Downtown L.A.’s Vibiana Named To List Of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” Success Stories
Today, to mark the 30th anniversary of the America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list and how it has been a catalyst for the preservation of threatened historic sites around the country, the National Trust is issuing a retrospective list culled from the nearly 300 sites named to the program since its inception. The 2017 list highlights 11 once-endangered sites, including Vibiana (formerly the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana), that are now thriving and contributing to their communities—while also focusing attention on the extraordinary efforts undertaken to bring them back from the brink. The Cathedral of St. Vibiana appeared on the 11 Most Endangered list in 1997.
“As one of Los Angeles’ few remaining nineteenth-century landmarks, Vibiana’s relevance and success as a downtown event venue highlights how new ideas and the new economy thrive in older, character-rich buildings,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “ The fight to save the then Cathedral of St. Vibiana was a defining moment for Los Angeles preservationists—one that continues to serve as a model of adaptive reuse solutions for the rest of the city.”
The former Cathedral of St. Vibiana opened in 1876 following five years of construction. It was the first cathedral constructed for the Diocese, which at the time stretched from San Diego north to Monterey. Designed by architect Ezra F. Kysor, one of Los Angeles’ first practicing architects, the cathedral was a stunning work of architecture in a town still emerging from its pueblo origins. Its Early Baroque façade was patterned after that of Sant Miquel del Port in Barcelona. Renowned architect John C. Austin enlarged the structure in 1924 and created a new Main Street façade fashioned from Indiana limestone. St. Vibiana’s Cathedral was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #17 in 1963.
In 1995, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles began to move ahead with plans to demolish the cathedral to make way for an all-new cathedral complex on the site. They cited irreparable damage from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, despite repeated studies proving that the landmark could in fact be repaired and integrated into a new cathedral complex at a retrofit cost dramatically lower than estimated. Thanks to the quick action of the Los Angeles Conservancy however, preservationists ultimately prevailed in preventing an attempt by the Archdiocese to circumvent state environmental review laws through legislative action. The Archdiocese decommissioned and deconsecrated the cathedral, vacated the site, and built the new cathedral a few blocks away on Temple Street.
In 1999, the landmark was purchased by Tom Gilmore, a visionary in using downtown’s historic buildings as catalysts for revitalization. Working with Gilmore Associates, preservationists secured funding from multiple sources, including: $4 million from the State of California; a $1 million appropriation from the U.S. Congress; and more than $500,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The building’s rehabilitation, estimated by the Archdiocese to cost $20 million, came under contract at $3.7 million. Project architects Levin and Associates, with structural engineers Nabih Youssef and Associates and general contractor PCL, adapted the structure for use as a performance and event venue, seismically reinforcing the structure while painstakingly restoring historic details.
Now known simply as Vibiana, owned and operated by Los Angeles restaurateurs Chef Neal Fraser, Amy Knoll Fraser and their partners, the building is a stunning full service facility for an array of entertainment, corporate, non-profit, wedding, and performing arts events—and home to the critically acclaimed restaurant Redbird.
Members of the public are invited to learn more about this year’s 11 Most list and what they can do to support hundreds of sites that remain endangered at SavingPlaces.org/11Most
The 2017 list of America's 11 Most Success Stories (in alphabetical order):
- Angel Island Immigration Station – San Francisco, Calif. A point of entry to the U.S. for immigrants from eighty countries across the Pacific Rim between 1910 and 1940, but abandoned since World War II, the remaining buildings of the Immigration Station were scheduled to be torn down until park ranger Alexander Weiss re-discovered writings on the walls, inaugurating a long-term grassroots preservation effort. Listed in 1999, the now restored poems carved into its walls by Chinese detainees illustrate these immigrants’ stories and serve as a stirring reminder of the challenges they overcame.
- Antietam National Battlefield – Sharpsburg, Md. One of the most significant events in American history, the Battle of Antietam influenced the outcome of the Civil War and immediately led President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. First listed in 1988 in response to a flawed proposal to construct a shopping center and other buildings on battlefield land, the listing helped to galvanize support and action by local, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations, resulting in a true preservation success story.
- Cathedral of St. Vibiana – Los Angeles, Calif. Opened in 1876 following five years of construction, the Cathedral endured until 1995, when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles began to move ahead with plans to demolish it. Listed in 1997, the ultimately successful fight to save the then-Cathedral of St. Vibiana was a defining moment for Los Angeles preservationists.
- Governors Island – New York, NY. Once the nation’s oldest continuously used military post, Governors Island played roles in several eras of American history until 1995, when the military left and the Island faced an uncertain future. Listed in 1998, Governors Island has been transformed from an underused historic property into an active and indelible community resource that is loved by native New Yorkers and visitors alike.
- Historic Boston Theaters – Boston, Mass. Once lavish palaces, the Boston Opera House, Paramount Theatre and Modern Theater had fallen into disrepair when they were listed in 1995. The listing led to the late Mayor Thomas Menino and city agencies to develop a network of partnerships to rehabilitate the theaters and revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, resulting in a key preservation success story for the city
- Little Rock Central High School – Little Rock, Ark. When listed in 1996, the school that had been at the center of the nation’s school desegregation debate was suffering from deterioration. Still in operation as a public high school, it has also been established by Congress as the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site that teaches visitors about our nation’s ongoing struggle to achieve civil rights for all.
- Nine Mile Canyon – Utah. The ‘world’s longest art gallery’ contains thousands of ancient Native American cultural resources. When listed in 2004, truck-traffic, dust and chemical dust-suppressant were damaging these irreplaceable treasures. Paving the Canyon road has alleviated this threat, and also made its vast cultural resources more accessible to visitors.
- Penn School – Frogmore, S.C. Founded in 1862, the Penn School was one of the first schools in the South for freed slaves, operating until the post-World War II years when many students left and the school eventually closed and was deteriorating. After being named to the 11 Most list in 1990, several campus buildings have been restored and the renamed Penn Center has become a leader in cultural preservation that President Obama recognized in 2017 as part of the Reconstruction Era National Monument
- President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home – Washington, D.C. Since being named to the List in 2000, President Lincoln’s Cottage has transformed from a threatened site to one of the most visited, revered and vibrant places in Washington that serves as a gathering place for discussion, education and reconciliation.
- Statler Hilton Hotel – Dallas, Texas. A Modernist crown jewel and center of community life in Dallas for decades, when listed in 2008 the Statler had fallen into disrepair and faced calls for its demolition. Now set to reopen, the stunning transformation of the Statler Hilton is a poster child for the power of the historic tax credit and a significant example of the ways that older and historic buildings can contribute to the vibrancy of their communities
- Travelers’ Rest – Travelers’ Rest, Mont. The only place where archaeological evidence of a Lewis and Clark encampment can be found, the site’s integrity was threatened by development. The 1999 11 Most listing helped spur action to protect the landscape as a state park.
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America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has identified nearly 300 threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures since 1988. Whether these sites are urban districts or rural landscapes, Native American landmarks or 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities or single buildings, the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy. The designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save endangered sites from every region of the country. At times, that attention has garnered public support to quickly rescue a treasured landmark; while in other instances, it has been the impetus of a long battle to save an important piece of our history.