If the Anniston City Land Co. building is demolished, one of the city’s most significant historic landmarks and one of the last tangible reminders of the visionary leadership of the city’s founders will be lost to the type of shortsighted decision-making that has become the rule in this city.
I have reiterated a statement made many, many times by noted economist Donovan Rykema that he’s never seen a single successful example of downtown revitalization that didn’t include the preservation of historic resources as a major component. He goes on to say that virtually every dead or dying community he has seen has chosen to demolish their historic buildings. I wonder what he would think about Anniston, where our civic leadership seems to be openly hostile to historic preservation.
The recent shenanigans relating to the demolition of buildings on the criminal justice center site is just the latest in a series of “accidents” and “oversights” that have resulted in the demolition of historic buildings here. Now, because the city has failed to perform even basic maintenance over the past 10 years on the Anniston City Land Co. Building, it is using the partial collapse of a minor secondary wall at the rear of the building as justification that it is not safe and must come down. Of course, the deteriorated condition of that particular wall was well-documented in engineering studies dating back a year or more. So it’s no wonder that when no steps were taken to stabilize that wall prior to sending heavy demolition equipment to destroy the adjacent building, the wall collapsed due to the vibration.
In my 12 years in Anniston, I have heard nothing but lip service and excuses from successive councils and their staffs when it comes to historic preservation. During the eight years I sat on the City of Anniston Historic Preservation Commission, we almost never had a full complement of members because the council was unwilling to fill vacancies and we were provided with very little support. My frustration over the constancy of the situation led to my eventual resignation from the commission. Well, finally, the council recently appointed a full complement of members to the commission only to promptly relegate the body to irrelevance by failing to even let them comment on the Anniston City Land Co. building demolition.
Anniston will remain largely an economic development wasteland as long as it fails to recognize and capitalize on its existing assets. Prominent among those assets are its significant historic resources — buildings like the Anniston City Land Co., Noble Street and our historic neighborhoods. But our city seems to prefer to destroy the only real comparative advantage that we have to places like Oxford. It is just plain sad and extremely shortsighted. The consequences are predictable and will be unavoidable without a change of direction.
Anniston’s David B. Schneider is executive director of the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation.