A struggle over the leadership of the Historic Annapolis Foundation ended abruptly last week when the organization's chief executive resigned and was replaced with a president who vowed to bring the organization back to its roots in historic preservation.

After two years of trying to move the prominent, nonprofit foundation in the direction of museum-like education programs, Historic Annapolis President and Chief Executive Officer Brian Alexander unexpectedly announced that he was leaving his job, citing "philosophical differences about where we ought to take the organization."

The move followed months of sporadic criticism from longtime residents of the city, former volunteers with the organization and members of its board of trustees, who disagreed with Alexander's plans to shift the emphasis of Historic Annapolis away from preserving historic structures and toward education.

The crisis over the direction of Historic Annapolis was vital to preservation advocates. Most agree that the foundation was one of the major players in making Annapolis the city it is today. Since its founding in 1952, Historic Annapolis has worked to save many of the city's sometimes quirky but signature traits: the brick sidewalks, the antique houses, the pleasantly jumbled streets.

That legacy is largely due to the efforts of Historic Annapolis's founder, Anne St. Clair Wright, whose vision dominates preservationist thinking even a decade after her death. Under her aggressive leadership, the foundation's members flooded City Council meetings and wrote letters until the city government created the Historic District, dedicated to preserving the old-fashioned character of downtown Annapolis. But since that victory in 1969, the emphasis on keeping up old houses has slowly waned.

Eventually, the foundation's position of director of preservation services stayed vacant for several months during Alexander's time in office.

The new president, local historian Greg Stiverson, quickly vowed to return Historic Annapolis to its preservation origins.

"It's always been the core mission of Historic Annapolis, and it needs to be one again," he said.

A week into his tenure, Stiverson, the former director of the Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater, still has a trace of boyish excitement in his voice. He admitted that he was "blubbering" when he was offered the job, soon after Alexander's resignation. He had applied for the job once before, in 1991.

He takes over a staff of 27 full-time workers and an organization that has been struggling with reduced revenues from private donations, a major source of the foundation's $1.5 million budget. The shortfall led to the layoffs of four full-time workers in February.

"Times are tough all over," Stiverson said, but he predicted that Historic Annapolis "without question will weather the economic downturn." He described his fiscal policies as "parsimonious and tight-fisted."

Meanwhile, Stiverson said he would re-establish Historic Annapolis's presence at City Council meetings and in the community. "I think the key is involving as many people as possible as members, contributors and volunteers," he said.

"I am not concerned in the slightest about the national or international reputation of the Historic Annapolis Foundation," Stiverson said. "I think that will all come if we are a vital part of the community once again."