Category: Olympics

This Week

A weekly round-up of my favorite preservation related stories from around the web and in the newsClick on the title of each story to jump through to the original article/blog post.

malt house

Edith Windsor (at the center of the Supreme Court case) first met her wife, Thea Spyer, at Portofino (now The Malt House) in Greenwhich Village. Image via The Malt House

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic decision this week, the NYT briefly profiles some of NYC’s gay landmarks. “… [S]ocial landmarks don’t make their significance readily apparent. A bit of context is often needed to appreciate the triumphs, disasters and dramas that have played out in these buildings. The Gay Pride Month 2013 guide (PDF) prepared by Christopher Brazee, Gale Harris and Jay Shockley of the Landmarks Preservation Commission is an engaging reminder that buildings can breathe with life to those who know something about them. ”

Six Reasons Why More Americans Should Care About Saving Old Homes – Preservation Journey

Six quick and dirty reasons why we should care about saving old homes.

What Happens To An Olympic City After The Olympics? – The Picture Show

Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit are documenting former Olympic cities. “We’re not for or against the Olympics,” says Hustwit. “We wanted to see how all of this development has been integrated into the cities — or not. And to look at the idea of planning … for the legacy of these facilities.”  The slide show offers 16 new images, a sort of “where are they now,” of Olympic facilities.  If you are interested in learning more about the impact of the Olympics on cities, check out this Bricks + Mortar series from earlier in the year.

Ghost Island Looms Large Among Displaced Inupiat Eskimos -NPR


“The abandoned Kings Island is only accessible by helicopter or by chartered boat.” Image via NPR

“Out in Alaska’s Bering Sea, about 90 miles from Nome, sits a small, rocky island that used to be home to a couple of hundred Inupiat Eskimos. They lived in houses built on stilts, perched on rocky cliffs. Then, about 50 years ago, the threat of rock slides, the spread of tuberculosis and the loss of men to World War II forced residents to relocate to the mainland. King Island has been a ghost island ever since. Now, Anchorage poet Joan Naviyuk Kane has raised almost $50,000 through to bring a group of former King Islanders and their descendants, including herself, back for a visit. Kane has written two books of poetry, which both deal with issues of displacement and cultural identity, and is currently working on a novel based on the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.” Place and cultural identity are often wrapped up together and are common issues for preservationists.

 Heritage Preservation Brings $1B to Utah Economy – Herald Extra


Utah. Image via The Heritage Tourist

“Heritage and history are a billion-dollar business in Utah, according to a new study.  Heritage tourism has brought more than $1 billion to Utah’s coffers, with $717 million in direct and indirect spending by visitors to heritage sites and special events; and another $350 million in invested taxpayer funds that stayed in Utah rather than being sent to Washington because of projects that used the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit.”



The Olympics and Preservation IV: Demolished Neighborhoods

To wrap up my post-Olympic series, I’m going to share a few images and descriptions of historical places demolished to make way for Olympic venues.

Techwood Homes, Atlanta

Techwood Homes, completed in 1936, was the United States’ first public housing project.  Built on the site of a shanty town the project was meant to provide clean and safe housing for low-income families employed downtown or at the nearby warehouse district who had been living in the 14 block slum called Techwood Flats.

File:Techwood Flats.jpeg

Techwood Flats in 1920 via the Digital Library of Georgia/Wikimedia

FDR dedicated the new housing in 1934 before the project was completed.  The units provided electricity and running water to every resident.  The complex also included lush landscaping, parks, stores, and other amenities.  Unfortunately, the project displaced 1,611 residents of Techwood Flats. And though 26% of Techwood Flats inhabitants were African American, Techwood Homes was a segregated facility. Only white families were permited to rent the units.


Residents of Techwood Homes in the late 1930s via the Library of Congress/Wikimedia

Techwood Homes was integrated in 1968. Within six year, fifty percent of the facility was occupied by African Americans prompting plans to relocate its inhabitants to  the outskirts of the city.  Fortunately, that plan was scrapped.  Less fortunately, the complex became a hive of crime with gang and drug related activity by the 1980s and continued to be crime ridden into the 90s.

Despite being listed in that National Register of  Places, the majority of the Techwood complex was demolished in preparation for the 1996 Olympics. According to the Georgia Encyclopedia, officials and city leaders feared international reaction to the high crime and poverty.  Only the most architecturally significant buildings were retained, mitigating the loss of historic fabric. It was replaced by mixed-income luxury apartments that few Techwood residents could afford.

One of the few surviving Techwood Homes buildings via WABE

Although the crime rates and poverty were untenable, it is unfortunate that so many people were displaced by this decision. It is also unfortunate that a more preservation friendly solution (renovation, adaptive reuse, etc)  was not found.    The demolition of the Techwood Homes complex represents a missed opportunity and is a great loss to the history and character of the city of Atlanta, even if that history was mired in negative race and social issues.

Hutongs, Beijing

Beijing was once characterized by hutongs – narrow alley ways densely populated by courtyard houses with tile roofs that wind away from main boulevards and squares. Many of these labyrinthine hutongs dated from the 13th century when the Mongol founders of the Yuen Dynasty created the city’s grid.   This once ubiquitous feature was dwindling even before the city hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008 due to the rapid development and modernization of the city.   It is estimated that of the 3,600 hutongs standing in 1980, only 2,000 remained in the lead up to the games.  Many of these remaining structures were destroyed to make way for Olympic venues and the infrastructure to support them.

Aerial view of a Beijing hutong via Xian Tour

As development ramped up in anticipation of the games, the reaction of Beijing’s residents and officials was mixed. Some insisted that the hutongs and their homes were in good condition and that the traditional community of courtyard life, with neighbours who take care of each other, was preferable  to high-rise apartments (this is no less true in 2012 – hutong residents threatened by continued development remain loyal to their way of life). Others believed the hutongs were overcrowded and lacked modern services, like basic water and sewage, necessary for  people to live safely (still a concern today in remaining hutongs).

Beijing hutong via Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

Both sides have valid points. Community and tradition are vital to the culture of a city, but clean and healthy living environments are essential for the safety of modern urbanites.  A balance must be struck. Unfortunately, the cost of modernizing hutongs to meet modern expectations is costly.  However, it is by no means impossible. It is impossible, on the other hand to replace the hutongs once they have been demolished and no matter on which side of the argument one falls,  these hutongs are culturally irreplaceable.

Hutong Life via Beijing Xingang Tours

In 2012, UNESCO estimated that more than 88% of the old city’s hutongs  no longer exist – most were demolished in the last 30 years.

The Olympics and Preservation III: Imagine All the People

For the last few days, I’ve been talking about the Olympics and preservation. Up to this point, I’ve focused on the actual Olympic facilities and their preservation (or lack of). Today, I’m going continue my Olympics wrap up, but I’m going  to veer off that course a little. I’m going to talk about people displaced by the construction of massive Olympic venues and what that means for them, for their communities and for preservation.

Forced displacement is not just an Olympics issue.  The poor, the homeless,  ethnic minorities, the working class – they are often displaced in the name of progress. They are displaced by parks, by urban development and infrastructure. It happens every day. I can think of at least three incidents in Kentucky off the top of my head (Old Birmingham under Kentucky Lake, the Between the Rivers Communities, the Ohio River Bridges Project. But the Olympics is big-time.  The money spent is big. The amount of construction is big. The stakes are big.  The viewership is big (some speculate as much as 2/3 of the world’s population tuned in for this summer’s games).  And the number of people displaced is big and is getting bigger. In 2007, the Centre for Housing Rights (a UN-funded entity), found that more than 2 million people were displaced (directly or indirectly) between 1988 and 2008 by the Olympic games. This makes the Olympics one of the top causes of displacement and real estate inflation in the world.

A man beside his partially demolished home in Beijing, 2008 via NYT

The Centre for Housing Rights also reported that forced displacement increased in each successive city, it disproportionally affected the homeless, poor, and ethnic minorities and it had long term effects on adjacent working class areas due to accelerated real estate inflation. For example, in Barcelona, housing prices rose 139% while rental prices rose 145% and public housing decreased by 76%. The Barcelona games also displaced 90% of the city’s Roma population. In Atlanta, 2,000 public housing units were demolished for the 1996 Olympics displacing 6,000 low income residents. An additional 30,000 residents were eventually displaced due to gentrification.  Five years before the London games, property values were already escalating on the East End. More than 1.5 million people were displaced by the Beijing Olympics according to some human rights organizations (the Chinese government denied the allegations). Currently, the favelas of Rio are in the news with stories of people forced out of their homes at gunpoint and bulldozers lining the streets to make way for World Cup and Olympic venues.

Techwood Homes in Atlanta demolished photograph via the Affordable Housing Institute

The people displaced by “mega-events” or the construction of interstates or the creation of parks – they lose more then their homes. They lose their neighborhood and community. They lose their collective history, experiences, and day-to-day routine.  Sometimes they lose their livelihood when their business is demolished or they are relocated to an area too far from their place of work to feasibly commute. With little or no compensation. With little or no choice.

They lose the place they grew up. The park  where they learned to swing a bat, kick a soccer ball, shoot hoops.  The place they had their first kiss. The store that gave them their first job. The church where they got married. The place they started their family. Saw their children take their first tottering step. Shared stories over cups of tea or sangria or Caipirinha with their mothers, fathers, grandparents, neighbors.  They lose the culture of the neighborhood.  These places and their distinct characteristics just cease to exist.

A home in the Vila Autódromo favela threatened by World Cup and Olympic development in Rio via the Global Post

Historic preservationists talk a lot about place memory.  The intangible associations that are wrapped up in a place  (historical or not) that give them meaning.  This is why we have memorials – a place to go to remember. It’s why we walk through the Coliseum and think about all the people who have walked there before us for hundreds of years.  It’s why we touch a bannister in an historic house and think, “I’m touching something George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Margaret Sanger, Louisa May Alcott etc.” touched. Or when we visit the place our ancestors were born – be it another country or a rural farm one state over. Places connect us to our history. For the people displaced by the Olympics that sense of connection is often lost.

On the other side of the coin, some argue that many of the neighborhoods demolished to make way for new development are derelict, have crumbling infrastructure, or have negative associations with the past and the people who live in these areas are better off in new communities with better infrastructure and amenities.

This and a closer look at a few neighborhoods lost to the Olympics tomorrow.

The Olympics and Preservation II: Abandoned or Demolished

Sunday, the 2012 Summer Olympics went out with a big British bang. The closing ceremonies included Peter Pettigrew Winston Churchill reciting Shakespeare and other wonderful absurdness. But what happens to the 500 acre, $760 million Olympic Park now?

The Olympic Committee  promised that the park would become a legacy. The buildings that once showcased and housed the best athletes in the world will not be abandoned, but will be used to benefit the community.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some success stories: former Olympic facilities that have been maintained and are still in use as sports and culture facilities or as housing. This not only  preserves these important cultural assets, but also provides economic benefits to communities.

Unfortunately, not all cities are able or willing to continue to use former Olympic facilities. Some cities have abandoned the facilities, while others have demolished them to make way for new development. The following are a few examples.


In London, the 1908 Olympics’  White City Stadium or “Great Stadium” was used for several exhibitions, athletics, grey hound racing, and other events (including the 1966 World Cup) until 1985  when it was demolished to make way for the BBC Broadcast Centre Building. Although demolishing such a storied structure isn’t a preservationist’s dream, the BBC made an effort to commemorate the site. The 1908 Olympic athlete’s are listed on the side of the building and the finishing line is marked on the sidewalk.

White City Stadium via The Telegraph



Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle, where the boxing, wrestling, and weightlifting events for the 1936 Olympics were held, was demolished in 2011. Built by Hitler, it was once the largest sports arena in the world and was the site for large Nazi rallies. It was replaced by a conference and exhibition center slated to open next year.

A demolition company explodes the support beams and columns in the roof of the Deutschlandhalle: Nazi sports stadium demolished in Berlin

Berlin’s Deutchlandhalle demolition via The Telegraph



The original Wembley Stadium was constructed in 1923. It hosted the British Empire Exhibition, several world cup finals, the 1985 Live Aid concert, as well as the 1948 Olympics.  Controversially, it was demolished in 2003. The new Wembley Stadium opened on the same site in 2007.

Demolition work on the famous twin towers in 2003

Demolition of Wembley Stadium in 2003 via BBC




Though the Olympic Stadium built for the 1994 Summer Olympics in Athens is well-maintained and still used for sporting event, other Athens venues have been abandoned, including the beach volleyball stadium, the training pools, the Taekwondo and handball arena, and the softball field.

Athens Volleyball Stadium via



1984 Sarajevo Olympic Village via



1936 Berlin Olympic Village via The Telegraph



Just 17 months after the Beijing Olympics, some Olympic venues were already overgrown and dilapidated, including the $750,000 BMX track.

The 2008 Beijing Olympics BMX Venue 17 months later

2008 Beijing BMX Track via



It could definitely be argued that not all Olympic venues can or should be preserved.  However, it seems an awful waste of time, money, and resources to invest in these facilities only to tear them down or abandon them.  A greener and more economically beneficial alternative is almost always the reuse of an existing structure.

I hope London can make use of their multimillion dollar investment in the future.  But at the very least, I hope that promises are kept and the facilities are not abandoned. Abandoned and neglected sites not only do not benefit communities but can be harmful. Abandoned buildings can be dangerous and cause nearby property values to plummet.

The Olympics and Preservation I: What Happens to Olympic Parks after the Games?

So much goes into preparing for and hosting the Olympics. The host city must construct venues for the events (some are beautiful architectural feats like the Bird’s Nest in Beijing), navigate infrastructure issues (roads and side walks in and around the Olympic park), and then there is lodging and public transportation for the thousands of visitors who flock to the games.  London made headlines and drew criticism (who can forget this political gaffe?) in the lead up to the opening ceremonies thanks to traffic issues, problems with security and other kinks that still needed to be ironed out. This illustrated the tremendous amount of time, effort, money and coordination necessary to pull off such an event.  All of this with the world watching – for about two weeks anyway.

bird's nest

The Bird’s Nest via

So what happens to the Olympic Park after the games? These are places where history is made – records won, political tensions brought to the forefront (the Nazi Olympics, countries not invited, etc) and sometimes they are the site of tragedy (1972 Munich Olympics hostage situation).  Disuse and lack of purpose is a great threat to historic places.

I did a little poking around on the internet and it turns out that the venues are dealt with in a variety of ways.  As would be expected, some continue to be used as sports facilities, to house other large events, tourist attractions or as housing (athlete villages) while others are abandoned/demolished.  In some cites just a few of the facilities are maintained while other are deserted or demolished.

Now that the 2012 Summer Olympics have wrapped,  the 500 acre Olympic Park is being referred to as a “legacy” and promises have been made to use the facilities to the benefit of Londoners for years to come.  In that spirit, here are a few cities who have put their Olympic venues to good use.

Some cities continue to use the facilities for sporting events.

Athens’ 2004 stadium is often used for soccer events and has been set on fire numerous times by soccer hooligans.  Melbourne’s 1956 venues are now a part of the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Precinct and are regularly used for sporting events. Munich’s 1972 Schwimmhalle, where Michael Spitz won 7 gold medals is available to swim teams, has been the site of the Munich Triathalon since 2003 and is open to the public.

Munchen Olympia-Schwimmhalle

Schwimmhalle, 1972 Summer Olympics Munich via Allyson Angle

Canada Olympic Park, host of the 1988 Winter Olympics is now a high performance training facility as well as a recreational facility open to the public. It is also used for zip lining and summer camps during the summer. The Lake Placid venue (Winter 1932 and 1980) are similarly used.The National Trust recently published a great slideshow of the Lake Placid facilities here.

Cyclist at Canada Olympic Park via

Some former Olympic venues are currently used for cultural events.

The Magdalena Mixhuca, site of the 1968 Summer Olympics is now a sports and culture venue.  The Olympiapark in Munich, host of the 1972 Summer Olympics is a cultural, social and religious venue. It is used for festivals, ice dancing expos, and religious events.


Tollwood Festival at Olympiapark in Munich via  Destination Munich

Former Athlete Housing now used by Students.

In Atlanta, the 1996 Olympic Athlete’s Village is now housing for students at Georgia Tech and Clark Atlanta University. Likewise, the women’s Olympic Village in Munich (1972) is also student housing. (In fact, a friend’s mother lived in the facility when she was in college in Munich).

These are great examples of host cities that use the expensive facilities and infrastructure they constructed for the Olympics after the two week event.

Though the powers that be in London  have a long way to go to put into place their plans for using the 2012 facilities (including the construction of a new university, turning the Athletes’ Village into apartments, opening an Olympics museum, and other tourist attractions), these examples prove it can be done.