Best & Worst of 2008
This Year's Outstanding Wins, Great Saves, and Sad Losses
By Magazine Editors | Online Only | Dec. 26, 2008
'Tis the season to reflect on the passing year and resolve to make next year a little better. This year, the nation's historic sites took a blow from not only natural disasters but a wave of economic woes, which will likely persist in 2009. But first, the bright side.
Downtown Detroit's Comebacks
Two abandoned buildings in downtown Detroit were transformed into swanky hotels: the 1924 Book Cadillac Hotel, which had flirted with demolition since it closed in 1984, opened in November as the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit.
DoubleTree breathed life into an empty 1916 Beaux Arts beauty, opening the DoubleTree Guest Suites Fort Shelby. Closed for 33 years, the National Register-listed hotel with its 1927 addition designed by Albert Kahn is now a state-of-the-art hotspot. (The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Downtown Detroit to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2005.) Read more about hotel success stories in our November/December issue
With the bicentennial of Honest Abe's birth coming up in February, it seems everyone is interested in the 16th president. In fact, according to the Boston Globe, "At least 50 titles about Lincoln are due out between next month and early 2010, not counting those recently published." In February, a forgotten building in Washington, D.C., opened to the public for the first time: President Lincoln's Cottage, complete with a green visitors center, is one of the city's newest tourist spots. Read more
In Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Ill., the 1898 Union Station was restored and reopened as a visitors center last year; this year the project won preservation awards from from Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
A few years ago, the Mutual Building in Lansing, Mich., appeared doomed. The 1928 building's site was dubbed a "brownfield" due to underground contamination, and the deterioration above ground wasn't much better. But the Michigan-based Christman Company, which worked on the restoration of Lincoln Cottage in Washington, D.C., tackled the renovation. In February the building was rededicated as the company's headquarters. Best of all, it's the first project in the world to earn a dual platinum LEED certification. Read our Green Issue
Do-Gooders in Denver
Along with HGTV, the National Trust for Historic Preservation promoted the selection of the Women's Bean Project for the "Change the World. Start at Home" program. A nonprofit organization that helps low-income elderly and disabled people live independently, the the Women's Bean Project has been housed for 12 years in a 1928 Denver fire station in Curtis Park. The station needed improvements, so the Trust's Mountains-Plains Office in Denver encouraged members to go online and vote for the Women's Bean Project to win a grant to improve the energy efficiency of the building's historic wood windows. With that money, Trust staff and volunteers helped rehabilitate the second floor. The fire station is now used for the production, packaging and sale of the Women's Bean Project's line of specialty foods, to teach life skills and to provide job training to women in need.
Retro is Back
Many Americans are embracing midcentury modern gems as worthy of preservation. Paul Rudolph's Art and Architecture Building was restored on the Yale University campus in New Haven, Conn. (Unfortunately, this was also the year that Rudolph's Riverview High School in Sarasota, Fla., was slated for demolition.) In California, a more modest structure—a drive-through convenience store designed in a Jetsons-esque style—gained landmark status this year. Read our Modernism Issue
Recession Hits Philly, Illinois, California
The tanking economy forced several state governors to cut budgets. In Philadelphia, 11 libraries will close next week, including four Carnegie libraries. Illinois closed 14 of its historic sites—even the Dana Thomas House in Springfield, a Frank Lloyd Wright house it paid millions to restore. Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger proposed closing 12 state parks but later backed away from the radical the plan. (In June, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named California State Parks to its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.)
Fires in Southern California
Wildfires devoured tens of thousands of homes in California this year, destroying thousands of homes. Among the lost historic sites is a San Bernardino monastery that was a beloved hilltop retreat near Santa Barbara.
The worst storm to hit Galveston, Tex., since 1900, Hurricane Ike pounded the resilient Gulf Coast town, flooding its historic district. Despite the damage, the city successfully mounted its annual Christmas event, Dickens on the Strand. Farther north, winds downed trees and caused extensive damage to Madison, Indiana, dubbed "the prettiest small town in the Midwest."
Goodbye to Two Stadiums
There's nothing worse than an empty stadium that once boomed with cheers. Sad but true: The House of Ruth will be replaced with a new, state-of-the-art stadium. The Yankees played their last home game in September. Our readers said farewells of their own. Tiger Stadium's demolition began this year, but Detroiters still hope to save one section of the ballpark.
The End of Coney Island?
More bad news in New York: America's Playground, Coney Island in Brooklyn, closed this year after longtime landlords sold the land to a developer who hasn't yet finalized his plans for the acreage. Like it or not, condos may replace rides. Astroland, one of the theme parks, closed in September, and the clock is ticking for its Rocket, which needs a new home by next month.
Out With the Old in Lexington, Ky.
The oldest building in downtown Lexington, Ky., along with 13 other historic structures, was torn down this year. The city officials approved plans for a 40-story hotel that developer CentrePointe LLC wants to become the state's first LEED-certified high-rise. But dumping 14 buildings in a landfill isn't exactly green; "the greenest building is the one that's already built." Read more
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