5:23pm

Wed June 15, 2011
History

Places In Peril: 2011's Most Endangered Historic Sites

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:45 am

On Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its latest list of places the trust considers the most endangered in the country. The list of 11 includes a Chicago hospital; a jazz musician's home; and a plant in Minneapolis that was once the world's most advanced flour mill.

There are sites in every region of the country on this list, but the Old Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago is in the most imminent danger of being torn down. Preservationists rallied at the hospital Wednesday, chanting for landmark status as the building's concrete, cloverleaf-shaped tower loomed in the background. Jonathan Fine, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, says the old hospital — designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg in the 1970s — is a modern masterpiece.

In a city renowned internationally for architecture, Fine says, destroying such a structure would be a travesty: "It's not what great cities do or culturally literate cities do. We don't destroy works of art."

The preservationists say the hospital is a prime candidate for reuse. It's owned by Northwestern University; spokesperson Alan Cubbage says the school needs a research facility and the old hospital can't be retrofitted. "It is not a landmark," he says. "And the university — our core missions are education and research."

While the battle continues, Alison Fisher, assistant curator of architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, says the museum will soon present the first American retrospective of Goldberg's work. "He was an incredibly prolific architect," says Fisher, "and hospitals, for the mature part of his career, were his primary foci."

Joining the Prentice Hospital on the National Trust list is jazz musician John Coltrane's home on Long Island. It's suffering from mold and neglect despite the efforts of a local group to restore it. Coltrane had turned one of the bedrooms into a music studio and wrote many songs, including his masterpiece, "A Love Supreme," there.

Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust, says the house where Coltrane lived is not architecturally significant — but its cultural heritage makes it worth saving.

"What it represents is that important moments of American history can happen in our neighborhoods," Meeks points out, "and there's an opportunity for preservation around every corner."

Deferred maintenance, neglect and vacancy are some of the typical reasons places like the Coltrane home; China Alley in the San Joaquin Valley; and Belmead-on-the-James — an African-American heritage site in Virginia — are on the verge of collapse or losing their rehab potential.

The National Trust has also started a new endangered "watch list," and the entire city of Charleston, S.C., is on it. Meeks recognizes the work Charleston has done to preserve its heritage while balancing a huge demand of heritage tourism. "But at the same time, the watch list is an attempt to signal our concern about the impacts of cruise ship tourism on that city and the National Historic Landmark district," says Meeks.

Meeks adds that the goal of the endangered list is to garner attention for the country's historical places. She says that out of a list of more than 200 places the National Trust for Historic Preservation has identified in the past as endangered, only eight have been lost.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released its latest list of what it considers the country's most endangered historic places. The list of 11 includes a Chicago hospital, a jazz musician's home and a plant in Minneapolis that was once the world's most advanced flour mill. The trust also put the entire city of Charleston, South Carolina, on watch status.

NPR's Cheryl Corley has the story.

CHERYL CORLEY: There are sites in every region of the country represented on this list of 11 endangered places, but the old Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago is in the most imminent danger of being torn down.

Unidentified Woman: What do we want?

Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman: What do we want?

Unidentified Group: Now.

CORLEY: Preservationists rallied in Chicago today, chanting for landmark status as the hospital's concrete, clover leaf-shaped tower loomed in the background. Jonathan Fine, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, says the old hospital designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg in the 1970s is a modern masterpiece.

He says, in a city renowned internationally for architecture, destroying it would be a travesty.

Mr. JONATHAN FINE (Executive Director, Preservation Chicago): It's not what great cities do, and it's not what culturally literate cities do. We don't destroy works of art.

CORLEY: The preservationists say the hospital is a prime candidate for reuse. It's owned by Northwestern University, and spokesman Alan Cubbage says the school needs a research facility, and the old hospital can't be retrofitted.

Mr. ALAN CUBBAGE (Vice President, University Relations, Northwestern University): It is not a landmark, and the university, obviously, our core missions are education and research.

CORLEY: And while that battle continues, Alison Fisher, assistant curator of architecture at Chicago's Art Institute, says the museum will soon present the first American retrospective of Bertrand Goldberg's work.

Ms. ALISON FISHER (Assistant Curator of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago): He was an incredibly prolific architect, and hospitals, for the mature part of his career, was really one of his primary foci.

CORLEY: Joining the Prentice Hospital on the National Trust list is jazz musician John Coltrane's home on Long Island. It's suffering from mold and neglect despite the efforts of a local group to restore it. Coltrane had turned one of the bedrooms into a music studio, and that's where he wrote songs like his masterpiece "A Love Supreme."

(Soundbite of song, "A Love Supreme")

CORLEY: Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, says the house where Coltrane lived is not architecturally significant, but its cultural heritage makes it worth saving.

Ms. STEPHANIE MEEKS (President, National Trust for Historic Preservation): What it represents is that important moments of American history can happen in our neighborhoods, and that there's an opportunity for preservation around every corner.

CORLEY: Deferred maintenance, neglect and vacancy are some of the typical reasons why places like the Coltrane home, China Alley in the San Joaquin Valley and Belmead-on-the-James, an African-American heritage site in Virginia, are on the verge of collapse or losing their rehab potential.

The National Trust has also started a new endangered watch list, and the entire city of Charleston, South Carolina, is on it. Meeks says, under the watch, the trust recognizes the work Charleston has done to preserve its heritage while balancing a huge demand of heritage tourism.

Ms. MEEKS: But at the same time, the watch list is an attempt to signal our concern about the impacts of cruise ship tourism on that city and the national historic landmark district.

CORLEY: The goal of the endangered list, says Meeks, is to garner attention for the country's historic places. She says out of a list of more than 200 places the National Trust for Historic Preservation has identified in the past as endangered, only eight have been lost.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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