A Crowdsourced Guide to 10 Places in U.S. Cities That Should Be Preserved

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A Crowdsourced Guide to 10 Places in U.S. Cities That Should Be Preserved

The pagoda in New Orleans in 2011 (Wikimedia Commons)

There were no “This Place Matters” signs in the spring of 2008 when I first laid eyes on the pagoda. The pagoda was a dusty wreck of a shack, but its peaked tile roof, littered with the mossy debris of drooping oaks overhead, evoked a misplaced grandeur that I fell for immediately. I lived two blocks away and walked by often, wondering about the building’s history — and its future.

We — the pagoda and I — were in New Orleans and it was only a few years after Hurricane Katrina. Buildings of all kinds, not least of all empty ones on commercial corners like the pagoda, were falling to bulldozers on a very routine basis. Thankfully, I didn’t have to worry. New Orleans is home to an active preservation community, and no one was going to let this quirky gem of a former dry cleaning business go. The pagoda sat waiting until 2013, when finally the right buyers appeared: Shana Sassoon and Dan Etheridge, neighbors who knew the community well and were looking for a space to open a cafe. Sassoon and Etheridge, an architect, added a large wooden wraparound deck and repainted the exterior a sharp white.

The Pagoda Cafe in New Orleans in 2014

By the time I made it back to the pagoda last spring, it was loud and happy and overflowing with activity — the way I’d always thought it should be. A young man I recognized from the neighborhood was working behind the counter. A friend was playing guitar on the deck. The greens on my breakfast taco came from an urban farm staffed by New Orleans youth. The pagoda was — and is — a place that matters.

May was Preservation Month in the U.S., and to mark the monthlong celebration, Next City served as a media partner for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters” campaign. The campaign started in 2008 “as a way for people to shine a spotlight on the historic places that played a role in their lives,” says Jason Clement, director of community outreach at the National Trust. The campaign worked like this: People were invited to print “This Place Matters” signs, take photos with the sign at the places that matter most to them and share the photos on social media with the hashtag, #ThisPlaceMatters.

Click through the gallery to see nine of our favorite places. A few of them remind me of the pagoda: dustily and ineffably infused with possibility.

Gallery: You Told Us #ThisPlaceMatters

Ariella Cohen is Next City’s editor-in-chief.

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Tags: urban designarchitecturehistoric preservation

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