Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Preserving the Past ?

In my travels over the years, I've come to appreciate the efforts of local people to preserve places that were special to them from the "progress" offered by developers. But these fights are increasingly complicated, raising all sorts of interesting questions of what counts as "historic" and "landmark". Though I try to see both sides, it's hard not to despair when you think about how much has been lost. If undeniable landmarks can be torn down in great cities with a rich tradition of fine buildings, like New York City (compare old Pennsylvania Station to the current characterless concourse), what chance does a struggling city like St. Louis -- one-time home of the magical old Coral Court motel -- have?

So, I'd like to take this chance to applaud a couple of forces for good. One, the great freeway-fighting writer and critic Jane Jacobs, passed away last month, a week shy of her 90th birthday. To get a sense of the woman who did more than maybe anyone else to keep US cities alive and well in our "modern" age, read this impassioned rant by the English architecture critic Simon Jenkins.

Another group keeps the faith, despite covering a huge and contentious swath of buildings and scenes stretching from Main Street to the White House: the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Their fine magazine, Preservation, is full of great reasons to join (it's only about $20 tax-deductible dollars a year), and they publish an annual list of the Most Endangered Places in the USA; for 2006, the list includes the fabulous but threatened 1950s-era "Doo Wop" motels of Wildwood New Jersey, a 100-year-old rustic lodge in Montana, and my favorite California mission, at San Miguel.

I'll deal with other battles -- here, there and everywhere -- in future posts, and hope you'll come along for the ride!

-- Jamie


Post a Comment

<< Home