PRESERVATION TEXAS ANNOUNCES 12TH ANNUAL LIST OF TEXAS’ MOST ENDANGERED PLACES
Sites in Anderson, Dickens, Eastland, El Paso, Falls, Newton, and Tarrant Counties and one statewide category named to the 2015 List
AUSTIN, TEXAS. A landmark African Methodist Episcopal Church, a “poor farm” known for its adobe structures, two sites linked to the heyday of the railroad in Texas, a homestead that was part of a Freedom Colony, and two historic courthouses are among the eight sites that Preservation Texas, Inc. has named to its twelfth annual list of Texas’ Most Endangered Places.
Preservation Texas officials announced the selections outside the Texas State Capitol on March 19.
“The 2015 list is a diverse group of sites that reflect the range of preservation issues that historic places throughout the state are confronting,” said Evan Thompson, executive director of Preservation Texas. “These sites reflect the importance of continued funding for the Texas Historic Courthouse Restoration program and the Texas Heritage Trails program. Also, several demonstrate the potential impact of the new state historic preservation tax credit as an incentive for saving endangered sites.”
The sites on the 2015 list represent cultural, architectural and historic places that are at risk, and represent the types of sites that are endangered across Texas. Local grassroots organizations have been working tirelessly in support of these sites. By including them on the list, Preservation Texas hopes to rally Texans statewide to step up and save them.
Historic preservation has a $4.6 billion economic impact in Texas. Historic sites named to the list of Texas’ Most Endangered Places represent some of the best opportunities to make a positive economic impact on local communities through preservation, particularly through the use of the new state historic preservation tax credit.
Preservation Texas supports sites on its Most Endangered Places List providing advocacy support, publicity and assistance and assistance in fostering and building community partnerships.
Thompson noted that the sites included on the 2015 list reflect increased awareness of the importance of historic preservation in supporting landmarks in smaller communities. “Passion and determination in these communities are strong, and will benefit from sound land use planning, coupled with increased financial resources and professional guidance,” he said.
Preservation Texas, Inc. is the advocate for preserving the historic resources of Texas. Founded in 1985, the nonprofit organization named its first list of endangered sites in 2004. Its Most Endangered Places program is funded in part by grants and sponsorships from across the state.
Sites on the 2015 list are:
Mount Vernon A.M.E. Church, Palestine (Anderson County)
Organized as a church and school by freedmen in the early 1870s, Mount Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church is the third oldest congregation of its kind in Texas. The present structure, completed in 1921, is a prime example of Gothic Revival architecture. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and designated as both a Texas Historic Landmark and a City of Palestine Landmark. In a town with over 1,800 identified historic structures, it is one of only a handful with all three designations.
Suffering major roof and structural damage, and closing in late 2013, local preservationists have been working since to raise money for a full restoration and re-opening. A restored Mount Vernon A.M.E. Church will not only provide new life for a historic structure, but will serve as a physical resource that will help to retore the community, providing a setting for needed programs and activities for Palestine and the surrounding county. The cost of saving this charge also highlights the importance of making it possible for nonprofit organizations, churches, counties and municipalities to take advantage of the new state historic preservation tax credit through the sale and transfer of credits earned through projects that meet the highest standards.
Historic Resources of Dickens County, Dickens and Spur (Dickens County)
Dickens County, named for a soldier at the Alamo, was formed in 1876. Located about fifty miles east of Lubbock on the Llano Estacado, the early economy of Dickens County centered on ranching and agriculture. Settlement increased after the arrival of the railroad in 1909 and a cotton boom that lasted into the 1920s. The county population peaked in 1930 at just under 9,000; today, Dickens County is home to 2,291. The Dickens County Courthouse, located in Dickens, awaits restoration, and historic assets in Dickens and nearby Spur represent a cross-section of Texas architecture of the 20th century that can be the basis of a strong preservation-based heritage tourism economy.
The preservation challenges related to the historic resources of Dickens County are representative of those faced by sparsely populated rural counties across Texas that have lost population over the years. Rural Texas counties offer breathtaking landscapes, dramatic history and remarkable architecture, yet without the support of a robust statewide heritage tourism program, places like Dickens County will not get the attention they need. The potential loss of funding for the Texas Heritage Trails program endangers the opportunity in Dickens County and counties around the state to harness heritage tourism as basis for economic growth and a stimulant to historic preservation activity.
Laguna Hotel, Cisco (Eastland County)
Cisco, Texas prospered in the 1920s in part due to its proximity to the Ranger Field, where an important discovery was made at McCleskey Well No. 1 on October 21, 1917. As a commercial center and market town with an important railroad link for the transportation of supplies to the oil field, Cisco’s population grew as well as its capactiy to accommodate visitors. The construction of the Laguna Hotel in 1929, designed by Dallas architects Thompson & Swain, stands as one of several hotels constructed in this boomtown era.
Contributing to the Cisco National Register Historic District, the Laguna Hotel represents the statewide opportunity to utilize the new Texas historic preservation tax credit, coupled with the federal historic preservation tax credit, to revitalize landmark hotels in towns big and small across Texas. Whether used as hotels or adapted to new uses as offices or residences, early 20th-century hotels that stand vacant across the Texas landscape are ripe for renewal. The restoration of the historic Hotel Settles in Big Spring is an example of how preservation investments in historic hotels can stimulate additional restoration efforts and bolster community pride.
Rio Vista Farm, Socorro (El Paso County)
Established in 1915 as El Paso’s second poor farm, Rio Vista Farm flourished through the Great Depression in 1929 and began hosting an array of public welfare programs shortly afterward. It served as a temporary base for a Civilian Conservation Corps unit in 1936 and as the reception and processing center for the Bracero Program from 1951 to 1964, when it closed. Unlike most Texas poor farms of the time, Rio Vista’s familial model welcomed and accepted neglected children in addition to the indigent adult population, sheltering hundreds of them throughout its operating years.
Rio Vista Farm, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of many adobe structures in west Texas that will benefit from hands-on training in adobe construction and restoration. Relatively simple in construction, the structures at Rio Vista Farm can be used as a living classroom to train Texans young and old in the skills required to work with adobe. The lessons learned at Rio Vista Farm can then be applied to historic sites throughout west Texas, where adobe structures await preservation.
Falls County Courthouse, Marlin (Falls County)
Designed by architect Arthur E. Thomas and built in 1938 in the iconic Art Moderne Style, the Falls County Courthouse boasts details such as stonework featuring stylized eagles, symmetrical organically-derived ornament on the spandrels, and geometric motifs on some pilasters. A three-story central tower accentuates its symmetrical façade, and the interiors feature massive shell stone entry surrounds, 3-color marble floors, marble borders and base, aluminum handrails along the main staircase, and geometric patterns all typical of the Moderne style. It is individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The restoration of the Falls County Courthouse would provide a critical infusion of capital into the county seat of Marlin, which boasts a rich variety of institutional, commercial and residential architecture from the early 20th century. Grant funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Restoration Program is essential for this project and for the restoration of seventy five other historic courthouses that are in need of financial support. The restoration of county courthouses has been demonstrated to stimulate preservation activities in courthouse towns, while renewing irreplacable architectural landmarks throughout Texas.
Odom Homestead, Burkeville (Newton County)
The Odom Homestead was built in 1922 by A.T. Odom, a carpenter, building contractor, farmer, teacher and community leader. He built numerous structures including homes, churches, and courthouses and taught young men working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. His wife, Addie, mentored community women, ran the couple’s general store, and served as a supervisor of the Newton County WPA canning plant established for African-American women. Today, the home stands an intact and rare example of African American life in the community of Shankleville, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Shankleville is a Freedom Colony, one of over five hundred settlements in Texas that were built by former slaves after Juneteenth (Texas’ Emancipation). Freedom Colonies, also known as Freedmen’s Towns or Black settlements, are where many African American Texans gather for reunions and homecomings today. Dwindling population and loss of control over property through auctions, partition sales, tax delinquency and sometimes theft have left only a handful of these historic places intact. Still, a small number of Freedom Colony descendants retain landownership and continue to live within these settlements for generations. In addition to the restoration project, the Shankleville Historical Society and the Texas Freedom Colonies Project (TXFCP) are working to raise awareness of the significance of and current challenges facing Shankleville and hundreds of other settlements throughout the state.
Historic Structures in Municipal Parks, Statewide
Throughout Texas, municipal-owned parks provide a setting for both active and passive recreation and an oasis of green in an increasingly populous state. Often situated near bodies of water or on former agricultural properties, park-usage often follows a long period of private uses which resulted in the construction of houses, outbuildings, barns and other structures. Yet these historic resources are often overlooked. Deferred maintenance and demolition by neglect are the result of difficult budget choices made by city governments with a well-meaning desire to keep parks open and functional for daily use.
The answer to this problem may have been found through the remarkable efforts of the Norwood Park Foundation in Austin, which was formed to save the historic early-20th century Arts & Crafts bungalow known as the Norwood House and its former garden landscape. Located on a bluff above Town Lake with a spectacular view of the city skyline, it is being saved through the efforts of dedicated community volunteers.They formed a non-profit organization which is partnering with the City of Austin by raising private funds and developing programming that will create a sustainable source of funding to ensure the long-term preservation of the site. The work of the Norwood Park Foundation highlights the remarkable progress that can be made when historic resources in city-owned parks are valued as community assets, and proves that historic preservation is possible in city parks through partnerships with dedicated citizens. They formed a non-profit organization which is partnering with the City of Austin by raising private funds and developing programming that will create a sustainable source of funding to ensure the long-term preservation of the site. The work of the Norwood Park Foundation highlights the remarkable progress that can be made when historic resources in city-owned parks are valued as community assets, and proves that historic preservation is possible in city parks through partnerships with dedicated citizens.
Texas & Pacific Warehouse, Fort Worth (Tarrant County)
The Texas & Pacific Warehouse was constructed in 1931 as a part of a three building complex along Fort Worth’s Front Street, renamed Lancaster Avenue for Texas & Pacific Railway’s President, John Lancaster. In addition to the warehouse, the complex includes the Texas & Pacific Railway Terminal and the United States Post Office, designed by Fort Worth architect Wyatt C. Hedrick. The eight-story warehouse is a muted version of the taller and more embellished passenger terminal building. Both buildings have elements of the Zig-Zag Moderne style present in the early Art Deco period. Demolition by neglect is currently the greatest threat to this landmark property. The basement is filled with water, trees are growing from the roof, and no effort has been made to mothball or stabilize the building. Continued delay of the rehabilitation may result in the building being so deteriorated that its reuse is no longer feasible.
The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and can be saved by taking advantage of city, state and federal historic preservation tax incentives to fund adaptive use. The City of Fort Worth and the Tax Increment Financing Board have been encouraging many new projects along the Lancaster corridor, and the Texas & Pacific Warehouse building is a much-needed anchor in the area that has languished for two decades. We include this building again on our list to spotlight the value of the new 25% state historic preservation tax credit as an added incentive to the saving of large-scale historic landmark structures.
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