Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Winter 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 Winter 2021.
Saved: David & Gladys Wright House, Arizona
The David & Gladys Wright House in Phoenix will be preserved following its $7.25 million sale to a group led by financial services firm Benson Botsford. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the 1952 home for his son David and daughter-in-law Gladys, who resided there until their deaths in 1997 and 2008. The architect placed the coiled, curvilinear structure atop concrete piers to provide clear sightlines to citrus groves and Camelback Mountain, in accordance with his concept of organic architecture. In December of 2012, Phoenix native Zach Rawling bought the property to thwart its impending demolition by a developer. Rawling intended to find a preservation-minded new owner for the structure, but debates over its future use and the considerable value of the land itself represented obstacles to any potential deal. When an attempt to donate the house to The School of Architecture—a graduate school founded by Wright—fell through in 2018, Rawling listed it for sale once more. After two years of uncertainty, the Benson Botsford group, which includes architect Bing Hu, bought the vacant building in August of 2020. Hu will help lead its restoration, which will involve the reinforcement of its concrete blockwork and restoring the copper roof.
Lost: Headquarters Administration Building, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California
The Headquarters Administration Building at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Boulder Creek, California, was constructed in 1936 and eventually became the public’s first point of contact at the park. Housing a visitors center and administrative offices, it sat at the entrance to a group of facilities clustered together to minimize the impact on the environment. Civilian Conservation Corps members used locally sourced stone and redwood logs to build the Park Rustic–style structure, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. In August of 2020, lightning strikes in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties ignited the CZU Lightning Complex wildfires that ultimately burned 86,509 acres of land. As fires approached the headquarters and nearby campgrounds, park staff quickly evacuated more than 1,000 people, but did not have time to retrieve historical documents and other artifacts. The headquarters and dozens of Big Basin’s other historic structures were destroyed, including the main lodge and ranger station. Although the park remains hazardous and closed to the public, California State Parks is starting to plan the construction of new buildings, and may work to capture the essence of those that were lost.
Restored: White House Bathing Palace, Iowa
The 1907 White House Bathing Palace in Le Mars, Iowa, was built by British sea captain R.W. Harrison as a destination for travelers arriving on the Illinois Central Railroad and Chicago & Northwestern Railway lines. Complete with Turkish baths, a swimming pool, and 20 dressing rooms, the two-story public bathhouse operated for a year before closing due to the addition of indoor plumbing at local hotels. The brick building later housed the Le Mars Hospital, hair salons, and apartments before falling vacant around 2010. Concerns about a leaking roof and water damage to the windows and foundation walls led nonprofit Preservation Iowa to add the building to its 2018 Most Endangered Properties list. Carpenter and construction manager Kyle Kunkel and his wife, Charlotte, purchased the structure in January of 2018 and began a $430,000 rehabilitation, hand-scraping the eroded brick exterior so that fresh coats of paint could be applied. Inside, the Kunkels salvaged and refinished more than half of the building’s hardwood floors and all its window casings and toppers. Renamed “The Harrison” after its original owner, the building—which is again in use as an apartment house—received its certificate of occupancy in July of 2020.
Threatened: Crystal Mill, Colorado
Located along the Crystal River, the Crystal Mill near Marble, Colorado, was built around 1892 as a powerhouse for metal mining operations in the area. The building’s water wheels generated more than 90 horsepower, allowing workers to operate their equipment more efficiently. In the aftermath of the silver market’s collapse, miner Emmett Gould acquired the Crystal Mill and purchased claims from prospectors abandoning the area. The log-and-frame building ceased power production in 1917, and all existing machinery was later removed. Though the structure remained vacant over the next century, its picturesque siting made it a popular destination for tourists and photographers. In 2019, some of Gould’s great-grandchildren began exploring the possibility of selling the property. Concerned about the building, local advocates established the nonprofit Crystal Mill Foundation. Gould’s descendants set a deadline of June of 2021 for the foundation to raise $10 million, which would be used to purchase, preserve, and manage the site. If funding is not secured, the Crystal Mill could be sold on the open market without protections against demolition.
Threatened: Michigan State Fairgrounds
Three historic buildings at the 142-acre Michigan State Fairgrounds site in Detroit could be demolished to make way for a new transit center. The Hertel Coliseum, Dairy Cattle Building, and Agricultural Building were constructed between 1922 and 1926 after Michigan’s state fair was moved to Detroit around 1905. For more than 80 years, the buildings hosted a variety of events including horse races, the North American International Auto Show, and concerts by Louis Armstrong and the Beastie Boys. The state fair was defunded in 2009, and the City of Detroit purchased the property a decade later for $7 million.
In October of 2020, the Detroit City Council approved a $9 million sale of the fairgrounds to a buyer who planned to convert the site into an Amazon distribution center, with a public transit center replacing the historic structures. The State Fairgrounds Development Coalition (a group of community advocates) and nonprofits Preservation Detroit and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network have raised concerns about the project, citing the three buildings’ apparent good condition and potential for adaptive reuse, among other reasons. As of press time, construction of the distribution center is slated to proceed this winter, but a city-appointed task force will perform a study to determine the feasibility of preserving some or all of the historic buildings.
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