President's Note: Lifting Up Places at Risk
Since 1988, the National Trust has released its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, spotlighting historic sites, structures, and landscapes that are at risk—threatened by the prospect of demolition, deterioration, inappropriate development, simple neglect, and, more recently, climate impact. This annual undertaking has proved to be enormously successful from a public engagement standpoint, generating thousands of news articles in print, online, and broadcast media, as well as widespread public attention across social media. Today, local partners often consider it a badge of honor to be named to the list.
Over the course of its 34-year history, the 11 Most Endangered list has featured more than 300 places. During that time, less than five percent of those sites have been lost, reflecting the galvanizing nature of the list as a tool for preservation advocacy.
Many issues of Preservation magazine—including this one—contain examples of formerly endangered sites that have been saved after making the list. In 1999, the National Trust included Angel Island Immigration Station—sometimes called “the Ellis Island of the West”—on the list. The publicity that followed brought national attention to both the importance of the site and the risk of losing it, boosting efforts by local advocates to secure millions of dollars in federal and state funding. Their work helped California State Parks, community groups, and others create and implement a master plan for rehabilitation and public interpretation, as described by Lydia Lee in her story “Messages from Angel Island.”
In “Transitions," Tim O’Donnell notes the save of
a more recent “11 Most”: In 2019, the National Trust listed the James R.
Thompson Center, a 17-story Postmodern office building in downtown Chicago by
noted architect Helmut Jahn, as endangered. Our local partners Landmarks
Illinois and Preservation Chicago had added the building to their own lists of
endangered historic places. This past December, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker
announced a turnaround: The building will now most likely be rehabilitated.
(Editor's Note: Get the latest—good news—update on the Thompson Center in our update on past 11 most sites.)
Our ability to engage the public through the 11 Most Endangered list not only reinforces the risk of losing individual (and very different) places like the immigration station and the Thompson Center, but it also reinforces the overall value of preserving our architectural and cultural heritage. While each site is individually evaluated, the entire list is developed holistically, highlighting themes that crosscut the work of historic preservation and illustrating how preservation can serve as a solution to broader issues.
Our 2022 list is due out in early May, at the beginning of Preservation Month. Look for a diverse mix of historic places across the country—each one important, each one at risk. And, in future issues of Preservation, look for more examples of historic places—once endangered—that have been saved.