What makes a structure a historical landmark?
According to state and federal guidelines, any building at least 50 years old “qualifies to be considered historic,” notes Andy Poore, chairman of Mooresville’s Historic Preservation Commission.
But age is just one – and often the least important – aspect in deciding whether a structure is worthy of landmark status and the protections that go with it.
The assessment process “looks at the history of the building, why it was built, who built it, any significant facts or historical events that are associated with the building, as well as any proposed renovations, remodeling, new uses, additions, demolition, etc., all of which a historic commission weighs out when they are reviewing the application.”
Given those guidelines, it is clear that Mooresville’s 70-year-old War Memorial Center, which would be replaced by a new recreation complex under a plan proposed by the town, is worthy of consideration as a protected historical landmark.
While outside his jurisdictional control, Dan Morrill, consulting director for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission and history professor emeritus at UNC-Charlotte, agrees.
“Clearly, the building would qualify for landmark status,” Morrill replied when I described the center’s history and current situation. “Politics is another matter.”
I can think of no better authority than Morrill when it comes to determining the historical significance of buildings. Over the course of several decades, his work has led to the protection of dozens of properties in a community known for bulldozing its history and scrubbing away its grit to make room for gleaming buildings meant to signal progress. Unfortunately, the result often is an antiseptic urban soullessness.
Ask visitors to give their first impressions of Charlotte, and the first thing you’ll often hear is, “Well, it’s clean.”
I’ve been hearing from longtime Mooresville residents who fear that razing the War Memorial will send the town down the same irreversible path. As a Mooresville resident who lives within walking distance of the facility, I share that concern.
It was Mooresville citizens who raised the money on their own to build the complex, then chose to dedicate it in October 1949 as a memorial to Mooresville residents who served and died in World War II.
The notion of essentially destroying a war memorial alone is enough to anger some critics of the town’s plans. Mooresville officials say renovations at the neighboring Liberty Park will include a tribute to all Mooresville residents who served in the military, and that a portion of the replacement recreation complex will include a section dedicated to “telling the story of the War Memorial Complex.”
The reason that story is worth telling is the reason the War Memorial deserves preservation as a landmark, not merely remembered through its own form of memorial nailed to the walls of a new building on the same site.
Not to pick on Charlotte too much, but I’ve often referred to it as the City of Plaques because of its concentration of markers proclaiming, “Here once stood … .” There’s even an uptown walking tour focused on plaques that describe the significance of buildings no longer standing.
Mooresville must prevent the same circumstances.
The War Memorial is worthy of protection not because it is old, but because of the role Mooresville residents played in its creation, the ownership they took in it, the pride they displayed for it, their choice to designate it as a tribute to those who died in battle, and their decades-long relationship with it. They are mortar binding the bricks that breathe with their memories.
Let’s continue to honor them.
Some portion of the existing War Memorial should remain, regardless of the town’s vision for the site. Going back to the drawing board to alter the town’s plans would add to the overall price tag, but the historical cost of losing a significant landmark would be even greater.
– John Deem is editor of Lake Norman Publications (Mooresville Citizen, Herald Citizen, Denver Citizen and Mountain Island Monitor)