Saturday, July 24, 2010

Endangered Historic Resources: Do You Know Where They Are? (you've got a week in which to tell us)

There's just a week left in which to make nominations for the Preservation Massachusetts list of the most endangered historic resources in the Commonwealth.  "Since the first listing in 1993," the organizers tell us, "only 17 resources have been lost, over 40 completely saved and restored and many more progressing well on the long road back from the brink."

Amherst has the dubious distinction of having made the list of "winners" twice:  in 1998, it was our 1730 West Cemetery, resting place of Emily Dickinson and other residents, famous and forgotten alike.  In 2007, it was the entire "Campus of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst."  Both have been the subject of a number of posts on this site. The West Cemetery was endangered by the usual decay, development, and vandalism.  It was therefore a matter of getting the Town to notice it amidst the welter of projects and priorities.  The "award" helped not only to raise consciousness, but also to prompt public funding for a preservation plan that we have, thanks to the Community Preservaton Act, been slowly but systematically implementing (updates to follow soon).

Demolition of the 1910 Brooks Dairy Barn, 2008
In the case of the University, by contrast, the threat came not just from demolition by neglect, but above all from active and wanton destruction of historic edifices and landscapes on the part of administrators (at both the local and state levels) for whom history and preservation were not even on the radar screen.  It took the proposed demolition of a pioneering structure of early scientific agriculture to draw attention to the problem and galvanize sentiment against the policy.  Professor Emeritus Joseph Larson assembled a group of faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners in an organization entitled, "Preserve UMass" (PUMA), which initiated action against the University and state for violation of legal requirements regarding environmental protection and historic preservation.  The 1910 stucco Cow Barn was lost, but the University was forced to undertake mitigation that included professional documentation of its historic structures and landscapes as well as proper notification procedures in the case of future demolition and construction plans.

We can therefore affirm that, in both cases, the designation really did make a difference in focusing attention and resources on the problem.

Last year's "winners" were:
* The Blackstone Viaduct, Blackstone
* The Caesar Robbins House, Concord
* Peace Haven, Freetown
* The Cisco Homestead, Grafton
* Foreclosed & Abandoned Neighborhood Properties, Massachusetts
* The Milton Poor Farm, Milton
* First Baptist Church, New Bedford
* Lincoln Square, Worcester

In May, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced its annual list of "Most Endangered Places"
  • America's State Parks and State-Owned Historic Sites
  • Black Mountain
  • Hinchliffe Stadium
  • Industrial Arts Building
  • Juana Briones House
  • Merritt Parkway
  • Metropolitan AME Church
  • Pågat
  • Saugatuck Dunes
  • Threefoot Building
As the National Trust says,
visibility . . . can be a critical weapon in the fight to save an endangered place, whether it’s a national historic landmark like President Lincoln’s Cottage or a lesser known site like the oldest surviving McDonald’s in Downey, California. Once people are aware of such threats to our heritage, chances are greater that they will step up to help and disaster can be averted.
Preservation Massachusetts reminds us that nomination forms are available on the PM website or can be obtained by contacting our office at 617-723-3383, and adds:

NOTE: Extensions may be granted- it is not too late!

That's true for only a limited time, of course. If we don't act soon, it will be too late, in more ways than one. Get those nominations in.

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