When the Interstate Highway System was being developed and jet air travel was becoming popular in 1959, extraordinary pressure was put on our cities to give up older buildings and areas to the needs of freeways and parking facilities. A number of architects, conservationists and citizen historians responded by organizing the California Heritage Council ("CHC"). The founding members of this organization were instrumental in diverting a proposed super highway through the Gold Country, thus saving many historic buildings that would have been in its path. The California Heritage Council is a non-profit, educational organization. Its purpose is to call public and professional attention to sites in need of preservation and to recognize, by bestowing annual awards, important historical sites and the people instrumental in their preservation.
On June 16, 1959, the first organizing meeting was held, and the California Heritage Council was formally incorporated in the State of California with its Articles filed with the Secretary of State on September 28, 1959. The thirteen incorporating directors were: Donald C. Biggs, John Carden Campbell, Elliot Evans, Casper W. Weinberger, Stephen W. Jacobs, Augustin C. Keane, Carter Keane, Ted Moulton, Aubrey Neasham, Charles St. G. Pope, John Rosekrans, Jay Williar and William W. Wurster. Offices were originally in the California Historical Society's mansion at 2090 Jackson Street, San Francisco, where many meetings have been held in the past thirty years.
Election of the following officers was undertaken at the first formal meeting: Augustine C. Keane, President, Frank L. Fenton, 1st V.P., Audrey Brown, 2nd V.P., James E. Reading, 3rd V.P., John Barrett, Treasurer and Jay Williar, Secretary. 21 Board Members were elected.
The first concerns were centered in San Francisco, however, early in 1960 the CHC was in contact with James Lenhoff of Oroville who helped to expand the CHC's efforts at preservation to include Butte County, the Mother Lode and soon, all of California.
Initial projects included Portsmouth Square (the CHC sponsored a large public "protest" meeting in Portsmouth Plaza at noon on November 4, 1959), the San Francisco Old Mint, the John Muir House in Contra Costa County, Historic Downtown Sacramento and the Watts Towers near Los Angeles. The CHC was not successful in preventing the building of an underground garage, which changed the original topography of Portsmouth Square, but it was influential in preserving some of the monuments and getting a better overall design. The John Muir house has been beautifully restored and "Old Town" Sacramento, to this day, continues to develop as a historical district. The Mint project culminated in success in the second decade of the CHC.The first Annual Dinner Meeting for members and guests was held on April 30, 1960, at the World Trade Club. Officers and Board Members are elected each year at the meeting, and Awards are presented to worthy recipients.