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Historic Preservation Adaptive Reuse

Submitted by Editor on April 8, 2010 – 4:34 am | Print or Email »No Comment

by Roxanne K. Owens

The Historic Preservation “movement” has been a strong force in our culture for many years. After the Second World War, an economic boom sent the United States into a building frenzy. Areas once thought of as suburbs were gobbled up and joined through expansive developments. Part of the reason for the flight to the new suburbs was the increased availability of cars. Cities were no longer pedestrian in nature. Few people walked to work and people moved further and further away from their places of business. This was especially true in large cities.

Many of the architectural treasures built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were torn down and replaced with buildings which were strikingly different, primarily for their lack of architectural details. In many parts of the of the country, any buildings which appeared “Germanic,” with half-timbering or chalet-like features, were razed. Only later, during the 1960s, did people begin advocating for adaptive reuse policies. A fine example of adaptive reuse is the conversion of the Uniroyal plant into Banbury Place. The old building shell is still visible and usable as a facade to house the new shops and businesses.

With the coming bicycle trail, it is hard to understand why the city is considering removing the footbridge over the Eau Claire River. [Note: this was originally published in November of 1998. The bridge has since been rebuilt, not removed.] It still serves as a link between neighborhoods, now serves to link the East Hill with Banbury Place businesses, and continues to serve families on the north side as a link to the Boyd Park ball field and skating rink.

In their August 1985 Report on the Waterways of Eau Claire, the Eau Claire River Committee recommended that local festivals and other events be encouraged along the waterways. The group also recommended that the “greenbelt” pedestrian/ bicycle trail system be extended and other public improvements be made along the trail system route. In their recommendations, the Boyd Park area was referred to as the “prime area for the development of a pedestrian/bicycle trail system.”

Leaving the pedestrian bridge in place would link Boyd Park with the trail system. As development increases at Banbury Place (shown above), what a boon it would be be to have parking on both sides of the river. Keeping the connection between the park and the trail would also give bicyclists another option for a place to leave their cars, and might also spur some additional commercial development.

Most preservationists aren’t the crazed fanatics they are often portrayed to be. Most of them are reasonable, sane people who are just trying to find a reuse option that makes it practical to save an older structure. Preservationists understand that not all structures can be saved, and indeed, not all structures SHOULD be saved. But our pedestrian bridge is more than just an urban oddity, it was and IS a link between neighborhoods, parks, and businesses, and now, with the coming of the bicycle trail, is more important than ever.

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