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Heritage Turkeys of the Year

Awards for the worst setbacks in Northwest historic preservation for 2009.
Paul Thiry's St. Edward's church in Shelton being demolished

Paul Thiry's St. Edward's church in Shelton being demolished Michael Wittenberg

The Benjamin Dudley House, burned down for a movie

The Benjamin Dudley House, burned down for a movie Stephen Emerson

Every year, preservationists produce lists of the most-endangered properties in their areas, which is a great way to raise consciousness, and alarm, when historic structures are in jeopardy. But this year, I felt it was time to start keeping track of some of the more egregious preservationist failures, places where David lost to Goliath, or where private developers or public agencies breached the trust by trashing heritage with disregard. So, I inaugurate the first annual Northwest Heritage Turkey Awards. Here are the winners:

History burns for Hollywood

The winner is: Washington State Department of Natural Resources

For: Torching an historic farmhouse for a movie.

Background: Last summer, a feature film production company, NxNW, asked permission to burn down a turn-of-the-century farmhouse (see photo) near Medical Lake outside Spokane. The old farmstead sits on Department of Natural Resources land and DNR had been contemplating demolishing it due to asbestos and decay. They had even considered using prison labor to bring it down. But the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation concluded that the property, known as the Benjamin Dudley House, was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (a DNR consultant disagreed) and urged alternatives to demolition for a film, including changing the script, using computer-generated images, or burning a set instead.

Nevertheless, DNR allowed the house to be burned in early September and says it saved taxpayers a net of about $17,000 in demolition costs. You'll be able to see the burning yourself on the big screen: it was for the movie The Ward by director John Carpenter, known for his horror films and thrillers (Halloween). For preservationists, this horror is no fantasy. As Allyson Brooks, head of the state preservation office, asked: "Why is the state burning down historic sites?"

There's gold in them thar historic houses

The winner is: The Carmack House vandals

For: Gutting a Gold Rush landmark of its original interior.

Background: George Carmack is the man whose bag of gold set off the Klondike rush. He later was a prominent Seattle citizen, and his last local house was subject of a landmark controversy in 2009. The house had been suffering from neglect. Even so, it was nominated for landmark status, over the objection of its owners.

Early this year, before the landmark nomination was decided, someone broke into the boarded-up home and took the original fine woodwork and important architectural elements, from the hand-carved fireplace to a stained glass window. The scale and selectivity of the destruction pointed to people who knew what they were doing. Even with the damage, however, the home was designated a Seattle landmark, but the theft stole value from the owners and left restoring the home to its original condition much more problematic.

School's out (or gone) forever

The winner is: Boise Independent School District

For: Demolishing the Art Deco-style South Junior High.

Background: Take a survey of Northwest demolitions and endangered structures and you'll be amazed at how many are schools, school facilities, or buildings on college campuses. From Vancouver, BC to Seattle to suburban Portland to Boise, Idaho, controversies have raged. South Junior High was a National Register-eligible structure built in 1948 with a distinctive modern style, designed by the respected firm of Whitehouse and Price of Spokane. Even though it was determined that retaining the building was cheaper, and despite the objections of citizen's and preservation groups, the district celebrated the school's 60th birthday by razing it, earning the project a 2009 "Onion" award from Preservation Idaho. The new school opened this year with a chunk of the old property preserved for an amphitheater. Even so, the district flunked Preservation 101.

The Thiry of Negativity

The winner is: Shelton and Mason County, Washington

For: Demolition of a church by a major modern architect.

Background: As I wrote back in October, the month of September '09 was a bleak one for Washington history, featuring fires, wrecking balls, and bulldozers. One was the failure of preservationists to prevent the demolition of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Shelton, WA. Despite heroic efforts and a rescue plan that raised $150,000 to save the sanctuary as an arts and daycare center, the city of Shelton issued demolition permits so the church could be leveled, clearing the way for Mason County to pick up the property from the Catholic church for future use as a county office campus.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Dec 29, 6:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for tracking all of these, I've read about some of them but it's both sad and fascinating to see them all together for this article. With the potential loss of 4Culture, one King County's main advocates for historic preservation I'm sad to say we will see more of this in the near future.

Posted Tue, Dec 29, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Knute,there are many more. Let's talk in the new year. But one that stands out is Sally Clark's lack of leadership and footdragging on creating more effective historic preservation incentives for downtown and the rest of the city. Without these, we will lose many buildings unnecessarily.

Oh, and what about maritime preservation? The Wawona is just the latest of ship losses.

Art

Posted Tue, Dec 29, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for mentioning the Collins Building in Everett. There is nothing else like it in this region. It is awe-inspiring when you consider how much it would cost to build an all-wood structure like it today. Impossible. Yet, the Port of Everett wants to rip it down - even though it is in perfectly good shape and preservable.

Port of Everett officials have been in the process of destroying the "working port" of Everett for some time. Thriving small businesses who utilized many of the older wooden boat buildings and larger steel facilities, "dinosaurs" from a more industrial past, have been forced to abandon the buildings, which are all slated for demolition. Many struggling small boatbuilders and marine-oriented companies will just go out of business and their employees will be out of work. And for what? Some bureaucrats' dreams of seeing the Everett waterfront populated by luxury condominium communities and yachts? That is not likely to happen anytime soon, given the economy.

So what will happen once all the old buildings and boatyards are cleared away? You can already see the results: brand new million dollar curbed streets that lead to dead-ends and a bleak landscape consisting of acres empty sanitized pavement where once historic buildings stood and small businesses provided jobs and opportunity for struggling maritime entrepreneurs in Everett's gritty northside port.

Posted Tue, Dec 29, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

For 2010 I nominate the Murray Morgan (11th Street to us natives) Bridge in Tacoma. It's gone from four lanes, to two lanes, to pedestrian only, to now totally closed. The state and city keep handing it off to each other to restore, and it continues to rust away. Traffic between downtown and the tideflats is choked without it, but it seems as though the powers that be just want it to go away. Maybe next year it will.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Dec 29, 10:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't think you can blame Greg Nickels for the WAWONA. For at least two decades she was a giant pile of dry rot that occasionally sank at her mooring. The cost of restoration was estimated by experts in ship restoration at $15-20 million.

There is a reason the CA THAYER in San Francisco was able to be restored. Federal funds, through the National Park system, and the National Maritime Park - located in San Francisco.

Without Federal support - or the assistance of Governments both local and national - big ship restorations DO NOT WORK.

On-going maintenance AFTER the restoration will equal 5% of the restoration cost EVERY YEAR.

I have owned and operated many boats during my 50 plus years on the water. A boat can be defined as a hole in the water into which you pour money. Seattle wisely walked away from the WAWONA. Certainly, there are regrets, but there are MANY better investments in restoration and education. The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. The Virginia V. The Arthur Foss and the Lightship. The Wooden Boat Foundation in Port Townsend. The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.

Ross Kane
Warm Beach

Ross

Posted Wed, Dec 30, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

Out my way, the Wauna Store stood at the foot of the Purdy Spit on the Key Peninsula, north of Gig Harbor, for over 100 years. It started out as the general store for the now-defunct waterfront town of Wauna, which was served by the steamboats of the Mosquito Fleet. When the dock was removed and the highway built on the spit, the store was turned 90 degrees to face the road. It served many years as a grocery store and post office. In later years it was abandoned, but it's features were the same as depicted in the old photos of it alongside the dock with the steamboat moored. Although located at a very popular beach, frequented by kids, families, and windsurfers, and could have been rehabilitated and used as a concession stand/store catering to them, it was torn down, apparently because the owners of the new McMansions on the hill above it didn't like the looks of it.

alally

Posted Wed, Dec 30, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

alally, the same thing happened to the old Olalla store (between Purdy and Southworth). It seemed to go from fixer-upper to just a handful of pilings in only a couple years. With current Shoreline Management laws, buildings just can't be built over the water anymore. Once they're gone, they're gone.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jan 5, 4:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Entire cities built over the water are vulnerable: http://www.corriere.it//gallery/cronache/12-2009/venezia/1/venezia-sommersa_c67d0de6-f254-11de-b17d-00144f02aabe.shtml#1 .

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