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Saving, and Losing, U.S. Historic Places

Thursday, June 20, 2013

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There was good news and bad news this month for America’s historic treasures: While many received word of an influx in preservation and restoration funding, others were put on life support.

The funding, $21.6 million in all, will be distributed for projects nationwide by the National Park Service.

The alarms, meanwhile, come from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has released its annual list of “Most Endangered Historic Places.” This year's list includes the Astrodome in Houston and historic rural schoolhouses across the state of Montana.

National Park Service
National Park Service

The Historic Preservation Grants help states tell stories of their people and places and to preserve state and local historic sites, according to NPS director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

New York and California were awarded the most in NPS Historic Preservation funding, receiving $816,897 and $925,258, respectively. A full listing of state awards is below. 

Preservation Grant Uses

States may use the grant money to fund a variety of projects, including:

  • Survey and inventory of historic properties;
  • National Register of Historic Places nominations;
  • Preservation education;
  • Architectural planning;
  • Historic structures reports;
  • Community preservation planning; and
  • Brick and mortar repairs.
Daisy Turner Cabin
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

Vermont's historic preservation office is using a 2012 grant to manage the Daisy Turner Homestead in Grafton, VT. The home was established in 1873 by former slave and Civil War veteran Alexander Turner.

“These historic preservation grant programs help states and territories tell the stories of their people and places, promote heritage tourism, preserve state and local historic sites, and provide a boost to local economies,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a statement.

Projects Funded Last Year

Examples of projects funded by grants in 2012 included:

  • Acquisition of the Daisy Turner Homestead, established in 1873 in Grafton, VT, by former slave and Civil War veteran Alexander Turner. The state’s historic preservation office is using the grant to develop a plan to manage the property's cultural resources and open it to the public.
  • Planning and execution of Washington State's first Latino Youth Summit, to help young Latino students recognize the need to preserve places associated with their heritage.

Support from Oil Leases

The Historic Preservation Fund was established in 1977 as a source of preservation grants, and is funded by Outer Continental Shelf oil leases, not tax dollars, according to the NPS.

The department administers the fund and distributes annual matching grants to state and tribal historic preservation officers from money made available in Congressional appropriations.

This year’s appropriation was decreased by about five percent as a result of sequestration, the NPS said.

The department also announced that more than $3.7 million was distributed to Tribal Historic Preservation Offices to help American Indian tribes pursue preservation programs on tribal lands.

Top Endangered Places

As some sites were slated for aid, however, others were showing an acute need for it.

The 2013 list of "America’s 11 Most Endangered Places" spotlights important examples of architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

Houston Astrodome
Ed Edahl/FEMA

The Astrodome in Houston, once dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," needs a viable reuse plan to avoid demolition, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The structure was used as a temporary shelter for residents of Louisiana who had to flee their homes because of Hurricane Katrina.

More than 240 sites have been on the list over its 26-year history; only a handful have been lost. 

The National Trust's list and descriptions of America’s Most Endangered Places follow.

  • Abyssinian Meeting House (Portland, ME): The Meeting House was the spiritual center of life for generations of African Americans in Portland, but it needs an influx of funding to keep that story alive for generations to come.
  • Astrodome (Houston, TX): As the world's first domed indoor, air-conditioned stadium, the 18-story multi-purpose Houston Astrodome was once dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World" but now needs a viable reuse plan to avoid demolition.
  • Chinatown House (Rancho Cucamonga, CA): Once a general store and residence for a community of approximately 50 Chinese American laborers, the house is one of last remaining tangible connections to the history of the Chinese American community that helped build modern-day Rancho Cucamonga.
  • Gay Head Lighthouse (Aquinnah, MA): The first lighthouse built on Martha’s Vineyard, Gay Head Lighthouse is in immediate danger of toppling over the edge of the Gay Head Cliffs, a consequence of a century of erosion and the direct impact of climate change.
  • Historic Rural Schoolhouses of Montana (Statewide): Montana boasts more historic one- and two-room schoolhouses still in use than any other state, but these schools are at risk as the state’s population shifts to urban centers.
  • James River (James City County, VA): Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement, was founded along the banks of the James River in 1607. The river and landscape are threatened by a proposed transmission line project that would compromise the scenic integrity of this historic area.
  • Kake Cannery (Kake, AK): Kake Cannery played a key role in the development of the Alaskan salmon-canning industry during the first half of the 20th Century, but immediate action is needed to stabilize the structural systems of the existing buildings.
  • Mountain View Black Officers’ Club (Fort Huachuca, AZ): One of the most significant examples of a military service club in the United States built specifically for African-American officers, the Mountain View Black Officer’s Club faces demolition by the U.S. Army, which has blocked efforts to list the property in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • San Jose Church (Old San Juan, Puerto Rico): Built in 1532, San Jose Church is of the few remaining Spanish Gothic architecture structures in the Western Hemisphere. Closed for 13 years, it is threatened by deterioration and structural damage.
  • Village of Mariemont (Cincinnati, OH): The Village of Mariemont has been an inspiration for a generation of planners, but it is now threatened by a proposed transportation project, which would permanently scar the careful designs that make this place so unique.
  • Worldport Terminal at JFK Airport (Jamaica, NY): The distinctive flying-saucer-shaped Worldport Terminal at New York’s JFK Airport has been a symbol of the Jet Age since it first opened in 1960, but now sits empty and unused, waiting for a creative reuse plan.

The Park Service’s Historic Preservation fund apportionment by state is reproduced below.

Funds for Historic Preservation



Tagged categories: Architectural history; Government; Government contracts; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Maintenance + Renovation; Preservation

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