It’s the final day of 2016, a crazy year of ups and downs for the preservation community – particularly in Florida. Before we welcome 2017, let’s take a look at five big preservation wins, and five big losses and concerns.
1. This year, Florida and the nation commemorated 50 years of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Act laid the groundwork for programs and procedural protections that are fundamental to historic preservation efforts today. A big part of the Preservation Act is protecting archaeological sites, so we are incredibly grateful our partnership with Florida’s Division of Historical Resources and other concerned organizations and individuals led to the defeat of the proposed Isolated Finds bills during the 2016 legislative session.
2. There was also positive movement in preserving historic places in Florida in 2016, with the Division of Historical Resources reached 74 Certified Local Governments (one of the highest in the nation) and achieving 40 Main Street Communities throughout the state, including a new historic Main Street district in Northwood Road in Palm Beach.
3. The 53-year-old Miami Marine Stadium is designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a National Treasure, one of the historic places that reveal the richness of the American story. After appearing on the National Trust’s 11-Most Endangered list in 2009, the Stadium is well on its way to being saved. In November, Miami commissioners voted to borrow up to $45 million to restore the unique piece of Miami history.
4. The Old Boynton Beach High School, built in 1927, is under plans to be saved from demolition and to create a new community hub. The High School was threatened for many years, and was included on the Florida Trust’s 2014 Endangered-11 list.
5. There has been some exciting preservation wins in Pensacola this year, including the groundwork for a new ordinance preventing demolition without review of a home older than 50 years. Also, the discovery of the Tristan de Luna settlement, the site of a 1559 Spanish expedition led by Tristan de Luna which was doomed by a hurricane. Related to that expedition was the discovery by the University of West Florida archaeology program of a third shipwreck from the Tristan de Luna fleet in Pensacola Bay.
1. Probably no single preservation story attracted more attention this year than the fate of the Belleview Biltmore in Pinellas County. For a decade the National Trust collaborated with preservation organizations, including the Florida Trust and Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, to find a workable solution for saving the building. The hotel was included on the National Trust’s 2005 list of Most Endangered Historic Places and the Florida Trust’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 Endangered-11. Unfortunately new owners of the 1897 hotel and resort were ultimately not convinced. Demolition began in 2015 and was completed this year as developers prepare for building condos and townhouses in the iconic hotel’s place. The silver lining on the project is that the original lobby and 35 guest rooms have been preserved, moved and, according to developers, will be turned into a boutique hotel.
2. On October 7, Hurricane Matthew brushed along the East Coast of Florida bringing high winds, a significant storm surge and flooding. The storm was devastating for many historic property owners and historic buildings, particularly on the coast. In Summer Haven in St. Johns County the storm carved a new inlet making a portion of Old A1A, along with several houses, an island. Wood-frame homes over 100 years old were devastated by the storm surge. The storm also created archaeological site damage along the East Coast of Florida.
3. Riviera Beach’s Spanish Courts Cottages, an irreplaceable piece of Old Florida, were destroyed this year. Spanish Courts had appeared several times on the Florida’s Trust Must Watch list. The 77-year motel with stucco cottages, red-tile roofs and wrought-iron gates opened for business in 1939.
4. After a tense legal battle, the historic John Sunday House in Pensacola was demolished this year. The home was built by and lived in by one of the most prominent black Pensacolians of the early 20th century. Members of the John Sunday Society will continue to work in Pensacola to share the story and importance of John Sunday.
5. In 2016, Florida experienced the continued looting of archaeological sites on state lands and sovereignty submerged lands. These looters were caught near a site where researchers have found stone tools that may be up to 14,550 years old. Here is some great information and answers to frequently asked questions about archaeology in Florida.
So, while there was good news in 2016 there is still much work to be done to preserve Florida’s unique history and heritage. We have learned from this year and are ready for the challenges ahead.
A good way to kick off 2017? Nominate a historic place that matters to you for the 2017 Endangered-11.
Have a very happy new year – I look forward to working together in 2017!
Melissa Wyllie is the Executive Director of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.