List Highlights America’s Most Endangered Places
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JEFFREY BROWN: In New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods, the distinctive shotgun-style houses are part of the city’s cultural traditions. On Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, landmark buildings help tell the story of the area.
These victims of Katrina and much more make up the 2006 list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places,” that highlights a range of threatened buildings, sites and neighborhoods around the nation. The list was issued today by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private non-profit organization. Its president, Richard Moe, joins me now.
And welcome to you.
RICHARD MOE, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation: Thank you.
JEFFREY BROWN: Why don’t you start by explaining what’s the point of this list, and what are the criteria for getting on it?
RICHARD MOE: Every year, we issue the 11 most endangered historic places list to bring attentions to different kinds of threats to different kinds of historic places all over the country. It’s meant to be a representative list.
And these places get nominated by individuals all over. It goes through a vetting process. It’s very competitive, and it’s highly desirable to get placed on this list, because being on the list almost invariably brings very positive attention and often resources. We’ve only lost two sites in 18 years that have been placed on this list.
JEFFREY BROWN: This year, clearly, Katrina set your agenda, in large part. Start with New Orleans and from the perspective of the question of preservation. What are the main concerns?
RICHARD MOE: The main concerns are, number one, New Orleans is one of the most historic cities in America. There are layers and layers of culture and history there.
Half of the area of the city is made up of 38,000 historic structures. The vast majority of these, the bungalows, the shotgun houses, the Creole cottages, and so forth, the vast majority were flooded. But, happily, the vast majority of those can be saved.
So what we’re trying to do is to help the residents of those historic districts get the resources and the technical help that they need to re-occupy their homes. It’s a huge task, but we’re making progress.
These were average homes
JEFFREY BROWN: And these are not the fancy houses; these are just where average, middle-income people live?
RICHARD MOE: Exactly. And that's mostly what New Orleans is. We think these neighborhoods are really the heart and soul of the city, not the French Quarter, not the Garden District, the better-known parts of the city, but these are the outlying neighborhoods.
JEFFREY BROWN: What about on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi? What are the projects there?
RICHARD MOE: The Gulf Coast of Mississippi lost almost 300 historic buildings right away because of the 30-foot surge that came in with very high winds. And more than 1,000 historic structures were damaged. So it's a different scale and of a different type.
But there are very important landmarks there, like Jefferson Davis' last home, Beauvoir in Biloxi, that received tremendous damage, other landmarks like that.
So we're trying to work with the folks in Gulfport, Mississippi, to help rebuild the downtown. We're working with our local projects to do demonstration projects, as we are in New Orleans, to show how this kind of work can be done.
Real estate is so valuable
JEFFREY BROWN: Can you bring money to the project or do you bring the publicity and bring the people together to get things done?
RICHARD MOE: Well, we try to do all. We brought some modest financial resources, but most of that has to come from the federal government or from elsewhere. And, happily, we've been very encouraged by the support we have in Congress to bring currently $80 million just to the historic resources of Mississippi and Louisiana, thanks to Senator Cochran and Senator Landrieu.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, moving away from Katrina-affected areas, one that I saw on the list that I thought would resonate with a lot of people is the subject of Chicago, Kenilworth. Tell us: What's the story here?
RICHARD MOE: Kenilworth, Illinois, is a very old, beautiful suburb. Many of the houses were designed by Daniel Burnham, other world-class architects of a century ago. And, yet, it's experiencing what we call the tear-down phenomenon.
JEFFREY BROWN: Tear-down?
RICHARD MOE: Tear-down. People are coming in -- the real estate is so valuable, they're coming in, tearing down a perfectly good, older, sometimes historic house, and putting up something that is way out of scale, in proportion to the neighborhood. And so it does great violence to the streetscape.
And this is happening all over the country. I think it may be the most serious threat to historic communities and historic neighborhoods all over the country.
Historical buildings are being sold
JEFFREY BROWN: The thing that I always worry about -- and you do see it all over the country -- is, if people want it and if the market is there, then how do you define the problem? And how do you go in and say, no, for historical reasons, this shouldn't be happening?
RICHARD MOE: Well, some people say, "This is my house. I should be able to do what I want with it." Well, private-property rights deserve a lot of respect in our country, but they've always been balanced by community values. That's why we have such things as zoning.
Property owners have never been able to do exactly what they want with their property, because communities have a say in these things, and they should, in terms of preserving the kind of streetscape and the kind of neighborhood that they want.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, there's one I have to ask you about before we go, because it sounds kind of fun, actually, is the Doo Wop Motels on the New Jersey shore?
RICHARD MOE: In Wildwood, New Jersey, that's correct. This is the largest collection of mid-20th-century resort architecture in the country, and they're kind of fanciful, playful, modernist structures. Some people won't see this as being historic, but it really is, because--
Structures deserve to be perserved
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, explain, why is it?
RICHARD MOE: Well, it's come of age. These structures in this neighborhood are 50 years old, and it's a wonderful experience. And they deserve to be preserved.
But, unfortunately, again, the real estate is so valuable that they're putting up high-rises and they're putting up all kinds of other structures that really don't fit into the environment. So we're eager to work with the communities to try to preserve the character of Wildwood.
JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, I notice even in your literature you use the word "kitsch." And so this interesting question of what qualifies for historical preservation, if it is kitsch-worthy?
RICHARD MOE: It's in the eye of the beholder, but there is a legal definition of what's historic. But basically, for communities, it's what they want to preserve; it's what they need for their own community values.
JEFFREY BROWN: And there's much more on the list available at your Web site?
RICHARD MOE: It is.
JEFFREY BROWN: You want to give that?
RICHARD MOE: Our web site is NationalTrust.org. And I hope you'll tune in.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Richard Moe, thanks very much.
RICHARD MOE: Thank you.