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Milwaukee’s domes on endangered places list

Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes are on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.”

Each year, the trust unveils a list spotlighting important examples of the nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.

More than 270 sites have been on the list over its 29-year history, but the designation appears to help protect the sites. In 29 years, fewer than 5 percent of listed sites have been lost.

The trust said its latest list includes historic places in urban areas “at a time when cities across the nation are experiencing a resurgence.”

Millions of Americans are choosing to relocate to urban areas, with many opting to live in distinctive, character-rich older and historic neighborhoods. Preservation in these neighborhoods is playing a key role in this trend of “reurbanism.”

So, with its 2016 list, the trust is highlighting the importance of adaptability and preservation of historic buildings.

A look at the 11 sites and what the trust has to say about them:

  • Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes at Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservator on Layton Boulevard, a beloved Milwaukee institution for generations, a unique engineering marvel and a highly significant example of midcentury modern architecture, the domes are facing calls for their demolition.
  • Segundo Barrio and Chihuahuita Neighborhoods of El Paso, Texas, centers of Latino community life for more than a century, these neighborhoods are experiencing increased demolition.
  • San Francisco’s Embarcadero District, one of the nation’s most beloved historic areas, the Embarcadero must adapt to the threats of seismic vulnerability and sea-level rise.
  • The Sunshine Mile in Tucson, Arizona, an architecturally rich commercial corridor populated by smaller-scale mid-century buildings, many of which could be lost if a new transportation plan moves ahead.
  • Lions Municipal Golf Course, Austin, Texas. Widely regarded as the first municipal golf course in the South to desegregate, “Muny” is a civil rights landmark facing development pressure.
  • Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall at Lincoln University, Lincoln, Pennsylvania. The oldest building on the campus of the first degree-granting institution in the nation for African Americans, the hall currently stands empty and faces an uncertain future.
  • Bears Ears in Southeastern Utah. The 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears cultural landscape features an excellent collection of archaeological sites, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and ancient roads that illuminate 12,000 years of human history. The area is threatened by looting, mismanaged recreational use and energy development.
  • Charleston Naval Hospital District, North Charleston, South Carolina. The historic district played a prominent role during World War II as a primary re-entry point for American servicemen injured in Europe and Africa. Now threatened by a proposed rail line, the district is at risk of being largely destroyed.
  • Delta Queen, Houma, Louisiana. This steamboat was built in 1926 and today is among the last of its kind. Federal legislation that would enable the ship to return to overnight passenger cruising remains a key piece to securing the Delta Queen’s sustainability and future.
  • Historic Downtown Flemington, New Jersey. Historic buildings at the core of the town that hosted the “Trial of the Century.” the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, are threatened by a development proposal that would demolish the Union Hotel, along with three other adjacent historic buildings.
  • James River, James City County, Virginia. Jamestown, America’s first permanent English settlement, was founded along the banks of the James River in 1607. The river and landscape, also named to this list by the Trust in 2013, remain threatened by a proposed transmission line project that would compromise the scenic integrity of this historic area.

“For nearly 30 years, our list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places has called attention to threatened one-of-a-kind treasures throughout the nation and galvanized local communities to help save them,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This year’s list elevates important threatened historic places in our nation’s cities at a time when more than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas.”

She continued, “We know that preservation is an essential part of the current urban renaissance and that old buildings contribute to the sustainability and walkability of our communities. Historic buildings are also powerful economic engines that spur revitalization, meet a broad range of human needs and enhance the quality of life for us all. With thoughtful and creative policy approaches and tools, we can tap the full potential of these important places and secure a foundation for a stronger and more vibrant future.”

Update on Oct. 12 …

The Mitchell Park Domes Task Force was to meet for the first time on Oct. 12 to discuss the future of the structures.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors established the 11-member task force to develop a comprehensive long-term plan for the domes.

The task force is chaired by William H. Lynch, a local attorney, and includes County Board Supervisors Peggy A. West, in whose district the Domes are located, and Jason Haas, chair of the County Board’s Parks Committee.

The task force also includes John Dargle, director of the Milwaukee County Parks Department, and several representatives from community organizations.

The domes were closed earlier this year due to concerns about the potential of crumbling concrete to create a safety hazard for visitors, according to a news release that announced the task force meeting.