October 9, 2008
Which history? Location or building? ... in Gettysburg …
Here’s a fascinating story that, blissfully, has nothing to do with housing. Which is more important: preservation of an historic location, or preservation of an historic building? According to the National Park Service, in Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, the history of the battleground must take precedence. This is why it wants to demolish the 1962 building that once held the magnificent 19th century cyclorama painting of the climactic battle (which in effect served as a visual documentary before the video age). The building is a mid-century modernist structure, which seems somewhat jarring to today’s more conservative sensibilities, and it stands incongruously on Cemetery Ridge, on a location where many died on both sides as the Union Army definitively pushed backed the final rebel charge. Buildings shouldn’t be on such ground, the Park Service reasons. Indeed, the government used eminent domain to buy and then demolish in 2000 an enormous private-attraction tower that once loomed over the battlefield (see a cool 8-second video here).
But the story (like the Civil War, itself, some say) can be painted from a different perspective. The now-unoccupied building is not just any old structure, but one of the most notable by Richard Neutra, a notable 20th century modernist, most of whose buildings are in the West. The Park Service commissioned the building as part of a famous plan to attract more visitors to national parks (in an age in which buildings and parking lots were seen as the way to attract tourists). Moreover, it appears that one reason that it isn’t listed on the National Register of Historic Places is that the today’s Park Service argued against inclusion. For a contention that every generation desires to tear down the previous generation’s architecture, and that every next generation then regrets it, see here. A lawsuit is pending, of course.
A win-win solution would be to move the building to another location. But such an operation would be difficult and would cost a lot of money, something that the government is a little short of right now. Hey, did the $700-billion bailout bill include any pork for the Gettysburg Park?
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October 7, 2008
Are we bailing out foreclosures? …
Local governments and American citizens hope expectantly that the financial bailout plan may do something to stem the tide of foreclosures that runs like toxic waste through many American localities, especially in low-income areas. (And by the way, did anyone really think that passage of the bailout plan would suddenly make lenders, who moved in herds through the housing bubble, to suddenly change course and start being much looser with credit?) Bad news continues to flow in: A report suggests that incomplete data from rural areas greatly underestimates the number of housing foreclosures across the nation.
Although I haven’t read the bailout legislation (allergies to pork, don’t you know), reports are that it will do little to force refinancing of mortgage loans to avoid foreclosures. One obvious obstacle is that the federal government is purchasing merely shares of mortgage-backed securities, not the full mortgages themselves, which makes it more difficult for government singlehandedly to “bail out” borrowers who are in over their heads.
But it seems safe to say that Democratic leaders are bound to push for legislation that would somehow re-write mortgage loans to try to avoid foreclosures. While this would be an unwanted precedent as a matter of “moral hazard,” and it might result in a decrease in cash flow to creditors in a time when cash flow is desperately needed, it might help local governments in their land use plans and management. Stay tuned …