America's Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places
By Gwendolyn Purdom | From Preservation | July/August 2011
Each year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies sites across the country that demand immediate attention. Not only does the 11 Most list emphasize the importance of preservation, it also helps local groups rally support for the buildings, landmarks, neighborhoods, and historic landscapes in imminent danger.
Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg's innovative open plan for Prentice Women's Hospital was lauded when the complex opened in 1974, but the distinctive seven-story concrete tower has remained largely vacant since Northwestern Memorial Hospital moved to new quarters in 2007. Earlier this year, officials at Northwestern University confirmed plans to demolish the building, citing the need for a new medical research facility. Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago have both campaigned for Prentice's preservation, listing the property as endangered and forming a "Save Prentice" coalition with the National Trust's Midwest office. Alderman Brendan Reilly met with Northwestern representatives in March and asked them to delay applying for a demolition permit for at least 60 days. Northwestern agreed, but at press time the structure's future remained in doubt.
Over seven decades, more than 15,000 African American and Native American students were educated at Belmead-on-the-James, a former tobacco plantation near Richmond, Va. Today, three significant historic structures are all that remain of the educational institutions founded by members of the wealthy Drexel family. The 1845 Gothic Revival plantation house, designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, served as the academic center of St. Emma Agricultural and Industrial Institute for boys. The St. Francis de Sales High School for girls was constructed in 1895. The plantation's 1841 granary also survives. By 1972, both schools had closed and most campus buildings were demolished to save money. The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which owns the site, cannot afford maintenance costs. Unless the fast-deteriorating structures on site are stabilized, the vast property could be lost to development.
New Mexico's Greater Chaco Landscape, dotted with prehistoric structures and an elaborate network of ancient roads, has existed virtually unchanged for more than a thousand years. Since October 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has provided grants to identify sensitive tribal routes and joined a coalition of conservation groups and tribes resisting attempts by the oil and gas industry to obtain additional leases here. Though the Bureau of Land Management has deferred leasing to energy developers in the vicinity of Chaco Culture National Historical Park for the present, the future of the landscape remains in doubt. The ultimate decision on energy production will be made in consultation with Native American tribes and interested parties.
In statehouses across the country, cuts to preservation funding and incentives imperil hundreds of thousands of historic places. A proposed 50 percent budget cut in Texas would slash Texas Historical Commission staff and put an end to programs that preserve and celebrate the state's rich heritage. In Michigan, elimination of the state's powerful rehabilitation tax credit could halt revitalization projects statewide. A veto of similar tax-incentive legislation in New Jersey snuffs out hopes for revitalization projects in suffering downtowns and small towns. And in New Mexico, though legislation undermining historic and cultural resource protection did fail this year, local preservationists are convinced that mining and other development interests will push to reintroduce it. If key sources of funding, incentives, and protections are lost across the United States, irreplaceable sites and national treasures may suffer untold consequences.
The trailblazing American jazz musician John Coltrane spent his final three years in an unassuming 1952 brick rambler on Long Island, N.Y., and penned some of his most famous composi-tions there. Coltrane died in 1967, and his wife Alice continued to live in the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills until 1973. After launching a successful media campaign to save the property from the wrecking ball, historian and jazz fan Steve Fulgoni secured local landmark designation for the site in 2004, and the Town of Huntington purchased the house and property two years later for $975,000. The town has transferred ownership of the house to the Friends of the Coltrane Home, a small group that succeeded in partially stabilizing the house, but the steep climb toward restoration has stalled. Without a much-needed injection of funds, the condition of the structure will continue to decline.
The 4,426-foot mountain called Mato Paha in the Black Hills of South Dakota is sacred ground for as many as 17 Native American tribes. More commonly known as Bear Butte, the National Historic Landmark (NHL) is threatened by proposed wind and oil energy development. A wind installation, to be located roughly five miles away, is currently under consideration. And in November, the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment approved a plan to establish a 960- acre oil field—without review by the State Historic Preservation Office. Responding to tribal opposition and recommendations from the National Trust and SHPO, the board agreed that no wells would be located within the NHL boundary, and adopted other restrictions to minimize the project's impact. However, the placement of any oil wells or other energy development near Bear Butte would negatively impact the sacred site and further degrade the cultural landscape.
Just outside downtown Milwaukee, a striking Victorian Gothic tower rises against the horizon. It is "Old Main," one of dozens of buildings making up the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, where veterans of American conflicts since the Civil War have received care. The Department of Veterans Affairs owns the structures and the property here but has deferred maintenance on many of the historic buildings. One portion of the roof of "Old Main" collapsed; a gaping hole remains open to the elements. In addition, one development project under consideration at the Soldiers Home would demolish two historic structures and alter the landscape. The Soldiers Home is expected to be designated a National Historic Landmark. A coalition of preservation groups is advocating for adaptive use while emphasizing that without immediate action, portions of the deteriorating complex may collapse before year's end.
Eight generations of the Manchester family have cultivated 400 acres in Washington County, Pa. Today the historic farm produces organic milk, beef, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. When the Manchesters sold mineral rights to a coal company in 1917, they made sure to exclude three acres "underlying the buildings on said farm," built between 1800 and 1820. The family could not have anticipated longwall mining, a destructive underground method that mechanically extracts a thick seam of coal, then allows the earth above to collapse. Though proposed mining would not take place directly under farm buildings, longwall mining could cause surrounding land at the surface to drop between four and six feet, compromising water resources and rendering the property unfit for farming. Although the farm's owners have not received an official Notice of Intent to Mine, at press time the website of coal producer Alliance Resource Partners states that the company was "initiating [the] permitting process."
At one time, the 11 redwood and brick buildings lining China Alley in the Central Valley town of Hanford formed the center of one of California's largest Chinese American communities. The restored Taoist Temple here is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but most other structures along China Alley stand vacant. Engineers have already concluded that the 1880s L.T. Sue Herb Co. building, one of the district's most prominent assets, is structurally unstable. The city of Hanford included China Alley in its 2009 downtown revitalization plan, but state budget cuts have imperiled that project. With no comprehensive protection in place for the alley and with resources for restoration currently unavailable, prospects for the rare collection of buildings remain uncertain.
In August 1864, Union troops landed on Dauphin Island, Ala., and engaged Confederate soldiers defending Fort Gaines at the entrance to Mobile Bay. When Union ships entered the bay, one of them, the USS Tecumseh, struck a mine (then called a torpedo) and sank. With a defiant command of "Damn the torpedoes—full speed ahead!" Adm. David G. Farragut went on to batter the Confederate fleet and gain control of the fort. More than a century later, Fort Gaines is again under attack, with erosion from more frequent storms, rising sea levels, and the dredging of the Mobile Ship Channel all threatening Dauphin Island's fragile shoreline. Heavy machinery operating near the fort has only exacerbated the problem. Preservationists fear that if erosion is not mitigated, the National Register-listed historic fort and its original cannons, artifacts, and living history exhibitions could be washed away. A feasibility study now in the final review stage estimates that it will cost approximately $60 million to complete full restoration of Dauphin Island.
The Pillsbury Milling Company's A Mill complex, built in 1881, occupies a prominent position on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis. The eight-acre National Historic Landmark, which closed in 2003, was approved for rehabilitation and development in 2006, but the property went into foreclosure before restoration could move forward. In April, Minnesota developers Doran Cos. and Dominium announced plans for two separate high-end apartment complexes at the mill. City, county, and state preservation officials are concerned that the unprotected site is now being broken up and the rare opportunity to redevelop the historic mill complex in its entirety could be lost forever.
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