They call them the Fragile Five: Arkansas landmarks in danger of destruction, whose loss would put a hole in Arkansas history. The Historic Preservation Alliance has announced its annual list of Arkansas’s Endangered Places.
Fittingly, the Alliance made its announcement at the once-endangered White-Baucum House, built in 1869 and 1970 at 201 S. Izard St., which has been brought back to life by businessman Jay Chandler.
Here are the properties, the reasons given by the Alliance on their choice and our own observations on the sites:
Arkansas mound sites, 1500 BC to 1700 AD.
This listing includes more than one property but many. These earthworks tell the story of Arkansas’s prehistoric cultures, Native Americans whose history is recorded only in the nonperishable items and earthworks left behind. Leveling for agriculture and residential and industrial development, erosion and looters have all taken their toll on these tangible pieces of a rich native history. Visitors to Toltec Mounds State Park or Parkin Mounds State Park are examples of what the mounds offer in the way of knowledge.
The Central High School Neighborhood Historic District
There has been private and public investment to preserve some homes around the historically significant and “most beautiful high school in America,” as we all know Central High to be. But alterations to houses and demolitions of its historic structures are jeopardizing the district’s historic designation and property owners’ access to the state and federal tax benefits that come with the designation. Central High Visitors Center is a national tourist attraction, as well; investment in the neighborhood would help restore some of Little Rock’s reputation.
Downtown Hot Springs (1886-1930)
Central Avenue’s historic buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, making the avenue one of the most distinctive and familiar commercial streets in Arkansas. While the ground floors of these older buildings are occupied with often bustling business, upper stories have gone neglected. Until recently, Hot Springs ordinances exempted upper stories from building codes unless they were occupied. But in the wake of the fire that destroyed the oldest section of the Majestic Hotel in February, the city created a Thermal Basin Fire District designation that allows property owners to install safe, modern fire suppression systems that preserve historic features. The Alliance hopes property owners, developers, city officials and community and state leaders will address the problems of large-scale vacancy issues with solutions that include reuse and rehabilitation of the structures.
The John Lee Webb House (1900), 403 Pleasant St., Hot Springs
John Lee Webb, a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute, “Supreme Custodian” of the Woodman of the Union fraternal order and president of the National Baptist Laymen’s Convention, was one of Hot Springs’ most influential African-American leaders. The home in which he lived for 30 years has long been vacant and is vulnerable to fire and vandalism.
The Thompson Building (1913), Hot Springs
The Classical Revival, white-glazed terra cotta façade of the Thompson Building, designed by state Capitol architect George R. Mann, is one of Central Avenue’s most important extant buildings from the early part of the 20th century. Built in 1913 as a five-story office building at 340-346 Central Ave., it is occupied only on the ground floor. A vertical shaft that runs through the top four floors makes it particularly vulnerable to fire. The building is eligible for state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, but its owner has not invested in improving or updating the property beyond the first floor. It would benefit from a retrofit to meet the recently adopted IEBC (International Existing Building Codes).