The following was submitted to last week’s public hearing of the Lyman Street Study Committee, which is examining the possibilities for a historic &/or conservation district for the Lyman Street area (Mater Dolorosa church and Lyman Terrace housing complex are among the structures that could potentially be included):
Testimony to the Lyman Terrace Study Committee
April 26, 2012
My name is Max Page. I am a Professor of Architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I write about the history and theory of historic preservation, and am Director of the UMass-Hancock Shaker Village historic preservation program. We train students to restore historic buildings and to advocate for our common historic resources
When people hear a historic preservationist is speaking, they assume we are only interested in saving pretty old buildings.
I certainly do believe that beautiful architecture and outstanding examples of types of buildings are essential to maintaining our history and creating pleasurable cities and towns. Without the evidence of the past, and without examples of past achievements in architecture, our cities towns would be lifeless. Even as we build for today, we must maintain continuity with the past. Lyman Terrace is indeed important as architecture. Dating to 1939, and coming out of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the project is an outstanding example of early public housing. Just because there have been decades of neglect should not prevent you from seeing the strength of the construction and the quality of the idea behind Lyman Terrace.
But, frankly, I probably wouldn’t be getting involved in this struggle if I thought this was only about trying to preserve beautiful architecture.
Historic preservationists are ultimately interested in preservation of communities. We believe that by honoring the past – by protecting the key buildings and landscapes of our communities, telling their stories, and keeping them in use – we build a more sustainable and just world.
If you preserve Lyman Terrace you will are making a commitment to the idea of affordable public housing in the heart of your city. You will make a commitment to build a new Holyoke without pushing the poor and people of color to the margins.
If you choose to demolish it you will tearing down a lot more than architecture.
I arrived to live in Atlanta in 1996 just after the city had wiped away Techwood Homes, one of the very first public housing complexes in the country. They did it for all the reasons some in Holyoke are proposing to tear down Lyman Terrace – they said it was run-down, that there were “better” uses for the space, and so on. They put up Centennial Plaza, a glitzy, underused park for the Olympic Games. They never replaced all of those housing units and those they did were built beyond the city center, reinforcing segregation in the city. What they tore down in Atlanta – and what you are threatening to do here — was a commitment to affordable housing for working people in the heart of that major city.
Don’t do that in Holyoke. Honor your past. Don’t wreck it.