It's an all-too-common predicament for historic structures: widespread vandalism, which can derail an already-tenuous preservation plan. In Camden, N.J., an 80-year-old Greek revival Sears, Roebuck & Co. building is facing demolition this year. Abandoned for several years, the building has been broken into several times, much of its copper piping stripped away and many of its rooms now pockmarked, exposed to the elements.
Likewise, the city hall of Waterbury, Conn., has long been at the receiving-end of theft and trespassing. Three years ago, vandals entered the 90,000-square-foot building—designed by Cass Gilbert, the architect behind the Supreme Court headquarters in Washington, D.C.—and opened a water valve on its fourth floor, flooding the structure thoroughly and rendering it uninhabitable. Last year thieves removed a six-foot-long piece of copper pipe, causing significant water damage to the basement and complicating the city's proposed renovation.
It's a disturbing trend, one that thwarts the aims of preservation: Uninhabited historic structures, caught in a limbo-like state amid the preservation vs. demolition debate, are increasingly vulnerable to disrepair and theft, particularly in the light of a booming metal-scrap market.
In recent years, the demand for copper has substantially increased, largely from tech-centric importers like China and India, and scrap metal is now one of America's most lucrative exports. While copper is neither a precious metal nor an energy source, its conductivity makes it ideal for myriad technological and industrial uses. Smelted-down copper fixtures can be formed into wires and rods, key components of most electrical items. Scrap dealers typically pay between $3.30 and $3.80 per pound, or more than $8,000 per metric ton for the metal. The large, heavy copper pipes found in public buildings, such as civic or commercial structures, draw a high price from both legitimate and black-market metal dealers.... Read More →