Eleven of the country's most remarkable sites face uncertain futures
See where they are, discover why they’re significant, and learn what you can do to help save America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
By Krista Walton | From Preservation | July/August 2009
Each year the National Trust for Historic Preservation shines a light on threatened sites across the country that demand immediate attention. Not only does the 11 Most list emphasize the importance of preservation nationwide, it also helps local groups to rally support for the buildings, landmarks, neighborhoods, and public lands that need help now.
Ames Shovel Shops Easton, Mass.
At the peak of its success in the 19th century, Ames Shovel Works produced 60 percent of the shovels used around the world. Its tools were used to build the Erie Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad. The remaining shovel shop buildings, constructed between 1852 and 1928, stand in the heart of the National Register-listed North Easton Historic District, a rare, preserved 19th-century industrial landscape. In 2007, developers purchased the shovel company site and announced plans to demolish historic buildings to make way for a 177-unit housing and office complex. Locals say the project would permanently damage the character of the historic district.
The Manhattan Project's Enola Gay Hangar Wendover Airfield, Utah
The operation to deploy the world's first atomic bomb aboard a B-29 Superfortress aircraft bound for Japan began at Wendover Air Force Base, 100 miles west of Salt Lake City. There the U.S. Army Air Force assembled prototype atomic weapons and trained pilots as part of the top secret Manhattan Project. Today the hangar where the B-29 Enola Gay stood until June 1945 is severely deteriorated, as are many other important places associated with the Manhattan Project. Unless action is taken, the future of sites in New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington will remain in jeopardy.
Dorchester Academy Midway, Ga.
The Dorchester Academy was founded in 1871 as a boarding school for former slaves. More recently, the academy has served as a site for African American voter registration and as an organizing center for civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. Now its oldest surviving structure, the 1934 Eliza B. Moore dormitory, is in dire need of repair. A failing roof has compromised plaster ceilings and walls, and damaged wood floors. Without funding for immediate repairs and a comprehensive restoration, the heritage site could be lost.
Century Plaza Hotel Los Angeles
Designed by Minoru Yamasaki (renowned architect of the World Trade Center towers), this elegantly curved hotel opened in 1966 on the former backlot of a motion picture studio. Soon the hotel became the lynchpin for Century City's rapid development. Though the Century City Plaza recently underwent a $36 million renovation, new owners plan to raze the building and replace it with two so-called "environmentally-sensitive" 600-foot towers containing hotel rooms, luxury condominiums, and retail space. Unfortunately, this massive project flies in the face of efforts to promote sustainability and reuse: The planned demolition and construction would consume untold amounts of energy. Local preservationists are also concerned that a lack of appreciation for architecture from the recent past may deny historic landmark status for this iconic structure.
Unity Temple Oak Park, Ill.
This 1909 church, with its flat, cantilevered roof and columns adorned with Prairie details, is unmistakably Frank Lloyd Wright. Considered a modern masterpiece and one of Wright's most influential structures, this and other of the architect's works may be listed as World Heritage sites. Though the Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation have worked to maintain the sanctuary and keep it open for congregants and visitors, funds for badly needed restoration are scarce. Last September, water damage caused part of the sanctuary ceiling to collapse, and raised new questions about the building's safety. At least $4 million is needed to stabilize Unity Temple; full restoration could cost up to $25 million.
Memorial Bridge Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine
The Memorial Bridge across the Piscataqua River was the longest vertical lift bridge in the country when it was dedicated in 1923, and is still considered an engineering landmark. The bridge, which today provides access for pedestrians and bicyclists, requires immediate rehabilitation. In 2008, estimates for repairs came in higher than expected, and both the Maine and New Hampshire departments of transportation (which co-own the structure) began a joint study that could result in the removal and replacement of the historic span within five years, a solution that could prove far more costly than repairs.
The Cast-Iron Architecture of Galveston Galveston, Tex.
More than 45 buildings from the 1850s to the 1930s dot the Strand/Mechanic National Historic Landmark District on Galveston Island, many with distinctive cast-iron facades and details. Last September, Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston, inundating the historic commercial district. In the storm's wake, the iron has rusted, facades are buckling, and water damage has proved severe. Many business owners in the Strand/Mechanic district did not have flood insurance and are unable to afford repairs needed for their properties, placing the district's architectural legacy in danger.
Miami Marine Stadium Miami
With its cantilevered roof framing views across Biscayne Bay, this open-air, poured-concrete stadium became an instant favorite among Floridians when it opened in 1963. Designed by Cuban-born architect Hilario Candela, the innovative Modernist structure has been fenced off since 1992, when it was damaged by Hurricane Andrew. The city of Miami is currently developing a master plan that includes the stadium's valuable waterfront site, but does not explicitly preserve the stadium. Advocates worry that Miami Marine (now covered with graffiti) will continue to deteriorate or face demolition, like many other magnificent but unheralded structures from the recent past.
Lāna'i City Hawaii
When Lāna'i City (on the island of Lana`i) was designed in 1922 for Dole Foods, it was part of the largest pineapple plantation in the world. Now, Lāna'i City is the last intact plantation community in Hawaii, still home to about 300 vernacular plantation-style homes and several historic industrial structures. Owners Castle & Cooke, who have constructed two high-end hotels on the tiny island, recently submitted a plan that would eliminate or alter historic structures in Lāna'i City to make way for commercial development. Eventually, all the old plantation's industrial buildings would also be demolished.
Human Services Center Yankton, S.D.
Built in 1882 as the South Dakota Hospital for the Insane, the Human Services Center campus is home to 18 National Register-listed buildings built between the 1880s and the 1940s. The campus is also famous for the extraordinary construction materials used on site, including rare Sioux quartzite. Unfortunately, many of the buildings have stood vacant for years, and three National Register-listed structures have already been demolished. South Dakota, which owns the buildings, approved funding for the demolition of selected structures in 2007. Razing was only postponed last year because of budget constraints.
Mount Taylor near Grants, N.M.
Uranium miners are eyeing Mount Taylor, a north-facing mountain in western New Mexico known to the Acoma people as Kaweshtima ("place of snow"). Community members and religious practitioners have performed ceremonial activities at Mount Taylor for hundreds of years, and other area tribes, including the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the pueblos of Laguna and Zuni, consider it a sacred heritage site. Mining could destroy cherished archaeological sites, ancient pilgrimage trails, and shrines—and strike another blow at the nation's fragile public lands. To protect the mountain and ensure consultation before any development can proceed, Native American groups in the area hope to list it on the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.
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