Some errors and “epic fails” in the world of historic preservation

This week I was reading Antoinette J. Lee’s Historians As Managers of the Nation’s Cultural Heritage, and it got me to thinking about historic preservation and hindsight.  Upon some reflection, I’ve actually come to the realization that we, as a nation, missed some prime historic preservation opportunities in both noble and misguided ways.

A view of the Orange Bowl in Miami Florida, the site of Super Bowl III when the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7 on 1/12/1969 in front of 75,377 fans in attendance.   Super Bowl III - New York Jets vs Baltimore Colts - January 12, 1969 (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

A view of the Orange Bowl in Miami Florida, the site of Super Bowl III when the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts 16-7 on 1/12/1969 in front of 75,377 fans in attendance. Super Bowl III – New York Jets vs Baltimore Colts – January 12, 1969 (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

The Orange Bowl (Miami, Florida).  This structure met the wrecking ball as part of the construction of Marlins Park, but should have been preserved for a few very important cultural reasons.  Not only was it the longtime home to a college football program which nearly fell to the budget axe only to rise to superstardom in the 1980s (University of Miami), an event which long predates that near-miss is justification enough.  This was the site of Super Bowl III, in which Joe Namath managed to make good on his legendary pre-game “guarantee” and led the New York Jets past the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7.  This legitimized not only the American Football League as a competitor to the NFL, it also set the stage for the modern Super Bowl, a multi-billion dollar enterprise and de facto American holiday.  Moreover, its replacement, Marlins Park, will cost over $1 billion to taxpayers when the bonds used to finance construction are finally paid off, according to NBC Sports, and there is no prepayment discount.  Contrast that with the fact the Orange Bowl’s total construction cost, had it been built in present day, would have been just a hair over $5.5 million.

Cleveland's

Cleveland’s “Old Stone Church” is shown here in mid-restoration to remove a century of soot accumulated from the city’s booming, coal and oil-driven industrial base.

Old Stone Church (Cleveland, Ohio).  Now a gleaming testament to the nobility of the restoration sentiment, this church would have, at least in this writer’s opinion, been better served to have never been cleaned at all as a reminder of this nation’s willingness to expand at any cost. According to Cleveland Historical, the current incarnation of this structure was constructed in 1853, but time soon turned against it, with it’s sandstone exterior absorbing the contaminants spewed into the air by Cleveland’s burgeoning heavy industries.  The soot which gave the church its decades-long blackened look was carefully removed in the late 1990s as part of a restoration project for Cleveland’s Public Square.  Despite it being done in the name of a noble effort at urban revitalization, a far more worthy project may have been to educate visitors and citizens alike on the excesses of unregulated capitalism during the laissez-faire days of the late 19th and early 20th century, which the former incarnation of the church could have been used as a centerpiece of a historic walking tour of the effects on America’s environment of John D. Rockefeller, et al.

Florida's U.S. highway signs were once made in color, setting the Sunshine State apart in how it signed federal roads.  The signs were eliminated in the mid 1990s under federal instruction.

Florida’s U.S. highway signs were once made in color.

Colored U.S. Highway Signs (Florida).  Colloquially known as “Kodachromes” among highway enthusiasts, these signs graced the Sunshine State for over a quarter century before Federal Highway Administration funds were threatened.  According to US-Highways.com, a highway enthusiast website, federal regulations were rewritten to prohibit anything but black-and-white highway shields. Ironically, the colored signs cost the same as the general-issue signs mandated by the federal government, but Florida ceased manufacture and in 1993, began full replacement with the black-and-whites.  Rather than take the “long view” and save the signs for posterity as historic relics of Florida’s population and tourism boom, many were either discarded, or absconded with in favor of the utilitarian, standard-issue black and white signs.  Much like the “US 66” trailblazers, these color coded signs are a unique part of America’s transportation history, lost to government regulatory changes.   Two technical oddities about these signs:  “Alternate” route signs were reversed in color from their parent highway (Alt. US 19/US 19) and only one sign was a reverse black/white, US Highway 98.  Despite best efforts by highway historians, most of these signs no longer exist.

The Old Man on the Mountain,  a tourist attraction and symbol of New Hampshire crumbled off the side of Cannon Mountain. This photo was taken in August, 2001.

The Old Man on the Mountain, taken before its 2003 collapse.

Old Man of the Mountain (New Hampshire).  Mother Nature got the better of us with this one.  This granite formation, which stood for centuries, eventually yielded to physics and weather in 2003 when the formation crumbled.  This dealt a devastating blow to New Hampshire tourism, as well as a deep bruise to the pride of New Englanders.  The one piece of solace which can be taken from this is that it was not so much a failure of preservation (there would have been no way to preserve the formation, anyway) as much as it was a failure of foresight that it took nearly a decade to build a historic sight commemorating it. (Source:  Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund.)

The yellow cars of the Los Angeles Railway are historic icons which we abandoned in favor of its now infamous freeway network.

The yellow cars of the Los Angeles Railway are historic icons which we abandoned in favor of its now infamous freeway network.

The Los Angeles Railway (aka “LARy”).  This is a failure not so much because of the fact the Railway was shuttered in the first place to create the nation’s largest continuous traffic jam, but instead because it took until 2011 to recognize the value of the streetcar system as an alternative to both the freeways and the highly unpopular boondoogle that is the L.A. Subway.   Had a cursory attempt been made at preservation of, at the very least, the rail infrastructure, the iconic yellow cars could have been recreated to provide an innovative, fun means of teaching transportation and cultural history of both Los Angeles and the entertainment industry as a whole.  Not to mention the benefit to area commuters.  Consider this:  in its heyday, the Los Angeles Railway was considered on par with San Francisco’s famed cable cars and New York’s subway system as the best mass transit system  in North America.  In fact, a line to that effect was featured in the 1988 groundbreaking film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in the while the Railway system was itself featured as the victim of the fictional developer, Cloverleaf.  The Orange Empire Railway Museum has a collection of 25 of the original streetcars used in the system which, at one time, had a million people living within a mile of its lines.

What remains of Candlestick Park, once home of the NFL's 49ers and baseball's San Francisco Giants.

What remains of Candlestick Park, once home of the NFL’s 49ers and baseball’s San Francisco Giants.

Candlestick Park (San Francisco).  Yes, it was drafty and an eyesore to many, but the “Stick” has historic significance for a number of reasons, not least of which being that it was the site of the only World Series on record to be called on account of an earthquake, a disaster named in a 2014 article by Real Clear Sports as its fifth most infamous sports moment in history.  In fact, the article mentioned the earthquake’s length, only 15 seconds, may have been what saved the ballpark itself, as broadcaster Al Michael’s admitted any worse of an earthquake and he would have been killed.  Nonetheless, Candlestick Park should have been preserved not just as an historic monument for commemorating Willie Mays and Joe Montana, but as a testament to modern architecture and the ability of human engineering to withstand the pounding nature can throw at it.  Instead, it is simply a spot on the ground.

Do you have thoughts about this, or maybe there’s a historical preservation fail you want to share? Post it in the comments section, or go to my website, www.getinjohnshead.com, click the “Contact” link and share it!

One thought on “Some errors and “epic fails” in the world of historic preservation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s