May 19, 2021

Catch Up on the Status of 9 Past ‘11 Most’ Listings

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Discover the 2021 list.

Each year, America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

Since 1988, the National Trust has used its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places to raise awareness about the threats facing some of the nation's greatest treasures. The list, which has identified more than 300 sites to date, has been so successful in galvanizing preservation efforts that only a handful of sites have been lost.

We checked in on nine of our past listings to see how they are faring, with updates from the National Trust Staff and local partners.

Alazan-Apache Courts

photo by: Sarah Zenaida Gould/Museo del Westside

Exterior view of the Alazan-Apache Courts.

Alazan-Apache Courts (2020)
Amy Webb, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Based on information provided by Antonia Castaneda, Sarah Zenadia Gould, and Graciela Sanchez

Opened in 1940-41, the Alazan-Apache Courts—aka Los Courts—is the oldest and largest extant public housing complex in San Antonio, Texas. Conceived at a time when housing, schools, and public facilities were legally segregated, Los Courts provided affordable housing for San Antonio’s majority Mexican American Westside, where families struggled with poverty, where lack of municipal services led to severe flood conditions, and high death rates.

In the fall of 2020, the site was included in the National Trust’s 2020 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Despite continued community advocacy, the San Antonio Housing Authority is still planning to demolish these historic structures.

Send a letter urging them to recognize Los Courts’ significance and to rehabilitate rather than demolish them.

Bismarck-Mandan Rail Bridge (2019)
Amy Webb, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Based on information provided by Amy Guthrie Sakariassen, North Dakota Advisor and Chairman of the Bismarck Historic Preservation Commission

The rail bridge crossing the Missouri River at Bismarck, North Dakota, was designed by engineer George Shattuck Morison and completed in 1883. Engineer Ralph Modjeski designed new spans in 1905. As the final link in the Northern Pacific Railroad’s expansion, the bridge opened the northern Plains and the Far West to settlement. It also affected the region’s Native American tribes—The Northern Cheyenne of Montana, the Sioux tribes-the Hunkpapa, Lakota, and Dakota, Sisseton, Wahpeton, the Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, and the Blackfeet—and displaced many of those populations.

The iconic landmark exists within a magnificent viewshed encompassing ancient Indian village sites, Fort Lincoln State Park, and a former Indian School. Today owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), it is an active rail bridge deemed at the end of its useful rail life, and thus threatened by demolition.

Placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s ‘11 Most’ list in 2019, the future of the bridge as a repurposed link in recreational trails along the river for enthusiasts of all sorts has been championed by a dedicated volunteer nonprofit group, Friends of the Rail Bridge (FORB). Grants from the National Trust, the National Park Service via the National Heritage Area, and generous individual contributions funded a feasibility study exploring the details of successful recreation conversion, as well as the ongoing flood-plain or hydrologic engineering studies. A lengthy Section 106 process—which included tribal representatives—with BNSF has resulted in a signed Programmatic Agreement between consulting parties, which gives FORB limited time to achieve a preservation outcome.

On May 14, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum came out with a public statement of support for saving the bridge and repurposing it, breathing new life into the Bismarck-Mandan Bridge’s preservation potential.

China Alley (2011)
Chris Morris, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Based on information provided by Steve Banister, China Alley Historic District

When Chinese immigrants arrived in 1877 to the newly established San Joaquin Valley town of Hanford, Calif., they found themselves in an unfamiliar place with no reminders of home, facing cultural barriers and often out-right racism. Despite segregation and oppression, the Chinese community in Hanford flourished and developed a vibrant Chinatown, known as China Alley, which soon boasted restaurants, herb stores, laundries, gambling houses, grocers and a Taoist temple—all constructed of local California redwood and brick fired on site. China Alley was included on the National Trust's ‘11 Most’ list in 2011.

Sadly, on May 12, 2021, the Taoist Temple Museum in the China Alley Historic District (which is also a part of Main Street America) was heavily damaged by a fire which started on the front staircase which is also the main entrance to the temple. The building itself did not sustain structural damaged from the fire or the efforts to quench it, and while the building is stable, the fire caused severe heat and smoke damage to the temple room and its artifacts on the second floor, which will require significant clean up and conservation.

 The top image shows an Taoist alter in light green with gold and red paint accenting the space with various ceremonial objects. Bottom image is the same view but with evidence of fire damaging the artifacts and the space.

photo by: China Alley Preservation Society

A before and after view of the May 2021 fire that damaged the Taoist Temple Museum in Hanford, California's China Alley.

With the help of the California Preservation Foundation, a professional conservator is working with the China Alley Preservation Society to assess which artifacts from the temple can be conserved. The Society is also looking for assistance with the repair of their back stairway. It is in a deteriorated state and is now their only means of access to the Temple. The Hanford community has rallied around the Preservation Society following the fire, providing support and donations to assist with their recovery efforts.

Milwaukee Soldiers Home (2011)
Jeremy Ebersole, Milwaukee Preservation Alliance

No one ever said preservation was quick or easy, but the incredible success seen at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home—the most intact original VA campus in the nation—proves it is worth it. When it landed on the ‘11 Most’ list in 2011, the campus’ prominent Old Main had a hole in its roof and had sat vacant for 20 years. In March of this year, it and five other historic buildings in the National Historic Landmark District re-opened as supportive housing for veterans at risk of homelessness.

Required consultation through Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act brought together a diverse team of partners early on to explore how to save the buildings. A community advisory council of veterans, preservationists, elected officials, and business leaders also met regularly to outline a vision forward, while the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, through its Save the Soldiers Home campaign, created a walking tour app, developed online learning tools, erected signage, and provided a venue for public engagement.

New Enhanced Use Lease legislation in 2016 provided a mechanism allowing the VA to issue a long-term lease on the buildings, and a development team led by The Alexander Company and including the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee stepped in to make the project a reality. The results are spectacular and are already being touted as a national model by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The campus’ 1889 Chapel, 1881 Theater, and 1868 Governor’s Mansion remain vacant and endangered, however. MPA received a National Trust matching grant in 2020 to fund a study into viable reuse strategies for these buildings. The study is due shortly and will serve as a resource to the VA to develop an RFP for the rehabilitation of these remaining treasures that will ensure the success seen at Old Main extends to the entire campus

Exterior view of a Gothic style building with central tower that is now used as a home for veterans.

photo by: Milwaukee Preservation Association

Exterior view of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home.

Mitchell Park Domes (2016)
Jeremy Ebersole, Milwaukee Preservation Alliance

While demolition of Milwaukee’s treasured Domes appears to be off the table, concrete action toward a long-term preservation solution for the County-owned conservatory remains elusive.

Following the ‘11 Most’ designation in 2016, the #SaveOurDomes campaign succeeded in raising awareness and demonstrating strong public support for preservation rather than demolition or replacement. This support has consistently shown up in surveys commissioned by the County as well.

The same year, the County established a citizen task force to explore preservation solutions, which resulted in an August 2019 report recommending a solution to preserve the Domes utilizing historic tax credits. The plan would create 300 jobs and realize $16 million a year in economic impact by investing in the surrounding park and be a boon to the dense, diverse neighborhood where the Domes are located. Materials testing has been completed as well demonstrating how preservation could be implemented.

Support for preservation is shared by the County Board of Supervisors, who passed a resolution in 2016 establishing a policy to pursue repair and preservation. This commitment has been furthered through funding allocations for the past two years to vet and study the task force report.

Unfortunately, these allocated funds were not spent last year, and progress in 2021 remains slow. Advocates remain hopeful that this year’s allocation will be spent and move the preservation planning towards action. The Milwaukee Preservation Alliance continues to do outreach to the community and meet regularly with County officials to encourage and provide resources to help get boots on the ground toward implementing the long-term preservation solution the community desires.

National Negro Opera Company House (2020)
Chris Morris and Brent Leggs, National Trust for Historic Preservation

There have been many exciting and positive developments since last September, many as a direct result of the visibility from listing the National Negro Opera Company house as one of the 2020 America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The property’s long-time owner, Jonnet Solomon, is establishing a new nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and reactivation of the property as a community asset, and the Pittsburgh Opera has joined the effort as a long-term partner and fiscal sponsor, offering assistance with strategic and business planning. A grant from the National Trust’s Intervention Fund last fall produced a preliminary structural and architectural assessment, along with cost estimates for immediate stabilization and long-term rehabilitation.

Earlier this spring, the Richard King Mellon Foundation awarded a $500,000 grant to restore the partially collapsed porch and complete the first phase of building stabilization. And perhaps most exciting of all, a story on Mary Cardwell Dawson and the Opera Company house in Opera News caught the attention of acclaimed Mezzo Soprano, Denyce Graves. She has become an outspoken champion of the project and Mary Cardwell Dawson on social media and is providing support through her Foundation.

The National Trust's Where Women Made History Campaign and the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund are excited to continue its collaboration with Solomon and her many partners to develop a long-term plan for this irreplaceable site of African American heritage and women’s achievement.

Rassawek at sundown.

photo by: Greg Werkheiser

Sunset along Rassawek.

Rassawek (2020)
Kendra Parzen, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Rassawek is the historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation. Following the announcement of the 2020 ‘11 Most’ list, the James River Water Authority committed to closely study a potential alternative site for a project slated to be built on land that was a part of Rassawek. In October 2020, the JRWA board voted unanimously to allow a consultant to complete an archaeological survey of a potential alternative site for the project.

The Monacan Indian Nation committed in January 2021 to collaborate with JRWA provided that Gray & Pape were selected as the consultant, that the Nation had the opportunity to review the work plan, and that the archeological survey did not indicate the presence of burials at the alternative location. JRWA has engaged Gray & Pape, which is expected to begin developing a work plan this spring. The work plan will be reviewed by the Monacan Indian Nation, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before the survey goes forward.

Send a letter to the Louisa and Fluvanna Counties Board of Supervisors, urging the Supervisors to require the JRWA to choose an alternative location that saves Rassawek.

Shockoe Bottom (2014)
Robert Nieweg, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Shockoe Bottom, in the heart of downtown Richmond, Virginia, once was a municipal burial ground and a massive slave market. Before the Civil War, Richmond’s economy was principally driven by the trade in human lives. Consequently, Shockoe Bottom is a hallowed place of suffering and endurance for the African American community and descendants of the enslaved.

Over time, Shockoe Bottom was razed, erased, and largely forgotten by many Richmonders. In 2014, the cultural heritage site was threatened by the planned construction of a baseball stadium and entertainment district which was passionately opposed by a coalition of African American community members, preservationists, archeologists, and social justice activists. Since then, through the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the National Trust has been actively engaged alongside Preservation Virginia and the grassroots Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project.

It was a thoughtful and persuasive community-generated proposal to create a Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park as a center for commemoration, reflection, and education that turned the tide and “killed” the planned stadium.

Although the threat of inappropriate development persists in 2021, Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration and a diverse Shockoe Alliance, drawn from the wide range of stakeholders, is advancing a long-term solution which deftly combines reconciliation, memorialization, museum interpretation, and equitable economic development.

Arts and Industries South Entrance (Credit: Sarah Heffern)

Exterior view of the south entrance to the Smithsonian Institution's Arts & Industries Building.

Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building (2006)
Robert Nieweg, National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries Building (AIB) was constructed on the National Mall in 1881 as the first home of the National Museum. Over its life, the museum always was valued by Smithsonian staff and beloved by the public as a National Historic Landmark. However, for decades the historic building stood vacant, under-utilized, and shut off to the public, a victim of deferred maintenance and piecemeal renovation projects. In 2006, the National Trust listed AIB as endangered to draw attention to these serious challenges.

In 2021, to the Smithsonian’s great credit, the Arts & Industries Building is a centerpiece of the institution’s new plan for “Revitalization of the Historic Core.” This preservation-based, multi-year project will create new and more efficient HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and life safety systems.

Most importantly, the Smithsonian’s project is prioritizing external and internal restoration of the AIB’s glorious spaces to provide more accessible space for the visiting public. The National Trust and many local allies are participating in the Smithsonian’s planning process pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act.

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While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

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