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State parks, sites among most endangered

What do a church, a ballpark and a bunch of state parks have in common? On Wednesday, they were among America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Damage to the walls is seen at Metropolitan AME Church, one of the locations announced by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
Damage to the walls is seen at Metropolitan AME Church, one of the locations announced by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.Jacquelyn Martin / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

When chunks of plaster began falling from the ceiling of the national cathedral of African Methodism last year, one of Washington's oldest black congregations nearly had to abandon its sanctuary.

Instead, the people of Metropolitan A.M.E. Church — where funerals were held for member Frederick Douglass and, a century later, for Rosa Parks — have begun emergency repairs. They brought in a scaffolding with wood planks to block falling debris. Now they worship with yellow construction lights strung overhead.

On Wednesday, the church was among the sites named America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places because it needs $11 million in critical repairs.

Also, for the first time, one spot on the list was reserved for all of the state parks and state-owned historic places in the country — a nod to widespread budget cuts affecting such sites.

Metropolitan A.M.E., an 1886 red brick Victorian Gothic-style church, was once among the largest integrated meeting halls in the segregated nation's capital. It deterioriated over time, suffering cracks and water damage as its residential neighborhood a few blocks from the White House was swallowed by downtown development.

"It's an expense the congregation by itself simply cannot afford," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "We all need to help."

State-owned properties are also among those listed as needing help, as about 30 cash-strapped states turn out the lights on as many as 400 sites and slash their budgets.

New York state alone is shutting down dozens of parks and sites, including abolitionist John Brown's farm where he is buried near Lake Placid. It has been open to the public since 1895.

Vandals could cause costly damage at such sites if states turn off the heat and water and abandon aging structures, Moe said.

"This is really an alarm bell to call on Americans to realize the places they love are in trouble," he said.

Some states have cut their budgets for state parks and sites by as much as 75 percent in recent years, he said, threatening sites from New Jersey to Arizona.

The group is urging states to follow Ohio's example by pursuing public-private partnerships to keep sites open with fewer tax dollars.

Among the most endangered sites on the 2010 list is one of the last surviving Negro League ballparks, Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, N.J. The 10,000-seat Art Deco stadium was home to the New York Black Yankees.

In Lincoln, Neb., the Industrial Arts Building could meet the wrecking ball. And in the Silicon Valley, the oldest structure in Palo Alto, an 1844 adobe home built by one of the original Hispanic residents of San Francisco sits abandoned and could be demolished. The Juana Briones House recalls California's Spanish and Mexican heritage.

In addition to the church, the state park and historic sites, the ballpark, the adobe home, and the Industrial Arts Building, other endangered sites on the National Trust list are:

  • Black Mountain in Harlan County, Ky. The historic mining towns of Benham and Lynch have built up heritage tourism that is now threatened by possible new deep mining permits around Black Mountain.
  • Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County, Conn. The National Trust said Connecticut has neglected maintenance on the scenic roadway with its decorative bridges and landscaping.
  • Pagat in Yigo, Guam. A large military buildup in the westernmost U.S. territory is threatening remnants of the ancient settlement of Pagat, home to the Chamorro people.
  • Saugatuck Dunes in Saugatuck, Mich. About 2,500 acres of natural sand dunes and wetlands along Lake Michigan are threatened by a proposed 400-acre development of homes, hotels, restaurants and shops.
  • Threefoot Building in Meridian, Miss. A 16-story Art Deco building lavishly decorated but vacant since 2000 could face demolition after the city has been unable to deliver financing to help a developer restore the 80-year-old structure.
  • Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia. Near the site where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met in one of the bloodiest Civil War battles, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. intends to build a Supercenter. Preservationists are fighting the plan in court, saying it will attract more sprawling development within the battlefield boundaries.

In Washington, members of the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church gathered Wednesday to sing hymns with hopes their building can be saved.

Johanna N. Green, 77, is the fourth generation of her family to attend the church her grandmother helped build. "I come in here, and I can feel her presence," Green said.

James Davis, one of the bishops, said the church has a prominent place in history, calling it a "birthing place for liberators."

"It is not just a church," he said. "It is a place where history is intermingled with the Gospel."