Challenge #6: A Lot of Baggage and Stigma
The Modernist buildings constructed over the rubble and debris of earlier historic buildings in the 1950s and '60s sparked the present-day efforts of historic preservation.
Some argue that it is counter-intuitive, or at the very least ironic, to now want to preserve these places. But among them is the history and context of America’s organized preservation movement.
The demolition of the 1910 Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1963 is perhaps the most extreme and nationally recognized example, in part prompting the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. While no one is saying we should be preserving Penn Station’s replacement, Madison Square Garden, this is a debate taking place about other Modern-era buildings and landscapes in communities across the country.
Do we now turn our backs on a whole class of places because of their associations with the sins and misguided attempts in the name of “progress?”
Civic Arena in Pittsburgh is a good example. When built in 1961, the development displaced more than 8,000 residents and leveled the Lower Hill district, a neighborhood rich in African-American culture and history. The Civic Arena is acknowledged as architecturally significant and an important engineering feat eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Though many in the community have clear memories and instead see it as a symbol for all that was lost and a neighborhood destroyed, even today. As Pittsburgh struggles with painful reminders and the need to repair a community, continuing the cycle of demolition is likely not the answer, as it will only incur more loss.
History is not always pretty and sometimes represents events, actions, and outcomes we might like to forget. We consistently need to be asking,
Are we preserving the full history of a place, or only the bits and pieces that form our preferred image of history?
Saving some of these places can allow us to “own” our past and make sense of where we went right and wrong, serving as a useful memorial and context for an era no longer.