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Dr. Hatheway welcomes your letters and will attempt to answer them in this forum as
his schedule and the appropriateness and interest level of the topic will allow.
Demolition of Historic FMGP Buildings
Dear Dr. Hatheway,
I am a resident of Mytown, XX and an admirer of one of our city's few industrial gems the surviving brick structure at the site of a former MGP (it is one of the "FMGP In The News" items on your website). I corresponded with an engineer about a year ago who indicated that the vast majority of such structures have been demolished. If ours is indeed one of a few, or even a few hundred, that remain, it would lend extra support to those of us in the community who are advocating for its preservation. The building was designated a local landmark in XXXX.
Do you have an idea of approximately how many similar structures are still standing in the U.S.? Thanks for any help you can provide.
I'm enjoying the "FMGP in the Arts" section of your site!
Dr. Hatheway responds...
Dear Mr. Doe:
Your letter of concern surely "stirs" me, as I am also an historical preservationist, particularly in the sense of FMGP structures and of the artifacts that are routinely exhumed and cast aside during their remediation.
Your findings from the "engineer" are totally valid, on just that one source of reference. The situation is that once forced to undertake remedial actions, the owners (mostly utility firms) act quickly to remove all surface evidence of the FMGP, such as will linger over the years and also serve to generate commentary from older citizens who may tend to remember the strife that occurred in the struggle to bring the RP to actual remedial action.
It is a rare instance indeed, when any former gasworks structure is allowed to remain standing.
And that is deplorable, in my mind.
Nationally, given my estimated figure (my website) of some 3,500 FMGPs built and operated as public utility plants, it is my sense that perhaps 800 of the largest and/most "visible" plants have received some sort of remedial attention. Of these, I would estimate that perhaps fifty may have at least one remaining structure. Of the total estimated number of 3,500 FMGP public utility plants, my estimate is that virtually all have been subjected to some form of post-operational demolition-removal of surface structures, and that perhaps 80 percent of the my total estimated number show no visual surface evidence at all, to the layperson's eye, at least, of any remaining evidence of the gasworks.
Most of the FMGP demolition has been driven by two forces; 1) owner desire to reduce the property-tax burden, and; 2) conversion needs for space required for consumer-service activities requiring vehicles, trenching, meter shops, and distribution-pipe supply storage brought about by vast expansions in customer service concurrent with the post-1950 arrival of natural gas at the various locations.
Most distinctive, and the first to go, through WW II scrap drives and because of their massive and directly representative image of a gasworks, are the gas holders (gasometers). I estimate that there were, at one time or another perhaps 5,000 of these remarkable structures to be found in the United States. Today there are, to my knowledge, less than a dozen of these left, and most are smallish gasholder houses found in the northern States (particularly at Troy, NY and Concord, NH). St. Louis has the last large, and perhaps only remaining open-air gas holders, and there are now but three, since we lost another one last year.
However, depending on the nature of gasworks operational service, many of the non-holder FMGP gasyard structures sit directly atop their own PAH toxic residual hot spots and careful consideration must be given to that nature of what does lie below the structure and how such threats, if any, can be removed from "reception" by the folks who may come to visit or occupy a "saved/" preserved structure.
Considering the high potential value of the remaining gasworks structure, as an industrial archaeological landmark feature, it is my opinion that efforts should be made to call for its preservation. There are many ways to detoxify or otherwise bar the release of toxic contaminants to the visiting public, but just about any of the potential solutions for preservation will be expensive to the owner.
On the other hand, had it not been the owner who caused the health threat (represented by the gasworks itself, and likely by its gasworks residuals and wastes dump(s) which likely have not yet been revealed) to become a public health and financial burden?
It is my sense that the argument should begin with the fact that the RP owes the community the salvage- preservation of the FMGP structure as a form of reasonable compensation for its community burdens represented by the long-term post-operational presence of the unremediated site, and the long struggle to bring about the gasworks cleanup. There is a strong possibility that yet-undiscovered gasworks dumps of gas-manufacturing residuals and wastes yet linger within several blocks of the footprint of the gasworks. And so the community health burden will continue into the foreseeable future ....
Let me know if I can continue to assist in your preservation efforts.
Allen W. Hatheway