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When we think about lists of endangered things, the first things that come to mind are generally living – the Great Barrier Reef, certain kinds of bats, the Western Lowland Gorillas … but I think many of us probably share the belief it’s not just living creatures that are worth saving. Thankfully, the folks at Preserve Arkansas agree, and decided to do something about it.
Twenty years ago, Preserve Arkansas created its first Arkansas’s Most Endangered Places list, imitating the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual America’s 11 Most Endangered Places List. The project seeks to shine a spotlight on some of Arkansas’s significant historic and cultural sites at risk of being damaged or lost, some of which hide in plain sight due to years of neglect.
Arkansans are proud of their storied history, but without the support of the communities they’re in, these places might not be around for long. The goal of the list, which is updated annually, is to raise awareness of endangered properties and to generate discussions and form strategies to save them.
Rachel Patton claims she is a history nerd and has the history degree to prove it. She has led Preserve Arkansas as its Executive Director for three years. She says she often encounters individuals who have never heard of the places on the list – even those in their own communities. And ideally, after learning of the places, those folks get to work.
“A common thread in the success stories [of the places on the list] is that when they’re nominated, if there isn’t already a group in place trying to save a place, one is formed after the nomination or inclusion on the list.”
Patton and others involved in the Arkansas preservation community usually recognize many of the nominated places, but there are always a few surprises, and creating a buzz among preservationists and the community at large is key to saving these architectural and cultural treasures.
“I think over the 20-year history of the list, the biggest accomplishment is that it raises awareness of these significant places and their danger of being lost or damaged in some way.”
By highlighting properties throughout the state that are facing threats such as deterioration, insufficient funds, insensitive public policy, and inappropriate development, Preserve Arkansas hopes to change their fate.
Before properties are added to the list, they are nominated by individuals, communities, and organizations interested in preserving them. The majority are nominated by concerned individuals who may or may not know much about the history of the building or location, but have admired it and did enough research to write the nomination. In other words – yes, you definitely can submit a nomination, and you definitely should.
To be included on the list, the property must be listed, or qualify for listing, on the Arkansas or National Register of Historic Places. Next, the degree of a property’s local, state or national significance is evaluated, and the degree and imminence of the threat to the property are reviewed.
Patton says creating the list helps preservationists across the state prioritize the many projects and places that require attention. Once selected, properties on the list become a priority for Preserve Arkansas’s advocacy efforts.
This year’s Most Endangered Places list includes a Rosenwald School, rural churches that are the linchpins of their respective communities, commercial buildings with ties to Arkansas’s Jewish and Chinese merchants, one of the state’s last motion picture palaces, and the home of a well-known African American attorney and civic leader.
Adler Building, Batesville (Independence County), an 1881 commercial building constructed by Jewish merchant Simon Adler. The back wall recently collapsed, making traditional financing options for rehabilitation difficult to secure.
Chu Building, Forrest City (St. Francis County), a ca. 1915 building that housed a Chinese grocery and an African American theater. Fundraising is needed to convert it into a multicultural museum and archives facility.
Emmet United Methodist Church, Emmet (Nevada County), a 1917 Colonial Revival-style church that serves a small but devoted congregation. The church has applied for a grant to stabilize the building, but additional fundraising is necessary.
Scipio A. Jones House, Little Rock (Pulaski County), the 1928 home of Scipio Jones, prominent African American attorney and civic leader. The home is unsecured and in poor condition. It is currently for sale and eligible for historic tax credits.
Malvern Rosenwald School, Malvern (Hot Spring County), a 1929 school for African Americans built with assistance from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The building is vacant, and deterioration has now reached a critical point.
Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church & Cemetery, Marvell (Phillips County), a 1957 church built to replace an earlier structure, with an adjacent cemetery containing historic burials. The Mt. Olive Church and Cemetery are dear to this rural farming community, but structural and safety issues need to be resolved to keep the location viable.
Saenger Theater, Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), a 1924 motion picture palace, one of the last of its kind in Arkansas. Groups have tried to restore the theater in the past, but it has been vacant for a decade. The restoration of the theater has the potential to play an integral role in the revitalization of downtown Pine Bluff.
For more information about Preserve Arkansas and to see more photos of the endangered places on this year’s list visit www.PreserveArkansas.org
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