Georgia preservationists hope Atlanta's Sweet Auburn Historic District's inclusion among the nation's most endangered historic sites will galvanize city and business communities to save the remaining landmarks in the once bustling area.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation added the corridor, which was once the center of African American civic, social and business life, to its 2012 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, which highlights examples of architectural, historic and cultural sites that are at risk of being destroyed through incompatible development or neglect.
Sweet Auburn, as it was known, was first named to the the list in 1992. Although there have been successes in revitalizing the residential part of the historic district, the commercial core has not fared as well, said David J. Brown, executive vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
"This was the heart and soul of a neighborhood," said Brown as he stood in a vacant lot between a towering housing development and the historic Atlanta Daily World building. "This was a very important place in American history and African American life in this country, and it's at risk. This could still be a jewel in Atlanta's crown in terms of economic and cultural development."
He said institutions such as nearby Georgia State University could play a vital role in helping preserve the district's history.
Preservationists were alarmed earlier this year when a proposal was made to demolish the historic Atlanta Daily World building on Auburn Avenue, which was heavily damaged during a 2008 tornado, and build housing units on that site.
The Atlanta Urban Design Commission rejected the demolition request.
"Hopefully, this will raise awareness to the level that people will come to the table," said Jesse Clark, executive director of the Historic District Development Corp., a nonprofit community development group that has helped revitalize and preserve the community. He estimated the historic district has lost at least four important buildings since it was last included on the endangered list.
He said they were either torn down or have seriously deteriorated through neglect or natural catastrophe. "Atlanta has never really had a strong history of preservation," Clark said.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has published its annual list for a quarter of a century. In addition to the Sweet Auburn Historic District, the list includes boxer Joe Frazier's gym in Philadelphia, historic U.S. post office buildings, the Village of Zoar in Ohio, and the Ellis Island Hospital Complex in New York.
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