Heritage Turkeys of the year

Who did most to raze, wreck, uproot, neglect, and generally trash our historic treasures in 2011? The envelopes, please...

Crosscut archive image.

The mighty Kalakala, icon of the Sound, in better days.

Who did most to raze, wreck, uproot, neglect, and generally trash our historic treasures in 2011? The envelopes, please...

Here are my annual picks for the Heritage Turkey Awards, examples of the worst in Northwest heritage and historic preservation during the last year.

The Wreck of the Silver Slug

Winner: The Kalakala's keepers

For: Good intentions, poor follow-through

The Silver Slug hangs by a slender thread, the biggest maritime heritage tragedy unfolding here. (It's on the Fyddeye Guides' list of 10 Most Endangered Ships of 2011.) This historic, iconic art deco ferry is moored and sinking at Tacoma's Hylebos Waterway. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has been working with Steve Rodrigues, the Kalakala's owner, for the last 10 months to secure the leaky boat, which is taking on water and bottoming out at low tides. They have declared the vessel an imminent navigational hazard which sets it up to be seized by the Army Corps of Engineers. Coast Guard Lt. Ian Hanna says that Rodrigues has given them contradictory information and has been "unwilling or unable" to follow through on plans to secure or move the ferry. The Port of Tacoma is afraid the Kalakala could sink at any time, and predicts dealing with a one-boat blockade could cost the Port $23 million a month in lost business. Ironically, the Kalakala might have been better off berthed in a less crucial port. The next step is grim: The Corps is seeking federal funding to remove the Kalakala. If taken by the Corps, it would be dry-docked and scrapped at an estimated cost of $1 million- $1.5 million, not including environmental unforeseen issues such as dealing with PCBs, asbestos, etc.). Some historic parts might be salvaged as part of mitigation. Rodrigues also faces potential Coast Guard fines of up to $40,000 per day for his failure to comply their requirements. The slender thread: If the feds seize the Kalakala for demolition, Rodrigues would have 30 more days to comply before the vessel would be broken up. But given that he has not been able to do so to date, there is little grounds for optimism. 

Fort Under Attack!

Winner: U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs, Boise, Idaho

For: Demolition of 1885 building and poor planning

Every year, the Idaho Historic Preservation Council gives out "Orchids" to honor historic preservation success stories. But it also bravely gives out "Onions" for heritage failures. This year, it lobbed a well-deserved one at the Department of Veteran's Affairs in Boise for its poor management of the historic Fort Boise. The VA's Boise Medical Center occupies the old fort, which was built during the Civil War in 1863 as a home for the U.S. Cavalry left to secure the frontier. The city of Boise grew from that seed, so there's no place that is more historically significant locally. Now the VA is expanding. That's understandable, but the Onion citation says the award was "for the cavalier treatment of and absence of proper planning for historic landmarks in their care which has resulted in the construction of unsympathetic new facilities without adherence to federal law, demolition by neglect of one of the oldest extant buildings in the state, and the proposed demolition of Building No. 13 dating to 1885." Just before Christmas, the endangered Building No. 13 was torn down. This is a case of a fort, and National Register site, being attacked from the inside out. Add a Turkey to that Onion.

Watch for Indian Burial Grounds!

Winner: City of Oak Harbor

For: Failure to follow the heritage roadmap

You'd think everyone would have gotten the message by now: do ground-disturbing work in an area known to have yielded Indian artifacts and human remains, and you'd better be ready to deal with the consequences. If you're not, you could get slammed with delays, cost overruns, and a black eye for damaging heritage and ancestral graves. (Remember the Washington Department of Transportation's fabled Port Angeles graving dock fiasco? That cost taxpayers at least $70 million.) The last thing you should be is surprised when something (or someone) turns up. So, the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation warned the city of Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island to be prepared when it began work on the $8 million Pioneer Way renovation project: Have a plan and an archaeologist on hand to monitor the work. Oak Harbor went ahead without heeding the advice and found itself in a jam. It uncovered at least seven sets of human remains, and thousands of bone fragments including an undetermined number in fill dirt that was removed from the site and must now be screened. Reporter Justin Burnett of the Whidbey News-Times reported in November that overruns had reached $565,000 for "unexpected archaeology" and another $150,000 in additional costs. While no one is threatening to put anyone in jail, tougher human remains laws have made the willful disturbance of grave sites a class-C felony. Look before you fire up the backhoe.

Demonizing History

Winner: Washington State GOP chair Kirby Wilbur

For: Trying to turn Milepost 31 into a poster child for waste

It's fine to rail against boondoggles, but state GOP party chair Kirby Wilbur, a veteran of hot-talk radio, was off base off base last December when he attacked Milepost 31, an info center/museum for Seattle's downtown tunnel project costing nearly $500,000. "This ridiculous museum is in no way a priority," bellowed Wilbur. Some in the media piled on, touting it as another example of government-waste-in-a-time-of-crisis. KOMO's Ken Schram gave WSDOT head Paula Hammond a Shrammie for foolishly approving it. KOMO News' "Problem Solvers" found a man on the street who said we'd be better off spending the money on the homeless. So, Seattle found its $600 toilet seat. Of course, transportation money, rightly or wrongly, is siloed so that it cannot be spent on the homeless or other budget priorities. Second, Milepost 31 was an outcome of the federal process by which potential harm and disruption to a major historic district, Pioneer Square, had to be mitigated. Love it or not, the tunnel offers a teachable moment. Milepost 31 gives the history of the neighborhood's geography and transportation, exhibits 19th century artifacts that have already been dug up, and details the process by which one of the largest bored tunnels in the world will be drilled beneath our streets. It's not perfect, but Milepost 31 doesn't deserve to be a poster child for waste — unless you're going to slam the root cause, the $2 billion tunnel, itself.

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

Winner: Washington State Legislature

For: Slow-motion demolition of the state archives

Yes, there's a budget crisis, but lines have got to be drawn. Essential services, mandated by the state constitution and code, must be maintained. There are few things more essential than keeping thorough and open public records, and we're undergoing a records explosion. The paperless office is a myth, and electronic documents are proliferating. According to a chart from the Secretary of State's Office, the number of electronic records preserved rose from 8,400,000 in 2008 to 58,415,000 in 2011. Record requests have risen in the same time period from 1,485,636 to 5,018,131--a 300 percent increase. The number of records and the need for access to all manner of them (paper, electronic, microfilm, etc.) is exploding. The archives are regularly used by lawyers, developers, architects, historians, genealogists, activists, journalists, and others. But at the same time, the Legislature has been slashing the number of state archive employees, from 80 in 2008 to around 40 now, and cuts proposed for 2012 could bring that down to 29. The archives face shorter hours, less service, reduced access, and the loss of valuable, knowledgeable people whose job it is to ferret out the information the public needs. Washington has a model digitization program, which is terrific — our archivists need to be forward-looking. But that doesn't replace the need to steward all documents, electronic and otherwise. As Lorraine McConaghy, the public historian at the Museum of History and Industry, recently demonstrated in her book New Land, North of the Columbia, physical archives are the repositories of who we are. The system needs to be robust, funded, and well-staffed, especially since the need for it is only growing.

The Shuttle Shuffle

Winner: NASA

For: Failing to locate a space shuttle at the Museum of Flight

With the U.S. Space Shuttle fleet being retired, Seattle's Museum of Flight made a strong case for receiving one of the spacecraft. It even built a gallery to house it. But in April, word arrived that there would be no shuttle for Seattle. As a consolation prize, the museum was awarded a full-sized space shuttle trainer that will become a permanent exhibit. Objections were raised about the process and U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell argued that a shuttle could be displayed in Seattle until other chosen venues were ready. No luck. Instead, cities with more population and international traffic, including New York and Los Angeles, were favored. Which sounds sensible, unless you consider Seattle's specific history. Not only does Jet City have a huge, historic, and ongoing role in aerospace, but if the same criteria had been applied by the government in 1962, Seattle would never have hosted its Space Age world's fair, a hugely successfully effort that helped to get the space program off the ground in the court of public opinion. Call it an intangible, a track record of doing more with less, and a community passion steeped in a belief in technology and the future, but NASA blew a major opportunity.

It's Curtains for the Pantages

Winner: City of Vancouver, BC

For: Demolition of historic theater

It's been crumbling for a long time, and that's part of the problem: A slow, demolition-by-neglect for Vancouver, BC's historic Pantages Theater at Hastings and Main. The chain was founded by Seattle's vaudeville mogul Alexander Pantages. Advocates have been warning about the slow decay of the oldest survivor of the Pantages chain; it's been on Vancouver's "most endangered" lists six of the last 10 years. The 1908 theater was the oldest surviving theater in Vancouver, and the second Pantages ever built. The Heritage Vancouver Society, calling it the "historic heart and soul of the community," worked for years with various owners and the city to come up with a plan to save it, and urged the city to buy and revitalize the property. The city didn't, and the Pantages was condemned and demolished in the fall. Heritage Canada called the demolition "needless" and put it on Canada's Worst Losses list for 2011.

Vancouver's Highway to Hell

Winner: Province of British Columbia

For: Historic cannery demolition, threat to archaeological and burial grounds

Whew, what a car wreck. Vancouver and British Columbia have reputations for being green; that's part and parcel of the "Vancouver Miracle" of enlightened urbanization that you hear about. But make no mistake, they still love to lay pavement. Thus the Pacific Gateway Project and its highly controversial South Fraser Perimeter Road, a $1.2 billion, four-lane expressway that slices through an 8,000-year-old aboriginal archaeological site, threatens known native grave sites, and has destroyed habitat with a massive clear-cut along the river ("nuked" is how one local biologist describes it) and resulted in the demolition of the historic 115-year-old Glenrose Cannery this year by Port Metro Vancouver. How much damage can one project do?

Giving Preservation the Byrd

Winner: WSU

For: Planned demolition of the Jensen-Byrd Building, Spokane, WA

The Jensen-Byrd Building, a local landmark, has been of concern to Spokane preservationists since 2005. It was listed on the Washington Trust's "most endangered" list in 2006 and the Spokane Preservation Advocate's Spokane Matters" list for 2011. This 102-year-old former warehouse is owned by Washington State University. The university, which wants to redevelop the site as part of its Riverpoint Campus, had previously stated its intention to preserve the building. But in December the regents switched course and decided to sell the historic structure to a Texan developer who will tear it down to build a 425-bed dorm complex. They had another option: Local developer Ron Wells had bid to redevelop the site for the same price and save the building, asking only a delay until he could obtain financing and line up tax credits. WSU decided to go for a quicker, "cleaner" deal. The building is slated for demolition this summer. Ironically, next fall, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be holding its annual preservation conference in Spokane. "WSU had an opportunity to really be a preservation hero," says Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, "but instead there will be a hole in the ground where a National Register-eligible building once stood."

Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservationsays Chris Moore of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.