Scourge of urban renewal

Thank you to Mr. Bob Enoch for his measured, well-reasoned and generally sympathetic reply to my rant about the impending destruction of the Mather building. I, however, am sadly incapable of such polite civility; once again I am livid. It is fitting that Parkersburg chose Ash Wednesday to consign another of the city’s last remaining attractive, historic buildings to dust.

What is the point of the National Register of Historic Places if any owner may erase a listed building from the landscape because he can’t find anyone to buy it, and doesn’t want to pay the property taxes anymore?

Mr. Enoch’s point regarding property rights is correct and well taken; the owner of the Mather building has the right to sell his property to whomever he chooses. However, does it necessarily follow that WesBanco has the right wantonly to obliterate it, or Mr. Shaffer to destroy his lovely Citizen’s National building?

In England, listed buildings may not be demolished unless they have been grievously and irreparably damaged — e.g. by fire. That’s their purpose in listing them.

If Winchester Cathedral were located in this county rather than in Hampshire, I am confident the County Commission would long ago have authorized its sale for demolition and conversion into a metered parking lot, and some bird-brained bureaucrat would enthuse about its being an “investment in downtown.” They probably wouldn’t even put up a plaque marking the spot where Jane Austen’s grave was paved over.

What a rich irony it is; “urban renewal,” (surely my least favorite phrase in the language), rendered downtown unlovely, unvisited and virtually uninhabitable in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and what’s the reaction of today’s city government? More urban renewal. Destroying history for fun and profit!

Other cities offer tax breaks, grants and other incentives for renovation of historic structures, but not dear old PKB, where greed rules all. Put in another parking lot! Them meters generate revenue!

I suppose my anger and sadness are due mostly to my own romantic nature — my desire quietly to roam the halls of pretty old buildings, listening for the echoes of soft voices long extinguished. A romantic nature belongs in Marietta; this city is governed by Philistines.

John Matthew Hale



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