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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
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
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/"
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
visitors since 03/15/09