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In a City Enamored with the New, Preservation is a Hard Sell

Recent headlines over the fight to protect a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for his son in Phoenix touch upon the city's larger struggle to protect its dwindling cache of historic buildings, reports Fernanda Santos.
October 22, 2012, 6am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Despite the proven economic benefits of historic preservation in neighboring states such as Colorado, a business community smitten with the "new, new, new" and laws that protect property owner rights are imperiling Phoenix's extant history.

"Preserving history is a tricky business in Arizona," writes Santos, "where so many old structures have been felled by fire, decay or development that the state's colorful past is often celebrated in recreated settings. Voters in 2006 approved a ballot measure giving property owners the right to file claims against the government if its regulations, like a historic or landmark designation, resulted in a decrease in their property's value." 

The national debate over fate of the David Wright House overshadows the recent and impending loses of buildings of local importance such as the the Madison Hotel and the National Register listed Hotel St. James. 

"Jim McPherson, the president of the Arizona Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit group, said that because so many people in Phoenix did not have roots here and knew little, or nothing, about its history, 'the hotels were just meaningless old buildings, nothing else.'"

"The question that ought to be asked, Mr. McPherson said, is, 'How do you continue to tell a city's story if the remnants of its past have all come down?'"


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Published on Saturday, October 20, 2012 in The New York Times
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