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America's Most Endangered Places 2006

The Smithsonian Institution and the World Trade Center stairs are considered endangered properties

by Mark Zurlo
Arts and Industries Building

Arts and Industries Building of Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

America's Most Endangered Places

Each year since 1998, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (www.nationaltrust.org) has released a list of 11 historic sites across the country that are in danger of being lost forever. Inclusion on the list does not guarantee a site's survival, but it does generate publicity for the locations and in many cases leads to increased conservation efforts. Here are the sites that were selected in 2006.

1. Arts and Industries Building of Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Situated on prime real estate between the Washington Monument and Capitol Building at the National Mall, Adolf Cluss's 1881 architectural masterpiece served as the very first Smithsonian Museum and was originally known simply as the National Museum. The building was closed in 2004 and there are no clear plans for its future. It is likely that a public-private partnership is necessary to preserve the structure and reopen it to the public.

2. Blair Mountain Battlefield, Logan Country, West Virginia

Site of the largest armed labor conflict in U.S. history and the largest conflict in the U.S. since the Civil War, the 1,600 acre area, 90 minutes southwest of Charleston, faces destruction at the hands of the strip-mining companies that own the land. In 1921, a group of 7,500 miners rebelled against a force of 3,000 led by local law authorities. The miners fought for the right to unionize and their own civil liberties, but were defeated when federal troops were called in and the miners surrendered. The mining companies that now own the land hope to soon use it for strip mining, but they must first obtain permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, who must review the site and consider its historical significance. Due to this fact, a public outcry could possibly bar these mining companies from obtaining the required permits.

3. Doo Wop Motels, Wildwood, New Jersey

On this 40-block seaside strip sits some of the country's brightest and most unusual establishments, many of which were popular with vacationers in the 1950s and 60s. Despite their unique architecture, over 100 of these hotels have been destroyed to make way for new condominiums. The best hope for these structures would be for local governments to provide tax breaks to developers to renovate or convert the existing facilities instead of leveling them and building new units.

4. Fort Snelling Upper Post, Hennepin County, Minnesota

Once known as the "Gateway to the Northwest," Fort Snelling served as an important national defense facility beginning in 1820 and saw a building boom on its grounds at the end of the century. While the original fort building has been restored and is a popular tourist attraction, the 28 buildings spread over 141 acres that also make up the site have steadily deteriorated since being abandoned by the government after World War II. There is currently no agency responsible for overseeing the site, and it is likely that private redevelopment aimed at preserving the heritage of area is its best hope.

5. Historic Communities and Landmarks of the Mississippi Coast

While the city of New Orleans may have seen the worst of Hurricane Katrina, the effects of the storm on the Mississippi Coast can not be ignored. The storm destroyed more than 250 historic structures and damaging another 1,200. The cities of Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Ocean Springs have been very slow to recover and face the disappearance of hundreds of historic sites. Many of these sites were open to the public free of change, and therefore do not have the funds required for restoration projects. It is crucial that the area receive at least the $80 million in federal grants that has been recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee if it hopes to avoid loosing countless landmarks.

6. Historic Neighborhoods of New Orleans, New Orleans

With 20 different areas on the National Register of Historic Districts, pre-Katrina New Orleans was one of the country's most unique and historically significant cities. During the storm, the city saw nearly half of its core destroyed, including the majority of districts that had housed the city's working class. Such areas served as the birthplace of jazz and one of the country's largest immigrant communities. The flood-damaged areas were also home to more than 30,000 structures, each one displaying the ethnic flavor of its first inhabitants. Due to the immense amount of damage inflicted by the storm, it is likely that New Orleans has been forever changed, but with the help of private donations and volunteers, the structural heritage of the city's core communities does not have to be lost completely.

7. Kenilworth, Illinois

This 224-acre residential village was developed beginning in 1889 by Joseph Sears, who envisioned the area 15 miles north of Chicago as the ideal suburb. Sears commissioned many of the era's premier structural and landscape architects to create a breathtaking collection of mid-sized houses. Due to its prime location, the area has recently fallen victim to teardown efforts, as developers purchase the historic homes, level them, and build mansions on the existing land. A lack of ordinances against such tactics has allowed 47 homes to be lost, half of them since 2004. If the village hopes to survive in its current state, residents must work together to fight for a local landmark ordinance, among other regulations to eliminate the teardown threat.

8. Kootenai Lodge, Bigfork, Montana

Built over a period of 25 years beginning in 1905, the complex is home to 14 cabins, a 31-stall barn, and a breathtaking main lodge that features 30-foot ceilings and a walk-in fireplace. Nearly all of the camp's buildings were constructed using cedar and larch logs, and the grounds are highlighted by stone bridges and spectacular views of Swan Lake. The property was purchased by a Florida developer in 2004 who plans to add 42 individual condominiums while demolishing many of the cabins and altering all surviving structures. Despite a large public outcry, the barn has already been relocated and many of the camp's trees have been removed.

9. Mission San Miguel Arcangel, San Miguel, California

Constructed in 1821, the church is one of the original Spanish Missions and is one of California's best preserved from this era. The structure contains a striking mural painted by Salinan Indian converts led by Spanish artist Esteban Munras. The property changed hands many times following the Spaniards' retreat from the area, but was returned to the Franciscan padres in 1928, when the church was renovated and restored. In 2003 the structure was badly damaged by the San Simeon earthquake, and it has been closed ever since. It is estimated that it would cost $14 million to repair the building, and it is likely that federal and state grants will be necessary to make such efforts feasible.

10. Over-the-Rhine Neighborhood, Cincinnati, Ohio

The area just north of Cincinnati's main business district was once one of the largest settlements of German immigrants in the world, housing over 45,000 residents. The area's architecture highlights this ethnic heritage, but the neighborhood has deteriorated to the point where the unemployment rate hovers around 50%, and 500 of the area's 1,200 buildings are abandoned or illegally inhabited. Rampant crime and drug sales have deterred businesses from opening in the area, and politicians have been reluctant to make a concerted effort to restore the area to its once proud state.

11. World Trade Center Vesey Street Staircase, New York, New York

Used as a means of escape during the September 11th, 2001, attacks, the Vesey Street Staircase is the only artifact of the towers that remains intact. The staircase faces a threat from developers who want it removed to make way for the World Trade Center's replacement. They would disassemble the concrete structure and place it in different locations around the site, but it has been proposed that, at worst, the stairs should be preserved as they are but moved to a different location on the site.

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Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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