Razing vs. preserving debated by mock trials
Share with others:
A jury of eight yesterday found the Mellon Arena, Mellon Square Park and the Gettysburg Cyclorama Center not guilty of the sins of the public policy that created them.
The three urban-renewal-era projects were held up as examples of merit in a mock trial session of the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference.
Most attendees, of about 50 at the Downtown Hilton, represent the preservation wing that urges consideration for buildings less than 50 years old, many of which were urban-renewal projects that wiped out 19th century history and entire neighborhoods. Their message is: The damage was done, the building is there; is it important?
Their traditional counterparts often think the same buildings eyesores and cite social consequences to justify their removal. Dan Becker, executive director of the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission, playing the prosecutor, asked the Mellon Arena, "Mr. Arena, you have a pretty challenging context, don't you?"
Miserably, Adrian Fine, Northeast field officer for the trust, said, "My construction displaced 8,000 people [in the Lower Hill District]. The scars remain today. I am still resented."
"But you hope to remain?" asked Mr. Becker dramatically.
"I do," whimpered Mr. Arena.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Mr. Becker proclaimed, "Irony isn't dead. It's sitting right here."
As defense attorney, Dorothy Guzzo, New Jersey's deputy preservation officer, argued, "Have you ever said, 'You wretched ranch house, you cost me my job'?" To the jury, she charged, "I am confident you have never blamed a building" for societal ills. "Don't start now. Let's not destroy the evidence."
Mellon Arena opened in 1961 and is almost eligible for consideration for the National Register of Historic Places (which does not protect buildings from demolition). The National Park Service has a 50-year cautionary guideline that affirms a bias against the mid-20th century, participants said.
Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, testified on behalf of Mellon Square Park Downtown, a public green space. In 1955, an entire city block was destroyed for the parking lot under it, one of the nation's first underground parking lots.
Mr. Birnbaum said it is the oldest surviving park over a parking lot in America..
"Mr. Birnbaum," said Mr. Becker as prosecutor, "they tore down dozens of historic buildings to put in a parking lot, and now you're telling me a site barely 50 years old is significant because it is built above a parking lot?"
Christine Mardid French, president of the Recent Past Preservation Network, defended the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a cylindrical welcome center built in 1962 on the Gettysburg battlefield. Since the mid-'90s, she has urged its preservation as a great work of the Austrian architect Richard Neutra.
The building is targeted for demolition, purportedly to restore the battlefield, but Ms. French argued the battlefield is already too altered by commercial enterprises and 1,600 other monuments.
"I am one of only four known cycloramas in the world," said Jeanne Lambin, a Wisconsin field officer for the trust, testifying as the cyclorama. "Unfortunately, many people don't like the look of my time."
First Published November 5, 2006 12:00 am