Page N1.4. 23 June 2010                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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U.S. Historic Sites in Peril


Some states are avoiding immediate cuts, such as Ohio, which is working systematically to develop public-private partnerships to support certain sites.

Michigan's Saugatuck Dunes

On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, the township of Saugatuck is fighting a developer that is trying to compel a change in zoning laws — laws that were enacted to protect the character of the area.

The 2,500-acre (1,000-hectare) Saugatuck Dunes coastal area encompasses beach, rare freshwater dunes, woods, and wetlands, with habitat for several endangered species. Significant historic and archeological sites include Native American grounds and trails, the 100-year old Ox-Bow School of Art (part of the Chicago Art Institute), several 19th-century summer camps and cottage communities, the nation's oldest operational hand-cranked chain ferry, an old lighthouse cottage and century-old pilings from an early fishing village, and the buried remains of Singapore, an early-19th-century mill town and port.

Singapore Dunes LLC has proposed a 400-acre (160-hectare) residential development, including a marina, hotel, restaurant, and retail complex, within the Lakeshore Open Space Zoned District. For almost five years, the developer has targeted the zoning laws through a series of lawsuits, threatened lawsuits, tax appeals, and depositions. Citizens recently voted to support the township's fight by passing a millage (property tax levy), but the fight has grown increasingly expensive.

For 60 years, state and federal agencies have tried to link the area's parks into more expansive publicly protected open space. In 2009, the National Trust named Saugatuck and the nearby town of Douglas to its annual list of "America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations."

Battle of Walmart and the Wilderness

In Virginia's Piedmont region, a Walmart Supercenter store may soon rise on a Civil War battlefield.

In present-day Orange and Spotsylvania Counties, the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness saw generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee face off for the first time, along with almost 186,000 Union and Confederate troops, who suffered 28,000 casualties.

Despite the fact that three other Walmart stores stand only 15 miles [24 kilometers] away, Walmart intends to construct 240,000 square feet (22,000 square meters) of "big box" commercial sprawl within the historic boundaries of Wilderness Battlefield and immediately adjacent to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, which protects only a portion of the battlefield.

In addition to destroying hallowed ground, encroaching on the national park, and spoiling a rural area, the planned 51-acre (21-hectare) development could lead to dramatic increases in traffic, the widening of historic Route 20 through the park, and further commercial development in the vicinity.

In August 2009, despite protests from the National Park Service, the Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, local and national heritage groups, and thousands of individuals, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to approve Walmart's proposal. Currently, the nonprofit Friends of Wilderness Battlefield and a group of citizen coplaintiffs are pursuing a lawsuit against Orange County in order to block the proposed development. Preservationists are asking Walmart to relocate its project to one of several alternative sites; to date, Walmart has rejected several such suggestions.

Saving Endangered Sites

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced its 2010 list of "America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" on May 19. This is the 23nd such list issued to highlight significant heritage sites that are at risk, with the potential for rescue. Since the listing began in 1988, only seven sites have been lost, according to the National Trust.

This year saw positive developments in several places. Since Miami Marine Stadium was listed in 2009, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to allocate $3 million towards its rehabilitation. In Los Angeles, Next Century Associates (NCA), has agreed to revise its proposal for development in Century City in a way that will retain the Century Plaza Hotel, also on last year's list. And a site from the 1997 list, the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, Florida — once slated for demolition — reopened to traffic after an $80 million rehabilitation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to a national network of people, organizations, and local communities committed to saving diverse historic places in the United States, with the goals of revitalizing neighborhoods and communities, sparking economic development, and promoting environmental sustainability.


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The Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, near Fort Hunter, New York, was one of 55 New York parks and historic sites closed in May 2010 due to the State's fiscal crisis. An agreement reached by Governor David Paterson and the state legislature later that month allowed the sites to reopen.
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Photo: Arizona State Parks Foundation Extra Large Image

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Development of a planned Walmart Supercenter threatens the Wilderness Battlefield, a Civil War site in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties, Virginia.
Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation Extra Large Image


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