Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Endangered Historic Places

For 25 years the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been alerting the general public regarding endangered historic places.  Approximately 230 “threatened one-of-a-kind-historic treasures” have been identified since 1988. 

Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks,  20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy.

The main website for this year’s list can be found here.

This year’s list includes a wide variety of places:

The Village of Zoar located in Zoar, Ohio….The historic Village of Zoar, home to nearly 200 residents, is protected from flooding by a levee built in the 1930s. Record floods in 2005, however, raised concern about the levee’s integrity. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started a three-year study to assess the levee’s future. One of many alternatives under consideration is removing it entirely, which could require the relocation or demolition of 80% of this remarkable historic village. 

Bridges of Yosemite Valley within Yosemite National Park in California…..Can you actually believe there are plans to remove the beautiful bridges that span the Merced River?  The 
National Park Service is preparing a comprehensive management plan for the Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, three historic Rustic Style bridges built in 1928 and 1932 are being considered for removal and face an uncertain future.

Malcom X – Ella Little Collins house in Boston Massachusetts….Built in 1874, this modest structure is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X. He shared the house with his half sister, Ella Little-Collins, whose son is the current owner. Largely vacant for over 30 years, plans are in development to rehabilitate and reuse the deteriorating property. In partnership with Historic Boston, Rodnell Collins dreams of preserving Malcolm X’s legacy by transforming the house into living quarters for graduate students who are studying African American history, social justice, or civil rights.

Historic Post Office Buildings… across the nation are endangered.   Last year, the U.S. Postal Service identified nearly 4,400 post offices – large and small – that it plans to study for closure. Unfortunately, city officials and local preservationists who identified new buyers or uses for endangered post offices often find themselves frustrated by a lack of information and guidance from the U.S. Postal Service…Local post office buildings have traditionally played an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans. Many are architecturally distinctive, prominently located, and cherished as civic icons in communities across the country. Unless the U.S. Postal Service establishes a clear, consistent process that follows federal preservation law when considering disposal of these buildings, a significant part of the nation’s architectural heritage will be at risk.

Joe Frazier's Gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania….Inside this modest, three-story brick building, Joe Frazier – a gold medal winner at the 1964 Olympics and later Heavyweight Champion of the World – trained for his victorious bout against Muhammad Ali. Today, the converted warehouse where Smokin’ Joe perfected his punch is home to a discount furniture store and two floors of vacant space. Despite growing interest in commemorating Frazier’s life (he died in 2011), the gym is unprotected; it enjoys no formal historic designation at the local or national level.

Ellis Island Hospital Complex.I know it’s hard to believe, but there are buildings on the island that have NOT been restored and are not open to the public.  Part of the Ellis Island National Monument, this mostly unused complex of buildings near the restored Immigration Museum once comprised the largest U.S. Public Health Service institution in the country. Today, few Americans realize that portions of Ellis Island are un-restored and off limits to visitors. The National Park Service stabilized the hospital structures here a decade ago, but millions of dollars still must be raised to rehabilitate the interiors of these historic buildings.

Sweet Auburn Historic District in Atlanta, Georgia…. is on the list due to “inappropriate development”. Since the district was added to the endangered list in 1992 the residential area of the district has seen  revitalization, but the commercial section has suffered.   Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Sweet Auburn is a prime example of the flourishing segregated neighborhoods founded by African Americans during the Jim Crow era in the South. The neighborhood was home to countless businesses, congregations, and social organizations, and was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. The house in which he was born still stands at 501 Auburn Avenue.

Terminal Islandfound in the port of Los Angeles, California…..We see this all too often when historic structures are scheduled for destruction. Terminal Island played a vital role during WWI and WWII as a major shipbuilding center, and was the place where America’s tuna canning industry came of age. The island also played a key role in a tragic chapter of American history: In 1942, an entire Japanese-American community there was seen as a national threat; its residents were forcibly removed and imprisoned at the internment camp Manzanar.

Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch  located in North Dakota….Theodore Roosevelt hunted, ran cattle, and explored this expansive ranch in the rugged North Dakota Badlands in the late 19th century. It was here that the 26th president of the United States developed a deep appreciation for the American West and for conservation. Unfortunately, the serenity of the ranch, which lies on both sides of the Little Missouri River, is threatened by a proposed new road that would introduce a visual disruption, as well as traffic, noise, and dust.

Princeton Battlefield in Princeton, New Jersey…..This is a little hard to believe.   The site of George Washington’s victory is being threatened by a housing development.  A portion of the battle site, faces significant threats, including a 15-unit housing development for faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study. As proposed, the project would radically alter the integrity of a rare, intact battlefield.


Faculty members in need of housing are threatening a major Revolutionary battlefield?!?

Texas Courthouses across the state of Texas….Texas courthouses helped establish a unique identity for each of the state’s counties, and 234 of the state’s 244 county-owned historic courthouses are still in active government use. Unfortunately, many – including some of the oldest and most architecturally distinguished – have fallen into disrepair due to inadequate funding and maintenance. 

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