America’s Most Endangered Historic Places

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  • Joe Frazier’s Gym, the commercial district of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood and the Malcolm X-Ella Little Collins House in Boston, where the iconic human rights activist spent some of his formative years, joined the 2012 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places of the Trust for Historic Preservation.

    Since 1988, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has used its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places to raise awareness about the threats facing some of the nation's greatest treasures. 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the program, which has become one of the most effective tools to save irreplaceable architectural, cultural, and natural heritage sites.

    While there have been African-American sites on the list in the past, this year marks the first time three black history sites have been on the list. Their addition is part of the work to increase the number of minority sites on the National Register of Historic Places, Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told reporters in a conference call to announce this year’s list.

    Less than 3 percent of the 87,000 historic sites in the country, she said, are on the National Register as minority sites.  

    “That’s something we think is wrong and the list is a good place to start to correct that,” Meeks said.

    One of the three on the list has been on the endangered list before.

    Sweet Auburn, the historic district dominated by Auburn Avenue, once known as “the richest Negro street in the world” and the birthplace of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was placed on the Most Endangered list in 1992. Since then, the residential part of the district has enjoyed a turnaround, but the commercial area has not fared as well.

    Sweet Auburn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and is considered a prime example of flourishing segregated neighborhoods founded by African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. In addition to the house at 501 Auburn Avenue where King was born, the neighborhood was home to numerous businesses, congregations, and social organizations.

    The 19th century building that housed Frazier’s gym, where he trained for his ultimately victorious “Fight of the Century” against Muhammad Ali in March 1971, at Madison Square Garden, was already well-known before Frazier took it over. But the three-story brick building is unprotected, enjoys no formal historic designation and currently houses a discount furniture store and two floors of vacant space, despite reported interest in commemorating Frazier’s life.

    The last known surviving boyhood home of Malcolm X remains in Boston where it has stood largely vacant for the past 30 years, although it is currently owned by Rodnell Collins, the son of Malcolm X’s half-sister Ella Little-Collins, with whom he shared the house.

    Meeks said there were plans in the works to rehabilitate the house and possibly use it as living quarters for graduate students studying African-American history, social justice or civil rights.

    Meeks said results vary once the list is posted, but generally, supporters will come forward with money or resources and while some properties remain challenged for extended periods of time, others see a relatively quick turnaround.

    On last year’s list was the Long Island, N.Y. home where jazz legend John Coltrane wrote “A Love Supreme.” Donors came forward with $50,000 to make repairs and another provided free architectural services, Meeks said.

    Other properties, she said, received help years ago, but now need help with upkeep.

    “Good work can be done, but 10, 15 years later it can need help,” Meeks said.

    One historically black site in need of help is the Carter G. Woodson home in Washington, D.C., which is now owned by the National Park Service, but the building is badly deteriorated. An irony not lost on those who admire Woodson, the father of what has become African-American History Month, and his efforts to preserve black life and culture.

    “That’s one we’re still concerned about,” Meeks said, noting the goal is to turn the building into a public site for research.

    To choose the sites for the list, the Trust accepts nominations from all over the country from citizens and preservation organizations. Then the sites are reviewed for their significance, the urgency of the work needed and the possibility for a positive outcome.

    To find out more information about how to get involved with one of the sites, visit the Trust’s website at preservationnation.org.  
     
     

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