Best & Worst of 2007

Our Annual List of Highs and Lows in the World of Historic Preservation


Is preservation becoming more hip? This year, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Darryl Hannah showed their support of historic architecture and wide open spaces. Longtime building buffs like Diane Keaton, who likes to restore Los Angeles houses, were joined by fellow showbiz types like director Michael Moore, who has promised to rehab a historic Michigan theater.

Here's the best and worst in the world of historic preservation news of 2007:


Floodwaters Spare Farnsworth House

A few weeks after Brad Pitt's August visit to the iconic Farnsworth House, floodwaters reached the front steps of the Plano, Ill., house designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1951. Miraculously, only the landscape suffered damage.

In 2003, the National Trust for Historic Preservation paid $7.5 million at the auction of the Farnsworth House, rescuing the 58-acre property from potential development. It's now open to the public as one of the National Trust's 29 historic sites.

The Sun Rises on Hemingway's Cuban House

After crumbling for decades, a restoration of Ernest Hemingway's house, Finca Vigia, outside Havana was completed this year. Hemingway, who lived at "Lookout Farm" off and on from 1940 until his death in 1960, wrote For Whom the Bell Tollsin Cuba. With help from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Cuban preservation group repaired Finca Vigia, built in 1886, and opened it to the public for the first time.

Celebs Chip in to Protect Telluride Valley

The town of Telluride, Colo., managed to raise a whopping $50 million to protect 250 acres of its valley floor from development. Tom Cruise and Darryl Hannah pitched in to meet the May 11 deadline. "The town is elated," Mayor John Pryor told Preservation Online. "Everyone is smiling."

Philip Johnson's Glass House Opens

Next to the Superbowl, the most sought-after tickets this year were to see the inside of Philip Johnson's home and masterpiece, the Glass House in New Canaan, Conn. The house, which Johnson left to the National Trust for Historic Preservation after he died in 2005, opened to the public for the first time in 50 years in June as one of the Trust's 29 historic sites. (Nearby, however, another Johnson house is threatened.)

Another new National Trust Historic Site, New Mexico's Acoma Sky City, also opened to the public this year. The preserved village, which dates to 1150 A.D., was built on a 370-foot-tall mesa about an hour west of Albuquerque.

Frank Lloyd Wright House Stabilized in L.A.

Damaged in a 1994 earthquake, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Ennis House in Los Angeles was falling down its hillside until workers completed its stabilization this year. The house was one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2005. The restoration will be completed in three years.

After Two Decades, New York Synagogue Restored

The end is here. After an $18 million, 20-year restoration, one of the first synagogues in America built by Eastern European Jews reopened late this year. The 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark, now includes a museum about Jewish life in America


Unecessary Demolitions in New Orleans

Using FEMA funding, the city of New Orleans has demolished intact historic houses without the consent of their owners, who often planned to repair them. Other residents have been demolishing their structurally sound houses on the government's dime. Last week, a federal court gave the city a Jan. 25 deadline to create a system for residents to appeal the city's plans to demolish their houses.

Also last week, an angry crowd protested the city's plans to demolish 4,500 units of 1930s and 1940s public housing projects. Police threw tear gas into the crowd of thousands who fear that poor African Americans will be excluded from New Orleans' recovery. Despite protestors and testimony from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the city council voted on Dec. 20 in favor of the demolitions of the Lafitte, C.J. Peete, B.W. Cooper, and St. Bernard Parish housing developments.

"Any arguments I tried to make for the retention and continued long-term use of any of the buildings on the basis of historic preservation, architectural merit, structural soundness or sustainability were fruitless in a public arena filled with rhetoric about the evil nature of the buildings, their dilapidated appearance, the alleged high cost to remediate and repair, and the success of national developers at showing examples of their work in other communities," said Walter Gallas, director of the New Orleans Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who testified before the city council.

Read Walter Gallas' blog >>

Mid-Century Moderns Lost

Despite a huge surge in popularity of mid-century moderns, Houston lost one in November, and a rare 1950 house in Raleigh, N.C., that has been called the state's best modern house is languishing on the market.

Arizona mourned the loss of two mid-century moderns this year: In February, Arizona State University demolished Tempe's gold-domed Valley National Bank, designed in 1962 by Phoenix firm Weaver and Drover. Two months later, the Washburn Pianos, a mid-century modern gem built in 1964, was razed for a bank and cell-phone store.

Brooklyn Under Siege

Brooklyn is becoming too cool for its history. New York City's largest development, the Atlantic Yards project, made headway this year, erasing the 1910 Ward Bakerybuilding. Developer Forest City Ratner has put at least six more historic buildings on the chopping block to make way for its 22-acre project, whose main feature is a basketball arena designed by Frank Gehry. Neighbors say the new construction is inappropriate next to their quiet historic brownstones.

Meanwhile, IKEA, condos, and other new buildings are wiping out the dockyards and factories of Brooklyn's industrial waterfront, which the National Trust for Historic Preservation named one of America's Most Endangered Places this year. Read more

Brooklyn's Coney Island is poised for change as developer Thor Equities plans hotels, condos and glitzy rides in $2 billion makeover of the faded 19th-century resort.

Three Demolitions a Day in Buffalo

In August, the city of Buffalo, N.Y., unveiled its "Five in Five" plan to demolish 5,000 blighted buildings in five years, a rate of three demolitions a day. Some fear it's urban renewal all over again.

Quantico Lustrons Replaced by New Marine Corps Housing

Only one of the largest collections of Lustron houses was saved before the October demolition of the last 34 of 58 houses on the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va. In place of the 1950s neighborhood, Maryland-based developer Clark Realty Corp. will build 1,100 new houses. According to preservationists, Clark did not allow enough time to salvage any parts from the rare all-steel houses.

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

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed