Preservation exhibit on tour in Beckley, WV

Get one in neon!

Remember my mention of King Tut’s in Beckley, West Virginia last week? Well, a news brief just rolled into my inbox about the town about a traveling exhibit organized by the West Virginia Preservation Alliance’s efforts to bring the need for historic preservation to the attention of West Virginians.

David Rotenizer with West Virginia State University, and organizer of the exhibit, says the past and the present can work together to build a stronger community, and keeping those landmarks alive is important.

“It is so often to lose vestiges of our past and once it is gone it is gone forever,” says Rotenizer.

He says preservation is vital for a better community.

“It defines who we are, and it just makes for better quality of life, it just feels better.”

I liked the sky :)

I did love that threatening sky!

Another article about the exhibit in the Register-Herald sheds more light on historic preservation, something that I agree is sorely needed in the historically rich Mountaineer State. Preservation Alliance member Lynn Stasick sheds a lot of light on the hows and whys for those who might not understand the importance of such preservation (why bother? who pays for it?) or even those who wish for certain places to disappear thanks to the bigotry West Virginians have long had to deal with; it’s actually a very good Preservation 101 primer (bolded emphasis added):

Stasick said PAWV doesn’t supply the funding to save these sites, but helps communities find the funding through grants, tax breaks and similar methods.

“Historic preservation encourages community involvement,” he said. “One of the big problems is that people think it’s cheaper to build a new building than restore an old one and that often isn’t the case. We had one site that would have cost $7 million to build a new building on. By rehabilitating the existing site, we were able to save almost $3 million.

“Historic preservation projects are intended to benefit the entire community and ignite a sense of pride and interconnectedness with other residents; we get people together to help communities. Rather than looking generic or like ‘any place,’ a community with a strong historic preservation becomes known as ‘some place.’

Stasick said there are four ways to handle historic properties. They are preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction.

“The choice of treatment depends on the site’s historical significance, physical condition, proposed use and intended interpretation,” he said. “Preservation focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time. They don’t want to do anything to a building. They want to maintain it as it is and as it has been.

“Rehabilitation or adaptive reuse acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character. Maintain as much of the original fabric of the building as possible. Keep the wood, the doors, the brick. The inside you can adaptively reuse for modern needs.

“Restoration depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history while removing evidence of other periods,” Stasick added. “What period do we want to bring the structure back to? Reconstruction recreates vanished or nonsurviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.”

We can all agree with that, especially in light of another preservation-related article also datelined in Beckley (oh, I so need an old-school radio mic to type that. I do!), explaining that three buildings in the town’s historic district are threatened by demolition, one of which is listed on the National Register.

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Main Street in the 1930s, courtesy West Virginia USGenWeb Project Archives

To replace the buildings? Parking, of course (and I’ll grant that downtown could probably use more parking, but there has to be a better way of going about obtaining it). Apparently, should these demolitions go through, the entire district could be removed from the register—and their removal would certainly alter the area quite a bit.

Caryn Gresham, Deputy Commissioner of the WV Division of Culture and History, said the biggest issue is that these adverse effects could lead to the area being taken off of the National Register of Historic Places.

Structural historian Michael Kyne said being on the national register can provide economic benefits for a community, including more stable property values, tax credits for individual buildings or the entire district and grant eligibility.

“Many people want to know the area they live in preserves the area’s history,” Gresham said. “It’s important for the community to appreciate the history, the architecture and the people who have left their mark previously.”

Not that we want to attack the man desiring to tear down the three buildings—it sounds as if he’s brought a lot of jobs and business into town:

Sans titre

(I was somewhat in love with this sign.)

Bickey owns McBee’s Irish Pub, The Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre, Sir Walter’s Tavern and Wildfire Saloon, which is currently being constructed. He also owns the building that houses The Bake Shoppe.

While Bickey has many ongoing uptown business endeavors, he said the establishments just aren’t seeing the type of traffic needed to survive.

“If people would come back (uptown), I would renovate those buildings sooner or later,” he said, as opposed to demolishing them.

He said he believes more people will visit uptown businesses if there are more parking spaces.

“Even though we have a $21 million parking lot, it’s a block to that parking building. It’s not that successful. People aren’t parking there because they don’t want to walk.”

He also stated that he’d hate to see Beckley lose its historic designation; considering what he’s done for the town, it is unfair for folks to rip into the guy.

Beckley Main Street

Downtown Beckley By Tim Kiser (w:User:Malepheasant) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us], via Wikimedia Commons

So what is to be done? The way some downtowns are set up, the historic building might not be able to stand without its two companions. Is leaving the facades up in order to maintain the look and view architecturally feasible? Not much can be done—especially in West Virginia, where believe me, it can be very cold and icy during the winter months, in a state where the population tends to be older and thus less mobile to begin with—about folks not wanting to walk. Some people just won’t, however silly that sounds to some; they simply don’t want to walk very far. Moreover, many drivers prefer to avoid large parking structures for personal safety reasons. (Also: They’re ugly.)

More convenient parking would probably help the area little bit, but losing historical character is quite possibly just as harmful; losing those places that very clearly mark a different age takes a great deal away from an area, particularly in a downtown/city setting that many Americans don’t find appealing to begin with. Then again, perhaps opening up the downtown area might actually make it seem more restful and inviting by making it less claustrophobic, though that’s hardly a label I feel comfortable slapping Beckley with. I do wish there were a way to save the historic building, but perhaps there is.

Our visit to Beckley several years ago was brief as we’d arrived late in the day after having been on the road since about 6AM, and very oddly, I don’t seem to have any photos of downtown (that or they’re labelled incorrectly, which does happen). The area has quite a few marvellous neon signs, though—and you can bet I hope these, too, are included in the “historic” designation and considered worthy of saving!


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