Heritage Turkeys, 2013
by Knute Berger
The 2013 Heritage Turkey list is just the tip of the bird. There were many more Turkey-worthy heritage disasters that did not make the final cut, a veritable embarrassment of debacles, bad judgment and "what-were-they-thinking" moments. Like, the guy who's building a vacation home on top of a native graveyard. Or trucks crashing into an historic icon again and again and yet again. We even saw heritage havoc wreaked by a naked dude. Here are highlights of the lowlights of the year:
Winner: Idiots who ram their trucks into Pioneer Square landmark
The Pioneer Square Pergola is one of Seattle's most famous structures. Built in 1909, it is the very model of the city's emerging urban aspirations. It signaled a civilized town and to prove the point it offered an underground public restroom. How better to impress visitors to our first international fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition?
The Pergola also served as a stop for the Yesler & James cable car. Its elaborate glass-and-iron structure is a thing of beauty and a national landmark. Unfortunately, it is also a target. The original was flattened by a truck in 2001 (above). The current Pergola is a carefully crafted restoration. But this year, truck drivers have not been kind to it. A semi crunched it in April, another got wedged under it in May, and in July it was rammed by yet another truck. WTF? We all know that transportation around the Pioneer Square is a mess, but truckers, please, stop battering The Perg.
Nuking the Park
Winner: The U.S. Senate, for letting a bill die (again) that would have created the Manhattan Project National Park
Whatever you think about atomic bombs, there's no question they're a huge part of our history that should be recognized and explored. Advocates of a National Park archipelago of properties that would commemorate and preserve the memory of the world-changing, WWII Manhattan Project had success this year when the proposal was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The park would include Hanford's historic B Reactor site, as well as sites at Oak Ridge, Tenn. and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
In negotiations over including a larger defense authorization bill, the park idea was "left on the cutting room floor." The proposal has bipartisan support: Washington's Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray back it along with Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings who says he'll continue to work on getting the park approved in 2014. For now it's a victim of Congressional process — or dysfunction.
Blitzing Ancient Burials
Winner: The British Columbia government's Archaeological Branch for approving a vacation home on a native graveyard
Grace Islet is a mini-island in beautiful Ganges Harbor on Salt Spring Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands. Archaeologists have long known it as the burial ground of an ancient Salish village, Shiya’hwt waht. Grace Islet is covered with burial cairns and human remains have been found there. Still, a private owner from Alberta wanted to build his vacation home there.
Tribes such as the Penelakut, Cowichan, Saanich, and others have objected. British Columbia has seen a fair amount of conflict over native grave sites and development, and in some cases it has assisted tribes to buy such lands back. But with tight budgets and what some critics say is a bias toward development, the BC government's Archaeological Branch approved a permit in September. The permit requires only that the homebuilder build high enough to place parts of the structure over some of the stone cairns (read: Gravestones).
Would we allow an Amazon millionaire to build his dream home on stilts over, say, Seattle's historic Lake View cemetery on Capitol Hill? Sorry, shouldn't give anyone ideas. Chief Earl Jack of the Penelakut Tribe said the idea of building on top of the grave site was "a cynical and vulgar notion." Yup.
Tear Down History, Put up an "Amshak?"
Winner: Washington Department of Transportation for proposed historic demolition for new train depot
Wow. It sounded like a win-win. A new train station in Tacoma's Dome District to improve travel times enough to add more train trips and give an economic boost to a neighborhood. Everything was going smoothly until the unveiling of WSDOT's plans.
Instead of fixing up an existing railroad structure — a 1909 Milwaukee Road rail warehouse that's home to a great collection of shops called Freighthouse Square — WSDOT proposed demolishing the most significant chunk of the historic building in favor of a new Amtrak station with all the charm of a 7-11. "Amshak", Tacoma's News Tribune called it.
Local critics have lambasted WSDOT and architecture firm VIA for what TNT columnist Peter Callaghan called the "unnecessary and unacceptable" destruction of an historic property. WSDOT insists it'll save money. Preservationists are appalled. Michael Sean Sullivan, head of Artifacts Consulting and an adjunct professor at UW Tacoma who worked on Seattle's King Street Station re-do, told TNT "It looks like a cross between a county fair pavilion and a used-car showroom."
Winner: Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and those who refuse to take seriously our urban transportation heritage
Seattle, Portland and Vancouver are big rail and transit towns, but they have badly mistreated historic train lines. Seattle ripped up its popular waterfront tourist trolley for the Olympic Sculpture Park. We still don't know whether the trolley will make a comeback in the new waterfront plan. (Don't hold your breath.)
Meanwhile, Portland is divesting itself of some vintage trolly stock, having agreed to sell two cars to St. Louis. And the city of Vancouver sunk millions into an historic interurban train line — on False Creek for the Olympics — only to mothball the trains, according to Heritage Vancouver. The old cars are in the care of the Transit Museum Society, but the city doesn't want to pay for their maintenance. The museum boasts a collection of running vintage buses (from the '30s, '40s and '50s), part of its "rolling museum." But TransLink, the Vancouver metro agency that paid to warehouse the vehicles, is cutting those funds this year.
Back in Seattle, the city landmarks board turned down (for the second and last time) the nomination of the downtown Greyhound Bus Terminal (1927), clearing the way for its demolition for development. Scholars have argued that the history and significance of intercity bus transportation is little appreciated. Transit and urban rail not only face funding issues, but proving their historic value too.
Tower of Power Play
Winner: Bonneville Power Administration jeopardizing Native American and Lewis and Clark heritage sites along the Columbia
It's been pitched as a David vs. Goliath battle. The BPA wants an expanded power line "superhighway" down on the Columbia — a project called Big Eddy-Knight. A property owner in Wishram, WA has pushed back, saying the plans would destroy a cave containing ancient Native American rock paintings that is considered sacred to the Yakama tribe. It would also damage an area where the Lewis and Clark expedition portaged and camped in the early 1800s.
There are power lines already, but the BPA wants to boost its transmission capacity with newer, bigger towers and a larger footprint for maintenance, access roads and the like. This "is not just repaving," the state's historic preservation officer, Allyson Brooks, told Seattle Times' reporter Lynda Mapes. "It is the equivalent of taking a two-lane road and making it a superhighway."
The project involves construction, blasting and roadbuilding. The property owner, Robert Zornes, purchased the land as a place to retire. But after learning about the cave paintings he's been pushing back against the BPA's plans. According to the Times, he has fought the BPA demands for access to his property, and worked to raise awareness about the value of the treasures in Big Eddy-Knight's path.
The entire landscape around Zornes' property is a vast repository of ancient cultural sites. The old Celilo Falls nearby was a gathering place for tribes for millennia. Some argue that the BPA knew full well that its expansion risked damaging cultural resources, but bulled ahead anyway. Now, Zornes, the tribe, National Park Service and Washington's Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation is pushing back. The BPA insists it is trying to allay concerns, but the project is stalemated. Zornes says millions of dollars have been wasted and the BPA was foolish to open this "Pandora's Box."
Winner: The deteriorating canneries of Alaska
The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation has already called attention to the state's vanishing salmon canneries by listing them on its "10 Most Endangered Historic Properties List" in 2013. The National Trust for Historic Preservation seconded the motion by adding Alaska's Kake Cannery to its own endangered list. The cannery problems are predictable: the structures are aging, often in remote locations and subjected to harsh weather. In recent years, two buildings in the historic Kake complex collapsed due to wind and snow. And they can be expensive to rehabilitate, especially in small communities with few resources. Canneries often present serious clean-up challenges too, like asbestos.
The Kake cannery is largely intact, a monument to the industry that helped make modern Alaska. White, native, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and other workers came together (though in segregated quarters) and the canneries are testament to these multi-ethnic workforces, along with labor organizing, economic development and industrial innovations such as the revolutionary Seattle fish processor known as the "Iron Chink." All contributed to shaping the Pacific Northwest.
Encircling the Square
Winner: The University of Washington for threat to Yamasaki's amazing Rainier Tower
You can't blame the UW for wanting to maximize revenues from its downtown Seattle real estate. But what should they do with a block that is home to an architectural icon? The UW wants to further develop its Metropolitan Tract — specifically the block between 4th and 5th Avenues and Union and University streets downtown — by adding one million square feet or so of additional office space on the site of Rainier Square, a low-rise mall. That likely means a new massive high-rise that would block views of the Minoru Yamasaki-designed Rainier Tower (1977), which stands on a narrow, 11-story pedestal on that block.
The tower has been called "one of the most unorthodox skyscrapers in the world." It is unquestionably one of the most dramatic office buildings in Seattle. But much of that drama could be lost. Options for the development site, which takes up about three-quarters of the block, include a neighboring high-rise that might wrap Rainier Tower, or multiple buildings that would largely obscure views of the pedestal.
Yamasaki is the Seattle-trained architect who designed the landmark Pacific Science Center and later the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, as well as the gorgeous IBM Building up the street from Rainier Tower. The UW is looking to select a developer in early 2014 with a project completion date in 2017. But before they lock it down, hope that sanity and sensitivity prevail in finding a way to not seriously compromise one of Seattle's great buildings. It might require the kind of creativity and inspiration that are the hallmarks of Yamasaki's best work.
Wreck of the Kingfisher
Winner: The loss of an historic Oregon patrol boat
During World War II, the swift Tradewinds Kingfisher patrolled the Oregon coast. keeping us safe from enemy attack. The historic vessel is on the National Historic register. But this year, after failing to find enough community support to restore it, the deteriorating boat was deemed an environmental hazard and demolished.
The Lincoln County Historical Society had been given the boat, but lacked the resources to maintain it. Other maritime preservation groups turned down the opportunity to take it on. "It had to be scuttled," said the historical society's director Steve Wyatt. Joe Follansbee, the Seattle maritime author and historian, says "This is a classic case of a family with a good heart donating a large object they can't bear to let go of to a small historical society that can't possibly take care of it because of the expense."
Is Binning Spinning?
Winner: The Land Conservancy of British Columbia for trying to sell off an historic home it was supposed to protect
The Land Conservancy of British Columbia is, in essence, in bankruptcy and $10 million in debt. The organization is supposed to steward important properties. But in order to dig itself out of its financial hole, it has decided to sell off some of its $40 million real estate portfolio. This despite commitments the Conservancy made to the people who donated them.
B.C. heritage advocates are shocked by the proposed sale of West Vancouver's Binning House (1941), an early example of modern architecture in BC that has been called one of the most important houses in Canada and is a designated national historic site. It was the home of B.C. Binning, the building's designer and one of the province's most important arts figures.
The Binning House was given to the trust with the idea that it be open to the public and protected. Heritage advocates worry that those stipulations won't accompany the sale. But it's also the principle of the thing.
The case, now before the B.C. Supreme Court, presents a number of complications, including a claim by the University of British Columbia that the Land Conservancy never legally owned the property in the first place. If you can't trust the stewards to steward, who can you trust?
Winner: A naked man in Sedro-Woolley
In September, the Skagit Valley Herald reported that police arrested a man who had allegedly broken into the storage garage of the Sedro-Woolley Museum. Surveillance video captured the man, naked and bleeding and trying to leave a message on the garage floor with broken sticks. "The man was allegedly trying to steal an antique engine, as well as an antique stove top," the paper reported, while neglecting to tell us why.
Photo Credits: Big Grey Mare (turkey); Seattle Municipal Archives (Pancaked Pergola); Peter Callaghan (Freighthouse Square); Washington State Digital Archives (Greyhound Bus Station); Wikipedia Commons (Rainier Tower); Lincoln County Historical Society (Fighting Kingfisher); Heritage Vancouver (B.C. Binning)
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