January 1, 2014

President's Note: Modernism's Power to Inspire

  • By: Stephanie K. Meeks
Stephane Meeks

This past fall, the National Trust for Historic Preservation co-sponsored a comprehensive, interactive exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum about one of Miami’s most beloved Modernist structures―Miami Marine Stadium. Through video footage, art installations, and even an antique hydroplane, the exhibit recalled the stadium’s raucous midcentury heyday as Miami’s favorite grandstand, and invited visitors to envision a brighter future for the now-shuttered venue.

Ambitious, original, and eternally hip, Miami Marine Stadium embodies the spirit of its home city―and, indeed, of Modernism itself. But after 20 years of neglect and decline, it also foreshadows the fate of many forgotten Modernist buildings.

That’s why the National Trust added the stadium to its growing portfolio of National Treasures―critically threatened places of national significance―and sponsored this exhibit along with our local partner, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. We also have launched a major marketing push to revive the marine stadium and generate support for Modernist places nationwide.

Buildings from the 1950s, '60s, and even the early-to-mid-'70s are coming of age from a preservation standpoint, but we are losing them at an alarming rate. Often unusual in design and perceived as too new to be historic, many of these irreplaceable icons face the same “sad failure of creative and civic imagination,” in the words of The New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, that doomed Chicago’s Prentice Women’s Hospital. (See our cover story in the Winter 2014 issue.)

Fortunately, these places still have tremendous power to inspire, as the international groundswell of support behind Prentice clearly demonstrates. Some experts have wondered whether that building’s demise might serve as a “Penn Station moment,” ushering in a new era of preservation enthusiasm.

We can certainly hope, and exciting things are happening on the ground. To cite just a couple of examples, the Minoru Yamasaki–designed 1966 Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles is currently being preserved and renovated, and a recent settlement saved M. Paul Friedberg’s groundbreaking landscape architecture at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis.

Here at the National Trust, we are using all the tools at our disposal―from our network of historic sites to our 11 Most Endangered List to our National Treasures portfolio―to raise awareness and support. We recently reaffirmed our commitment by moving the National Trust’s headquarters to the Watergate complex, which earned National Register designation not only for its role in the eponymous scandal, but also for its standing as a masterwork of Italian Modernist Luigi Moretti.

What we need now is your help. Visit SavingPlaces.org to join us in a Treasure campaign. Or, even better: Start one of your own. There are plenty of places just waiting for your support.

Stephanie K. Meeks was the president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 2010-2018. She is the author of "The Past and Future City."

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