Sunday, November 11, 2007

The DDN puts Historic Preservation on the agenda

The DDN has done a great community service with a massive editorial (taking up nearly the entire op-ed page of the Sunday paper) on historic preservation.

Ostensibly about Building 26, the old NCR codebreakers building, the editorial goes well beyond that, addressing the questions of deciding what properties to save, perhaps via a process for a sort of historic preservation triage.

The editorial includes an excellent critique of Dayton History:

Meanwhile, Dayton History, the region's premier organization dedicated to telling Dayton's history, has been totally cowed. No resolutions, no nothing from it about the need to bend over backward to save Building 26. Dayton History can't be fanatical, but it does have to show passion for Dayton's treasures.

I would go much further. Dayton History has abicated activity in local history beyond Carillon Park and NCR archival work. The kind of urban and community history done by the old Montgomery County Historical Society has been abandoned. Dayton History can't even be bothered to put up historic markers.

Case in point are the "Gem City Circle Tours" historic walking tours of downtown. Logically one would expect either preservationists or historic society volunteers to lead these. Instead the tours are being organized independently, by individual unaffiliated with Dayton History. The movement to save the Arcade also started outside of Dayton History and Preservation Dayton.

The City of Dayton comes in for critique:

The City of Dayton is so hungry for any economic development that it hasn't dared to challenge UD's decision.

Another example of this is the city not willing to impose solid urban design guidlines on new construction, like the new drugstores on Wayne and on Salem, resulting in suburban style site planning that destroys the urban character of streets and intersections. The city wants the development so bad they will compromise on good urban design.

The editorial continues with this statement near the end, key point in boldface.

Dayton is lucky to have so much history that's worthy of protection. From the Wright brothers' shop to Paul Laurence Dunbar's home to Sunwatch Indian Village, there is magnificent history here that's worthy of sharing with future generations. And communities across the country are using history of far less consequence to drive economic development.

To be rich in something and not know or appreciate it is a tragedy.

Yes exactley. Good examples are St Louis, Cincinnati, and, for industrial history , overseas, the Ruhr region in Germany.

The DDN op-ed blogger Eddie Roth continued the discussion at his blog

Building 26 is not the only endangered historic site in the Dayton region, and there are not enough resources to save everything worth saving.

With that in mind, what other properties should make the “A List” for preservation or reuse?

By what process and criteria should this community select the vital few?

How might they be preserved or adapted?

But if you surf in to that link, you'll note the dim bulb respondents just want to talk about Building 26, not the bigger issues highlighted by Roth and discussed by the editorial.

The reason Dayton is weak in historic preservation is that the people who live in the Dayton metropolitan area are are not interested in it and don't get it. That they have rejected the living history of the city, prefering a brand called "history" sold at certain locations and venues.

History is a canal boat ride in Piqua or watching Blue Jacket or visitng Carillon Park, or antiquing in Lebanon and Waynesville, not the old buildings, factories, churhces and neighborhoods of the city of Dayton, nor the history of the common people who lived and worked in these places.


Anonymous said...

Preservation Dayton has provided a valuable service by listing historic structures in our community that are in danger of going away, either through neglect or by the wrecking ball. PDI recognizes that our history, embodied not only in museums but also in our structures, provides our uniqueness, what makes Dayton Dayton. History also is the foundation of who we are today and what we can be tomorrow. If our community, especially the “movers and shakers”—those who determine city development and policies—have no sense of or think history is irrelevant in their decision-making, then that community has no direction and loses its distinctiveness.

The problem with PDI’s list is that it has little, if any, community buy-in. There needs to be an inclusive process where civic, business, and preservationist groups reach a consensus that a particular structure is indeed worth saving. It doesn’t necessarily have to be eligible for inclusion as a National Historic Landmark. If the process comes to the conclusion that a particular structure is an important part of our city’s history, then adaptive reuse is an option.

If this process were in place today, I have no doubt Building 26 would be a candidate for adaptive reuse; because UD’s decision would be in concert with community interests. I encourage Preservation Dayton to lead the effort to involve the entire community in its list of endangered structures.

Jefferey said...

Who would run this buy-in process, or establish it?

Perhaps it could be Preservation Dayton, with input from the DDC, local historic societys, etc?

Good comment about movers and shakers and community. My feeling is that there is an interest, but only in certain well-defined aresa of history, mainly aviation. The big push to create the national historic park and the related renovation of W Third and Wright-Dunbar would not have happened if there wasn't this interest.

Beyond that, interest drops off.

Anonymous said...

I would say Preservation Dayton would be the lead, although one could make the case for Dayton History. Unfortunately, Dayton History isn't really interested in preserving as much as exhibiting at Carillon.

The Wright Cycle Shop on S. Williams St. almost saw the wrecking ball in the early 1980s. If it wasn't for Jerry Sharkey and the Aviation Trail folks "crying in the desert," all of the present Wright-Dunbar Historic District would have been leveled to make way for urban renewal. It took Tony Hall to get the national park here in the early 90s. The upcoming 2003 centennial galvanized enough interest to get some impressive things done here in Dayton. Since that time, interest again has lagged.

It's interesting to see what's happened concerning the Arcade since just a few "Friends" got together to bring attention to the problem. Let's hope Bob Shiffler is able to get things together to bring back the grand dame.