PRESERVATION TEXAS ANNOUNCES 16TH ANNUAL LIST OF MOST ENDANGERED HISTORIC PLACES
Six listings from across the state include Dallas, Houston, Laredo, Terry County and the Rio Grande border
AUSTIN, TEXAS. A century-old border chapel, ranch headquarters and midcentury modern sacred places statewide are among the six listings that Preservation Texas, Inc. has included in its sixteenth annual Texas’ Most Endangered Places.
Preservation Texas officials announced the selections in Austin on February 28th.
The 2019 list reinforces the importance of rural sites, schools, sacred places and African-American historic places to Texans. With thorough documentation, careful planning, the use of the state historic preservation tax credit, and public support for the adaptive use of old buildings, the sites included on this year’s list can be saved.
“These endangered historic places in Texas represent a cross-section of culturally and architecturally significant buildings and neighborhoods,” said Evan Thompson, executive director of Preservation Texas. “The announcement of this year’s list is a call to Texans to support these places and similar at-risk historic sites in their own communities, because every preservation effort requires grassroots advocates to take action.”
Since 2014, 156 sites have been named to the list and only 12 have been lost. “Historic sites named to the Texas’ Most Endangered Places list represent opportunities to make positive contributions to the economic and cultural life of the communities in which they were built,” said Thompson.
Preservation Texas supports sites on its Most Endangered Places List providing advocacy support, publicity, connections to professional resources and assistance in fostering and building community partnerships.
Community organizations, partnering with regional and statewide organization, can make a difference in places like Houston. “It’s important that we reclaim and capture our rich history of these Emancipation Freedom Colonies and tell our stories of the struggle and accomplishments of these Freedom Colonies,” said Carl Davis, Chair of the EEDC-Faith in Action Legacies of Emancipation Park Neighborhood History Project.
Two examples of endangered buildings that have recently been saved include the Old Dallas High School in Dallas and the Laguna Hotel in Cisco, both of which were recognized for their successful rehabilitation with Honor Awards this year. The use of the state historic preservation tax credit was an essential factor in making these award-winning projects possible.
Preservation Texas, Inc. is the advocate for preserving the historic resources of Texas. Founded in 1985, the nonprofit organization is privately funded and works to educate the public about historic resources and their significance statewide. It also owns a 2,400-acre farm and ranch in Central Texas that will become a hands-on training center and retreat for historic preservation and conservation.
The six Most Endangered Places listings for 2019 are:
Historic Dallas Public Schools
Dallas (Dallas County)
Dallas Independent School District (DISD) released a proposed Strategic Facilities Plan calling for the demolition of nineteen schools, the majority of which are of historic-age, to be replaced with seventeen new schools. The justification for the demolitions is to reduce the average age of schools in the district from 51.7 years to 46.0 years to get more in line with the national average of 44 years. The schools proposed for demolition range in style from revivalist to mid-century, many designed by significant architects, and scattered throughout Dallas. The proposal must be adopted by the DISD Board of Trustees, whose staff is working quickly so they can figure out the logistics of such a huge construction project. Their plan is for voter approval of $2 billion in bond money in 2021 for the massive project.
The goal of preservation advocates in Dallas is to lower the number of historic schools recommended for demolition or to consider rehabilitation as an alternative by changing the Strategic Facilities Plan. We need to prove that historic schools are a valuable resource for the community and can be adapted to modern needs. The case must be made that it is a waste of resources to demolish a school that is 50 to 100 years old and has stood the test of time to be replaced with a new school with typically a much shorter life cycle and one that can’t match the quality of materials with which historic schools were built.
San Agustin Cathedral
Laredo (Webb County)
San Agustin Church was established in 1756 with the founding of the Villa de Laredo de San Agustin (now the City of Laredo). Facing the original town square, the current building is the third on the site and was constructed in 1872. Designed by French priest Pierre Yves Keralum, the Cathedral is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and it contributes to the significance of the San Agustin de Laredo National Register Historic District. In 2000, Catholic dioceses were restructured in South Texas and this church was selected to serve as the Cathedral for the newly formed Diocese of Laredo. Nineteen years later, however, the structure requires repairs and adaptation to serve this new function.
Deterioration of the front façade of the church was precipitated by an especially severe hurricane in 1905 and the entire front wall of the church was repaired in 1911. The bell tower was spared but cracks have been spreading throughout the building as the tower is leaning and separating from the main church structure. Cracks are apparent along the terrazzo floor, at plastered columns and walls, ceilings and at the apex of the gothic arched stained glass windows. The tower has sustained damage, which worsened through the years because the local parish does not have adequate resources to maintain and repair the structure.
Since 2000, steps have been taken to protect and stabilize the Church Tower. In 2013, the tower foundation was reinforced and repaired followed by subsurface compaction. Complete roof replacement for the Cathedral and the Steeple was completed in May 2014. Destabilization has occurred elsewhere due to the movement of the tower prior to undergoing stabilization, resulting in profound damage. Since then, a condition assessment report, master plan, prioritization and implementation plan has been completed by a team of architects and engineers. In November 2017 a capital campaign began in an attempt to raise $11 million to protect this historic landmark.
Lake, Tomb & Company (L7) Ranch Headquarters
near Meadow (Terry County)
The Lake, Tomb & Company (L7) Ranch was at one time the largest ranching operation in Terry County with resident employees. The circa 1900 Ranch Headquarters served as an office and home for the ranch manager. The one-story structure was built with a 12’ wide covered porch on its east and south sides, providing shade and shelter in the semi-arid, treeless and hot environment. It also provided a place for outdoor sleeping, and even hosted Saturday night dances in a region with a population of only 48 in 1900.
This regional landmark, emblematic of an era, has been unoccupied for several decades. Local efforts to relocate and restore the structure in the past were put on hold for lack of funds. The house and its outbuildings require complete documentation, with physical recording of the building and archival research to better understand its past. This information could lead to state and national historic designations, making the property eligible for state and federal tax credits. Restored and repurposed, this iconic structure can once again come alive as a rare physical reminder of a lost way of life over a century ago.
Midcentury Modern Sacred Places
In the years following World War II, a mobile and growing population in Texas found the need to build new churches and synagogues in urban, suburban, and even small rural communities across the state. Texas architects designed new structures that reflected a modern age, employing innovative construction methods and new materials resulting in striking progressive sacred places. But in recent years, urban populations have changed, and the demands of 21st-century congregations often cannot be contained in the buildings of the mid-twentieth century. As a result, Midcentury Modern Sacred Places are threatened with destruction as congregations relocate or consolidate and their often valuable property is sold for redevelopment.
Across Texas, opportunities abound to find creative new uses for midcentury modern sacred places, which are not only significant cultural and historic sites but also represent some of the most important architectural achievements of mid-20th century in the state. Efforts by local midcentury modern advocacy groups and state and national organizations dedicated to sacred places are working to slow the loss of these buildings. Examples of creative partnerships and adaptive uses need to be widely publicized, and the needs of struggling congregations shared with those who can help support the continued use of these buildings.
An example of this trend in Austin is Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, constructed in 1955-56. It was designed by local architect Eugene Wukasch who was active nationally in the development of modern church architecture in the United States. The building was likely the earliest example of an “A-frame” or “tent-form” church in Central Texas and features unique art glass by Octavio Medellín, the renowned Mexican-American artist. The church has closed and is for sale, and without any local designations, the property could be demolished.
Houston’s Emancipation Freedom Colonies
Houston (Harris County)
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, emancipated slaves from rural Texas made their way to Houston, joining the nearly 1,000 African-Americans already living there by 1860. Through the next several decades, African-Americans settled in the third, fourth and fifth wards of the city, establishing independent communities that were intended to provide safe haven against discrimination and rampant post-war violence, with opportunities for land ownership and economic security.
These three wards in Houston have suffered in recent decades from extensive demolition, architecturally inappropriate redevelopment and gentrification. For example, only a handful of historic structures remain in the National Register-listed Freedman’s Town, which once contained hundreds of listed buildings. Emancipation Avenue, recently renamed to celebrate the community’s important post-Civil War history, has suffered a similar fate. Today, only a small number of historic structures remaining where a thriving African-American community once lived, worked, and organized for their political, economic and social equality.
The local, state and national significance of the Emancipation Freedom Colonies of Houston demand action to protect and preserve the fragile historic resources that remain, including modest residential structures, brick streets, commercial buildings and sacred places. Increased funding is needed to rehabilitate old structures as well as incentives for appropriate new development. These strategies, coupled with continued research and interpretation, will enhance and support existing communities rather than displacing them.
La Lomita Chapel
near Mission (Hidalgo County)
La Lomita Chapel is located near the Rio Grande and is a significant example of the vernacular architecture of the United States and Mexico border. La Lomita, or “Little Hill,” was built in 1899 and later restored in 1937 and again in 1976 as part of the community’s Bicentennial celebration. It is just 16 feet wide and 30 feet long with a tiny belfry. The City of Mission was named as a goodwill gesture of townspeople to honor the old mission chapel. It was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1964 and is part of the La Lomita Historic District, entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The historic marker application was sought in order to recognize its ongoing importance as “a shrine for the religious and history-minded who would honor those … who carved it literally out of the Wilderness.”
La Lomita Chapel is representative of the many historically, culturally and architecturally significant places that will be directly or indirectly impacted by the construction of a new barrier along the border. Because of the location of La Lomita on the river side of a levee, plans to construct a wall along the levee would isolate the chapel from the community it serves, its namesake town of Mission, and the many tourists who visit it regularly. All along the Rio Grande, from old Fort Brown in Brownsville to Chihuahuita in El Paso, border security barriers are radically altering the historic character of places constructed along the border that have had a strong bi-national character for over a century.
The protection of historic resources with fair, reasonable and meaningful efforts to mitigate the impact of new construction should be required. Documentation of existing resources, physical protection and archaeological investigations should be undertaken so the rich history of our border is neither erased nor shut off from those for whom these places have held and will hold such deep meaning for many generations past, present and future.