LES on most endangered places list

May 20, 2008 7:20:07 AM PDT
The jammed, noisy streets of New York's Lower East Side and the peaceful parks of California don't have much in common at first glance, but both are endangered by bulldozers or budget cuts. The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Tuesday put the New York neighborhood and the California parks on its list of this year's most endangered places, along with an old brick schoolhouse in Kansas that launched one of the most important legal cases in U.S. history: Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 desegregation ruling from the Supreme Court.

"Preservation efforts have really moved beyond individual buildings to neighborhoods, communities, and context," said Richard Moe, president of the group.

"Most people think the threat only comes from the wrecking ball, but that's not always true," said Moe. "It can be underfunding of a resource, it can be neglect, it can be inappropriate development."

Decades ago, the overcrowded tenement buildings of the Lower East Side were considered a blight on city life, even though they were the first home for generations of new Americans arriving at Ellis Island.

Now, preservationists think the danger lies in new luxury high-rises sprouting up in the once downtrodden area. The National Trust is seeking to have the area declared a landmark district, which could mean restrictions on building height and density.

In Topeka, Kansas, the broken windows and overgrown foliage of Sumner Elementary School offer little evidence that it was the impetus for perhaps the most important legal decision in U.S. race history.

The father of Linda Brown sued after she was refused admittance in 1950 to the school only seven blocks from her home. The NAACP eventually took her case to the Supreme Court and the court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine that had allowed decades of post-slavery segregation.

That small neglected piece of history is dwarfed in size by one of the other places on the list, the California park system, with almost 300 parks, dozens of which have historic designations.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled back this month on a plan to close some of those sites in an effort to solve the state's budget problems. Preservationists welcome the decision, but say the ongoing financial struggles are still dangerous to parklands that have already been starved of about $1 billion in deferred maintenance over the years.

The other sites that made the group's 2008 list of endangered places are: Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia, Pa.; Charity Hospital and the surrounding neighborhood in New Orleans, La.; Great Falls Portage in Great Falls, Mont.; Hangar One, Moffett Field in Santa Clara County, Calif.; Michigan Avenue Streetwall in Chicago; Peace Bridge neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y.; The Statler Hilton Hotel in Dallas; and the museums and gardens of Vizcaya in Miami and Bonnet House in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit group founded in 1949.