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Endangered Arkansas

The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas uses the month of May each year to release its list of the state’s most endangered places.

In the previous Southern Fried blog post, the inclusion on the HPAA’s list of the Medical Arts Building on Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs was discussed.

May is the release date for the annual list because it’s Arkansas Heritage Month. The Packet House on Cantrell Road in Little Rock, which is being transformed into an upscale restaurant, was the site of this year’s announcement.

“The 2012 list highlights distinctive historic places throughout Arkansas that represent important aspects of Arkansas’ history and heritage,” says Vanessa McKuin, the HPAA’s executive director. “In each instance, these places are integral to the communities where they are located, yet they are in immediate danger of disappearing from the landscape.

“By calling attention to these sites now, we want to encourage local action while there’s still time. It is our hope that inclusion on our list will provide those who care for these sites with the support and momentum to take their preservation efforts to the next level.”

The HPAA began releasing the list in 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of historic properties and the dangers they face from encroaching development and neglect.

Places that were on past lists include the Johnny Cash boyhood home and Dyess Colony administration building at Dyess, bluff shelter archaeological sites in northwest Arkansas, the Rohwer and Jerome Japanese-American relocation camps, the William Woodruff House in Little Rock, Magnolia Manor in Arkadelphia, Centennial Baptist Church in Helena and the Saenger Theatre in Pine Bluff.

There has been progress made on some of these endangered places, while others continue to suffer from neglect.

A major success story is the work being done in Dyess by Arkansas State University and the Arkansas Delta Rural Heritage Development Initiative.

Magnolia Manor in Arkadelphia is also a success story thanks to my friends Bill and Sherry Phelps.

Other success stories include the Selma Rosenwald School in Drew County (now a community center) and the Westside Junior High School building in Little Rock (now the home of loft apartments).

In addition to the Medical Arts Building in Hot Springs, this year’s list includes:

— County courthouses statewide: According to the HPAA, decades of “tight county budgets and deferred maintenance are taking their toll, resulting in leaking roofs, crumbling masonry and outdated environmental systems. As a result, some county governments are seeking to move to newer buildings, while others continue band-aid approaches to their buildings’ problems. … The alliance hopes to call attention to the lack of adequate funding for historic courthouses’ maintenance and repair and to encourage devotion of greater resources for these irreplaceable historic buildings so that they can continue to serve in their capacity as the seats of county government and the historic centers of their towns.”

— The 1926 Bigelow Rosenwald School in Perry County: Julius Rosenwald, the president of Sears Roebuck & Co., created a foundation in 1917 to support the education of black youth. The fund he established aided the construction of more than 5,000 schools across the South. There once were more than 300 Rosenwald schools in Arkansas. Fewer than 20 of these buildings have survived in the state. The Bigelow Rosenwald facility was used as a school until 1964 and then became a community center. It is now threatened by a lack of maintenance and a lack of funds for preservation.

— The Coker Hotel at Warren: The hotel was built in 1914 by Philip and Fannie Coker and served the timber industry as Warren boomed during the 1920s and 1930s. The building is now vacant and suffers from years of neglect. The elderly owner of the building lives out of state and has no plans for the hotel. Community leaders view it as a key piece in their plans to revitalize downtown Warren.

— The Holloway House at Hiwasse in Benton County: Hiwasse, which was located on the Frisco railroad line, once was a hub of the state’s apple industry. The two-story Holloway House was part of a homestead established in 1859. By 1898, A.J. Nichols had constructed an eight-room house with three rooms that could be rented by overnight guests. Nichols served for a time as the postmaster. The house, also known as the Pioneer House, has been abandoned for many years and is deteriorating.

— The Holman School at Stuttgart: A Rosenwald school on the site was replaced by a masonry building in the 1940s. A second building and a gym were constructed in 1955. Named after teacher John Holman and his wife, the school operated for black students until the 1970 desegregation of the Stuttgart School District. The facility was acquired by the Holman Heritage Development Corp. in 1996 for use as a community center. A storm did serious roof damage in 2008, and repairs are still needed.

— Monte Ne and the Oklahoma Row Hotel in Benton County: The resort community of Monte Ne was founded in the early 1900s by William “Coin” Harvey. At 316 feet long and 50 feet wide, the Oklahoma Row Hotel was believed to be the largest log hotel structure in the world. The majority of Monte Ne was flooded when Beaver Lake was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, the remaining three-story tower of the hotel still stands alongside the lake. The Corps of Engineers has considered demolishing the site unless partner organizations agree to take over its maintenance.

— The New Hope School in Cross County: The building was constructed in 1903 and was expanded prior to 1930 to a two-room school. Classes were held there for almost 50 years before consolidation sent students to Wynne. Situated atop Crowley’s Ridge, the building is vulnerable to high winds and the elements. The Cross County Historical Society’s restoration committee is trying to raise the funds to renovate the building as a museum and gift shop along the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway.

— The Palace Theatre at Benton: The Palace opened its doors in March 1920, but the builder was forced to sell it within months. The building changed owners several times during the next decade. After World War II, the Palace was operated as a youth recreation center. It closed in 1953. For a few years in the early 1960s, it operated as the Panther Den. The city eventually bricked up the windows and installed an arched entrance and a white vinyl facade so it could be used as the Saline County Library. The library operated in the building from 1967-2003. The horrible vinyl facade was removed in 2005. The building, which has a leaking roof, is now used for storage.

— The V.C. Kays House at Jonesboro: This house was built by the first president of Arkansas State University in the English Tudor style. The Kays family occupied the home from 1910-43. ASU purchased the house from the Kays Foundation in 2004 and recently announced plans to construct sorority houses on the site. After strong opposition to the home’s demolition arose, the ASU adminstration announced that it would give proponents of saving the Kays House one year to raise funds for preservation and maintenance. The administration stated that no university or foundation money is available for preservation.

Founded in 1981, the HPAA is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the state’s architectural and cultural heritage. The most endangered places list is released each year in an effort to:

— Raise awareness of the importance of the state’s historic places.

— Generate support for saving endangered properties.

— Provide a tool for evaluating and prioritizing preservation needs in the state.

— Make endangered properties eligible for technical and financial assistance.

— Support the goals of Arkansas Heritage Month and National Preservation Week.

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