Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Most Endangered Historic Sites

The National Trust for Historic Preservation released its annual list of the 11 most endangered historic sites yesterday.

As always, this was a great list reminding us both of the fragility of our physical history and of the importance of remembering less revered moments of our past. Previous lists have included the motels on Route 66, including many in Albuquerque that today are basically hourly establishments; Blair Mountain, the labor battle in West Virginia that was the site of the largest insurrection in U.S. history since the Civil War and which is indeed under major threat from coal developers; the old Filipino community in Stockton, California; the Lower East Side of New York City, where rapid redevelopment has stripped the area of its incredibly important history; and Daniel Webster's farm in New Hampshire.

This year's list is really great. It includes the hanger in Utah where the Enola Gay started its journey to drop the atomic bomb upon Japan, the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles, one of the nation's most important modernist structures; the old South Dakota insane asylum in Yankton, which is supposed to be architecturally amazing; the cast-iron architecture of Galveston, Texas; and New Mexico's Mount Taylor, a holy site for many native peoples and under threat from uranium mining. None of these places capture the public imagination, but all are important pieces of our past. Since the National Trust for Historic Preservation started these lists in 1988, only five sites have been destroyed. No doubt we would have lost more without them. Without public attention, what would save buildings like the South Dakota insane asylum. Who's even been to Yankton? Yet these are amazing places.