Page N2.2 . 28 July 2004                     
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    Endangered Historic Sites 2004


    The cabins were originally built in 1908 as a base for logging operations and later housed park visitors. They are believed to be the last remaining early 20th-century Tennessee mountain resort buildings and are in danger of literally crumbling without restorative action. Despite being listed in the park service's National Register of Historic Places, some advocates for demolition want the land to return to its natural state.

    Like the Cook County Hospital, the Madison-Lenox Hotel in Detroit, Michigan is a crumbling urban symbol with a brighter past. Built in 1901-1903, the three-building complex was a fashionable hotel until suburbanization and inner-city decline forced it to close. Locals consider it to be one of Detroit's most important remaining examples of turn-of-the-century downtown residential architecture.

    Located at a critical point between two historic neighborhoods, the damaged but salvageable Madison-Lenox could play an important role in the area's revitalization. The owner wants to replace it with a parking lot, but to date, the city's landmarks commission has refused to grant a demolition permit.

    Protecting Modern History

    In recent years, buildings of the modern era are also coming under the protective wing of historic preservationists. One of these is the 1937 George Kraigher House in Brownsville, Texas, designed by renowned architect Richard Neutra. It is one of the few Neutra houses outside of California and may have been the first International Style house in Texas.

    The Kraigher House has been vacant for several years and is deteriorating from weather, neglect, and vandalism. Moe notes, "Scholars are just now beginning to study and evaluate buildings from the recent past. It's critical that we protect these structures from destruction now when they are most vulnerable so that they are with us 50 years from now."

    Another modern but endangered building is "2 Columbus Circle" in New York City, designed in 1964 by architect Edward Durell Stone. The marble monolith, located near Central Park, was controversial from its inception at a time when glass-and-steel highrises were beginning to dominate the Manhattan skyline. Critics called its street-level porthole windows "lollipops."

    The new owner of 2 Columbus Circle is planning renovations that will make it the permanent home for the Museum of Arts and Design. Preservationists protest that the planned facade redesign will mask the distinctive, if quirky, character of the modernist icon.

    Rescuing the Vernacular

    One of the places listed as endangered is not a building at all but "the world's longest art gallery." Nine Mile Canyon, in the Carbon and Duchesne counties of Utah, is home to an estimated 10,000 petroglyphs and pictographs. The Native American cultures that lived here for nearly two millennia left a legacy of rock shelters, granaries, and art throughout the canyon area.

    Nine Mile Canyon is said to contain the highest concentration of monochromatic prehistoric rock art in North America. The site is threatened by plans for extensive oil and gas exploration, which were recently approved by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

    In Southern Maryland, an entire building type is endangered. Tobacco barns, whose shapes have defined the region's rural landscapes, are being abandoned as a state-sponsored buyout encourages tobacco farmers to shift to other crops. The structures' form was important in the process of air-curing tobacco but is no longer useful to these farmers. The Historic Barn Preservation Program is seeking creative alternative uses for the structures.

    The Gullah/Geechee Coast of South Carolina and Georgia is home to descendants of slaves who, through long isolation, have retained a distinctive culture, with unique traditions and a language whose origins can be traced back to West African homelands. Still surviving are landmark stores, churches, schools, and houses. But new bridges and roads have opened the area to intensive development and tourism. Traditional buildings are being torn down and replaced with new structures.

    The Ridgewood Ranch in Willits, California is home of Seabiscuit, the famous Great-Depression-era racehorse. Owner Charles Howard bought the Mendocino County ranch in 1919 and transformed it into a first-rate facility, with two large mare barns, a breeding barn, feed barns, paddocks, a half-track, and other structures.

    The Ridgewood Ranch is now owned by a church association that lacks the resources to stabilize and maintain the two dozen remaining but deteriorating historic buildings. "Even now, 60 years after Seabiscuit's heyday," says Moe, "his story reminds us of all that's possible with a truly indomitable spirit. Ridgewood Ranch is the best place to retell this distinctly American legend."

    In a rare second-time listing by the National Trust, the entire State of Vermont has been recognized as threatened by "big-box" retail development. The state is known for its historic villages and strong sense of community. Wal-Mart is now planning to saturate the small state with seven new "super-stores" that are likely to spur additional development, sprawl, disinvestment in downtowns, the loss of locally owned businesses, and the erosion of the state's unique sense of place.

    And, finally, the steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is threatened with demolition. The now-dormant complex played a major role in the development of America's steel industry. It was the site of many technological advances and provided steel for some of the nation's best-known structures. Steel from the plant was used to build the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. Today, the sprawling mill is in danger of being cleared for a retail complex or industrial park.

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation has spotlighted more than 160 endangered buildings and sites since 1988. The list identifies places across the United States that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy.

    Preservation can often be controversial, and the National Trust itself may appear in different roles on occasion, such as that endangering the Century Building in downtown St. Louis.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...



    ArchWeek Image

    The Madison-Lenox Hotel in Detroit, Michigan is on this year's "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" list.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    The 1937 George Kraigher House in Brownsville, Texas designed by Richard Neutra is suffering from neglect and vandalism.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, home to some 10,000 petroglyphs and pictographs, is threatened by oil and gas exploration.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    "2 Columbus Circle" in New York City, designed by Edward Durell Stone, may look entirely different after its planned renovation.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    Endangered tobacco barns in Southern Maryland.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    The Farmers Alliance Building on the Gullah/Geechee Coast.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    The Ridgewood Ranch in Willits, California is home of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

    ArchWeek Image

    St. Albans is one of several Vermont villages whose character could be destroyed by Wal-Mart.
    Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation


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