Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009’s NTHP 11 Most Endangered List: Modernism, the Enola Gay Hangar and a direct Heritage connection

April 28, 2009
Posted by Noah

How does any given society most clearly show its particular moral and philosophical bent, tailored, of course to the time and place of its conception and implementation? In its architecture.

Think of any great city or nation and, inevitably, a great building will come to mind. Think Paris. Think London. Think India, or Italy. Think China or Sydney, Australia. If you’re any kind of student of the world then you won’t have to ponder more than a second to summon an image of the buildings that come to mind.

America, for its part, has a tremendous amount of iconic architecture, so much so that there is no one stand-alone icon – all of it a testament to the indomitable American will, our tireless experimentation with form and function and, sadly, our tendency to let the best of our important architecture molder and flounder in decay. Just as our national moral and philosophical bent is illuminated in our architecture, so too are our preservation shortcomings and our lack of respect for the ideas that embody our buildings. All of this is just my opinion and is a long way of getting to the point: The National Trust for Historic Preservation will announce tomorrow morning – today, Tuesday, April 28 as this is posted – its’ 2009 11 Most Endangered Places list. It is one of my favorite moments of the year, as I always look forward to seeing what The Trust digs up.

This year’s list is an intriguing mix of Modernism, nature, early American and industrial and post-industrial architecture. It’s linked to here, and above, and I encourage you to take a good long look at what buildings make the list.

There is a particular emphasis on Modern Architecture, as there has tended to be in the last few years, with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Church in Temple, IL, Los Angeles’ Century Plaza Hotel and the Miami Marine Stadium foremost among the great pieces of Mid-Century expression on the list. In the case of the awesome, iconic Miami Marine Stadium – damaged and abandoned to nature and vandalism after Hurricane Andrew – the need for preservation is immediate.

As a deep aficionado of Modern Design – furniture, buildings or art, it makes no difference – I am always glad to see the Trust chooses some masterworks. It also chooses some very interesting sites that wouldn’t, at first glance, seem to be on the top of any list. Chief among the 2009 entries is the airplane hangar that housed the Enola Gay, in Los Alamos, NM, which has fallen into such disrepair that it hardly looks safe to get close to.

I am intrigued by its inclusion for a couple reasons. First of all because Heritage has a very direct connection to The Enola Gay as the auctioneer of the Log Book from Navigator Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk from the plane’s fateful trip to Hiroshima. It was sold in October of 2007 and brought more than $350,000. If you want to talk about Americana with some serious gravitas then I can imagine only a few things that have the same heaviness as this amazing lot.

The second thing that really strikes me about this building’s inclusion is that it’s a brave move. I’m not exactly sure that this building should be preserved at all. Then again, I wonder if it should be expertly saved and made into a museum. It’s a somewhat dubious legacy. This place housed the very plane that dropped the first – one of two – atomic bomb on civilization, and the devastation it caused was complete, total, decisive and ended World War II without delay. Some say it was a necessary sacrifice to save the world from total annihilation, some said it was the first step to the end and to many it was, and remains, a potent reminder of human kind’s capacity for cruelty to other humans.

Where do I stand? I’m not saying. Fortunately for me, I’m just the blogger here. I get to ask the questions; I don’t have to answer them, though I am glad the National Trust for getting the debate started.

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-Noah Fleisher

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