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May 20, 2008 2:28 PM   Subscribe

The [US] National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its 21st annual list of the nation's Most Endangered Historic Places. Among them: Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas, (where Linda Brown tried to register for school, resulting in Brown vs. Board of Education); New York City's Lower East Side; California's State Parks; Philadelphia's Boyd Theatre, and several others. The previous 20 years of Most Endangered Historic Places can be found in the Archive.

The Trib weighs in on the inclusion of Chicago's Michigan Avenue Streetwall
The Inky on Boyd Theater
Topeka Capitol-Journal (CapJo?) on Sumner Elementary
Times-Picayune on Charity Hospital
SF Chronicle on the state's parks
Lower East Side Endangered? So what else is new?asks the New York Times
posted by Miko (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Anyone know if a regular schmuck can actually go *inside* Hangar One?
posted by notsnot at 3:09 PM on May 20, 2008


Here in our neck of the woods there has been a bit of a dust-up. The Civil War Preservation Trust has published their list of the Most Endangered Battlefields. A fellow wants to build a race track on the purported site of a Civil War skirmish. The local paper frames the story as "a clash between two Southern staples -- the Civil War and racing."

Unfortunately, we can't save everything. I'm glad people like this are trying to educate people of the unique and historical places we often overlook.
posted by marxchivist at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2008


New York City has been redefining itself over and over again since the day they paid for it with beads. The place is about making money and that's all that it's about. There was a time when NY had soul but it's long been paved over. The Lower East Side is just one more neighborhood that's gone down the tubes. Chinatown will be next.
posted by suelange at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2008


Unfortunately, we can't save everything.

It's true, these are tough decisions. Worth thinking hard about, though.
posted by Miko at 3:33 PM on May 20, 2008


Lower east side of NYC has a tenement museum. I highly recommend doing a couple of tours. Also, read Manhattan Transfer. Seriously.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:48 PM on May 20, 2008


It's true, these are tough decisions. Worth thinking hard about, though.
posted by Miko at 6:33 PM


Oh yes, I didn't mean to give up because we can't save everything. I'm glad these groups publish these lists and hopefully preserve some of these places.
posted by marxchivist at 3:57 PM on May 20, 2008


I grew up in a historic house in New Jersey. Owned by the son of President William Henry Harrison, John Scott Harrison, who fathered President Benjamin Harrison. I remember the plaque placed on the front of the house back in the '70s. Imagine my shock just three years ago when a friend who still lives in town told me that they tore my house down. And yet, the same historic society in town who allowed this halted the constuction plans of a homeowner due to an old wall on his property that MIGHT have historical significance. WTF??? They allow a house with direct historical importance to be erased and yet raise a stink about some old wall? Priorities!
posted by annieb at 4:10 PM on May 20, 2008


New York is hardly going down the tubes. My mother was born on Hester St, the Lower East side. I have visited the areas and yes, got nostalgic about the area. But it is being gentrified and the apartments are getting beautifusl to rent, sell to those that can afford them...You can not take a huge bunch of blocks and "freeze" them to preserve what was in 1920. (there is a tenement museum to visit if you want to see how folks lived)...Chinatown is hardly going away. In fact, just the opposite. It has gobbled up most of what was Little Italy.

Can't afford the palces now being gentrified? Do what young, artistic types do: move to Brooklyn!
posted by Postroad at 4:17 PM on May 20, 2008


Here in Great Falls, Montana -- site of one of the listed areas, the Lewis & Clark Portage areas -- opposition has been fierce to the proposed coal plant. Not entirely on environmental grounds, either -- but also for fiscal & management reasons. Me, I could go either way -- I'm not crazy about our municipal government spearheading the project, but I would love to see it built just to stick the greenies in the eye.

And as far as the historic aspect of the area -- geez, there's thousands of miles of Lewis & Clark trail -- losing a few acres to development won't ruin that. My two cents.
posted by davidmsc at 5:24 PM on May 20, 2008


...You can not take a huge bunch of blocks and "freeze" them to preserve what was in 1920. (there is a tenement museum to visit if you want to see how folks lived).

Well, you don't have to preserve them as museums, frozen in time. There's a lot to be said for adaptive reuse with easements to protect the historic fabric of the house. That doesn't prevent gentrifying. In fact this is one the most encouraging trends in historic preservation - that of finding good uses for historic properties that allow commercial/residential use while preserving the physical environment.
posted by Miko at 5:47 PM on May 20, 2008


but I would love to see it built just to stick the greenies in the eye.

.
posted by maxwelton at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2008


One place that I am surprised has not gotten more publicity is the chimney here in Augusta that is the last standing piece of the Confederate Powder Works, as profiled in this book. It is the only remaining structure built by the Confederate government, and Georgia's governor just axed $150,000 out of the state budget to preserve it. I wonder if all the fuss over the Confederate flag has made politicians shy away from anything having to do with the C.S.A., but then I recall that just a couple of years ago the local government gave in to the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter who felt their monument was not positioned prominently enough in the new county government complex. And the state government gave the same group their own vanity license plate. I guess actual history is just not as fun as symbolism/revisionism.
posted by TedW at 8:54 PM on May 20, 2008


And yet, the same historic society in town who allowed this halted the constuction plans of a homeowner due to an old wall on his property that MIGHT have historical significance.

Generally, historic or landmark commissions (societies are the little old ladies who run the museum) have limited power to prevent demolition, even in historic districts or on historic properties. Generally there must be a local landmark ordinance that provides interference with the demolition or renovation process, and then the property must be properly designated. Even if the community wanted to designate, the property owner still has certain powers to prevent it. Getting a landmark designation with the opposition of a landowner can be a wrenching multi-year process.

You can not take a huge bunch of blocks and "freeze" them to preserve what was in 1920.

That is rarely the intent of historic preservationists, who for a generation or more have embraced adaptive reuse. Factories idle? Make lofts. Historic house falling apart? Corporate headquarters. And so forth. It beats having them torn down.

I wonder if all the fuss over the Confederate flag has made politicians shy away from anything having to do with the C.S.A.

Don't be all paranoid. The Trust probably has an internal formula and a considerable debate for every list. The emphasis is much more on endangered than historic importance, and just because something doesn't have its preservation budgeted doesn't mean it's threatened with erasure. The Trust's list is also predicated on highlighting issues of common importance (e.g. Chicago isn't the only city with an architecturally significant streetwall) or where they feel they can do the most immediate good with regard to public pressure.

As it is a number of Civil War battlefields have been listed.

Additionally, a number of state-level historic or landmark commissions have put out their own lists.
posted by dhartung at 10:03 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dhartung, by way of clarification my remark about politicians shying away from Confederate landmarks was directed more at speculating why Governor Perdue would veto such a relatively small sum rather than at the Trust for not including it. In fact, a big reason the Trust might not have included it on this years list is that the funding cut was just announced, probably some time after they finalized the list.
posted by TedW at 3:18 AM on May 21, 2008


Ted W: You can nominate a site. Criteria:

1. Significance
2. Urgency
3. Potential Solutions

posted by Miko at 5:43 AM on May 21, 2008


I guess actual history is just not as fun as symbolism/revisionism.

I just wanted to address this point quickly: there's no difference between "history" and "revisionism." History is a discipline, in which people use evidence from the past to create a story about the events of the past. But "history" and "the past" are different things. History will always give us an imperfect view of the past, and because it's subject to the biases of those who write it and preserve it, it's always undergoing revision. There's no such thing as non-revisionist history.

Preservation is a really interesting place to study the uses of history, though. It's often allied with movements toward social change, or with ideologies, which is why these discussions are so fraught. Many factions want to own or direct the narrative history creates and shares. What I do like about the National Trust is that they do take a very well-rounded approach, in terms of topics addressed, geographical range, and important phenomena and events in American History. They address a little bit of everything. I also like their use of the designation "Historic Places," rather than "Historic Sites" or "Historic Buildings;" they seem to recognize that a sense of place is bigger than a single building. In the case of something like the Michigan Avenue Streetwall , the buildings themselves are not even directly threatened physically. What is threatened is the atmosphere they lend and the statements they make about the time in which they were built. They would be diminished and weakened by changed surroundings, and some of what makes Chicago iconic, some of its "big shoulders," would disappear (in favor of big...whatevers). I like that they recognize the significance not only of individual constructions but entire places, and their significance to the national psyche.
posted by Miko at 5:53 AM on May 21, 2008


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