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Abandonedamerica.us July Mailbag

Posted: 21st July 2011
Question: Are any of these buildings worth salvaging at this point, or are they all so far gone that the best salvaging are the photographs themselves?
sent via facebook from Marcia T.

Answer: Hi Marcia, thanks for the question. With the push for historic preservation of sites and the near constant demolition of historically significant structures, I think it's a very important one to ask as individuals and as a society.

The answer really isn't an easy one as it varies greatly from case to case. Questions that one might ask of a structure to determine whether it is capable of being adapted for reuse include, but are not limited to the following: what could the building be adapted into? How badly deteriorated is it? How much would it cost to restore? Can the area's economy support the building? What is its historic and architectural value? How badly is the site contaminated (asbestos, PCBs, lead, etc.)? What is it being replaced with?

Unfortunately many of the older construction methods are very expensive to maintain, particularly as we've shifted to cheaper (and often inferior) materials. Roof maintenance alone can run into the millions for, say, A church building, and the owners simply may not have the money to maintain the property. Often the problem is let go due to lack of funds (or in some cases demolition by neglect, the process of letting an historic building deteriorate until it must be torn down to shirk preservation laws). Does this mean that the building isn't worth saving?

I think it's fairly obvious that my opinion is that we are losing too much too quickly. The grand old style of architecture prevalent before modernism hit the scene is irreplaceable, and the value to the character and morale of a community is not something you can quantify but the benefits are very real. What makes a community what it is if not the buildings that compose it? why visit another town if they're simply another sprawling asphalt wasteland of McDonald's and Targets? Our architecture is what defines us. Even though it is hard to fathom the money and resources needed to repair the vast amount of neglected/endangered historic sites, I feel that if people volunteered their time more to save these sites instead of complaining about their loss or ignoring it, many more could be restored.

That being said, there are certainly those sites that are ultimately better torn down, much as I may miss them when they are gone and I can't photograph them any longer. New Jersey Zinc in Palmerton, Pennsylvania and the Crawford Power Station in Middletown, Pennsylvania are both sites that were terribly polluted and despite their many merits I would say they had become festering eyesores that were still damaging the environment around them. If the remediation is done properly, I think in cases like this the community benefits from their removal.

I could write reams of material on this subject, because each site is different. I've seen sites like the Church of the Transfiguration in Philadelphia torn down when there was absolutely no good reason not to attempt to save it, particularly since it was in very good condition. I've seen sites like the J.W. Cooper Center in Shenandoah that I never would have thought would be saved, but thanks to an owner who truly cares about the site and community involvement, the effort is underway.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.
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