Daily Features

Monumental Risk: Spotlighting 5 Threatened U.S. Cultural Heritage Sites

The World Monuments Fund has listed the most threatened cultural heritage sites across the world, and five of them are in the United States

By Stela Razzaque, Superscript November 19, 2013

A place may be culturally significant for various reasons. It may exhibit exceptional contributions to architecture and design, represent a masterpiece of human creativity, or illustrate a period in time or cultural traditions that are slowly disappearing. Every two years since 1996, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) publishes a list of the most threatened culture heritage sites across the globe. The WMF's Watch List serves as "a call to action for cultural heritage around the globe that is at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change." While we traditionally see exceptional yet endangered world monuments like Angkor in Cambodia or the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the 2014 Watch List, released in October, includes five sites right here in the United States.

Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch sits within a landscape designed by Dan Kiley. © Doug Kerr / Flickr

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
St. Louis, Missouri

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You’re probably more familiar with this monument by another name: the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Built in the early 1960s as a symbol of the United States’ westward expansion, the Gateway Arch has become an internationally recognizable icon. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the 630-foot-tall stainless steel–clad structure remains the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Despite its resounding cultural significance, the World Monuments Fund has placed the Gateway Arch on its list of endangered sites due to neglect. The unusual shape, coupled with its far-reaching height, has proved a challenge for preservation efforts, not to mention the overall decline in government funding for the management and conservation of national monuments. As the monument prepares for its 50th anniversary in 2015, an overhaul of the Dan Kiley–designed landscape is currently underway.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed his home and studio to sit harmoniously alongside the Wisconsin landscape. © sswj / Flickr

Spring Green, Wisconsin

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Not even the architectural masterpieces of Frank Lloyd Wright are immune to the forces of nature which have put them at risk of decay. Taliesin, the famed architect’s home and studio in Wisconsin, was built on a sprawling 600-acre estate in 1911 in Wright’s signature “prairie style.” Like so many of Wright’s designs, Taliesin is a successful fusion of architecture and nature, where the building appears to be in harmony with the sprawling plains, and rolling hills of the landscape. Now one of the most celebrated residential buildings in the United States is decaying from water infiltration, drainage problems, roof failure, and other structural issues. Preservation goals are being putting in place to restore the building to its former glory and increase awareness of its architectural significance.

Views of the pristine tree-lined cliff's of the Palisades are threatened by new development. © waywuwei / Flickr

The Cloisters and Palisades
New York, New Jersey

Donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art by John D. Rockefeller Jr., the Cloisters museum and gardens in Manhattan's Fort Tyron Park was established in 1925, with the purpose of showcasing the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The establishment has since become a landmark site, with its uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, dense parkland, and the steep cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey. Now, Rockefeller’s wish to preserve this significant and undeveloped cultural landscape may be in jeopardy as plans have been approved for a new corporate headquarters to be constructed above the tree line in the Palisades. The World Monuments Fund has stated that such construction “would seriously affect one of the most unspoiled areas of the Hudson River” and have a devastating impact on this rare and cherished view from the Cloisters.” The site has been placed on the Fund’s Watch List and an online petition has been launched with the hope that it will cement efforts underway to eliminate such construction.

The Arts Building is one of several buildings at the George Nakashima complex. © neogelo / Flickr

George Nakashima House and Studio
Bucks County, Pennsylvania

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Architecturally significant for integrating modern style with Japanese craft traditions, this house and studio in Pennsylvania was built by master craftsman and architect George Nakashima, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Nakashima is considered to be a pioneer of the American crafts movement, and his work has inspired designers all over the world for its sophisticated yet humble aesthetics. Today the architectural masterpiece faces many preservation challenges, and proper training of craftsmen is imperative, in order to respect the original craftsmanship and structural integrity of the building.

Former prison buildings now house dozens of artworks by Donald Judd. © Katie Spence / Flickr

Chinati Foundation
Marfa, Texas

Formerly used as a military base in the early 20th century, renowned artist Donald Judd transformed this group of abandoned government buildings into permanent art installations, to showcase his own work, as well as other minimalist artists. The contemporary art complex which opened in 1986, in Marfa, Texas, has gained international recognition for bringing Judd’s artistic vision to life. The site attracts design-lovers from all over the world, and is considered culturally significant for its successful adaptive reuse and contributions to the art world. Today many of the buildings in the sprawling complex have structural failings and are rapidly deteriorating. In an effort to manage the site’s long-term preservation, the Fund has listed Chinati Foundation as a threatened site of 2014.

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