By Liz Waytkus and Francine Moralles
Endangered historic site lists, as a tool for advocacy, are being announced and promoted by many preservation organizations and architectural advocacy groups across the country. As these lists seem to proliferate, it’s interesting to step back and look at their genesis, the inclusion (or perhaps exclusion) of modern sites as a subset, the limits to modern site inclusion (mostly iconic by star architects), and endangered lists overall effectiveness.
Although initially composed of sites built before the 20th century, many endangered lists now include a wide-variety of places including those of the modern movement, historic ballparks and landscapes. The inclusion of modern properties on these lists has seen a steady increase since the mid 1980’s when national battlefields and historic districts made up the bulk of the listings. One of the first lists, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) began in 1988 and within a few years, included Detroit’s National Register for Historic Places listed Tiger Stadium in 1991.Considered an early 20th-century concrete and steel ballpark with rich cultural and historic significance, Tiger Stadium had been the site of the Detroit Tigers since 1912 and saw baseball legends from Hank Greenberg to Babe Ruth on its field. Although Tiger Stadium was demolished in 2009 in the face of local, state and national efforts to save it, by that time 20th century sites were a mainstay on endangered lists and have included high profile projects such as Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center (1962) and Century Plaza Hotel (1966) by Minoru Yamasaki.
Today there are in upward of one hundred or more built heritage endangered lists across in the United States. Endangered lists are primarily annual or every two year efforts that are developed by local, regional, state and national organizations. One such list, Landmarks Illinois Ten Most Endangered Historic Places, includes two modern movement sites on their 2012 list. Those sites include the long-embattled Bertrand Goldberg designed Prentice Women’s Hospital (1975) and the Blair House designed in 1955 by the architectural form of Keck & Keck. The Landmarks Illinois list, which dates back to 1995, has a long history of including 20th century and modern sites reflecting the region’s rich architectural history and contributions to the development of architectural design and technology. In discussing the recent Landmarks Illinois list with Lisa DiChiera, Director of Advocacy, she suggested that preservation advocacy organizations are increasingly confronted with threatened mid-20th century properties. DiChiera went on to say that “dealing with these sites has become a consistent part of our work load. The threat to this era of architecture is increasing yearly and there is no doubt in my mind that from this point on there will always be a mid-century building of significance on our annual Ten Most Endangered Historic Places list.”
Image (R): Blair House courtesy of Landmark's Illinois, Photo credit: Hedrich Blessing, Architectural Record, February 1957
Since 1996, the internationally-minded World Monuments Fund organizes the Watch List every two years which, “calls international attention to cultural heritage around the globe that is at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change.” While the Watch List includes very well-known sites such as Strawberry Hill in the UK, many of its listings are little-known and increasingly the Watch List has included modern sites like Alvar Aalto’s Viipuri Library and The White City in Tel Aviv, Israel. Recent domestic additions to the Watch List include now saved Hilario Candela’s Miami Marine Stadium, Manufacturers Hanover Trust building designed Gordon Bunshaft, and Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center. The latter of which continue to be high profile advocacy efforts in New York State garnering even higher profile media coverage due at least in part to their inclusion on the WMF Watch List and star architect designers.
Image (Above): 510 Fifth Avenue courtesy of Liz Waytkus
Alternatively, Civic Arena (formerly Mellon Arena or warmly “The Igloo”) in Pittsburgh, PA was listed on Preservation Pennsylvania’s list in 2002 but in the ten years between its listing and its demolition in 2011/12, Civic Arena was unfortunately excluded from additional endangered listings. Considered the world’s first and largest indoor sports arena, Civic Arena was an engineering and modern architectural marvel (not to mention incredibly beautiful and elegant much like some of Eero Saarinen’s work). Civic Arena was surely worthy of being included on any one of these listings but 20th century architecture has one big disadvantage: people remember it being built, they remember what was torn down to build it, and that sentiment or stigma is often harbored regardless of the objectivity of building advocates. Beyond listing, the federal and state steps put in place to review such historic sites (National Register eligibility, the Section 106 Process, etc) were similarly compromised or manipulated for an outcome advocates of the site see as predetermined.
Image (R): Civic Arena by David Roth via the Reuse the Igloo page on Facebook
While not all advocacy attempts are destined to be successful, inclusion on an endangered list with its increased media attention and outreach to the general public, does seem to have a positive effect on public sentiment or at least the perception of positive public sentiment. The listing of iconic modern sites designed by known or star architects, also contains an education impact for the general public as it raises the awareness (and one might argue the significance) of modern architecture in general as well as those considered to be of a regional design or by a lesser known designer.
The NTHP advocates America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places as “one of the most effective tools to save our country’s irreplaceable architectural, cultural, and natural heritage”. Notably, Landmark’s Illinois quantifies their Ten Most list and states the program has saved 52 sites, 40 have been demolished or substantially altered, 70 continue to be threatened, and 13 have a rehab pending/underway. How influential endangered lists are may be hard to determine but quantifying effectiveness provides an excellent source of justification for preservation and perhaps more so, a positive reinforcement to both its recipients and its listers.