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A New Wrecker’s Dozen

April 2024
4min read


Five buildings destroyed and eight saved. Considering that we predicted the imminent demise of all thirteen, we are more than happy to have been less than half right. A preservation ethic had taken root in America in 1970. We just weren’t aware of it yet. Although the urban renewal programs of that day seemed to be breeding upon themselves, growing ever larger and more destructive, preservation groups all over America were beginning to stand up and fight for our shared architectural heritage.

The threats to buildings in 1990 are very different. Today landmarks are being crushed into rubble not so much for reasons of urban renewal as for reasons of safety. Many buildings have simply been neglected for too long and are falling apart. Listed here, for example, is a wrecker’s dozen for the 1990s, thirteen endangered American landmarks. We say endangered rather than doomed because the National Trust (which, along with local preservation groups, was instrumental in putting this list together) is a much more influential organization in America than it was twenty years ago, and in twenty more years’ time all thirteen of these buildings may still be standing. Or so we hope.

Unalaska, Alaska

The Holy Ascension Orthodox Church, situated on an inlet in the Aleutian Islands, is the oldest church in Alaska; its earliest sections date to 1826. Topped by the traditional onion-shaped domes of the Russian Orthodox Church, it is filled with a rich collection of icons crafted by the Aleut people. Although the church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, it is in jeopardy because of serious deterioration. Ephraim, Utah The United Order Store was built in 1871 and 1872. This Mormon cooperative general store is one of the state’s best examples of Greek Revival architecture. It was the original location of Snow College, a small community school founded in 1888, and is one of only two existing Latter-day Saint United Order Stores in Utah. The building is threatened by deterioration, but a local group is raising funds to save it.

New York, New York

Located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the York Avenue Estate was built as model tenements between 1901 and 1913 in response to the appalling housing conditions of New York’s working poor. Constituting an entire block, the buildings are decorated with stylish details and curved pediments. Though designed as an experiment, the estate provided decent, attractive homes at affordable prices. They are threatened by the astounding rise in land values in this now wealthy neighborhood.

New London, Connecticut

The Rippin Cottage, which overlooks the Thames River, is where Eugene O’Neill recuperated from his first battle with tuberculosis and where he drafted some of his earliest plays during the winter of 1913-14. Built in the 186Os, the Carpenter Gothic cottage with picturesque dormer windows and scrolled brackets was to be razed to make room for a new summer home. The only house in New London where O’Neill spent the winter, it has recently been restored.

Lexington, Kentucky

The Senator Pope House, a late Federalist style structure built in 1811, is the only surviving building in Kentucky designed by America’s first great architect, Benjamin H. Latrobe. Built for John Pope, a senator from Kentucky and later the territorial governor of Arkansas, the house suffered a damaging fire in October 1987. The roof was destroyed, and the house, subdivided in 1917 into apartments, nearly razed. The Bluegrass Trust is presently attempting to renovate the structure.

Aiea, Hawaii

The Natatorium is a public swimming-pool complex designed by Louis Horbart; it opened in 1927 as a memorial to Hawaiian men and women who died in World War I. Surrounded by palm trees and classical bleachers, the hundred-meter pool boasts a four-level diving tower, a slide, and a floating boom to close off the diving area. The handsome dressing rooms and arcade have arched windows that face a park; the other side faces the sea and the skyline of Waikiki. The popular saltwater pool has been closed since 1979 because of structural deficiencies.

Boston, Massachusetts

The Dillaway-Thomas House was originally built in 1750-54 as the parsonage for Boston’s First Church. The Reverend Oliver Peabody lived there, and the building was probably the headquarters of Gen. John Thomas of the Continental Army during the siege of Boston. One of the few surviving examples of eighteenth-century domestic architecture in Boston, the modest two-and-a-half-story Georgian structure is losing its nearly 250-year battle with New England winters.

The Hayden Building, a narrow five-story commercial building faced with roughhewn brownstone in the heart of Boston’s red-light district, is the last extant structure in the area designed by the architect H. H. Richardson. Built in 1875, the building has a clean and unornamented facade; it marks a great departure from the complicated and highly decorative Victorian style that preceded it. The Hayden Building is threatened by plans to redevelop the entire area.

Spokane, Washington

The Davenport Hotel, built in 1913, was once the grandest hotel in the inland Northwest. A gigantic structure of the Chicago school with a Florentine facade and much terra-cotta detailing, the building today stands empty as its owners search for a developer to renovate it.

Savannah, Georgia

The Central of Georgia Railway Company Shop, built between 1850 and 1855, is an elegant and complex example of mid-nineteenth-century industrial design. Serving the most important railroad in the Southeast in the years preceding the Civil War, the Savannah station was considered both beautiful and practical by contemporary observers. Despite efforts by the city, the structure is deteriorating.

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Old Fort, an adobe square built by Mormon missionaries in 1856, was designed to provide a safe way station between communities in Great Salt Lake and San Bernardino. Now owned by the city of Las Vegas, the fort needs public support and renovation in order to stay open.

Portland, Maine

On Fore Street, in the midst of a tundra of parking lots, is a modest commercial building, completed in 1866. Once the site of a provisions store for the nearby waterfront, the building now stands neglected. The developer who owns the property recently lost an appeal for permission to demolish the structure and now plans to build around it. The building will probably be turned into a restaurant.

Los Angeles, California

The McKinley Mansion, surrounded by gardens and detailed with rare and exotic woods from all over the world, was designed by the architectural firm of Hunt and Burns in 1914. Once the home of a funeral parlor magnate, the house with its Italian Renaissance-based design is being moved, piece by piece, to Chatsworth, California, in order to make room for condominiums.

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