The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) has released its yearly list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places,” putting a spotlight on an expansive range of cultural and historical landmarks in danger of disappearance. The organization has published the list annually since 1988 based on nominations from the public as a way to galvanize efforts to save notable sites at risk of vanishing. Over 35 years since its initial report, the NTHP has named over 350 sites.
Many of these places face a number of threats, from gentrification to weather deterioration, and have been relying on community preservation efforts to keep their legacies alive.
This year’s NTHP report recognized two Chinatown neighborhoods — in Seattle and Philadelphia — where large-scale development plans threaten to push out generations of residents and family-owned businesses. In downtown Charleston, the NTHP also focused on the community advocates leading the fight to preserve the city’s historic Union Pier, a 65-acre neighborhood running along the Cooper River. Organizers worry that a proposed plan for a mixed-use district on the waterfront site could forever change the area.
In Miami, Little Santo Domingo is a commercial strip running along 17th Avenue in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Like the other historic sites on the NTHP’s list, the predominantly-Dominican community faces threats of gentrification and cultural erasure from nearby developers, and has been largely relying on local advocacy groups, like The Allapattah Collaborative (TAC), to protect long-time residents and small businesses from displacement.
“Preserving Little Santo Domingo’s identity is important because it is an authentic cultural gem,” Mileyka Burgos-Flores, CEO of the Allapattah Collaborative, told Hyperallergic. “Barber shops here serve famous Dominican-born baseball players. Renowned Caribbean reggaeton artists have their bespoke wardrobes made here. Neighborhood bakeries are famous for their Dominican bizcocho, a moist cake flavored with pineapple preserves. Colorful street art adds to the area’s vibrancy and energy.”
The TAC has employed a variety of anti-displacement strategies to save the corridor, including a community land trust program. The fund aims to boost resiliency and affordability among business owners that run the neighborhood’s celebrated mom-and-pop shops.
“Little Santo Domingo is one of the last places in the nation where that narrative is still alive, a last frontier of immigrant entrepreneurship and hustle,” Burgos-Flores continued. “If we stand by and let it be erased by gentrification, a piece of our collective American story goes with it.”
The NTHP 2023 list of endangered sites also mentions two notable homes. In Mississippi, the house of self-taught artist L.V. Hull — who turned her Kosciusko residence into a public art installation over the course of her life — has been flagged due to neglect, vandalism, and degradation from the weather. In Philadelphia, the home of 19th-century painter Henry Ossawa Tanner is on the verge of collapse due to poor upkeep.
On Route 66 in Arizona, the NTHP called attention to the Osterman Gas Station. Built in 1929, this site served as a hub for many members of the Hualapai Tribal community. Although many community organizations are working on revitalizing the gas station, the building is deteriorating after years of extreme weather.
The Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church, which is known for hosting some of the earliest jazz performances and later, community worship services, is another site in disrepair due to weather. After enduring both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ida, the New Orleans building is on the edge of falling apart. Although community efforts are underway to restore the landmark, the site is still in need of additional resources.
Further up the Mississippi River, the NTHP listed the West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish as another area in danger of disappearing. The 11-mile stretch of land includes several historic villages and sites, such as the Whitney and Evergreen plantations, where many descendants of people enslaved in the area continue to reside. Community members worry that proposed plans for a new 275-foot-tall grain elevator by Greenfield Exports could destroy this cultural landscape, and make room for future overdevelopment.
In Georgia, another area that memorializes Black history in the US was included in this year’s list. The Pierce Chapel African Cemetery — one of the oldest burial grounds for enslaved Africans and their descendants — has been dealing with its own deterioration issues, as community members point to utility companies Georgia Power and Mediacom’s use of heavy equipment as the cause of damage to burial sites and markers.
On Chicago’s State Street, the Century and Consumers buildings were also mentioned in the NTHP report. The two structures have long been historic symbols of the windy city’s architectural hey-day. Originally designed in 1913 and 1915, the two iconic skyscrapers have been vacant since 2005 when the General Services Administration (GSA) bought them for potential office space. Now they are being considered for demolition.