Demolition by Neglect: An Abandoned America Blog
Posted: 14th February 2014
The process is called demolition by neglect. As a property owner, you'd probably like nothing more than to raze an entire derelict asylum and sell it to some developer for a tidy sum so they can turn the land into a nice little cookie cutter housing development with cheaply made, soulless homes... or maybe they could set up another Target or a Walmart, or maybe even just a parking lot, it doesn't matter. The money is the important thing.
The catch is, sites listed on the National Historic Register can be difficult to demolish or renovate due to the fact that they are meant to be preserved, depending on the location. There is a loophole, though - while you may not be allowed to tear the site down, you don't have to keep it up. So, you allow time to take its toll. Water eats away the roof and floors, 'accidental' fires occur, and while the process is not a quick one, it works. You can eventually claim the site is a total loss. It would be so expensive to undo the damage you allowed to happen, you can point out. The site is an eyesore. Local kids come there to get drunk and high, to break things and possibly fall through the steps.
After several years the community starts to complain, to do your work for you. They are tired of living next to a scary old structure. They'd rather see the overgrown graveyard bulldozed for a business park, and the windows, so like empty eye sockets, cease to stare out over their neighborhood with an expression much like sadness and accusation. Maybe you're forced to put up an expensive fence, or to install cameras, and the legal liabilities are huge but those who care about the past won't let you just destroy it outright, so you have to wait and wait, until everyone is so sick of the building, until it has collapsed to such an extent that saving it is out of the question.
Nevermind the sheer wastefulness of it. Nevermind the historical significance, or the fact that such a place could be a museum, a tribute to those who lost their lives there, a warning to everyone that such mistakes must not happen again. Nevermind that the need for inpatient and/or residential care for the severely mentally ill will never cease to be a problem, likely necessitating asylums to be rebuilt again, doubtlessly at significant taxpayer expense. Nevermind the fact that the building was one the community originally petitioned for, because it built their town. It created jobs and industries, and at least initially it was worn as a mark of pride until mismanagement turned it into a dark shadow, a threat that loomed over all, a way of keeping the unruly in line: "you'd better shape up or they'll send you to Taunton State." Slowly all the records are ruined by mold, and the artifacts inside stolen, and all the identities of those poor souls who by need or unfortunate circumstance were treated at such a place and lost everything they had for it - they are all erased, just as slowly, but just as surely.
It's a process called demolition by neglect.
'demolition by neglect' taken at Taunton State Hospital, demolished 2009. View from roof at dawn looking out over theater/cafeteria, destroyed by fire. Image/text by Matthew Christopher.
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