Tuesday 21 December 2010

Not Just "Greece" and "Italy": Christmas Truths About the Built Heritage

Since the US coineys love to point the finger at the "neglect of the heritage" of foreign governments (in particular those that do not want their archaeological heritage dug up clandestinely and smuggled out of the country to the US and other markets), I thought it would balance the picture if we could look at where they might in return point the finger at the US.

Unlike most of these countries, the US does not have a dedicated heritage policy-formulation and protection service, this function is scattered between different institutions working, in theory, in parallel. It is therefore rather difficult to see what percentage of the public budget is spent on the preservation of the cultural heritage. Obviously though - even in the US - the funds available, and legislative background, are inadequate to the task when we consider the below ground archaeological record of most of the country, and the above-ground built heritage and cultural landscapes. As everywhere, there is always more that can be done, and the US cannot legitimately claim superiority to any other country in this regard. That US ancient coin and artefact dealers and collectors fail to recognise this is really a reflection of their own unreasonableness and blinkered view of the heritage as much as anything else.

The US organization, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has a scheme highlighting annually, the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places in the USA . Since it was begun in 1998 it has identified more than 200 one-of-a-kind historic treasures, mostly of the built heritage and cultural landscapes in the USA and dependent territories which have for various reasons been endangered. The problem is as great in the US as it is anywhere else in today's world: "boarded up churches, overgrown parks, abandoned schools, forgotten Main Streets – every city or town has historic places that have seen better days".
From urban districts to rural landscapes, Native American landmarks to 20th-century sports arenas, entire communities to single buildings, the list spotlights places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy.
The 2010 shortlist contains a variety of cases, I note one on this year's endangered shortlist even from Mr Tompa's home city.

The first case is quite worrying, and shows that the US is finding it as difficult to maintain its cultural properties as the Italy and Greece being roundly condemned by US coineys because they too have the same problem. It is worth noting that all of the structures mentioned here were constructed well after the date of erection of the classical buildings in Greece and Italy which the US coiney bloggers keep harping on about.
America's State Parks and State-Owned Historic Sites Current Status: Endangered, Threat: Budget Cuts. Significance: "State park systems welcome an estimated 725 million visits every year and include places of national significance – from Native American historic sites to Revolutionary War forts to Civil War battlefields to country estates..."
America’s state parks and state-owned historic sites are threatened – perhaps more than at any other time in recent history – with deep funding cuts and uncertain futures. In response to record-breaking deficits, state governments are cutting funding for state-owned and -managed parks and historic sites from coast to coast. [...] This year nearly 30 states have experienced cuts to parks’ and sites’ budgets, and a recent survey estimates as many as 400 state parks could close.
Black Mountain, Lynch & Benham, Kentucky: Threat mining: "The latest permit application, if approved, would bring a 500-acre strip mine close to Lynch's historic buildings..." (Cf Tompa on an Afghan copper mine).

Hinchliffe Stadium, Paterson, New Jersey, - Endangered, Threat: Deterioration, Neglect, Significance: "On a bluff above the Great Falls National Historical Park in Paterson, N.J., Hinchliffe Stadium, one of only three remaining Negro League stadiums in the country, stands vacant and dilapidated... "

Industrial Arts Building, Lincoln, Nebraska, - Endangered, Threat: Demolition. "With Palladian windows, natural skylights, intricate roof trusses and a 4-story fountained interior, the Agricultural Hall, as it was called, was a showstopper [...] the Industrial Arts Building is not part of the university's master plan and will soon meet the wrecking ball unless a developer steps forward to rescue and reuse the building..."

Juana Briones House, Palo Alto, California, Endangered, Threat: Demolition. Significance: In the heart of Silicon Valley, what is traditionally known as the Juana Briones House is a rare reminder of California’s early Spanish and Mexican heritage...

Merritt Parkway, Fairfield County, Connecticut - Endangered, Threat: Neglect, Poor Planning. Significance: [...] "Although the National Trust for Historic Preservation gave the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) an Honor Award in 1995 for sensitive preservation of the Merritt Parkway, much has changed in recent years..."

Metropolitan AME Church, Washington, District of Columbia - Endangered, Threat: Deterioration. Significance: "A major landmark of African American heritage and one of the most important religious institutions in the United States..."

Saugatuck Dunes, Michigan - Endangered, Threat: Development. Significance: "It is an area of striking beauty. Along the shores of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, the 2,500 acres that comprise the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Area boast a sparsely-developed landscape of spectacular beach, rare freshwater dunes, water, woods and wetlands; habitat to several endangered species; and home to a large number of significant historic and archaeological sites..."

Threefoot Building, Meridian, Mississippi - Endangered, Threat: Demolition. Significance: "The Art Deco Queen of Meridian continues to deteriorate, and locals fear that her next date may be with the wrecking ball. In the last several years, the building has experienced significant deterioration. Terra-cotta tiles are falling off the facade, water is infiltrating in several locations and windows are in poor shape. Without immediate action, portions of the masonry are at risk of falling into pedestrian and vehicular traffic... "

Wilderness Civil War Battlefield, Orange & Spotsylvania Counties, Virginia - Endangered, Threat: Development. Significance: "One of the most significant engagements of the Civil War [...] If Walmart ignores American heritage and bulldozes the battlefield, the first impression 95 percent of visitors to the National Park would have of the Wilderness Battlefield would be an oversized bunker of a big-box store in a sea of asphalt perched above a massive intersection..."

It is not therefore only in countries with upstanding and below ground remains of the "classical" past that preservation of heritage values comes into head-on collision with economic realities. This is a world-wide problem and a world-wide concern. But of course everybody who actually cares about the heritage is already well aware of that, everybody that is except self-righteous and self-centred US dealers and collectors with their heads stuck in their coin cabinets and coiney websites who selectively misrepresent it as a justification for their own lack of moral qualms about their asocial and selfish activities.

Vignette: The Adams House, US cultural icon notable for its bad state of preservation.

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