Nuclear bomber hangar among endangered U.S. sites

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The hangar that housed the nuclear bomber Enola Gay and a 1960s Los Angeles hotel are two of the most endangered historic sites in the United States, the National Trust for Historic Preservation said on Monday.

The organization also said a Frank Lloyd Wright Cubist-style temple in Illinois has fallen into disrepair, while Hawaii’s early 20th century Lanai City, on the island known as “Pineapple Isle,” is threatened by a planned commercial development.

Seven other buildings and sites were named on the 2009 list of places that deserve to be saved from the wrecking ball or, in some cases, from sheer neglect.

Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the 22nd annual list reflects the diversity and fragility of U.S. heritage.

“Places like these help tell all of our stories, and losing them not only erases a piece of our heritage, it also represents a threat to our planet,” Moe said.

The Trust said the United States needs a new approach to development, which focuses on sustaining and restoring buildings and infrastructure, rather than tearing them down and throwing building materials away.

The Enola Gay hangar, which housed the B-29 bomber that dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, is in a critical state of disrepair at the remote Wendover, Utah, airfield, the Trust said.

A federal grant of $450,000 was recently approved for work on the massive hangar, but the Trust said it believed that about $5 million was needed to restore the building, whose history has generated controversy.

“We are not getting into interpretation. The site itself is of great historic importance. It led to an action that some people felt was totally necessary to end the war but everybody agrees was horrendous,” said Peter Brink, senior vice president of programs at the Trust.

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois, was completed in 1908 and was one of the earliest public buildings to feature his signature exposed concrete design. Years of water infiltration have weakened the structure and the congregation cannot fund a multimillion-dollar repair.

The 19-story curved Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles opened in 1966 and was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who later designed New York’s World Trade Center towers that were destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The hotel’s new owners want to demolish the building and replace it with two 600-foot (183-meter) towers, even though the hotel had a $36 million facelift just over a year ago.

Actress and preservation activist Diane Keaton said Los Angeles had lost too many buildings to the wrecking ball.

“We need to lead by example and show the rest of the country that buildings are renewable, and we shouldn’t be throwing them away. We should be recycling them just like we recycle newspapers,” she said.

The full list of the 2009 most endangered historic places can be found at http://www.PreservationNation.org/11Most.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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