Integrated school listed as endangered historic site Little Rock school is failing test of time

July 05, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., where in 1957 federal troops were ordered to help nine black students integrate the student body, has been recognized as one of the nation's 12 most endangered historic sites by a leading preservationist group.

The dramatic newsreel footage of Elizabeth Eckford, a solitary black girl arriving for her first day of class only to be surrounded by jeering white classmates, has stood the test of time. The image, a melange of black and white, hostility and hope, has been burned into the American psyche.

The school building, however, has not fared so well. Its roof leaks, its water-damaged plaster walls are crumbling and its windows are cracked.

"Next year will be the 40th anniversary of Central High's integration," said Little Rock Mayor James Dailey, "but right now it's suffering and needs $6 million in repairs. And our school budget just doesn't allow for that."

Every year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation identifies what it considers America's most endangered places in an attempt to draw attention -- and renovation help -- to historically significant but structurally threatened sites. Dailey hopes that publicity surrounding this year's list will generate money for the rehabilitation of Central High.

This year, after publishing its usual top 11 list, the trust decided to add a 12th endangered site: "black churches of the South."

"Many of these churches are historic buildings, but more than that, they are the heart and soul of the communities in which they are located," said trust President Richard Moe.

Moe hopes this year's listings will help local groups involved with each site find the support they need to make repairs.

The other sites on this year's endangered list:

Sotterly Plantation in Hollywood, Md., built in 1770. Descendants of a slave and a slave holder are struggling to find money to keep the plantation's buildings open to the public.

Uptown Theater in Chicago, built in 1925. The 4,000-seat theater has been abandoned since 1981 and has suffered extensive water damage and vandalism.

The Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek, Calif., which served the mining and lumber industries between 1873 and 1995 and was the last working water-powered factory in the country.

The Harry S. Truman Historic District. Parts of the Independence, Mo., neighborhood where Truman grew up are losing their historic character with the advance of parking lots and nondescript buildings.

East Broad Top Railroad System in Huntington, Pa. A rare example of an intact 19th-century railway system, the narrow-gauge tracks wind for 31 miles over bridges and through tunnels and a company town. But the railroad's owners cannot afford to maintain it.

More than 100 adobe churches in New Mexico. Nearly one-third of the state's 362 earthen churches, some predating George Washington, have suffered well-intentioned but misdirected maintenance efforts.

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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