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Thread: Knowing when to call it quits in historic preservation - how can you tell?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Knowing when to call it quits in historic preservation - how can you tell?

    Hello Cyburbia Friends
    ,
    I'm working on a project that proposes tearing down a derelict structure and replacing it. I would love to hear some professional discourse on the topic, from planners outside of the region.

    Here is the basic details:
    - Built in 1927
    - Has been closed to the public for 40 years
    - Sits in the heart of a bustling urban core, and is arguably the only derelict structure (and when I say derelict, I mean it, we aren't talking an eye sore, we are talking about a major risk to public health and safety that will require millions of dollars of investment just to maintain the status quo and prevent injury)
    - Is a state owned property
    - Will cost tens of millions to restore (estimates are, of course, wide but range typically between $35-$65 million - yes these are tax payer dollars)
    - Will cost (an arguable amount) in the range of $8-$15 million to replace (again, these are tax payer dollars)

    Here is where it gets more controversial:
    - Is on both the state and national historic registers
    - Is a WWI war memorial
    - Will be replaced with a completely different type of WWI war memorial

    Here is what the public says (depending on the polls - these are averages):
    - about 60% want it torn down and replaced according to the proposed plan
    - about 35% want it completely restored to its original design
    - the remainder want something totally different or are indifferent
    - Veterans are on both the "restore" and "replace" sides of the fence

    I want to hear what my fellow planners say. I have no say in the matter either way. My task is simple, write the master plan for the proposed project and conduct an EIS.

  2. #2
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Contact the city of Richmond CA. While I was there they were going through the preservation and redevelopment of several WWII historic sites. The folks at the RDA will be a wealth of information. They struggled heroically to preserve sites in that city--and were successful for the most part.

    Sorry, but all my personal contacts are all gone.
    I think that one of the great signs of security is the ability to just walk away.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Will an elected or appointed board be making the final decision? I am assuming based on your statement that it is a public project.

    As for historic preservation, obviously if restoring the structure costs 3-5 times as much than I can assume that the original structure was not maintained and the replacement is not as nice as the original based on the estimate you gave, and that fact that many materials used during that era are either more limited in supply or not available.

    As a historic preservationist, its always sad to see a historic structure go. And not just because of the architecture, but the cultural and social history associated with that site. A new structure will never bring those back. On the other hand, its been closed for 40 years(half its age) and no one has raised a stink until now...
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I can definitely see arguements both ways. I do have some questions and things to consider though.
    Do you know if the cost estimates for building new have included the demolition and landfill costs? (Without even getting into embodied energy and such)
    Would extensive photo documentation be possible given the condition of the building? Would this be included in the demolition budget?
    Not knowing what the building looks like, would any part of the building that holds a special reference to the veterans be salvageable for re-use on the site to mix with the new construction- honoring both the veterans and the building in a meaningful way.

    I think that by answering these (and probably lots more) questions we can hold a government project to the same scrutiny that we would private developers. As we should, allowing demolition only when it is truly justified.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Couldn't you restore the building, and then turn it into a WWI Museum, and charge admission? In that way, you'd be able to repay the cost of refurbishment. I'd imagine that alot the members of various veterans organisations would be more then happy to volunteer to help when finished. And you could probably cut down *some* costs if you used volunteer labor or offered prisoners reduced sentances for providing there own labor.

    Just some thoughts.

    Also: You can fund raise money as well.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    Could you leave the facade and/or outside walls of the old building/structure/memorial and build completely new on the inside? Seen this done in a few places with fairly good results.

    Do you have any pictures you can post to give us more of a clue of what we're talking about?
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by AngelynDavis View post
    I would love to hear some professional discourse on the topic, from planners outside of the region..
    I am not a professional planner, but I am a member of my city's Historic & Landmarks Commission.

    If you are talking about the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium—and how many other derelict World War 1 memorials built in 1927 could there be in the Honolulu area?—then total demolition should not be an option. Anything you do, short of complete restoration, is about mitigation.



    I am very unsympethetic to "demolition by neglect." If a private developer came before me and said "We haven't maintained this building for decades, and now its dangerous and too expensive to fix, so we have to tear it down and build condos," I would not be prone look favorably upon their plan. They *should* have been maintaining a historic structure all along. That this is a publicly-owned facility that was simply closed in 1979 and left to rot does not make it any better—it makes it worse in my eyes.

    The facade was restored just 5 years ago—at minimum, that should be preserved and incorporated into the new design.

    It is my understanding that the plan you are currently exploring will replace the swimming pools with something else—a park? The pools have their own significance. "The Natatorium was instrumental in training a generation of Hawai'ian swimmers [such as Duke Kahanamoku, Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller, and Ann Curtis] who achieved prominence and recognition as Olympic gold medalists."

    The loss of the pools could be mitigated, IMHO, by some sort of educational/historical display on the site.

    I don't have enough information to know whether the bleachers are salvageable. But evene with the pool gone, they sure would be a nice place to sit and watch the ocean.

    That it will cost 4 times as much to completely restore as it will to completely replace is, I believe, a false dilemma. Partial replacement/restoration should be somewhere in the middle. Additionally, there may be private funds available to underwrite the cost difference.

    I suspect that this can never again be a working public swimming facility, but it is a significant part of Honolulu's cultural/social history and some of it should be preserved.
    Last edited by darnoldy; 20 Nov 2009 at 3:12 PM. Reason: added link to photo

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    After looking a tthe picture and the one on wikipedia - most definitely the main arch and facade should be saved as a part of ANYTHING built on the site.
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Because it is heritage listed i dont think you should look at it from a demo only perspective.

    What will the masterplan entail? Are you able the offset some restoration works through future development?

    I think you need some preservation advice- a professional to go on site (if possible) and tell you what is (on the site, architecture etc) of exceptional significance, and what its low. An archival recording is a must anyway for the site and any heritage consultant would know how to do that.

    I would be taking their advice and working out how it can fit into the masterplan- can it be used as a centrepiece? Can any of the materials be reused within the site?
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Wow, so many good points raised. I tend to be preservation oriented as well, not solely because I feel that historical sites have inherent cultural and historical value, but also as an environmentalist, waste not want not.

    Perhaps I should have stressed my role in the project more thoroughly, and should have provided more information. I didn't anticipate getting so many interesting responses.

    I work for a private firm who was hired by the city to write a master plan and conduct an EIS for the preferred action at the site. The preferred action was reached based on the recommendation of a Task Force, which included representation from several interested parties - representatives from historic preservation groups, community groups, area businessmen, marine and coastal scientists, engineers, and several veterans. The Task Force recommendation came from months of meetings, presentations, and fact finding. A consensus could not be reached, therefore the recommendation was based on a vote in strong favor of demolition of the original structure and replacement with a new war memorial site - which is to be a war memorial beach park.

    The arches are to restored and remain at the site as entrance to the park, the memorial stone is also to remain on site. The pool and bleachers will be removed. The pool and sea walls are beyond restoration and would have to be completely rebuilt to look and function like the originals, and with such a high price tag the task force (and the public according to opinion polls) favored saving tax dollars and creating a new memorial site that will cost less to maintain and will be more usable to a wider number of residents and visitors. The bleachers, though the outer surface was rehabilitated a few years ago, are structurally unsound. Salt water has corroded the iron rebar which holds the concrete in place, there are signs of the structural support giving way internally, thus they will also need to be demolished and replaced because they are not safe. In place of the pool, old seawalls, and bleachers, new groins will be placed and sand matching the beach next to the site is to brought in to create the memorial beach park.

    I agree that neglect is not an excuse for demolition. However, pointing fingers does nothing to the current situation. We can point fingers at previous generations of politicians, planners, and tax payers all day and that will not change the circumstances. It will not change the fact that the structure was built in 1927, and that we have uncovered newspaper articles from 1929 condemning the already deplorable conditions of the site. It will not change that it was engineered and constructed on the ocean - not on solid land- with technology and techniques that weren't able to stand the test of time.

    So, back to my original question - which I ask as a preservationist - how do you know when its time to pull the plug?

    If the tax payers - who are footing the bill - want the structure removed and replaced, what is a planners role in a situation like this one? Are we advocates for the people or the places? Are we responsible to our community of the past, the present, or the future? And how do we determine which one holds the most weight if they are conflicting with one another?

    I ask this, not because I have any power to make any changes to the circumstances of this particular situation - which is why I didn't originally include all the details of this particular case - but as a planner who is still relatively new in my career and interested in hearing what other planners who have been around the block several times (so to speak ) have to say.

  11. #11
    First, as both a historian and a planner/preservationist, I was surprised to learn that there is a World War I memorial in Hawai'i: the war was nearly 50 years before statehood and a Hawai'ian role in the War is not anything I've encountered in my readings about the Great War.That, together with the state's small size and the likelihood that there are no other WWI memorials there, would tend to make me think it a rare resource. The rarity of the resource makes it a much more difficult question, in my opinion.

    Is the majority always, or even usually, right? Rehabilitation/restoration is seen as the harder path, but when completed, the value shines through and the consensus is always that it was the right thing to do. So, I'd say there's a ways to go yet before declaring the patient dead.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Planit View post
    Could you leave the facade and/or outside walls of the old building/structure/memorial and build completely new on the inside? Seen this done in a few places with fairly good results.

    Do you have any pictures you can post to give us more of a clue of what we're talking about?
    Health Now in Buffalo did that with the old Buffalo Gas Works building facade in downtown. The facade was saved and an entirely new building put up behind it. Personally, I hated the particular design, but the concept is good, especially when it seems that restoration/renovation are cost prohibitive.

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