May 17, 2009 Frank Lloyd Wright, Preservation

Post’s Kennicott Analyzes Trust’s Most Endangered List, Third Church Debate

The Post‘s architecture critic Philip Kennicott takes a look at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s List of Most Endangered Historic Places, saying the list does not always pick “easy” choices and comments on the Third Church of Christ debate. (According to this AP story, “Rebecca Miller, executive director of the D.C. Preservation League, said there are unexplored alternatives that would maintain the historic building. The group will likely appeal the decision, she said.”)

On the Trust’s list and the larger issue of preservation, Kennicott writes:

“[T]he National Trust’s annual list — which reflects increasing concern about the preservation of mid-century modernism — has never been exclusively devoted to the easy issues in preservation. When they hold their yearly adopt-a-puppy day, they don’t slight the mutts, the mangy and the ill-tempered. The list is always way out ahead of public opinion, which is where the Trust should be. And it often serves more as a guide to the philosophical problems of preservation than a simple gazetteer of historic or beloved buildings.

“This year, there’s nothing local on the list. But that doesn’t mean the list doesn’t have clear local import. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park, Ill., is a far greater and more essential building than Araldo Cossutta’s 1971 Third Church of Christ, Scientist, on 16th Street near the White House. And the Unitarian Universalist congregants of the Wright’s 1909 temple are desperate to save their house of worship, while the Christian Scientists who worship in Cossutta’s concrete box have successfully appealed to the city to bypass a 2007 historic landmark designation so that it can be demolished and replaced with something more congenial.

“But it is the dilemma of the congregations that reminds us how often people and groups who never signed up to be preservationists are thrust into the role. Schools, churches, hospitals all have primary purposes that make it awkward and sometimes impossible for them to be stewards of historic structures.”