Places Restored, Saved, Threatened, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Winter 2020 Issue
In each Transitions section of Preservation magazine, we highlight places of local and national importance that have recently been restored, are currently threatened, have been saved from demolition or neglect, or have been lost. Here are five from Winter 2020.
Threatened: Frank J. Wood Bridge
A decision by a United States District Court could determine the fate of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, which crosses the Androscoggin River in Maine. Built in 1932, the three-span steel truss bridge links two historic districts in the towns of Brunswick and Topsham. In June of 2017, the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT) announced that replacing the bridge was its preferred option, rather than rehabilitating it. Concerned residents soon formed the nonprofit Friends of the Frank J. Wood Bridge. The group commissioned an independent engineer to evaluate the bridge, finding that the projected cost of rehabilitating the bridge and maintaining it over a 100-year period was approximately $18 million less than MaineDOT’s estimate. The Friends group, the National Trust, and The Historic Bridge Foundation filed a lawsuit against MaineDOT and the Federal Highway Administration in September of 2019, asserting that the planned demolition would violate Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. MaineDOT submitted a response in late November, and as of press time both sides await the court’s ruling.
Lost: Shenandoah Presbyterian Church
The main sanctuary of the Shenandoah Presbyterian Church, located in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood (a National Treasure of the National Trust), was built in 1949. Designed by architect Robert Fitch Smith, the Neoclassical Revival–style building accommodated more than 1,600 congregation members during its peak years. The most recent occupant was another church, Ministerio Manasés. In 2019, the property was sold to developer Altman Companies, which filed a demolition permit for the church and its three auxiliary buildings to make way for apartments. Ministerio Manasés and other advocates convinced Mayor Francis Suarez to request a review of the building by the city’s historic preservation board, thereby postponing the demolition. They also sought assistance from urban planning and design firm PlusUrbia Design and the nonprofit Dade Heritage Trust. The Heritage Trust held a meeting in September of 2019 with the advocates and the developer to discuss potential historic designation. But without the knowledge of either the advocates or the Heritage Trust, the request was rescinded the day before the meeting. This allowed demolition of the church complex to proceed while the meeting was taking place. Local preservationists hope the church’s story will lead to reform of the city’s historic designation process, and the mayor has signaled support for a citywide historic resources survey.
Restored: West Hollywood Branch, Los Angeles Public Library
When the West Hollywood Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library opened in 1959, it became the first branch completed after the 1957 passage of a $6.4 million bond issue to expand L.A.’s library system. Designed by architects Honnold & Rex, the Midcentury Modern library served its community until 2005, when a replacement was built less than a mile away. The property was boarded up and vacated, save for a portion used as storage. In support of a citywide effort to reduce homelessness, City Councilmember David E. Ryu proposed rehabilitating the neglected structure into bridge housing for women. Work on the publicly funded, $3.5 million renovation commenced in November of 2018. The library’s louvered windows, exterior canopy, steel lattice pergola, and original circulation desk were restored and retained, while two corroded support posts were replaced. The building reopened as the Gardner Street Women’s Bridge Housing in September of 2019, operated by the nonprofit Weingart Center and supporting 30 women at a time.
Restored: A. Mecky Company Factory
After nearly two years of rehabilitation, the 1910 A. Mecky Company factory in Philadelphia has been transformed into a wing of the new Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, a private Catholic school for students from low-income families. One of the largest tricycle factories in the city at the time of its construction, the building had fallen vacant by 1980. Its roof caved in, and the resulting water infiltration caused irreparable damage to nearly 40 percent of its southern yellow pine floorboards. Cristo Rey purchased the factory and an adjacent lot in 2016, envisioning a combination of old and new construction. Supported by $2.65 million in federal and state historic tax credits, the school began work on the factory in the fall of 2017, with Blackney Hayes Architects leading the design and Powers & Company as preservation consultant. Crews replaced the roof and restored the building’s masonry facade, replicating dozens of historic wood windows with aluminum-frame ones. On the interior, timber columns and exposed brick walls were repaired, sealed, and left intact, and wood reclaimed from the structure was incorporated into the reception desk and chapel. The building welcomed its first students in August of 2019.
Days before its scheduled demolition, Birdwing in Minnetonka, Minnesota, was saved and transported to Acme, Pennsylvania, to be rebuilt. Designed in 1965 by Lloyd Wright, the eldest son of Frank Lloyd Wright, the house owes its name to its bird-shaped floor plan and offers outdoor views from every room. Developer Zehnder Homes planned to raze the building, making way for 13 new single-family houses on its 12-acre site, until preservationist Thomas Papinchak intervened in late August of 2019. Papinchak negotiated a deal with the developer to bring the house to Polymath Park, his property containing four buildings designed by either Frank Lloyd Wright or Wright’s apprentice Peter Berndtson. Birdwing was carefully dismantled, preserving all of its period materials and features, including copper roofing, mahogany paneling, original bathroom fixtures, and around 120 tons of Canadian black granite. The rebuild is expected to begin in 2021, after which Birdwing will be used for lodging, public tours, and educational programs.