The Overlooked Areas on This Year’s “Endangered Places” List

Miami’s Little Santo Domingo and Chinatowns in both Seattle and Philadelphia appear on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual Most Endangered Places list, highlighting the perils gentrification poses to heritage districts.

Little Santo Domingo, Miami. Image courtesy of Allapattah Collaborative CDC

For a historic site, being listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of Most Endangered Places can be a one-way ticket to survival. The organization first launched the list in 1988 to draw attention to places across the United States in danger of irreparable damage, whether from vandalism, fire, dilapidation, or gentrification. Historical weight—not flashiness—is the main prerequisite for inclusion. Since launching, the organization has spotlighted more than 350 cultural sites, and only a handful have met the wrecking ball. Some, such as Arizona’s long-abandoned Camp Naco, secured $8 million in grants and have since been restored for community use.

This year’s list highlights a cross-section of historic sites reflective of the perils faced by dated urban areas. The Century and Consumers Buildings may be two of Chicago’s most iconic early skyscrapers, but nearly two decades of deterioration after the General Services Administration vacated them is raising security concerns. Union Pier played a crucial role in Charleston’s early economic vitality and served as a major point of arrival for thousands of enslaved people, but a proposed 65-acre mixed-use development may undermine its original character. Ditto for Miami’s Little Santo Domingo, whose proximity to in-demand and speculative real estate threatens the Dominican enclave with displacement. 

Philadelphia Chinatown. Photography by Terry Robinson/Flickr

Two of this year’s selections spotlight existential issues facing Chinatowns on opposite ends of the country—especially as developers’ hunger for their lucrative downtown-adjacent real estate grows. A mammoth highway built in the 1960s continues to scar Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, one of the West Coast’s oldest Asian-American locales and the country’s only area where Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, African American, and Vietnamese people settled together to build one neighborhood. Preservationists are resisting development to maintain the area’s character, but local agency Sound Transit is bullish on building light rail nearby that threatens to spark further gentrification.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown, meanwhile, is fending off plans by the owner of the NBA’s 76ers to build a giant basketball arena on the neighborhood’s southern tip. Local groups strongly oppose the project, citing the deleterious effects other gargantuan sports stadiums have wreaked on communities. Besides its status as one of the nation’s oldest remaining Chinatowns at 152 years old, the district is also home to 40 locally designated landmarks and serves as an enclave for working-class Asian immigrants. A stadium may spark gentrification and drive up congestion, dissuading visitors from patronizing Chinatown businesses, many of which are still recovering from the pandemic-induced economic slowdown. 

Charleston, South Carolina. Photography by Vanesa Kauffmann

“The most endangered historic places list looks like America,” Katherine Malone-France, the National Trust’s chief preservation officer, tells NPR. “It tells our layered and interconnected stories. Each site on it, of course, is a powerful place in its own right, but I think there are also common themes, like creativity and entrepreneurship, perseverance, and cultural exchange.”

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