President's Note

The Most Recyclable

Richard Moe

Credit: Robert Lautman

The National Trust's annual roster of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places is a powerful reminder that despite the enormous strides preservation has made over the years, important pieces of our heritage remain at risk. In 2009, as in every year since the list first appeared in 1988, historic treasures are threatened by everything from shortsighted public policies to the ravages of time, weather, and neglect.

This year's 11 Most Endangered list spotlights a timely issue of particular importance: preservation's crucial role in promoting sustainability. At a time of increasing concern about climate change, overconsumption of energy, and rapid depletion of natural resources, the list reminds us that buildings are renewable, not disposable. Preserving, retrofitting, and reusing them is a commonsense way to  best use these assets while reducing the harmful environmental impacts caused by demolition and new construction. It's a simple matter of wise stewardship—and that's what sustainability is all about.

Look over this year's list, and you'll see what I mean. In Yankton, S.D., the state wants to demolish historic buildings on the campus of the Human Services Center, even though the structures are sound and have excellent reuse potential. A similar threat has arisen in Easton, Mass., where the Ames Shovel Shops complex is the proposed site of a new mixed-use development—a project that would require razing or drastically altering several sturdy historic buildings. Highway officials are considering the demolition of Memorial Bridge, which links Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine, even though repairing the engineering landmark could be less costly than tearing it down for a new span. And Miami's Marine Stadium, with its striking design and location, sits abandoned and deteriorating when it could—and should—be returned to active use as a popular venue for all sorts of outdoor events.

Particularly appalling is the situation in Los Angeles, where the owners of the Century Plaza Hotel, opened in 1966, want to flatten it to make way for new construction, even though the thriving hotel recently underwent a $36 million facelift. The owners assert that their plan represents "the greening of Century City," but it's obvious that wasting energy and materials to demolish a sound existing building, and then using more energy and emitting more carbon into the atmosphere to construct a new building on the site, is anything but "green." 

Whether world-famous icons or lesser-known local landmarks, these places are irreplaceable. In addition to telling the story of our nation and its people, they can help us build a sustainable future for America. Losing them is unthinkable—especially when their destruction is unnecessary and environmentally irresponsible. That's the real message of our 11 Most Endangered list, this year and every year.


For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.