Copper Boom Takes its Toll on Historic Buildings

Posted on: January 11th, 2008 by Preservation magazine 1 Comment

 

Waterbury City HallIt'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.

Money Talks

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 →

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.

An APB for Historic Storefronts

Posted on: January 10th, 2008 by Margaret Foster

 

Galena, Ill.

If you know of a building with a fancy sheet-metal facade, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency wants to hear from you.

The agency is asking people all across the country to help locate and identify so-called Mesker buildings via its new Web site, www.gotmesker.com.

Manufactured by the Mesker Brothers Iron Works of St. Louis, Mo., and the George L. Mesker Company of Evansville, Ind., a "Mesker" is a late-1800s to early-1900s building that features elements ranging from storefront columns and cornices to entire facades made of the galvanized steel and cast iron construction. The Mesker brothers were once the largest distributors of these storefront components. Although they didn’t invent the idea of constructing buildings from sheet metal, the brothers took the process to the next level by developing patents for innovative installation techniques.... 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.

Georgia Courthouse Falls

Posted on: January 9th, 2008 by Margaret Foster

 

Gilmer County Courthouse, Ga.The people have spoken, and a brick courthouse in northern Georgia fell this week.

Built in 1898 as a Hyatt Hotel, the neoclassical building in Ellijay, Ga., was converted to the Gilmer County Courthouse in 1934. The county fire marshall condemned the ailing in 2003, and in November 2006, voters in the county of 28,000 passed a referendum to raze the old courthouse and build a new one.

"Counties that have lost their historic courthouses are always sorry about it afterwards," says Jack Pyburn, FAIA, director of Atlanta-based Lord, Aeck & Sargent's Historic Preservation Studio. "Gilmer County's historic courthouse was unique as Georgia's only courthouse not originally built for that purpose. Fortunately, the overwhelming number of counties in Georgia consider their historic courthouses to be a significant definer of their community's identity, past, present and future."... 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.

Notes from New Orleans: End Run?

Posted on: January 9th, 2008 by Walter Gallas

 

Early Saturday, I received via email a copy of a draft environmental assessment that had been completed on November 20 for the New Orleans Veterans Administration medical complex, which the city wants built in the Mid-City National Register district. This is the kind of document which normally would be a very visible part of a comprehensive—and public—review process fro such a large development project affecting historic properties.

Instead, this has all the markings of trying to do an end-run around all environmental and historic reviews. For example, at some point, at some unknown time and place a notice had been placed seeking public comment on this document by December 19. So much for transparency and public participation.

I went through the document quickly and saw that it gives a nod to environmental, cultural, and historical issues, but not surprisingly, its language seems to want to lead to a predetermined finding of no significant impact. The correspondence attached at the end of the DEA is curious in that no communication is shown with the state historic preservation office either.

I have notified the state historic preservation office of this, and we also will be in touch with the VA’s historic preservation officer. Sadly, this all sounds much like the efforts the state medical system is using to try to ramrod through its own plans for a new public medical center in the same National Register District.

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.

California Town Digs for Ideas to Preserve Historic Ditch

Posted on: January 8th, 2008 by Margaret Foster

 

ZanjaIn California, where water is king, an irrigation ditch can have more historic clout than Plymouth Rock.

A Southern California group wants to create parkland around a historic 12-mile-long ditch, built in 1819 in Redlands, Calif.

Located in San Bernardino County, the Zanja, which is Spanish for ditch, delivered water to the local Spanish mission, San Bernardino Asistencia; it has been a flood-control channel for the past 80 years.

A third of the trench has already been cemented over and erased by apartment buildings and other development, so now is the time to act, says Sherli Leonard, executive director of the Redlands Conservancy, which will welcome the public's ideas in a Jan. 28 meeting.... 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.