Past and Present

Saving our heritage: top historic preservation stories from across the U.S.

National Preservation
(Courtesy Indiana Landmarks)
(Courtesy Indiana Landmarks)

Historic preservation stories always stir up a conversation: What parts of American architectural history should be preserved? What doesn’t need saving? Since our last coverage of 2016’s top historic preservation articles, many new buildings have become imperiled or found respite from demolition.As we celebrate America on July 4, here’s an updated list that includes a unique Brutalist building in Southern Florida under threat, a recently-saved Frank Lloyd Wright home, and

As we celebrate America on July 4, here’s an updated list that includes a unique Brutalist building in Southern Florida under threat, a recently-saved Frank Lloyd Wright home, and many more.

Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture gifted a new home in Phoenix. (Courtesy Andrew Pielage)

Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture’s latest addition
Without homebuilding entrepreneur Zach Rawlings, this 2,500-square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright–designed concrete home would have succumbed to developers who wanted to bulldoze it and replace it with more profitable housing. But Rawlings, along with architect Wallace Cunningham, saved the David and Gladys Wright home. Now it’s being transferred to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture; students will have the opportunity to engage with the building and its renovation process in a design studio specifically designed for the site.



St. Peter's, left, faces the sunken plaza along Lexington Avenue. (Norman McGrath)

Landmarks cites nonexistent permits for iconic Citicorp plaza. Pictured here: Citicorp Center in 1978. St. Peter’s, left, faces the sunken plaza along Lexington Avenue. (Norman McGrath)

New York’s landmarked Citicorp Center Plaza demolished

Designed by Sasaki Associates in 1973, the Citicorp Center’s plaza and fountain were just recently demolished, despite their landmarked status. The opaque and irregular approvals process deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the iconic plaza. It was eventually revealed to The Architect’s Newspaper that Boston Properties, the owner proposing the changes, had received permits from the Department of Building (DOB) just four days before the site was landmarked, which technically allowed the changes to be made.

Iconic Kenneth Treister–designed modernist Miami tower threatened. (Courtesy The BIG BUBBLE)

Fate of iconic Kenneth Treister-designed Miami tower unclear 

A building that heralds back to Miami’s “Tropical Brutalism” era, this Brutalist tower known as “Office in the Grove” is threatened with demolition if it is not saved and landmarked. Designed by Florida’s modernist architect Kenneth Treister in 1973, it is among the first buildings to be constructed of post-tensioned concrete slabs and a completely prefabricated concrete facade. While Brutalism may be hard for the public to appreciate, the concrete style intended to create openness in public buildings while responding architecturally to the climate. According to Docomomo US/Florida, “this was Miami’s first office building to give the community an eye-level, landscaped grass berm as its facade.” The hearing for the building’s landmark status will be held on September 5.

A controversial master plan for a historic site in Alamo, TX, has support from architects, but not the public. (Courtesy Texas General Land Office)

New master plan proposal for The Alamo in San Antonio raises debate

A $450 million plan for The Alamo Mission, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wants to declutter its plaza, which involves relocating an historic cenotaph. Architects have expressed tentative approval of the plan, but have also voiced concerns that the current proposal—which includes glass walls separating the Alamo grounds from the rest of the city—inhibits the use of space for the public. The public was also skeptical of the glass walls, raising questions about a modern design in San Antonio’s historic downtown.

(Courtesy NYC Parks Department)

Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion all set for $14 million revamp. (Courtesy NYC Parks Department)

Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion revamp

A modernist icon, the New York State Pavilion was originally designed by architect Philip Johnson for the 1964 World’s Fair. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but years of neglect have left the structure in abandoned, despite a new coat of paint in 2015. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, preservation group People for the Pavilion, and New York City government began soliciting ideas for a bold new take on the structure, ultimately selecting the design “Hanging Meadows” last August. Meanwhile, a separate $14.25 million renovation is underway to re-open the Pavilion to the public in the fall of 2019.

Often considered the first glass house, the House of Tomorrow was state of the art when it was built in 1933. (Courtesy Indiana Landmarks)

America’s first glass house, a National Treasure, will be restored 

It’s often referred to as “America’s First Glass House.” Now, the House of Tomorrow (a remnant from the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair) by Chicago architect George Fred Keck is set to receive an update from a team of Chicago firms. There was a $2.5 million campaign to restore the house last year led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Indiana Landmarks. The building’s design features glass curtain walls for passive solar heating (coming well before Philip Johnson‘s 1949 Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s 1951 Farnsworth House), an “iceless” refrigerator, and the first-ever General Electric dishwasher. The restoration plan includes removing deteriorated surfaces, replacing the current glass walls with modern glass, and the revealing cantilevered steel girders that give the house its open floor plan.

Gordon Bunshaft’s 1962 addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. (Courtesy Buffalo as an Architectural Museum)

Gordon Bunshaft–designed addition to Albright-Knox Art Gallery threatened

While he was at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Buffalo native Gordon Bunshaft created this addition to the original 1905 Albright-Knox museum; it included an auditorium with jet-black windows (seen above), galleries, and a courtyard that extends between the addition and the original building. Now, as part of a plan put forth by OMA’s New York office, its courtyard and galleries would be demolished while the auditorium would remain. OMA contends that the courtyard divides the park in which the museum sits; removing it and the galleries will restore circulation to the site while making way for bigger exhibition spaces. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery still needs $20 million for the expansion, though groundbreaking is planned for April 2019.

(Courtesy Machado Silvetti)

Architects aren’t happy about plans to remodel this Manhattan park. (Courtesy Machado Silvetti)

The City of New York wants to raze Wagner Park

One of the best places to see Lady Liberty is Wagner Park, a small green slice of Battery Park City on the lower edge of Manhattan. Two decades ago Boston-based Machado Silvetti, in collaboration with landscape architects at OLIN, unveiled the park, an open space that ushers people towards the water’s edge with sweeping views of New York Harbor and that famous freedom statue. Now, in response to the specter of Hurricane Sandy and the threat of rising seas, the agency that oversees the area is planning a total park overhaul. The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) is set to replace the existing landscape that architects and residents love with a park it says will align better with new resiliency measures that are reshaping the Manhattan waterfront.

Illinois Governor ransoms Thompson Center for public school money. Seen here: James R. Thompson Center. (Photo Rainer Viertlboeck – Courtesy of JAHN)

Illinois Governor ransoms Thompson Center for public school money

In an act of political wrangling that typifies the relationship between the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced that if the city would allow the sale of the Helmut Jahn–designed James R. Thompson Center, he would provide the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with additional funding. Last week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he would block the sale of the postmodern building out of fear of having to replace the large CTA subway station beneath it.

Related Stories