Historic Preservation Month
May is a great month for many reasons - Kentucky Derby, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, and Flowers. Now, add another reason to the list, it's also Historic Preservation Month. I'm not going to get on my soapbox, well maybe, we'll see how it ends up. But to start, one of my favorite quotes, one that articulates my feelings about preservation:"Of all the arts in the world, none is more fundamental to the way we live than architecture. It is a mirror of our own time and of times gone by, a diary that is written in mud and timber, in brick and stone, in iron and steel, in concrete and glass. Our homes, our public buildings and cities reflect what we are, what we once were – and what we hope to become."- Trevor HowellsLast month, Landmarks Illinois, the leading voice for historic preservation in state, released its list of Ten Most Endangered Historic Places. This month, Preservation Kentucky, a non-profit organization, will release a similar list, focusing on themes, rather than specific properties. Other states will do the same thing, drawing attention to neglected sites and properties with historical significance. Just like the reasons for their importance, the reasons of their threat varies - local/state government, lack of financing, and foreclosure to name a few. But they do share one characteristic, a very important one - they are irreplaceable. Often the public is totally oblivious to threat. They may even be unaware of the importance of the property. Usually when the public recognizes the threat, as with the publication of these lists, its too late.Just take a look at the Landmarks Illinois list and you will see the diversity (both building type and location) of the properties - a theater, a former hospital, a bridge, a church. Sometimes the architecture is remarkable (and that's a leading reason for protection) but often it is not. More often than not, the reason for protecting these landmarks is for the history (the who, what, and why) that took place in and around them. And with their destruction, the history would be lost. For me its not enough to have, simply, a written account of a history, when its possible to preserve a tangible element of that history. Today, its seems like more than ever, "new is better" rules the day.That is certainly the case in Louisville, KY where Mayor Greg Fischer made a deal with developer Todd Blue to demolish Whiskey Row/Iron Quarter in the 100 block of West Main Street (which appeared on Preservation Louisville's 2009 Endangered List). The deal includes $450,000 from the city to DEMOLISH the section of buildings. Nearly half a million dollars that could be used to rehabilitate the buildings, is instead helping demolish them. The Mayor and Blue are saying the facades will be saved. Just what we need, another facadectomy. I doubt that even happens. And I'm not even sure I would want that. On a street, with the second most cast iron store fronts, second only to famed SOHO, the local government is actively participating in the destruction of a tangible element of Louisville history. It's not called Whiskey Row for nothing.When I'm home for Derby at the end of this week, weather permitting, on Friday morning I'm going to Whiskey Row to photograph the buildings. Because in a matter of weeks, that will be the only proof of their existence. If the city is resigned to the fact the buildings are going to be demolished, use that $450,000 to hire a firm to produce Historic American Buildings Survey documents (drawings, large format photographs, and narrative) leaving a documentation of their existence in the public domain.As I knew going into the profession and I've been reminded on a nearly daily basis, you have to be prepared to lose most of your battles - losing is the rule, winning is the exception. But that doesn't mean I will stand idly by and watch the destruction of our tangible history. Because after all, "our public buildings and cities reflect what we are, what we once were – and what we hope to become."
Comment on this post...