Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Spring 2021 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 Spring 2021.
Restored: French Legation
One of the oldest buildings in Austin, Texas, the French Legation was built circa 1841 as a home for French diplomat Alphonse Dubois de Saligny. France had declared its support for Texas becoming an independent republic, sending Dubois (who enslaved three people) to represent its interests and entertain politicians. The Legation building and its 21-acre site passed through various owners before and after the United States annexed Texas in 1845, and it eventually entered the stewardship of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). The DRT began rehabilitating the Legation and opened the property as a museum. However, in later decades, the organization lacked funds to complete the growing list of projects, including repairing the main building’s oak framing, which had been damaged by water infiltration.
The structure remained in unstable condition when the Texas Historical Commission (THC) acquired the property in 2017. Financed by roughly $2 million in state emergency stabilization funds, THC funding, grants, and private donations, preservation work began in July of 2019. Workers mended and replaced deteriorated oak beams, added historically accurate casement windows, and replaced canvas interior wall coverings. The site reopened to the public in February with new outdoor exhibits that explore its role in the city’s development.
Saved: Dox Thrash House
Located in Philadelphia’s historic Sharswood neighborhood, the former home of printmaker Dox Thrash will be rehabilitated as live-work spaces for artists, with a community-focused retail space on the first floor. Thrash co-invented the carborundum mezzotint process—in which silica crystals are used to roughen a metal plate for printing—and became the first Black artist to work in the Fine Print Workshop of the Federal Art Project’s Philadelphia branch. By the time he purchased the three-story rowhouse in 1944, Thrash’s prints had been exhibited both locally and nationally at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the South Side Community Art Center in Chicago, and New York City’s Downtown Gallery. After Thrash sold the house in 1959, it remained a private residence before falling vacant several decades later.
Unattended roof damage exposed its interiors to the elements and reduced the building to a shell, leading to multiple city code violations. Local preservationists began calling attention to the building’s vulnerable condition and raised more than $100,000, with the intent of purchasing the property. The house ultimately landed in the hands of neighborhood revitalization group Beech Community Services, which expects to pull together $900,000 for the adaptive reuse project and distribute the previously raised funds to the eventual tenant. The rehabilitation will be led by architect Stanford R. Britt, whose father, Benjamin, was an acquaintance of Thrash.
Lost: Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters
Designed by architect Paul Rudolph and dedicated in 1972, the Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters building near Durham, North Carolina, signified the late 20th–century economic growth of the Research Triangle Park region. Rudolph envisioned the late Modernist building as an extension of the hill it occupied, devising a structural system that involved slanting the front and back walls 22.5 degrees inward to match the slope of the ridge. 312,000 square feet of office and laboratory space accommodated 400 pharmaceutical workers, and approximately 20 million stones were used for the building’s limestone aggregate finishes.
The site’s labs developed the first medication approved to treat HIV, and its interiors and exteriors served as part of the set for the 1983 film Brainstorm. Biotechnology company United Therapeutics purchased the building in 2012 and later demolished two-thirds of it, announcing plans to rehabilitate the remainder. In September of 2020, the nonprofit Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation received a tip from a local photographer that the extant structure was being dismantled. The foundation sprang into action alongside Docomomo US, Preservation North Carolina, and other groups, but state agencies had already approved a demolition permit. Despite additional opposition from the architectural community, demolition began in January of 2021.
Lost: George Doro Fixture Company Building
The George Doro Fixture Company building in Jacksonville, Florida, will be torn down and replaced by a mixed-use development. One of the oldest commercial storefronts in East Jacksonville, the brick structure was completed in 1904 and housed small businesses before fixtures manufacturer George Doro acquired it around 1925. The Doro Fixture Company became a major employer in its then-thriving residential neighborhood, producing wood counters, cabinets, shelving, and partitions for more than 90 years. Urban renewal projects and new construction such as the nearby Gator Bowl stadium led to the post–World War II razing of many historic buildings in the area, but the Doro building retained most of its historic integrity when the business closed in 2016. After plans to rehabilitate the vacant property fell through, the lot was sold to developer Rise.
In May of 2020, the city’s Downtown Development Review Board approved a Rise proposal to raze the Doro building, having already approved the conceptual design for an eight-story apartment and retail complex. Local nonprofits such as the Jacksonville Historical Society and Scenic Jacksonville advocated for adaptive reuse, but neither city officials nor Rise chose to pursue local landmark designations that would protect the building. The city issued demolition permits for the structure in February of 2021.
Threatened: History Building, Santa Monica High School
The History Building of Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica, California, could be razed as early as this summer. Completed in 1913 and remodeled after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, the PWA Moderne-style structure was sited atop Prospect Hill as the centerpiece of the campus and later used as a filming location for the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. In 2016, the Santa Monica–Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) created the Samohi Campus Plan, a facilities assessment and planning document that proposed demolition of the History Building.
Local advocates brought the issue to the attention of the Santa Monica Conservancy and created an online petition to save the building that received more than 5,700 signatures. Although a 2018 environmental impact report claimed the structure was not a historic resource due to its modifications, the Santa Monica Conservancy noted that the report ignored the building’s historical significance in the context of the city’s growth. In response to public dissent, SMMUSD adopted a historic resources policy in February of 2021 that encourages adaptive reuse and the systematic review of existing school district sites. But because of the 2018 report’s findings, as of press time, the policy does not recommend preservation of the History Building.
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