Page N1.2 . 07 June 2006                     
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    Endangered America


    These motels are famous for their neon-bright colors, funky signage, and exotic architecture of saw-toothed angles, odd overhangs, and space-age "Jetson" ramps. More than 100 of these icons of the recent past have already been destroyed, and more are slated for demolition.

    In other cases, buildings on the Most Endangered list are victims of storms, not human decision making. This is true for the
    historic communities and landmarks of the Mississippi Coast
    , damaged and destroyed by the 2005 hurricanes. Historic homeowners have been struggling to rebuild, and severely damaged landmarks face uncertain futures. One notable example is Beauvoir, the Biloxi residence where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, retired to write his memoirs and spend his final years.

    Still other endangered buildings are threatened not by the violence of wrecking balls or storms but by the gentler but still devastating force of neglect. One of these is the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C, designed by architect Adolf Cluss. The first building expressly built as a museum on the National Mall was completed in 1881 to receive the collections of the 1876 Centennial Exposition.

    With a central rotunda and polychrome exterior of red, black, tan, and blue bricks, the first Smithsonian building served as a dramatic exhibition space until it was shuttered in 2004 after years of neglect and underuse. It suffers from a deteriorating roof and other infrastructure problems. There is no clearly defined plan for its future use, so it continues to languish.

    Also languishing is the Fort Snelling Upper Post in Hennepin County, Minnesota. On a scenic promontory overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, Fort Snelling kept watch over settlers during the formation of the Minnesota territory. While parts of the fort complex have been restored, 28 brick buildings constructed in the late 1800s have been vacant for decades and stand in various states of disrepair, some on the verge of collapse.

    The Kootenai Lodge in Bigfork, Montana is still structurally robust but under threat from a new condominium development. The rustic lodge and 20 other buildings fronting scenic Swan Lake were developed from 1905 through 1925 as a summer retreat for mining executives.

    A historic barn at the Kootenai site has already been dismantled and relocated, and many of the old-growth trees have been cut down. The density proposed by the current redevelopment plan will significantly diminish the historic and architectural character of the historic lodge, cabins, and landscape. Public outcry has been fierce, but the area has no zoning protection, so the historic character of the property is in imminent danger of being destroyed.

    One of the structures on this year's Most Endangered list was a victim of terrorists on September 11, 2001. When New York's World Trade Center was attacked, the Vesey Street Staircase offered a path to safety for many people. This haunting remnant, often called the Survivors' Staircase, is the only remaining above-ground fragment of the vanished Twin Towers.

    However, the staircase is threatened with demolition for construction of a new office tower. The Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund is trying to persuade decision-makers to preserve the staircase remnant as part of the design for the new building.

    In Cincinnati, Ohio, an entire neighborhood is endangered. The Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has been home to generations of immigrant families and is known for its large and intact collection of 19th-century Italianate, Federal, Greek Revival, and Queen Anne buildings. But now the area is plagued by crime and disinvestment. About 500 historic buildings are vacant, being razed in an effort to combat further deterioration.

    The Mission San Miguel Arcangel (1821), in San Miguel, California, is known for its original murals. It was closed following a 2003 earthquake that caused severe structural damage. Without funds for restoration, the mission could collapse.

    The town of Kenilworth, Illinois, 15 miles north of Chicago, is a remarkably intact suburban village with houses that date back to 1889. The town had attracted some of the Midwest's most accomplished architects, including Daniel Burnham, George Maher, and Paul Starrett. Despite their character, many of these houses are being torn down to make room for larger "MacMansions" on the small lots.

    Also on this year's Most Endangered list are the historic neighborhoods of New Orleans, Louisiana. These include the modest, colorful shotgun houses, craftsman bungalows, and Creole cottages that line the streets the Lower 9th Ward and working-class neighborhoods such as Mid-City, Holy Cross, and South Lakeview. Suffering damage from Hurricane Katrina's winds and floodwaters, hundreds of family homes are "red-tagged" for demolition, and the future of this distinctive city is at stake.

    The 11th endangered place (not pictured here) is the Blair Mountain Battlefield in Logan County, West Virginia, site of a 1921 armed insurrection of unionized coal miners fighting for better working conditions. Today, encroaching strip mining threatens to obliterate the site of the largest U.S. domestic conflict since the Civil War.

    The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save diverse historic places in the United States and to revitalize neighborhoods and communities.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    Beauvoir, the Biloxi, Mississippi residence of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis, before the 2005 hurricanes.
    Photo: Mississippi Heritage Trust

    ArchWeek Image

    Now damaged, Beauvoir is on the 2006 "Most Endangered" list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
    Photo: Mississippi Heritage Trust

    ArchWeek Image

    The now-neglected Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building in Washington, D.C.
    Photo: Smithsonian Institution

    ArchWeek Image

    Inside the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building.
    Photo: Smithsonian Institution

    ArchWeek Image

    The deteriorating administration building of the Fort Snelling Upper Post in Hennepin County, Minnesota.
    Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

    ArchWeek Image

    The deteriorating gymnasium building of the Fort Snelling Upper Post.
    Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

    ArchWeek Image

    Kootenai Lodge, Bigfork, Montana.
    Photo: Sarah Hansen, NTHP Mountains Plains Regional Office

    ArchWeek Image

    Vesey Street Staircase, a surviving remnant of the World Trade Center.
    Photo: Robert Kornfeld, Jr.


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