When is Demolition Justified?

Posted on: December 5th, 2007 by Barbara Campagna


The Jesse Baltimore House, Washington, DC demolishedThere was an article on WashingtonPost.com today that really got me thinking about when demolition is appropriate. Entitled “The District Shows Some Spine”, the columnist applauded DC’s Historic Preservation Office for standing up to some local preservationists in the Palisades neighborhood and refusing to landmark a deteriorating Sears-kit house.

I had seen the many articles about the house over the past few months in my local Upper Northwest newspaper, and without thinking too much about it, just assumed, “Why of course it should be saved.” But we can’t and we shouldn’t save everything, and instead I found myself this morning admiring the journalist for his views and the DC Preservation Office for their gumption.

But, beyond cultural value, demolition of buildings takes on a new urgency in these days of climate change and disposable living. A report from the Brookings Institution projects that by 2030 we will have demolished and replaced 82 billion square feet of our current building stock. In other words, over the next 23 years, we anticipate demolishing nearly 1/3 of our existing buildings. Where will we put it all? Other than the whole embodied energy/embodied effects discussion, which is worthy of a separate posting, what does this say about our respect for our planet? In many ways, we are all struggling with the disposable lives that we have found so easy to live thanks to the industrialization and technological advances of the past century. I’m afraid I don’t have an answer – if I did, I’d probably win the next Nobel Peace Prize. These statistics keep me up at night and as much as I personally try to do my bit at recycling, I know I could do much better. But does it mean retreating back to pre-history? Never tearing down or replacing another building, regardless of their significance or durability? I’d like to think (at least I hope!) that the intellects on our planet will come up with a way to continue advancing technologically, live comfortable lives AND stop the rapid climate change. Call me an optimist…

So the article on the demolished Sears house finished with a call to DC’s preservationists to The Richardson Towers at the Buffalo Psychiatric Centertransfer their energy for a house like this one to standing up to the federal government for its plans for St. Elizabeths Hospital (a National Historic Landmark psychiatric facility). This has been an ongoing battle to find the appropriate use for a site of national significance. It’s a massive institutional complex significant for social history, architecture, landscape architecture, hospital planning, and our historic approach to serving the mentally ill. There are a variety of complexes like this around the country and most of them have not fared well. But there are some success stories, including the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, which I’ve been involved with for more than 20 years and is the only building I would chain myself to, to keep it from being demolished. http://www.richardson-olmsted.com/

The National Trust has been involved with both complexes over the years, and while I agree with the journalist’s call somewhat, it does concern me that his implication was that St. Es is more worthwhile to save because it’s of national significance, whereas the Sears house was only possibly of community interest. One of the beauties of the National Register process has always been to me that it doesn’t rank the significance of sites – all sites listed are important as contributors to the story of America – and no story is any more important than another.

You can see I’ve been all over the place with my thoughts regarding the demolition of the Sears house in the Palisades. No, not everything can or should be saved. Yes, community landmarks are as important to the story of America as National Historic Landmarks. Yes, our landfills are too full as it is and losing embodied energy is never a good thing in how it affects climate change. We can’t build our way out of climate change, but we also can’t freeze our way out of it either. The answer will be much more complicated and require preservation when it makes sense, and sound green building when that makes sense. We can’t save them all but we can be wise about what we save and what we build.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Barbara Campagna

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C was formerly the Graham Gund Architect of the National Trust in the Stewardship of Historic Sites office. She is currently a sustainability consultant to the National Trust and can be reached at bcampagna@bcampagna.com.

Ohio Roller Coaster Going Down?

Posted on: December 5th, 2007 by Margaret Foster


Big DipperThe past two months have been, well, a roller coaster ride for the 1925 Big Dipper at Ohio’s Geauga Lake amusement park, which has been in operation since 1888.

The last of 13 wood roller coasters designed by John Miller, the ride is for sale, along with two other wood coasters and the entire 500-acre site in Aurora, Ohio. With no buyers, its future looks bleak. In September, its owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, announced its plans to turn the park into a water park and sell its 40 rides in time for opening day in May 2008.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has asked Cedar Fair to reconsider its plans. “Ideally, keeping the Big Dipper in its Aurora, Ohio, home would be preferable—perhaps by including the coaster as part of a mixed-use retail and amusement complex or as part of a classic amusement park museum,” Brown wrote in a letter to Cedar Fair officials last month. “As Cedar Fair makes final decisions on the future of the Dipper, I strongly urge against destroying or scrapping this unique piece of Buckeye State history.”... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Indian Vice President Helps Launch INTO

Posted on: December 5th, 2007 by David J. Brown 1 Comment


Simon Molesworth (far right) and I listening to Vice President Shri M. Hamid Ansari, give his address. (http://vicepresidentofindia.nic.in/)Monday, December 3rd, was a remarkable day in India as our local host, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), brought both the Prime Minister and the Vice President of India to events celebrating historic preservation and heritage conservation. After the morning presentation by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to launch the 12th International Conference of National Trusts, the feeling among the almost 300 delegates was exceptional. Fiona Reynolds, General Director of the English National Trust, and I were commenting that all of us who care about heritage had just seen how an event like a conference - which our western cynicism often sees as simply a chance to network and learn about the work of others - can be used by skillful local advocates in the developing world such as S.K. Misra of INTACH to dramatically raise the profile for heritage in their country in the span of a few days.

Mr. Misra pulled his magic again in the afternoon when Indian Vice President Shri M. Hamid Ansari spoke at the official launch of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) at the Ashok Hotel in Delhi. At an earlier plenary, I joined members of the INTO Steering Committee in presenting the charter to the group and in answering questions. Groups such as UNESCO were represented and spoke of their support for the creation of INTO, which helped give us strong credibility in the international and developing world. It was easy to see that there was a great deal of excitement about the creation of INTO, and I spoke briefly about how conversations and dreams of almost 20 years had finally been turned in a charter, budget, location - but most importantly a vision for this international group. The English National Trust has really stepped up by providing the office space at their London headquarters, instantly providing INTO with the prestigious address and backing of the world's largest National Trust. If any of you are interesting in a posting to London, here's your chance!

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Historic Seattle Restores 1907 House

Posted on: December 5th, 2007 by Margaret Foster


Dearborn House, SeattleOn Sunday, a Seattle preservation group celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Dearborn House, which it has restored as its offices.

Historic Seattle bought the Henry H. Dearborn House 10 years ago, thanks to a large donation. The exterior was restored in 2003 with a grant from the Washington State Historical Society Heritage Fund.

Last year Historic Seattle began the interior work, removing false ceilings and replacing original doors and windows in the National Register-listed building, which became a city landmark in May.... Read More →

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Darko Babic (left) and David Brown ride atop an elephant in Jaipur, India.After three wonderful days touring the Golden Triangle of India to visit Agra Fort, the incomparable Taj Mahal, the beautiful Fatehpur Sikri, and intriguing city of Jaipur, our driver Supe and my traveling companion Darko Babic from the University of Zagreb in Croatia headed north on Sunday morning to return to Delhi. Supe provided commentary along the way on the camps of gypsies, the rural poverty, the beautiful yellow fields of mustard, and the value of water buffalo (he owns two). As we entered Delhi on a new highway Supe saw something that surprised even him - a speed trap! Traffic laws in many parts of the country where we traveled are non-existent, so the presence of the police ticketing people shocked us all after three days of assuming that speeding was a birth right.

But I'm glad we made it back, because it began an extraordinary two days in which I was privileged to have speaking roles on programs with both the Prime Minister of India and the Vice President of India as part of the International Conference of National Trusts.

Banners announcing the 12th International Conference of National Trusts.We arrived safe and sound at the historic Ashok Hotel which is located in the diplomatic enclave of Delhi, where they do have traffic laws and many historic and beautiful neighborhoods. It was apparent from the massive sign and banners at the hotel welcoming the National Trusts that this was going to be a special few days. I was met by representatives of our host National Trust for the conference - the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) - and taken immediately to a press conference with the international press. This 12th International Conference of National Trusts is a historic one, in that we're launching an new international group of National Trusts. Let me backtrack a bit and explain.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Lost: Mid-Century Modern House in Texas

Posted on: December 3rd, 2007 by Preservation magazine


Carousel HouseTexas lost a mid-century modern house last month.

Once called the "Carousel House," the circular house in Meyerland was designed and built in 1964 by Robert Cohen, who constructed the house out of wood frames and steel.

In 1987, the elderly Cohens moved out, and the house remained empty until June 2004, when Texas lawyer John O'Quinn purchased it for his classic car collection's manager, Zev Isgur. When Isgur went to jail, the house was deserted.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.