Draft Outline for a Study Brief

A Conservation Master Plan for The World Heritage Site of Old San Juan

by Prof. Martin E. Weaver

Following a 15 January 1998 meeting between the representatives of the National Park Service (NPS), and representatives from the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture (IPRC), Puerto Rican Conservation Trust (PRCT), the U.S. - International Council for the Conservation of Monuments and Sites (US-ICOMOS) and Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office (PRSHPO), the writer took the first steps towards the ultimate production of a Conservation Master Plan for the World Heritage Site of Old San Juan.

It had been agreed that the first step in the process would be the development of a comprehensive "study brief". This term was adopted because it is more commonly understood than the National Park Service terms "task directive" or "project agreement".

This question of terminology arising at this early stage in the process served a useful purpose in that it underlined a potential problem. It stresses the realization that we should only adopt terminology which is very clearly and precisely defined, understood and agreed upon by all parties - and is internationally accepted.

Despite some views to the contrary concerning the use of international standards in the USA, this unique World Heritage Site is in Puerto Rico and thus international standards must be observed. The following document represents the author's notes for a first draft on the requirements for the conservation master plan and leads to the brief for its development.


A substantial heritage resource consisting primarily of the fortifications enclosing the old City of San Juan has been identified as being of international heritage significance and has accordingly been designated a World Heritage Site. It can be logically argued that a Conservation Master Plan could and should be applied to the entire resource. Such a plan could and should allow for and even facilitate possible subsequent additions to the designated resource, for example including other associated significant fortifications and public buildings.

The Conservation Master Plan

A "Conservation Master Plan" is a complex document that defines heritage resources, their condition and the various means that can be established and developed to ensure their preservation.

The conservation master plan itself is developed through a number of phases, which essentially include the following:

  • A complete definition or description of the physical form of the heritage resources with their locations and dimensions;
  • Ownership, custodial, and responsible agencies;
  • The reasons why it has been decided to preserve the resources. In this context all the various associated forms of significance of the resource are defined in detail, as are all the parts or aspects of the resource which embody that significance. Thus for example if a resource is being preserved because of its unique associations with the 16th century, then evidence of the associations such as inscriptions and graffiti are of the highest priority for preservation. Similarly if it is being preserved because it contains architectural remains from the 16th century then any such architectural remains are also of the highest priority for preservation. Interestingly enough in San Juan the significant remains also include major concrete fortifications of the Second World War, remaining as tangible evidence of our more recent history.
  • The conditions of the sites, structures, and materials of the resources;
  • The geo-climatic environment of the resources;
  • The macro-, meso- and micro- environments of the resources itself;
  • The social, cultural, political, and economic factors, which influence the resources or are relevant to their preservation in both the long and short term;
  • The physical, technical, legal, and managerial means of securing the immediate and future conservation of the resources.

Action: Consultants with input from all stakeholders

Standard Terminology

A standard Historic Preservation Terminology must be developed for the Conservation Master Plan. Our current project is sufficiently unique with its scale, heritage significance, and multicultural and bilingual aspects, to warrant carrying out a review of existing international historic preservation and conservation terminology and evolving a standard terminology for this project which can be agreed upon by all participants and stakeholders in the project. Action: Consultants to develop with input from stakeholders. A small task group should later be formed to review this Standard Terminology.

Sources include: AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines; Burra Charter. (ICOMOS Australia. Revised 1981). Aotearoa Charter of New Zealand (ICOMOS NZ 1993). Delhi Charter (ICOMOS 1956). Venice Charter (ICOMOS 1966) IIC-CG Code of Ethics etc. Canada. 1986.

Glossary of Terminology

The conservation master plan will not only have to have an agreed standard terminology but it also requires at least a bilingual, English-Spanish glossary.

I suggest and recommend the 1993 Trilingual Glossary of Anton Rajer, (USA) Carlos Rua (Bolivia) and Adelma Maria de Freitas (Brazil) entitled TRILINGUAL GLOSSARY OF RESTORATION , CONSERVATION, AND PRESERVATION OF CULTURAL HERITAGE. In English, Portuguese and Spanish. This glossary was compiled by the authors for ICOM (the International Council on Museums) for the Washington Conference in 1993, building on the work of an international group of volunteers who started in 1982.

The five language Conservation Glossary of Juan Bassegoda should also be reviewed for inclusion.

Action: The terminology task group should probably also coordinate the adoption of a standard multilingual conservation glossary.

Existing Relevant Management Plans or Conservation Master Plans, Conservation Standards, Conservation Philosophies and Codes and Guidelines for Practice

All existing management plans relating to the resources at the international, national - e.g. US and Puerto Rico - and regional or local level- would need to be collected and included in the overall document.

All relevant legislation, charters, standards and codes, and guidelines for practice at all levels would also require to be collected and included - this would particularly feature relevant International Agreements to which the USA is signatory.

It might be noted that the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office has already set an admirable example by using existing international conservation standards. This is apparently unique among US government and quasi-governmental agencies.

Action: consultant with PRSHPO

Existing Historical Studies on the Resources with a Comprehensive Bibliography

A large number of studies have been prepared concerning major aspects of the resources but there is now an essential requirement for a comprehensive collection of an exhaustive, up-to-date bibliography.

Action: consultants.

The Process of Conservation Management

The site must be located i.e. on maps and site plans; and the resource must be documented i.e. by "as found" recording, including measured drawings, CAD records, EDM (electronic distance measurement); GPS; photographic, photogrammetric and digital image recording. Much documentation exists but it appears to require coordination. The measured drawing base then must be related to a condition survey - i.e. a total "as found" record. It can be argued that the resulting revised survey data should be to current standards so that the entire record can be placed on CAD.

This will almost certainly require a verification of datum points using satellite-based geodetic survey techniques and satellite imagery and closer range aerial photography. It is understood that there may be some hardware and software problems converting NASA and what was basically military intelligence data to appropriate forms.

The ultimate goal will be a computer-generated wire frame database upon which digital and other imagery can be developed. The resulting document will also have to be in a form which facilitates updating as a result of cyclical monitoring and inspection processes.

Action: consultants primarily in coordination with HABS/ HAER.

A San Juan Heritage Network Center can be created and developed as both an electronic archive or database and repository for all the data relating to the resource collected by all stakeholders and as a means of communication and education accessible to students, academics and the general public via the Internet. Following other US precedents this center should be located within the PRSHPO.

Action: research, design and development by consultants. Development input by PRSHPO and NPS. Operation by PRSHPO.

An assessment of the value of the resources is required - usually this can only be replacement value because cultural heritage resources are usually priceless and irreplaceable.

Action: consultants

A statement of significance must be prepared or reviewed and revised if necessary. In the case of the Walls and Fortifications of Old San Juan it might be argued that parts of the fortifications have been omitted from previous designation or identification processes. It might also be argued that significant historic buildings or historic districts within the walls should also be included. The walls and fortifications were created to protect resources such as the Church of San Jose and the Cathedral Church of San Juan (both 16th century); the Cuartel de Ballaja (1838) and the Casa de Beneficencia (1848) etc. The statement should include a clear summary of reasons why the resource is of value, supported by a clear description of the process of assessment used and the data upon which the assessment is based - demonstrating that the statement is justified. It is likely that underwater archaeological sites and historic wreck sites will be added to the designated resource.

It should be noted that delegates to the May 1996 San Millán Conference of the ICOMOS Comité Español have already discussed the possibility of expanding the designated World Heritage Resource to include the historic district of San Juan.

Action: PRSHPO with consultants.

Develop a management /conservation policy for the resources; This should be an updated combination of existing statements with new material to include additional resources, i.e. other fortifications and other very significant buildings within and outside the old walled city, on the City Islet, and in surrounding areas, e.g. the Fort of El Canuelo.

Action: Consultants with PRSHPO and NPS

Implement appropriate management and conservation processes. The existing processes also require periodic review to assess effectiveness and to bring them up to date if necessary e.g. where conservation technology or processes have become obsolete or have been found to have adverse effects.

Action: the research phase activities should be coordinated by consultants in close cooperation with at least the major stakeholders i.e. the US Department of the Interior, National Park Service and especially Paul Hartwig, the Superintendant of the San Juan National Historic Site; the Atlanta Southeast Regional Office; and the HABS and HAER Office in Washington; and the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office.

Elements of the Conservation Master (Management) Plan

  • Statement of legal responsibility and general policy.
  • Description of site in a regional context;
  • Statement of significance;
  • Statement of other significant values in conservation/management area. e.g. cultural tourism; economic.
  • Physical or environmental constraints and or threats effecting the resources or sites located as these are, in a tropical climate in hurricane and earthquake zones.
  • Scales of potential danger must be noted e.g. potential Richter scale 7 earthquake.
  • Current and projected visitor interests, use patterns and loadings; compare and analyze data with sensitivity of parts of resource e.g. too delicate to receive unrestricted use/visitation; too dangerous for unrestricted use e.g. unfenced high walls, staircases which are steep and without modern code conforming handrails etc.;
  • Requirements/possibilities for alternative means of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) e.g. interactive interpretation and virtual reality interpretive processes.
  • Other requirements and restraints or constraints; e.g. church in active use or official residence of Governor and family; security constraints e.g. active disaster control center.
  • Comparative information on related situations, especially in the Latin American and Caribbean cultural and geographical contexts; e.g. the conservation and management of other fortified cities on the World Heritage List; the conservation and management of other major tropical archaeological sites with massive masonry. e.g. Ankor Wat, Cambodia; the conservation and management of ex-colonial and military sites with connections even to twentieth century conflicts e.g. 18th and 19th century dockyard and World War II remains in Bermuda's Ireland Island and Canada's Halifax Citadel and outer forts. The conservation of W.W. II remains is of especial relevance in the context of the Fortress of San Cristobal.
  • Statement of appropriate use for the resources;
  • Management policy;
  • Management practices; in the last two cases policy and practices of all relevant agencies must be defined, compared and assessed in terms of how they function individually and collectively i.e. Federal; Government of Puerto Rico; Government of City of San Juan; other agencies.
  • Significance assessment: assessment of significance must precede management decisions and be clearly separate from them; significance assessment does not alone determine management decisions which are constrained or affected by a wide range of factors including; land use, financial, technical, legislative, cultural and social factors.

Management Policy

Management policy determines how the cultural significance of the site can best be conserved; it must include consideration of the following;

  • Policy for the use(s) of the resource.
  • Management structure (staffing).
  • Data-processing equipment and technology
  • Investigation and research; timing and rules of conduct.
  • Appropriate conservation strategy.
  • Physical intervention; emergency measures; short term; medium term; long term.
  • Interpretation e.g. by active and/or passive means - guides, signs, interpretive panels, visitor centers with film and or video facilities; booklets and pamphlets, electronic aids ranging from audio guides to virtual reality.
  • Maintenance; historic preservation maintenance or cyclical maintenance program(s).
  • Monitoring procedures with frequencies and review of policy

Management Policy Requirements

The management policy must:

  • Make explicit all the implications of the statement of significance
  • Be acceptable to all the owners or authorities who control the resources.
  • Pay due attention to all those especially interested in the resources, e.g. the citizens of San Juan.
  • Be financially feasible and economically viable.
  • Be physically feasible and appropriate.
  • Provide a long term management framework.
  • Be flexible to allow for and even facilitate review, improvement or alteration.

Legal Protection

To ensure appropriate legal protection for the resources under consideration the plan must refer and adhere to the following:

Acts at the Federal, National and Local levels to protect resources (monuments) either individually or as a class.

Acts that:

  • define land management or zoning areas;
  • resources protected through environmental impact laws/rules/regulations;
  • allow for regional planning and surveys.

Acts that:

  • require listing of significant resources or sites;
  • may or may not include legal protection;
  • provide prestige and recognition for listed resources i.e. may facilitate access to funding for conservation.

Acts to conserve natural heritage (i.e. sites included within National Park; coastal underwater "park" or reserve)

What Makes Good Workable Legislation?

  • Closely linked to and providing for an administrative structure and ongoing financial support: in the case of a complex resource this requires careful definition, paying particular attention to overlapping responsibilities.
  • Provision of specific custodial and or consultation rights for those groups particularly and traditionally linked to the heritage that it seeks to protect.
  • Recognizes the rights of the individual and the fact that cultural property is everybody's heritage.
  • Places emphasis on positive and enabling provisions i.e. tax incentives: education funding; listing of important places etc.
  • Has a minimum of deterrent clauses which concentrate on major or key areas (i.e. mandatory surveys and review processes before land development) and which are enforceable
  • Provides penalty clauses which are real deterrents, i.e. loss of development rights in case of serious offenses.
  • Provides effective field management component, i.e. local and regional staff and administrative backing.
  • Is closely linked to, or embodies provisions for/about land planning, urban planning, environmental impact assessment, and land management legislation.
  • Is very simply written and readily comprehensible, with as flat a decision structure as practicable.
  • Makes recording and registration procedures for the resources mandatory.
  • Provides for, but carefully defines and controls, destructive or semi-destructive research and other related activities by professionals and managers, e.g. development of maintenance procedures.
  • Protects resources as a class rather than as individually gazetted resources and encompasses a wide and comprehensive definition of "damage" and "destruction".
  • Provides for emergency short-term protection to allow for investigation of significance as well as long-term conservation.
  • Provides for the protection of a buffer zone around the actual resource(s), to allow for their protection from indirect damage e.g. view plane legislation, "bad neighbor buildings" with reflective glass curtain walling causing severe interference with visual appearance of resource because of reflected sunlight on historic surfaces.
  • Protects resources on lands of any status, e.g. military reserves.

Task Groups or Working Groups

A number of special task groups or working groups will need to be formed. Some may need to be formed before the specialist symposium is held. Specialist task group fields might include the following:

  • Structural conservation and stabilization of masonry and rock;
  • The conservation and restoration of stone - especially coarse grained sandstones of windblown particle origins as exist here;
  • Coastal stabilization and conservation;
  • The conservation of flora and fauna coordinated with the control of biodeterioration and biological growth ranging from bacteria, molds and fungi, via algae, to broad leafed plants; ferns; trees and shrubs; plant control herbicides and fungicides; the control of deterioration caused by faunal waste including bat and bird guano;
  • The conservation of architectural ceramics, including bricks and brickwork, terra-cotta and argamasa;
  • The deterioration and conservation of mortars, concrete, stucco and plasters;
  • The deterioration and conservation of paintings and drawings on plaster or stucco; this includes decorative paintings, striping, faux masonry, and historically significant graffiti;
  • Terrestrial and underwater archaeological site conservation and management;
  • Current and advanced documentation technology and methodology;
  • Conservation philosophy, standards, codes of ethic and guidelines for practice;


Several interesting points have emerged in the initial research phase. On page 16 of the US Government's original Nomination to the World Heritage List, it is stated that only a certain part of the wall running from the San Juan Gate to the San Justo Bastion is included in the nomination. "The portion of the wall owned by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is not included in this nomination. It is the intention of the United States to add this portion to the nomination as a technical correction at an early date". The writer does not know if this was actually done.

There are references on p.42. to the special interest shown by Franklin D Roosevelt in the historic significance of the fortifications in 1934 (legislation to add them to the NPS was first introduced in Congress in 1935) and to Harry S. Truman's role in establishing in 1949 the San Juan National Historic Site initially under cooperative management by the Department of the Army and the National Park Service.

Perhaps the most interesting find was the statement on page 50. In the context of a discussion on El Morro … "Although the fort's walls were plastered historically, it is not planned to restore them to that appearance. They would certainly lose their venerable character in that case. Present maintenance includes patching of small defects and the removal of vegetation."

The bold character emphases are the writer's.


The above notes have been compiled from many sources including the writer's own lecture notes; and the writer's own collection of published and unpublished books and manuscripts. Other references have included the Getty Conservation Institute publications on archaeological site conservation; and management; notes from Ms Sharon Sullivan, then Executive Director of the Australian Heritage Commission; and many others. The writer also studied reports and manuscripts from the files of the Center for Preservation Research, Columbia University in the City of New York. The sources will ultimately all be included in the bibliography of the Conservation Master Plan.

Bibliography (preliminary draft only)

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. AIC Guidelines for Practice.

Anon. The Historic Fortifications of San Juan: La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site. Nomination to the World Heritage List by the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. 1982.

Anon. Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Assessment. San Juan National Historic Site. Puerto Rico. Washington(?). December 1984. U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service.

Bearss, Edwin C. Historic Structure Report. Historical Data Section. San Juan Fortifications, 1898-1958. San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico. Denver. February 1984. U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service.

Bermúdez, Carmen M. and González, Karen. Catálogo de Propiedades incluidas en el Registro Nacional de Lugares Históricos en Puerto Rico. Vol.II. San Juan. San Juan 1995. Oficina Estatal de Preservación Histórica del Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico.

Blanco, Juan. San Juan de Puerto Rico: History and Morphology of a "Plaza Maritimo Militar" of the Spanish Indies. Unpublished Mss. New York 1988. Center for Preservation Research, Columbia University. Prepared for the US Department of the Interior.

Blanco, Juan. A History of the Formative Influences on the Development of the System of Fortifications of San Juan de Puerto Rico, "Plaza Maritimo Militar" and "Capitania General ", between 1493 and 1898. Unpublished Mss. New York 1988 Center for Preservation Research. Prepared for the US. Department of the Interior.

Burra Charter. ICOMOS Australia. Revised charter adopted 23 February 1981. Revised later editions include illustrations.

Castro, Maria de los Angeles. La Fortaleza de Santa Catalina, San Juan de Puerto Rico. San Juan 1987. Copyright. Manuscript draft.

Cerillos, Maria Luiza. (Program Coordinator) Estudio de Revitalizacion del Centro Histórico de San Juan. Ten volumes of text, two volumes of drawings. San Juan. PR. Date?. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña.

Hume, Garry L., Weeks, Kay D. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. Revised 1983. (Original 1979) U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service.

IIC - Canadian Group. Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice for those involved in the Conservation of Cultural Property in Canada. Ottawa. 1986. Subsequently revised and the organization is now called the Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property.

International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites. "The Venice Charter". ICOMOS 1966.

OEPH-PR. Plan de la Reforma Interior de la Zona Histórica de San Juan de Puerto Rico; Barrio Ballajá. San Juan 1986. Oficina Estatal de Preservacion Histórica de Puerto Rico.

OEPH-PR/PRSHPO. Inner City Rehabilitation for the San Juan, Puerto Rico, Historic Zone. San Juan 1986. Oficina Estatal de Preservación Histórica de Puerto Rico. (Contains: Pantel, Gus A., Badillo, J.S., Sepúlveda, A. and del Cueto de Pantel, Beatriz. Archaeological Investigations into the History , Urbanism and Architecture of Barrio Ballajá from PreColumbian Times through to the Twentieth Century. Barrio Ballajá, San Juan, Puerto Rico. San Juan September 1986. The Foundation of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Puerto Rico.)

O'Reilly. Field Marshall. An account of the conditions of the fortifications of San Juan in 1765 including recommendations for future construction and repairs. Apparently submitted to the King of Spain by Field Marshall O'Reilly of the Spanish Army. Translated from "a copy of the original made by authority of my office. Puerto Rico 27 February 1771. (signed) Thomas O'Daly." Translation from Spanish to English by Lieut. Edward H. Ross, Historical Officer USARFANT.(sp.?)(prob. USINFANT. for US Infantry) Undated. Original O'Reilly document in Archivo General de Indias, Seville. Typed manuscript in Center for Preservation Research, Columbia University, New York.

Rajer, Anton, Rua, Carlos and Adelma, Maria de Freitas. Trilingual Glossary of Restoration, Conservation and Preservation of Cultural Heritage. English Portuguese, Spanish. Washington 1993. ICOM.

Reyes, Ricardo T. The Harbour Defenses of San Juan in the Sixteenth Century. Manuscript report dated 8/22/55. Unpublished. National Park Service. 139 pp.

Rivera, Anibal Sepúlveda. San Juan: Historia Illustrada de su desarrollo urbano, 1508-1898. San Juan 1989. Centro de Investigaciones CARIMAR.

Rivero, Angel Méndez. Crónica de la Guerra Hispano Americana en Puerto Rico. San Juan. 1972. Edition. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Originally published 1921.

Ross, Edward Hunter. Translations of Documents on San Juan, Puerto Rico, from the Archivo de Indias, Seville. Legajos: Santo Domingo 2510 2503 2506. Translated 1948-49. Typed Manuscript in Center for Preservation Research, Columbia University, New York.

Sepúlveda, Anibal and Carbonell, Jorge. San Juan Extramuros: Iconografia para su estudio. San Juan 1990. Centro de Investigaciones CARIMAR/Oficina Estatal de Preservación Histórica.

Torres Reyes, Ricardo. General survey of archival material and museum items related to San Juan National Historic Site held by the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Report on a survey made January 8 through February 2 1962 during a trip made to Washington. National Park Service, Manuscript Report, Unpublished. Torres Reyes was Park Historian and prepared the report dated 7/9/62. 39 pp.

U.S. Department of the Interior. Caring for the Past. Mapping & Internet Services for Cultural Resources. Washington DC 1997. US Department of the Interior. National Park Service. National Center for Cultural Resources Stewardship and Partnerships. Heritage Preservation Services.

U.S. Department of the Interior. Order Designating the San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico. Signed by J.A.Krug. Secretary of the Interior. Washington DC 1949. U.S. Department of the Interior.

Weeks, Kay D and Grimmer, Anne E. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring and Reconstructing Historic Buildings. Washington DC 1995. US Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Cultural Resource Stewardship and Partnerships. Heritage Preservation Services. 2. Edition. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña. Originally published 1921.

Ross, Edward Hunter. Translations of Documents on San Juan, Puerto Rico, from the Archivo de Indias, Seville. Legajos: Santo Domingo 2510 2503 2506. Translated 1948-49