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U.S. Landmarks in Danger of Extinction

Culture buffs interested in vanishing landmarks might want to plan a different sort of road trip this summer – to some of the country’s 11 most endangered historic places.

Chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which since 1988 has designated more than 230 places in danger of extinction, the latest list encompasses not only individual buildings, but also bridges, villages, a ranch, a hospital, an island and even a battlefield.

“We’ve chosen places of national significance that are facing an urgent threat, but also that aren’t so far gone that there isn’t a possible solution,” says Stephanie Meeks, president of the nonprofit group.

Scattered throughout the country, some of the places are scenic, like the rustic bridges of California’s Yosemite Valley and Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch in the North Dakota Badlands.  Some commemorate significant events, like the island in Los Angeles where 3,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly removed from their homes after Pearl Harbor and the Princeton, N.J., field where a decisive battle was fought during the American Revolution. Others mark the birthplaces of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

But not all of the choices are pretty or historic in the conventional sense, such as the Philadelphia gym where prizefighter Joe Frazier prepared to square off against Muhammad Ali.  Nor do all require a tankful of gasoline to visit. Included on the list are historic post offices, once the mainstays of every community, which now face uncertain futures due to budget cutbacks.

Meeks says that the point of the eclectic list is to show “the full breadth of the American story.” But it’s also meant to motivate people to look at treasures in their own backyards and see what can be done to save them. For a deteriorating downtown, that may mean bringing in farmer’s markets or festivals to revive local businesses; for an unneeded post office, it could mean adapting the building to another use. While it’s important and environmentally friendly to save a historic place, she says the priority should be to safeguard its character and story, not “preserve it in amber.”

1. Bridges of Yosemite Valley, Calif.
A proposed National Park Service management plan for the Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite National Park, could remove three rustic-style arched stone bridges. The bridges were built between 1921 and 1933.

2. Ellis Island Hospital Complex, New York Harbor
Ellis Island was the first stop for thousands of immigrants to America from 1892 until 1954. It now hosts a popular museum. But the island’s hospital complex, which operated from 1902 until 1930 and was once the largest U.S. public health service institution in the country, is deteriorating.

3. Historic U.S. Post Office Buildings. Defined as structures more than 50 years old, historic American post office buildings are in jeopardy. Since it’s still unclear which will be closed and sold, rehabbers are shying away from them.

4. Joe Frazier’s Gym, Philadelphia
Once known as Cloverlay Gym, the converted three-story dance hall where the late heavyweight boxer “Smokin’Joe” Frazier trained to fight Muhammad Ali  is unprotected by local or national preservation designations. Frazier purchased the building in 1973, changed the name to Joe Frazier’s Gym, and lived for a time in the apartment above it.

5. Malcolm X-Ella Little-Collins House, Boston
Built in 1874, the last surviving boyhood home of civil rights leader Malcolm X has been vacant for more than three decades. But there are plans to convert the 2,750-square-foot housed into lodging for graduate students studying African American history, social justice, or civil rights.

6. Princeton Battlefield, Princeton, N.J.
Princeton Battlefield State Park is the site of a victorious 1777 battle against the British during the American Revolution. Today another fight is brewing, as preservationists say more land associated with the battle should be saved from a proposed housing development.

7. Sweet Auburn Historic District, Atlanta. In 1992, the National Trust named this once-vibrant mile-and-a-half African-American neighborhood, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of its most endangered places. Since then many houses have been rehabbed. But the commercial corridor still needs help, so it’s back on the list.

8. Terminal Island, Port of Los Angeles, Calif.
The once tight-knit Japanese American fishing community that lived on this island was torn apart in 1942, when residents were sent to internment camps. Although it’s now used as a backdrop for movies and television shows, continued neglect threatens the now-vacant buildings.

10. Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, Billings County, N.D.
This 218-acre Badlands ranch, which Theodore Roosevelt bought in 1884 after his wife and mother had both died on Valentine’s Day, helped ease his grief and shape his views on conservation. Today proposed road and bridge construction over the Little Missouri threatens the unspoiled site.

11. Village of Zoar, Ohio
Founded in 1817 by religious separatists fleeing Germany, the tourist-friendly village has about 50 original log and frame buildings and 200 residents. But a plan to remove a levee that


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