publishes an annual list of Most Endangered Sites, identifying properties at risk and raising awareness of their redevelopment potential.

Its 2019 list includes the Hayden Mausoleum at Green Lawn Cemetery, the Kroger Bakery on Cleveland Avenue and the Macon Hotel on North 20th Street.

Those who have worked with Lentz say he has played a significant role in promoting awareness of local history and the need for preservation.

"Ed Lentz is the preeminent Columbus historian," said Columbus Landmarks past president Nancy Recchie. "He has always taken joy in sharing his knowledge with others, and for professionals in historic preservation, he has always been an enthusiastic mentor. We owe him a debt of gratitude."

"He really has a love of local history," said Doreen Uhas Sauer, also a Columbus Landmarks past president. "He has an encyclopedic knowledge of many aspects of Columbus history and has raised the level of knowledge among people new to the city and those who look at history in a more-than-nostalgic way."

Uhas Sauer recalled once riding through Green Lawn Cemetery with Lentz, listening as Lentz pointed out the graves of a number of historic figures and described their significance and stories.

"Ed's love of history and his love of Columbus intersected perfectly at Columbus Landmarks, establishing a firm foundation for our organization's advocacy efforts," said Columbus Landmarks executive director Becky West. "Ed's knowledge is deep and his memory unfailing. He is unquestionably an expert but (also) an approachable one who enjoys sharing.

"I think the prize in his name is the perfect way to honor Ed, as it will help encourage others who are dedicated to preserving the past for the benefit of future generations," West said.

Stephen Gordon, who has worked at the Ohio History Connection's State Historic Preservation Office, said he has "vivid memories" of Lentz's positive impact on historic preservation.

"Beyond his professional accomplishments, Ed is personable, warm and self-deprecating. He brought his 'master's voice' to his work, public hearings and many friendships," Gordon said. "Behind this avuncular exterior was a talented teacher and scholar, especially of local history and the Columbus community."

He said Lentz is pragmatic, patient and a good listener but also a strong vocal advocate for saving Columbus' historic architecture.

"Ed especially championed the American Insurance Union Citadel, now known as Lincoln-LeVeque Tower," Gordon said.

Ryan Aiello, Columbus Landmarks president, said the prize not only will honor Lentz's legacy in perpetuitybut also will provide a platform for those whose creative talents and passion for the past, present and future will shape Columbus.

"The Ed Lentz Prize gives our organization an incredible opportunity to reach individuals in our community who embody our mission of historic preservation and good new design advocacy that Ed has worked so tirelessly to further," Aiello said.

Columbus Landmarks' membership includes more than 1,500 individuals and corporations, and it provides more than 75 tours and events each year.

For more on the organization and the Ed Lentz Prize, go to columbuslandmarks.org.

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