10 Preservation Wins and Losses in 2015
Another year of saving places is about to wrap up, so we at the National Trust have turned to one of our more bittersweet annual traditions: a look back at historic preservation's positive milestones and sad losses experienced across the nation.
Whether a win or a loss, however, every place on this year's list spotlights the dedication and support of local groups—volunteer, nonprofit, corporate, and more—who fought hard for the landmarks and landscapes they love, further proving that places will always need proponents like you.
So take a look at our Saved and Lost lists below, and then let's all look ahead to 2016 and the many opportunities that await to protect America's historic places. Here's to making a difference in the new year!
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Five Preservation Wins
Honouliuli Internment Camp
Saved: March 2015
The Honouliuli Internment Camp held more than 3,000 interned American citizens and prisoners of war in several compounds during World War II. The camp was constructed in 1943 and became overgrown and hidden from view after the war. The camp was dubbed “jigoku danji” or “hell valley” by its prisoners.
The site is an important part of American history. U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono supported the site’s preservation while affirming that this dark period of U.S. history should never be repeated. President Obama designated the Honouliuli Internment Camp as a National Monument on March 5, 2015.
RCA Studio A
Saved: July 2015
In December 2014, Mike Curb, Chuck Elcan, and Aubrey Preston’s Studio A Preservation Partners purchased the studio complex from Bravo Development, which had intended to demolish the building and replace it with condos and a restaurant. The buyers, who each hold a one-third interest in the property, plan to work with musician Ben Folds to continue running it as a working recording studio while offering limited access for education and special events.
Since opening in 1965, Studio A’s list of country clients ranges from Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride and George Strait to Hunter Hayes and Kacey Musgraves. Others who have recorded there include Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, Sara Bareilles, and Kesha. (Read more about Nashville's Music Row.)
Pullman Historic District
Saved: February 2015
In February 2015, President Obama designated a portion of Chicago’s Pullman Historic District a National Monument, making it Chicago’s first unit of the National Park Service. The district is 13 miles south of Downtown Chicago. George Pullman founded the nation’s first model industrial town in 1880 to attract skilled workers to his Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured railroad passenger cars. Designed by noted architect Solon S. Beman and landscape architect Nathan Barrett, Pullman’s 300 acres provided a healthful and attractive environment for Pullman employees and their families.
However, the company’s efforts to closely regulate residents’ behavior quickly began causing frustration. The situation came to a head in 1894 when, in response to an economic downturn, the company laid off workers and reduced wages without reducing the rent, leading to one of the most divisive labor strikes in American history.
In addition, Pullman has a historic connection to the first all African-American union in the country—the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, organized by Asa Philip Randolph—which negotiated a major labor agreement with the Pullman Company in 1937 leading to better wages and hours. Many of Pullman’s iconic buildings remain, including the Administration and Factory Complex, the Hotel Florence, and the Greenstone Church, along with the vast majority of its original brick row houses.
Pullman National Monument is now raising awareness of the outsize role Pullman has played in American history, while also serving as a national model for the ability of urban National Parks to revitalize historic neighborhoods.
The Mount, Edith Wharton House
Saved: September 2015
Edith Wharton was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927, 1928, and 1929. The Mount was built in 1902 according to Wharton’s own design. In recent years, the Mount has reinvented itself as a broader cultural center, partnering with some 40 arts and community groups on year-round programming that draws nearly 40,000 visitors annually—a 40 percent increase.
Although the former home of Edith Wharton nearly closed its doors in 2008 after defaulting on payments on debt that had reached $8.6 million, the Mount announced in September 2015 that it had made final payments to its lenders and no longer carried any debts. The Mount accomplished this through a “Save the Mount” campaign and financial restructuring. By retiring the debt, the museum will save more than $200,000 a year.
Gay Head Lighthouse
Saved: June 2015
Gay Head Lighthouse was the first lighthouse built on Martha’s Vineyard and one of the first in the U.S. to receive a first-order Fresnel lens in 1856. Many members of the Aquinnah community, including members of the Wampanoag tribe, worked at the lighthouse. Standing atop the National Natural Landmark Gay Head Cliffs, the lighthouse serves as a beacon to Wampanoag tribal heritage and is the only lighthouse with a history of Native American Lighthouse keepers. The current brick lighthouse at Gay Head was built in 1854.
Gay Head Lighthouse was one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places in 2013. At that time, it was 46 feet from an eroding cliff and geological experts recommended it should be moved before the area around became too unstable to safely do so. The lighthouse move was completed on May 30, 2015 after committee members of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee successfully raised more than $3 million to fund the effort.
Five Preservation Losses
Park Avenue Hotel
Lost: July 2015
Designed by Louis Kamper for Detroit hotelier Lew Tuller, the Park Avenue Hotel was 13 stories high, featured 252 rooms, and sat on the southwest corner of Park Avenue and Sproat Street. In 1957, the Salvation Army took over the Park Avenue Hotel and began running it as the Eventide Residence, a senior housing complex. In the 1980s, the Salvation Army turned the former hotel into a rehab center for the homeless and drug addicts, which was called the Harbor Light Center.
The Harbor Light Center was closed in 2003, leaving the building vacant until its demolition this year. The billionaire Ilitch family, owners of the Detroit Red Wings, purchased both the Eddystone—another former hotel built by Kamper—and Park Avenue buildings. The Ilitch family agreed to rehab the Eddystone if they were given permission to raze the Park Avenue. The hotel was imploded on July 11, 2015 in order to accommodate a loading dock for the new Red Wings arena.
Portland Gas & Coke Co. Building
Lost: November 2015
The Portland Gas & Coke Company built the plant in 1913 to ‘coke’ gas from coal and oil, a laborious process that was abandoned once natural gas was piped to the Portland, Oregon region in the 1950s. The building was on Portland’s Historic Resource Inventory until the property owner requested its removal from the inventory in August 2012. Historic preservationists made a valiant effort to raise funds to stabilize the abandoned building in Northwest Portland since news of impending demolition surfaced in December 2013, but NW Natural razed the building in November 2015.
Harry Sythe Cummings House
Lost: November 2015
The home of Harry Sythe Cummings, Baltimore’s first black City Council member, was razed by the Bethel AME Church in November 2015. Cummings was elected to the Council in 1890. The house stood across from Beth AME Church at 1300 Druid Hill Avenue. Besides being Cummings’ home, the demolished row house building was an early meeting place of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and other groups. At one point it was known as the Freedom House. Area residents say it was vacant for at least five years before its demolition, which started last month.
The house was just outside the boundaries of the Marble Hill Historic District. Had the house been on the north side of Lanvale Street, rather than the South side, the church would have needed the CHAP’s approval before it could proceed with demolition. Preservationists are exploring ways to expand the Marble Hill boundaries to prevent other historically significant buildings from being razed.
Belleview Biltmore Hotel
Lost: November 2015
The Belleview Biltmore Hotel was known as “The White Queen of the Gulf.” Built in 1897, the hotel hosted presidents, business tycoons, European royalty, and even the U.S. Army during World War II. Because of its excellent reputation and prime location on 21 acres beside Clearwater Harbor, the hotel hosted thousands of tourists yearly and remained popular with celebrity guests throughout its lifespan, remaining open until 2007. It was also a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nonetheless, the owners filed permits to demolish the hotel, and then cashed in on its real estate value by selling the property to a developer intent on intensive residential development. The Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, with the help of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Trust, among other groups fought for years to preserve the hotel, filing in court to protect the property.
However, despite its 118-year history, the Belleview Biltmore was razed to make way for a new townhouse and condominium community. Demolition began in May 2015 and continued through November.
Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital
Morris Plains, New Jersey
Lost: April 2015
The Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital was built in 1876 to alleviate overcrowding at the state’s other lunatic asylum in Trenton, New Jersey. The construction of Greystone was part of the national movement to reform treatment of the mentally ill in the United States. The hospital’s campus was an entirely self-sustaining community with its own fire department, post office, working farm and other essentials to serve its 5,000 patients and the staff that cared for them.
Over the second half of the 20th century, Greystone fell into disrepair and disfavor as the concept of institutionalization lost popularity. In the 1950s, folk singer Woody Gutherie spent several years there for treatment of Huntington’s disease. The Guthrie Foundation fought to preserve Greystone, as did the group Preserve Greystone. Despite preservation proposals, such as redeveloping Greystone for residential or mixed-use purposes, New Jersey Treasury Officials and Governor Chris Christie rejected all of them. The demolition began in April 2015.