Saving our most endangered National Historic Sites

The list of 11 endangered properties is Compiled annually by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to generate publicity and help save what the group says are important parts of the country's heritage.

"The sites on this year's list embody the diversity and complexity of America's story, and the variety of threats that endanger it," said National Trust President Richard Moe. "These places are enormously important to our understanding of who we are as a nation and a people."

Since 1988, the Trust has identified more than 150 one-of-a-kind properties and endangered neighborhoods as "endangered," a designation that has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save them. While a listing does not guarantee that a place will be rescued, it sometimes ends up that way.

Take, for example, the Ennis House, the grandest of Frank Lloyd Wright's textile-block houses, which was damaged by an earthquake in 1994. After a "Most Endangered" listing last year, the Ennis House Foundation was able to embark upon the first phase of renovation.

This year the only remaining above-ground fragment of the terrorist-destroyed World Trade Center in New York City is on the latest list of "America's Most Endangered Historic Places."

The "Survivors' Staircase," the only path to safety for many who fled the twin towers on a fateful late summer day that will forever be known as 9-11, is joined on the list of landmarks and neighborhoods that may not pull through by the first Smithsonian Museum in Washington and parts of New Orleans that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The Trust is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. Founded in 1949, it provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize communities. Headquartered in Washington, the group has 270,000 members in all 50 states.

Here's the current list of the 11 most endangered historic properties. The name and location of each site is also a link to the National Trust site for more information on each site. Remember that you can make a difference in preserving and making available our heritage for future generations to enjoy.  Join a historical society in your area and become active in preserving your local piece of the national heritage.

Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, Washington, D.C.: The first building expressly built as a museum on the National Mall, the Arts & Industries Building was completed in 1881 to receive the collections of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. With its central rotunda and polychrome exterior of red, black, tan and blue bricks, the building served as a dramatic exhibition space until it was shuttered in 2004 after years of neglect and under use.

Blair Mountain Battlefield, Logan County, W. Va.: Blair Mountain's 1,600-acre Spruce Fork Ridge is the site of a 1921 armed insurrection of unionized coal miners fighting for better working conditions and an end to the oppressive control of the coal industry in southern West Virginia. Today, the ridge, a remote and serene place of hardwood forests and precipitous hillsides, is threatened by strip mining that will obliterate the site of America's largest domestic conflict since the Civil War.

Doo Wop Motels, Wildwood, N.J.: Named after a popular 1950's singing style, Wildwood's Doo Wop motels are the colorful beach resorts that line 40 blocks of New Jersey Shoreline. Considered the largest collection of mid-20th century commercial resort architecture in the nation, the motels are famous for their neon-bright colors, funky signage and exotic architecture of saw-toothed angles, crazy overhangs and space-age "Jetson" ramps. More than 100 of these iconic reminders of the recent past have already met the wrecking ball, and more are slated for demolition.

Fort Snelling Upper Post, Hennepin County, MN.: On a large, scenic promontory overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, Fort Snelling has been keeping watch over the citizens of the region since long before the formation of the Minnesota territory. While parts of the fort complex have been restored, the 141-acre Upper Post area, which contains 28 brick buildings constructed between the late 1870s and the early 1900s, have been vacant for more than three decades and stand in various states of disrepair, some with collapsed roofs and severely cracked brick walls.

Historic Communities and Landmarks of the Mississippi Coast: When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast last August, the historic communities and landmarks of Mississippi suffered incalculable damage. For months, historic homeowners have been entrenched in an exhausting rebuilding effort. Similarly, numerous Mississippi landmarks including Beauvoir, the Biloxi retirement home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Pascagoula's La Pointe-Krebs House, believed to be the oldest standing building in the state, were decimated by the storm and face uncertain futures nearly one year after Katrina.

Historic Neighborhoods of New Orleans: They are the heart and soul of the city, the modest, colorful shotgun houses, Craftsman bungalows and Creole cottages that line the streets of New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward and working-class neighborhoods such as Mid-City, Holy Cross and South Lakeview. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's winds and floodwaters, hundreds of family homes are "red-tagged" for demolition, and the future of America's most distinctive city is at stake.

Kenilworth, Ill.: Fifteen miles north of Chicago, Kenilworth, Ill., was founded in 1889 as an ideal suburban village. The village is a rich historical fabric that showcases world-class architecture and gracious landscape in a remarkably intact context. The town attracted some of the Midwest's most accomplished architects, who lined Kenilworth's broad leafy streets with a diverse collection of stately and unique homes. Today, most of the 830 homes in Kenilworth dating to the 1920s or earlier are under siege. A spate of teardowns has leveled many historic homes and replaced them with hulking McMansions, some nearly twice the size of the architectural treasures that have been lost.

Kootenai Lodge, Bigfork, Mont.: One of the most significant historic sites in northwest Montana, the Kootenai Lodge was developed from 1905 through 1925 as a summer retreat for executives of the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. But now, the 40-acre property, which consists of the rustic wooden lodge and 20 other buildings fronting scenic Swan Lake, could be forever changed if a developer goes ahead with plans to demolish several historic buildings and significantly alter others for of a new condominium development.

Mission San Miguel Arcangel, San Miguel, Calif.: A superb example of Franciscan Mission architecture, Mission San Miguel, known for its exquisite original murals, was completed in 1821 as the 16th of California's 21 famed mission churches. Today, Mission San Miguel is closed following a December 2003 earthquake that caused severe structural damage. Without an influx of funds for restoration, the mission could collapse.

Over-the-Rhine Neighborhood, Cincinnati: Little changed in more than 100 years, Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has been home to generations of immigrant families and is known for its large, outstanding and intact collection of 19th century Italianate, Federal, Greek Revival and Queen Anne buildings. Now, however, the neighborhood is plagued by crime and disinvestment. Some 500 of its 1,200 historic buildings are vacant, and emergency demolition is being used as a tool to combat deteriorating conditions.

World Trade Center Vesey Street Staircase: Because it offered a path to safety that allowed many people to escape the blazing World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, this haunting remnant is often called the Survivors' Staircase. Although it is the only remaining above-ground fragment of the vanished Twin Towers, the staircase is threatened with demolition for construction of a new office tower on the WTC site.

Article submitted and enhanced by Norm Werner

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