What Do Larimer Square And Route 66 Have In Common? They’re ‘Endangered’

Photo: Denver Construction Near Larimer Square
Modern towers rise over the historic buildings in Denver's Larimer Square on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.

Updated 3 p.m. -- Denver's Larimer Square, Route 66, and school buildings in Los Angeles are on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2018 list of America's 11 most endangered historic places. The annual list highlights architectural and cultural sites that the National Trust deems at risk from development or neglect.

The list can mobilize support and funding for preservation. But listings can also be controversial. Saving neglected historic properties is expensive. And when the National Trust advocates halting proposals to develop a site, local residents and officials may disagree, citing a need for modernization or economic growth.

Still, of the nearly 300 places that the National Trust has identified since the list was launched 31 years ago, the private nonprofit organization says fewer than 5 percent have been lost.

Zoning, Development, Demolition

The National Trust's concerns about local proposals for development range from Denver's Larimer Square to a site across from Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Larimer Square is a thriving retail center. But the National Trust says its history as Denver's oldest commercial block and first historic district is threatened by proposals to build two towers and partly demolish several buildings.

In a statement, Larimer Square's owner, Jeff Hermanson, took issue with the iconic landmark being named to the endangered list.

"While we agree that the block is endangered, it’s not as a result of development plans, but rather of time. The block is made up of buildings - some more than 120 years old - that need significant rehabilitation. While we initially shared a proposed vision for the block with some of the city’s leaders, we tabled all development talk soon thereafter in favor of a community-driven dialogue to explore solutions," he said.

Hermanson added that the Larimer Square Advisory Committee "has begun meeting to work collaboratively and transparently to devise the best plan for the long-term viability of the block. Representatives from Historic Denver, The National Trust and other preservation organizations sit on the committee."

Beyond Denver

The National Trust also highlighted a proposal to build a gas compressor station across from Mount Vernon, adjacent to Piscataway National Park in Accokeek, Maryland.

Elsewhere in Maryland, the National Trust says a proposal to rezone parts of the Colonial Annapolis Historic District threatens the City Dock area's views, heritage tourism and more.
In South Carolina, the National Trust says an annexation proposal could lead to zoning changes and development that might damage the landscape of the Ashley River Historic District outside Charleston.

In Los Angeles, the National Trust is calling attention to proposals to modernize schools that would include demolishing "almost all historically and culturally significant buildings" on the Roosevelt High School campus. The school was a central setting for activities related to the 1968 East L.A. Chicano Student Walkouts, which helped catalyze the national Chicano Civil Rights Movement and symbolized the era's student activism.

The Mother Road

Route 66 is up for designation as a National Historic Trail, which the National Trust says would bring "recognition and economic development" to historic sites along the storied road. The U.S. Senate would have to pass legislation for the designation to take effect and the president would have to sign it before the end of 2018. Route 66 opened in 1926, connecting eight states between Chicago and California.

Neglected

The Trust included three historic sites on its list that are in urgent need of rehabilitation: an early Modernist house called Ship on the Desert in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Salt Flat, Texas; the Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which were part of a unique pre-Civil War community of free African-Americans; and the Isaiah T. Montgomery House in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, built by a former slave who established one of the first all-black municipalities after the Civil War.

In Nebraska, the Trust noted that the Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte Memorial Hospital in Walthill is "unoccupied and facing an uncertain future." The site is named after the first Native American licensed to practice medicine in the U.S.

And in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Trust said last year's hurricanes damaged thousands of historic and cultural properties.

Watch Status

In addition to the 11 endangered places, the National Trust put four towns in rural Vermont's Upper Valley — Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge — on "watch status" because of a development proposal calling for a "planned community."

CPR's Xandra McMahon contributed reporting.