Restored, Saved, Lost, Threatened
By Elizabeth McNamara | From Preservation | May/June 2010
Merritt Parkway: A 37.5-mile scenic byway that winds through southwestern Connecticut, the Merritt Parkway opened in 1940 and earned acclaim for its landscape architecture and remarkable 68 Art Deco, French Renaissance, and Neoclassical bridges. But the Connecticut Department of Transportation has embarked on a $66.5 million safety and rehabilitation project that preservationists fear will damage the byway's historic character. Now the World Monuments Fund has added the parkway to its 2010 watch list. The nonprofit Merritt Parkway Conservancy is working to ensure that the three-year modernization project, which includes shoulder widening and bridge upgrades, remains sensitive to the byway's original design.
Tonga Room: Opened in 1945 in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel, the Tonga Room survives as a rare example of the Polynesian Pop décor popular after World War II. The "High Tiki" bar—originally designed by MGM Studios set designer Mel Melvin and surrounded by a lagoon—features thatched overhangs and a floating "Band Boat," and is the site of staged thundershowers on the half hour. But the bar might be demolished or dismantled as part of a condo conversion project proposed by hotel owner Maritz, Wolff & Co. Local residents have rallied to save the room, hosting happy hours to raise awareness.
St. George Church: This 1891 Gothic Revival church in Shenandoah, Pa., once home to the country's oldest Lithuanian Catholic congregation, has been demolished. The Diocese of Allentown shuttered the building in 2006, later saying that it couldn't afford the $5 million to $9 million needed to repair the cracked limestone and granite facade, stabilize the structure, and replace deteriorating wood. Last December, parishioners lost a lawsuit that challenged diocesan plans to raze the church.
Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge: When completed in 1888, this crossing over New York's Hudson River was the world's longest railroad bridge. Today, after a $38 million renovation, it's the world's lengthiest pedestrian bridge, and the centerpiece of the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. The 6,767-foot span featuring iron lattice and struts was closed after a 1974 fire and deteriorated for decades before a group of area residents spearheaded a 15-month restoration. Using funds from private and state grants, workers reinforced the foundation, removed old rail ties, and added lookout points that frame stunning views of the river.
The Pontchartrain: Known as the grande dame of St. Charles Avenue, the 12-story Pontchartrain Hotel in New Orleans opened in 1927 and hosted such luminaries as Tennessee Williams, who stayed here while working on A Streetcar Named Desire. Closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the building underwent a $10 million renovation and reopened in January as a high-end senior housing complex. Using a $13 million New Markets Tax Credit loan allocated by the National Trust Community Investment Corporation, New Orleans-based Trapolin Architects brought the Mediterranean-style structure up to code, installed new plumbing and mechanical systems, and repaired extensive water damage in the lobby.
Gragg Building: This 1956 stucture in Houston, Tex., housed NASA's Mercury Project and the Manned Spacecraft Center, a vital research hub during the race to put a man on the moon. The Houston Parks and Recreation Department acquired the low-slung building in 1977 and has now completed a $16 million facelift, directed by HarrisonKornberg Architects. Workers refinished green quartzite exterior walls and mahogany veneer panels inside, restoring the building to its original luster. Insulated windows, a new HVAC system, and low-energy lighting may earn the project silver LEED certification.
Tarr and Wonson Paint Manufactory: In 1864, inventors James Tarr and Augustus Wonson began building a factory in Gloucester, Mass., to produce their revolutionary new product: "antifouling" copper paint. Designed to keep boat hulls from gathering barnacles and algae, the paint transformed marine commerce and warfare. The six-building factory operated until 1985, when it was closed and abandoned. In 2008, the Ocean Alliance, a nonprofit research organization focusing on whales and marine toxicology, purchased the dilapidated structures using a grant from the Annenberg Foundation and embarked on an estimated $10 million restoration. Scheduled to reopen next year, the site will become the alliance's new headquarters.
Hatton Ferry: Since 1870, ferrymen have used poles to guide crafts across the James River near Scottsville, Va. Last fall, the Commonwealth of Virginia, which began operating the Hatton ferry here in 1940, decided to discontinue service; the last remaining hand-poled ferry in the country was destined to be sold as scrap. But the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society saved the flat-bottomed steel vessel, securing the deed from the commonwealth and resuming operations this spring.
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