America's Most Endangered Places
The Ellis Island Hospital in New York Harbor is among American sites most at risk
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 is the 2012 list, in alphabetical order.
1. Sweet Auburn Historic District, Atlanta, Ga.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, Sweet Auburn was a successful segregated neighborhood founded by African Americans during the Jim Crow era in the South. The neighborhood was home to countless businesses, congregations, and social organizations, and was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. While the residential area has been revitalized, the commercial district is in danger of falling victim to deterioration and inappropriate development.
2. Terminal Island, Los Angeles, Calif.
Terminal Island played a vital role during WWI and WWII as a major shipbuilding center, and was the place where America’s tuna canning industry came of age. The island also played a key role in a tragic chapter of American history: In 1942, an entire Japanese-American community there was seen as a national threat; its residents were forcibly removed and imprisoned at the internment camp Manzanar. The Port of Los Angeles has neglected historic buildings at Terminal Island – a pattern that plagues industrial sites around the country. A plan introduced in 2011 calls for the demolition of more structures and fails to endorse the idea of adaptive reuse. Local preservationists fear this plan could be the model for an even larger plan that would permit more needless destruction.
3. Ellis Island Hospital Complex, New York Harbor, N.Y.
Part of the Ellis Island National Monument, this mostly unused complex of buildings near the restored Immigration Museum, once comprised the largest U.S. Public Health Service institution in the country. Today, few Americans realize that portions of Ellis Island are unrestored and off limits to visitors. The National Park Service stabilized the hospital structures here a decade ago, but millions of dollars still must be raised to rehabilitate the interiors of these historic buildings.
4. Bridges of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, Calif.
In 1864, Yosemite became the nation’s first park devoted to the protection of natural scenery. Today, nearly four million visitors a year journey to its spectacular centerpiece, the seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley, framed by the world-famous Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. The National Park Service is preparing a comprehensive management plan for the Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, three historic Rustic Style bridges built in 1928 and 1932 are being considered for removal and face an uncertain future.
5. Texas Courthouses, Tex.
Texas courthouses helped establish a unique identity for each of the state’s counties, and 234 of the state’s 244 county-owned historic courthouses are still in active government use. Unfortunately, many – including some of the oldest and most architecturally distinguished – have fallen into disrepair due to inadequate funding and maintenance. More than 72 courthouses remain to be restored, including the Karnes County Courthouse.
6. Historic Post Office Buildings, Geneva, Ill.
Last year, the U.S. Postal Service identified nearly 4,400 post offices—large and small—that it plans to study for closure. Unfortunately, city officials and local preservationists who identified new buyers or uses for endangered post offices often find themselves frustrated by a lack of information and guidance from the U.S. Postal Service. Preservationists hope to save the Geneva post office building and use it as a model for saving other buildings.
7. Village of Zoar, Zoar, Ohio.
The Village of Zoar was founded in 1817 by a group of separatists who fled Germany in search of religious freedom. Not only does Zoar help to tell the story of immigration to the United States, it illustrates the history of settlement throughout this region. Home to nearly 200 residents, Zoar is protected from flooding by a levee built in the 1930s. Record floods in 2005, however, raised concern about the levee’s integrity. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started a three-year study to assess the levee’s future. One of many alternatives under consideration is removing it entirely, which could require the relocation or demolition of 80% of this remarkable historic village.
8. Joe Frazier's Gym, Philadelphia, Pa.
Inside this modest, three-story brick building, Joe Frazier – a gold medal winner at the 1964 Olympics and later Heavyweight Champion of the World – trained for his victorious bout against Muhammad Ali. Today, the converted warehouse where Smokin' Joe perfected his punch is home to a discount furniture store and two floors of vacant space. Despite growing interest in commemorating Frazier's life (he died in 2011), the gym is unprotected; it enjoys no formal historic designation at the local or national level.
9. Malcolm X – Ella Little-Collins House, Boston, Mass.
Built in 1874, this modest structure is the last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X. He shared the house with his half sister, Ella Little-Collins, whose son is the current owner. Largely vacant for over 30 years, plans are in development to rehabilitate and reuse the deteriorating property. In partnership with Historic Boston, Rodnell Collins dreams of preserving Malcolm X’s legacy by transforming the house into living quarters for graduate students who are studying African American history, social justice, or civil rights..
10. Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch, near Medora, N.D.
Theodore Roosevelt hunted, ran cattle, and explored this expansive ranch in the rugged North Dakota Badlands in the late 19th century. It was here that the 26th president of the United States developed a deep appreciation for the American West and for conservation. Unfortunately, the serenity of the ranch, which lies on both sides of the Little Missouri River, is threatened by a proposed new road that would introduce a visual disruption, as well as traffic, noise, and dust.
11. Princeton Battlefield, Princeton, N.J.
On these New Jersey fields, George Washington rallied his forces to defeat British troops, a crucial turning point in the Revolutionary War. A portion of the battle site, however, faces significant threats, including a 15-unit housing development for faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study. As proposed, the project would radically alter the integrity of a rare, intact battlefield.