THE pace of tearing down homes in historic neighborhoods across the country is escalating to "an orgy of irrational destruction," warned the head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who called on communities to take action against replacing small old houses with McMansions.
"Tear-downs wreck neighborhoods. They spread through a community like a cancer, destroying the character and livability that are a neighborhood's lifeblood. I believe tear-downs represent the biggest threat to America's older neighborhoods since the heyday of urban renewal and interstate highway construction during the 1950s and '60s," said Richard Moe, president of the nonprofit group. He was to deliver the comments Wednesday night in San Francisco.
In 2002, when the trust first included "Teardowns in Historic Neighborhoods" on its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, 100 communities in 20 states had tear-down problems. Now 300 communities in 33 states face such issues. The National Assn. of Home Builders reports 75,000 houses are razed and replaced with larger homes each year.
The challenge, Moe said, is to initiate planning and preservation measures. In California, efforts have included a new zoning ordinance in Coronado that gives homebuilders "bonus" square footage to enlarge existing houses if they incorporate design elements that maintain the historic character of the community. In Santa Monica, voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have undermined the city's preservation ordinance.