Thursday, 22 May 2014

Demolition by Neglect

There's a phenomenon that has been happening in my city for decades that's known as "demolition by neglect".  What happens is that a building of historical significance is vacated due to underuse or lack of money to keep it open.  The building's owners, the city, heritage groups, and developers can't or won't agree on what to do with the property.  The fate of the building gets stuck in limbo while nobody takes care of it and it deteriorates from the elements.  Eventually the structure is deemed unsafe and/or unsalvageable and is demolished.

Notable examples of this have been:

The Seville.  A large theatre built in 1929 on one of the city's main streets, whose interior had an elaborate Spanish theme with the ceiling painted to resemble the night sky.  A redesign in 1950 saw most of the interior decor removed but the facade remained intact.  In 1985 the building was closed supposedly due to a spike in rent prices.  Over time the exterior became compromised to the point where it had to be demolished in 2010.  The location now is a condo project.

Van Horne Mansion.  A large greystone house near downtown, it was originally built in 1869 for the president of the Merchant's Bank of Canada.  In 1889 the president of the CPR Sir William Van Horne purchased the property, and it remained in his family thereafter.  In the early 1970s family squabbles over the ownership and maintenance of the property prompted the city to step in.  Despite public outcry, the mayor at the time declared that the house couldn't be preserved and had it demolished in the middle of the night.  A hotel now stands on the site.  (It was believed by many that the real reason for the demolition was that Van Horne was American and not a French Quebecer.)

Redpath House.  Built in 1886 in the Queen Anne style of architecture, this was the home of the wealthy industrialist John Redpath.  In 1986 the property was purchased by the Sochaczevski family but subsequently abandoned despite promises and court orders to maintain the house.  Heritage groups and the city fought for years over the need to preserve the property, meanwhile one wing of the house was destroyed without a permit in 2002.  Finally, after a provincial government minister tabled a report saying there was "nothing to save", the building was demolished in March 2014.  A condo development is planned for the site.

This kind of thing is happening not just here but in other cities as well: the core of my father's hometown looks nothing like it did when he was a boy.  Almost all of the older buildings have been destroyed and replaced with new ones.

There far are too many examples of old buildings being lost because of petty squabbles, shortsightedness, and disregard for heritage.  To help save what's left, people need to get more involved in their communities and pressure the people in charge to take a close look at what they need to save for the enjoyment of future generations.

1 comment:

  1. It's the recently "old buildings" that are being lost. Anything erected after the 30's, I'd say. Ever faster, the past catches up with the present. When everything from the 40's, 50's, 60's...aughts has been demolished, what remains will be the Collective Great Monument For Cataclysmized Species Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Fortunately, already there are at least 3 extant members of homo superior: in Blogster, sailorchronos; Maxnix; myself, idiomatixx. So keep making psyche-ic babies, Shay-Lore.