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Historic Preservation Marked Wins and Losses in 2013

Exterior rendering of the Prentice Women's Hospital, a modernist structure in Chicago
Efforts to save the Prentice Women’s Hospital, a modernist structure in Chicago designed by Bertrand Goldberg, failed; demolition of the landmark has begun. The building employed unique engineering solutions to cantilever seven stories of curved hospital wards above the structure’s base. Courtesy of Jason Smith/National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation looks back on a year in which important historical structures and sites were saved—and lost.

January 21, 2014—The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently released its second annual list of preservation wins and losses, prominent historic sites around the country landing in both columns in 2013. Chicago’s Wrigley Field, which is currently undergoing an extensive renovation guided by a preservation architect, was a prominent win, while the modernist Prentice Women’s Hospital, just 4 mi to the southeast, was recorded as a loss after it was cleared for demolition. (Read “Architectural Icon Faces Uncertain Future” on Civil Engineering online.)

“The National Trust staff research and consult with a broad range of people and organizations across the country to develop this list,” said Rebecca Morgan, an associate director of public affairs for the Trust, in written comments to Civil Engineering online. “In some cases, sites on the list are places the Trust has worked on behalf of—for example, naming them to our 11 Most Endangered List. In other cases these are sites that our partner organizations across the country have advocated to save.”

Several of the structures and sites in the win column were saved by court rulings following legal action. For example, a judge blocked the sale of the Stamford Post Office in Stamford, Connecticut, in October. Courts also tossed out a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a $35-million cruise terminal in Charleston, South Carolina, which impacted a National Historic Landmark district. (Read “Port Expansion Sparks Debate in Charleston” on Civil Engineering online.) The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals protected historic sites in Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, ruling the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) needed to better inventory the area—which includes teepee rings and historical homesteads—before building a network of new roads. 

“Complete end-runs around preservation law do not tend to succeed in the end,” Morgan said. “Permit applicants and government agencies are better off following the letter and spirit of preservation law from the beginning.”

Charleston, South Carolina Court House building

A court ruling blocked a permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers to build a $35-million cruise ship terminal in Charleston,
South Carolina, that would impact a National Historic Landmark
district. Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

When it comes to fighting preservation cases in court, Morgan said, “Early intervention is key When the National Trust is involved in a case and has the opportunity to share resources with litigants and courts, then the likelihood of a positive preservation outcome increases.”

Other wins in 2013 included Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis; the Jensen-Byrd warehouse in Spokane, Washington; Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia; Terminal Island at the Port of Los Angeles; Saenger Theatre in New Orleans; and five national monuments in Delaware, New Mexico, Washington, Ohio, and Maryland.

One of the more unique losses was Pompey’s Pillar, a rock formation in south central Montana. Explorer William Clark carved his name into the impressive sandstone pillar, about 150 ft tall, on July 25, 1806. That mark is believed to be the only existing physical evidence of the Lewis and Clark expedition. On October 10, during the government shutdown, vandals carved “Cole + Shpresa 10/10/2013” on the marker, several feet from Clark’s historical carving. Restoration groups are examining options for restoring the marker.  

Several of the structures on the losses list are purpose-designed buildings that had fallen into obsolescence. The Prentice Hospital is a modernist structure designed by Bertrand Goldberg that employs unique engineering solutions to cantilever seven stories of curved hospital wards above the structure’s base. Northwestern University, the current owner, found the structure impossible to retrofit for use as a state-of-the-art research laboratory.

Distant view of the rock formation known as Pompey's Pillar in south central Montana

Vandals defaced the rock formation known as Pompey’s Pillar in
south central Montana during the government shutdown in
October. William Clark carved his name into the rock while
exploring the west in 1806. Preservationists are exploring options
to restore the landmark. Courtesy of the National Trust for
Historic Preservation

Delta Airlines is demolishing the iconic World Port Terminal at JFK Airport now that is has been replaced by a new terminal. Air travel has changed dramatically since the distinct, disc-shaped terminal was opened by Pan American World Airways in 1960. In Charleston, South Carolina, the Charleston County Library—a modernist structure that also opened in 1960—was demolished. Many in the city had never fully embraced the modern architecture of the library, which is considered to be the first public building in the city designed for racial integration. The Chinese Hospital Medical Administration Building in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Pittsburgh also appear in the loss column.

Among the other losses last year are the Cyclorama Center in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; the Pagoda Palace Theater in San Francisco; the Univision Building in San Antonio; and the Hojack Swing Bridge in Rochester, New York.

“Finding new uses for places that were built for specific purposes is a challenge. A major component to their successful adaptive use—besides a solid business plan—is finding funding,” Morgan said. “Unfortunately, many conventional lenders are hesitant to lend to historic rehabilitation projects because of the higher costs involved in their rehabilitation.”

With government budgets and credit markets stretched tight, many preservation projects are taking advantage of state historic tax credits. The historic tax credit, which reduces the state taxes owed by developers of historic properties, provides equity to a project, not debt, Morgan explained.

“We’ve actually seen an increase in the number of states that have adopted or strengthened a state historic tax credit over the last five years,” Morgan said. “We attribute this to the fact that state legislatures are seeking proven strategies that will create jobs during tough economic times and they need only turn to other states for strong examples of how a state credit—especially when combined with the federal historic tax credit—is a strong catalyst for rehabilitation activity and job creation.”

Many sites on the wins and losses list have appeared on the Trust’s America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. This list of 11 sites around the country is selected through a nomination process that is open to the public, Morgan said. To nominate a site for the 2014 list, visit the Trust’s nomination website.



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