Historical preservation requires teamwork

Last Wednesday night, the Boulder City Planning Commission ruled that it had acted properly in issuing a demolition permit for the old hospital on Park Place to developer Randy Schams.

The appeal filed by the Historic Boulder City Foundation was denied and, pending final approval from the City Council on Nov. 10, Schams will be free to demolish the historic building.

No matter how the board ruled, or how the city will vote in two weeks, it is a no win situation for practically everyone involved. The only possible person to benefit from the contentious situation is Schams himself, who will soon be free to develop the property.

The basic problem with the entire situation is that the old hospital building is private property.

Sure it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. But that designation doesn’t guarantee that it must be preserved. The registry only serves to state that the site has “significance to the history of their community, state, or the nation.”

According to the National Park Service, which oversees the registry, “a property owner can do whatever they want with their property as long as there are no federal monies attached to the property.”

If the federal government won’t step in to preserve a historic building, is it the city’s place?

Certainly asking the City Council to determine the fate of a piece of private property is a dilemma. While many would want the council members to step in and save the old hospital, would they feel the same way if they stopped them from doing something to their own homes? Would it be fair for the city to say you can’t tear down an old porch and replace it with a rose garden?

Then again, whose place is it to help preserve treasures such as the old hospital?

It is one of the first buildings Six Cos. erected when the city was created during the construction of Hoover Dam. In this case, it is significant to the town’s history and belongs on the national registry.

There also is a great deal of emotional attachment to the old hospital building. It’s where many of our town’s residents were born.

If the foundation did succeed in preventing demolition of the building, what would it accomplish? Unless the group has millions of dollars, it certainly couldn’t purchase the old hospital from Schams or restore it to its former glory.

Its idea to transform the building into a museum is nobel. Museums are a great asset to any community, and especially one so steeped in history.

But let us not forget that Boulder City already has a great museum. It also could use some of the support the foundation members are expending on an all-but-certain lost cause.

The time to act was months ago, long before the hospital fell into disrepair, and long before Schams purchased the property.

Although the foundation members are obviously unhappy with the ruling, their cause is not entirely for nothing. At the very minimum, they raised the community’s awareness about the plight of historic buildings in the city. It has and will continue to get people to think about how these city treasures should be treated and cared for.

It is already making a difference for another historic property in town: the Browder Building on Nevada Way in the downtown area.

I certainly don’t condone destroying historic buildings. Like many others, I have an affinity for old architecture and the stories behind them.

Perhaps instead of being adversaries, the city and foundation should find a way to work together and establish a good plan where guidelines and recommendations are established for dealing with historic properties. That way everyone wins.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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