May 12, 2006
The National Trust for Historic Preservation yesterday released its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. The list, first issued in 1988, is a public cry for help on behalf of sites considered endangered due to "neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy," according to the Trust.
Among this year’s list are the World Trade Center’s Vesey Street Staircase, the only remaining above-ground remnant of the Twin Towers; the historic neighborhoods of New Orleans, and the historic communities of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, many of which were badly damaged or even destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; and the Arts and Industries Building, the first museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The National Trust is a nonprofit group dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing communities. The list’s power to promote responses is evidenced by looking at two of last year’s places. Frank Lloyd Wright’s textile-block Ennis House, which had been damaged by an earthquake in 1994, is now going through its first phase of renovation thanks to funding that came after the list’s release. Finça Vigía, Ernest Hemingway's home in Cuba, has since seen legislation that would make it part of a National Heritage Area.
Sites on this year’s list are:
Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, Washington, D.C. - The first building expressly built as a museum on the National Mall in the nation's capital, the Arts & Industries Building was completed in 1881 to receive the collections of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. With its central rotunda and polychrome exterior of red, black, tan, and blue bricks, the building served as a dramatic exhibition space until it was shuttered in 2004 after years of neglect and underuse.
Blair Mountain Battlefield, Logan County, W. Va. - Blair Mountain's 1,600-acre Spruce Fork Ridge is the site of an armed insurrection by unionized coal miners fighting for better working conditions and an end to the oppressive control of the West Virginia coal industry. Today, the ridge, remote and full of serene hardwood forests and precipitous hillsides, is threatened by strip mining that will obliterate the site of America's largest domestic conflict since the Civil War.
Doo Wop Motels, Wildwood, N.J. - Named after a popular 1950s singing style, Wildwood's Doo Wop motels are colorful beach resorts that line 40 blocks of New Jersey shoreline. Considered the largest collection of mid-20th century commercial resort architecture in the nation, the motels are famous for their neon-bright colors, funky signage, and exotic architecture of saw-toothed angles, crazy overhangs and space-age "Jetson" ramps. More than 100 of these iconic reminders of the recent past have already met the wrecking ball, and more are slated for demolition.
Fort Snelling Upper Post, Hennepin County, Minn. - On a large, scenic promontory overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, Fort Snelling has been keeping watch over the citizens of the region since long before the formation of the Minnesota Territory. While parts of the fort complex have been restored, the 141-acre Upper Post area, which contains 28 brick buildings constructed between the late 1870s and the early 1900s, has been vacant for more than three decades and stands in various states of disrepair. Some of the structures have collapsed roofs and severely-cracked brick walls.
Historic Communities and Landmarks of the Mississippi Coast - When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last August, the historic communities and landmarks of Mississippi suffered incalculable damage. For months, historic homeowners have been entrenched in an exhausting rebuilding effort. Similarly, numerous Mississippi landmarks including Beauvoir, the Biloxi retirement home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Pascagoula's La Pointe-Krebs House, believed to be the oldest standing building in the state, were decimated by the storm and face uncertain futures nearly one year after Katrina.
Historic Neighborhoods of New Orleans, New Orleans, La. - They are the heart and soul of the city—the modest, colorful shotgun houses, Craftsman bungalows and Creole cottages that line the streets of New Orleans's Lower 9th Ward and working-class neighborhoods such as Mid-City, Holy Cross and South Lakeview. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's winds and floodwaters, hundreds of family homes are tagged for demolition, and the future of America's most distinctive city is at stake.
Kenilworth, Ill. - Fifteen miles north of Chicago, Kenilworth, Ill., was founded in 1889 as an ideal suburban village. The village is a rich historical fabric that showcases world-class architecture and gracious landscape in a remarkably intact context. The town attracted some of the Midwest's most accomplished architects, who lined its broad leafy streets with a diverse collection of stately and unique homes, and most of the 830 homes date to the 1920s or earlier. Today, the town is under siege. A spate of teardowns has leveled many historic homes and replaced them with hulking McMansions, some nearly twice the size of the architectural treasures which were been lost.
Kootenai Lodge, Bigfork, Mont. - One of the most significant historic sites in northwest Montana, the Kootenai Lodge was developed from 1905 through 1925 as a summer retreat for executives of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Now, the 40-acre property, which consists of the rustic wooden lodge and 20 other buildings fronting scenic Swan Lake, could be forever changed if a developer proceeds with plans to demolish several historic buildings and significantly alter others for a new condominium development.
Mission San Miguel Arcangel, San Miguel, Calif. - A superb example of Franciscan Mission architecture, Mission San Miguel, known for its exquisite murals, was completed in 1821 as the 16th of California's 21 famed mission churches. Mission San Miguel was closed following a December 2003 earthquake that caused severe structural damage. Without funds for restoration, the mission could collapse.
Over-the-Rhine Neighborhood, Cincinnati, Ohio - Little changed in more than 100 years, Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has been home to generations of immigrant families and is known for its large, outstanding and intact collection of 19th century Italianate, Federal, Greek Revival and Queen Anne buildings. Today, the neighborhood is plagued by crime and disinvestment. Some 500 of its 1,200 historic buildings are vacant, and emergency demolition is being used as a tool to combat deteriorating conditions.
World Trade Center Vesey Street Staircase, New York, N.Y. - Because it offered a path to safety that allowed many people to escape the blazing World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, this haunting remnant is often called the Survivors' Staircase. Although it is the only remaining above-ground fragment of the vanished Twin Towers, the staircase is threatened with demolition for the construction of a new office tower on the WTC site.