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A new report highlights Springfield’s most vulnerable historic buildings

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014
photo courtesy of Springfield Preservation Trust
The YWCA building on Howard Street

The Springfield Preservation Trust has released its 2014 list of the city’s most endangered historic properties, a group that includes homes, one-time manufacturing sites and two buildings that could be affected by the casino proposed in the city’s South End.

While the non-profit SPT has released a most-endangered list for a number of years, this was the first year the group solicited nominations from the public, said Timothy Cummings, co-chair of the committee that puts together the list. Opening the project to the community “gave people a chance to look around and see what buildings are affecting their neighborhood. … We use ‘endangered’ in a very broad sense. It’s up to individuals to define what that is,” he said.

“You can go through the city and find dozens and dozens of properties that are in disrepair and in need of attention,” Cummings added. “We try to highlight ones that have historical significance.” In addition, he said, the list focuses on buildings facing more immediate threats, either because of their poor conditions or other circumstances, like the potential casino development. “What properties are we in danger of losing in the near future?”

This year, the list includes Victorian Gothic brick row houses at the corner of Maple and Central streets that have been taken by the city for tax delinquency; a long-neglected carriage house on Mulberry Street; and a 19th-century Queen Anne house at 2335 Main St. that once belonged to Hale Smith, owner of a rubber-stamp factory in the city, and that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The endangered list also includes several buildings connected to the city’s auto-manufacturing history: the former Knox Automobile factory at 53 Wilbraham Rd.; the Willys-Overland Building at 151-157 Chestnut St., which was damaged in the downtown gas explosion in November of 2011; and 14-38 Park St., part of the Smith Carriage Company complex, which suffered some damage during the tornado earlier that year.

The vacant Junior Officers Quarters at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site is also on the list. So are two properties that fall within the footprint of MGM’s proposed casino: the former Union House hotel, at 1132-1143 Main St. (where, the SPT notes, President James Polk stayed while in town in 1847), and the YWCA building at 22-30 Howard St., which, the Trust says, is significant both for its architecture and its “importance to early social service history in Springfield.” (See a related op-ed on historic preservation in the casino area on page 5.)

The list, Cummings said, is not intended to shame property owners for neglect; for example, he noted, the Armory, like the SPT, is eager to see the Junior Officers Quarters preserved. “We’re not publishing the list to say these are bad people. … It’s just to draw attention to the fact that something needs to be done soon. We need to do something to save them,” he said.

“Springfield has such a rich history,” Cummings continued. “I think we take it for granted. But it’s something that needs to be protected, and if we don’t, we won’t have it.”

The SPT’s 2014 Most Endangered Properties list can be found at www.springfieldpreservationtrust.org.•

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