Hundreds of historic buildings and landscapes under the administration of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are at risk of being abandoned or demolished, claims a study from the National Trust for Historic Preservation released earlier this month. According to the report, entitled "Honoring Our Veterans: Saving Their Places of Health Care and Healing," the VA has failed to comply with federal preservation requirements and maintain their historic properties, some dating back to the Civil War. The agency has instead favored the expensive construction of new facilities. Owners of over 2,000 historic buildings and landscapes across the country, including hospitals, cemeteries, farm houses, and residences—nearly half of which are unoccupied and at risk of deterioration—claim the VA is currently constructing $10 billion worth of new medical centers despite analysis revealing that it may be more cost effective to renovate existing properties. Texas attorney and preservation expert, Leslie Barras, argues in the report that the VA’s poor management has lead to “wasted taxpayer dollars and the irreversible loss of our nation’s cultural legacy.” The National Trust particularly highlights two projects, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and the Milwaukee National Soldiers Home in Wisconsin, both of which have been designated “National Treasures” by the organization. Battle Mountain Sanitarium was built in 1907 using local sandstone in the Spanish Colonial/Romanesque Revival style. Architect Thomas Rogers Kimball designed the building to provide short-term respiratory treatment for veterans of the Civil War. Instead of restoring the historic building, the VA is proposing to close down the facility and relocate its medical services 60 miles away, citing the claim–identified by the report as false–that patients and staff would prefer a new facility. Another Civil War–era property, the Milwaukee National Soldiers Home and its campus, represents one of the first buildings of its kind in the country as well as some of the oldest in the VA’s holdings. Designed in a Gothic Revival style by Milwaukee architect Edward Townsend Mix in the 1860s, the campus’ stunning "Old Main" stands unoccupied, unmaintained, and in danger of collapse. While the VA’s stock of buildings crumbles, the number of veterans turning to the department for healthcare in the has dramatically risen in the past decade, climbing from 3.4 million in 2000 to 6 million today. But according to the report, the VA has repeatedly elected to construct new facilities instead of putting in the effort to restore and maintain their amazing wealth of historic properties. As Barras told the LA Times, “there’s a perspective that we can’t adapt old buildings, especially for medical facilities.” (Prentice Women's Hospital, anyone?) But preservationists are trying to change that notion.
Posts tagged with "National Trust":
A bizarre parliamentary maneuver two weeks ago granted and subsequently revoked landmark status for Bertrand Goldberg’s embattled Old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, leading some to speculate about legal recourse for a coalition of preservationists who have fought owner Northwestern University’s plans to demolish the building. Today members of that coalition took their battle to court, alleging the Commission on Chicago Landmarks “acted arbitrarily and exceeded its authority.” The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Landmarks Preservation Council, calls on the court to send the Prentice decision back to the commission for reconsideration. It echoes procedural complaints first made before the commission even met Nov. 1, when members of the Save Prentice Coalition decried a meeting agenda that apparently “pre-orchestrated” the failure of the proposal to protect Prentice. Commissioners first voted to recognize the building’s merits for preservation and granted it landmark protection; they then voted two hours later, during the same meeting, to revoke that protection. The basis of the second vote was an unusual presentation from the commission of Housing and Economic Development, which argued new construction would bring jobs and research dollars that supersede the importance of preserving Prentice. Today’s lawsuit alleges that the council was not permitted under its guiding ordinance to consider economic matters in it decision. A judge will consider the suit this afternoon. The Chicago Architecture Foundation today opens its Reconsidering an Icon show, which will feature 71 proposals for reuse of the building, compliant with Northwestern’s biomedical research requirements. The show will be open until February. UPDATE [3:58 p.m. CST]: Cook County Judge Neil Cohen granted Prentice temporary landmark status Thursday afternoon, preventing the city from issuing a demolition permit for now. “We’re going to do no harm to Prentice while this can be resolved," Cohen said. The next hearing is Dec. 7.
On the heels of the Saints' victory, the Big Easy had another big win this week, this time in the form of a $474.8 million FEMA payment. But preservationists have been dealt a major blow in their fight to save 70-year-old Charity Hospital in New Orleans, along with a tract of historic homes and structures in the city’s Mid-City district. For the past four years, Louisiana state officials have been at loggerheads with FEMA over the extent of Hurricane Katrina’s damages to Charity, which has been shuttered since the storm. On Wednesday, a federal arbitration panel ordered FEMA to pay nearly all of the requested replacement costs for the state-owned hospital. The ruling was a triumph for city and state officials who argued that Charity was more than 50 percent damaged by the hurricane and therefore eligible for replacement, instead of repair. As AN reported in July 2009, the decision was seen as vital to advancing a Mid-City biomedical development plan that would place the new Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital (already funded by Congress) alongside a new LSU medical center to be built with state funds, revenue bonds, and FEMA’s compensation for Charity, formerly the school’s teaching hospital. Preservationists argued that the plan would destroy the iconic art deco hospital and a slew of historic structures, and pushed their ideas for an all-out retrofit of the building. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who applauded the panel’s decision, said $40 million in Community Block Grant money has already been set aside to find a new use for Charity—but with the National Trust still disputing the Mid-City development plans on environmental grounds, New Orleans is far from getting the medical care it needs.
National Trust for Historic Preservation president Richard Moe announced today that he will retire in the spring of 2010. Moe, 72, is the longest-serving president in the organization’s 60-year history. The legacy of his 17-year tenure will likely be his push to bring historic preservation into the mainstream by revitalizing urban historic districts and promoting the environmental importance of saving aging buildings and structures. "It has been an enormous privilege to be associated with the National Trust over these years," Moe said in a statement on the National Trust’s website. "It has been the most fulfilling professional experience I have ever had.” Moe went on to say that his departure will present an opportunity for the Trust to seek a generational change at a time when its financial base and its programming are on solid ground. Among his proudest achievements as president, Moe listed the organization’s role in preventing construction of a Disney theme park in the historic Northern Piedmont region of Virginia, its 2003 purchase of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, and the action it has taken in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Trust chairman Cliff Hudson has established national search committee to find Moe's replacement.
On September 14, the Farnsworth House was engulfed by the Fox River, sustaining significant damage to its interiors and furnishings. The house, designed by Mies van der Rohe and now a National Trust Historic Site, is reopen for tours through October 29 to benefit the restoration. According to a new blog covering the effort, estimates for repairs are still being tallied. While restoration work is proceeding, some suggest that the house should be moved to a more secure location.