May 25, 2006


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Manchester Publisher's Note: The past is the future
By Jody Reese

In the 1960s, the Pennsylvania Railroad was in trouble. Travelers were turning to cars and planes to get from here to there. Cash was needed. What do to?

One of the railroad’s assets was Pennsylvania Station, the gigantic but outmoded terminal in midtown Manhattan. With a design inspired by Roman architecture, it opened in 1911 and was built for the ages.

Instead, it lasted barely half a century. With losses mounting, the railroad chose to sell off the station to developers for its real estate value. It was promptly demolished; in its place rose the totally unremarkable Madison Square Garden that stands there today.

This act of monumental civic vandalism led to laws to protect landmarks in New York City and elsewhere. They were too late to save Penn Station, but helped rescue many other valuable historic structures.

Today, two generations later, our attitude about historic structures has changed for the better. But still, landmarks everywhere remain endangered by short-term thinking and lack of vision.

I was thinking about this last week when I attended the city’s annual historic preservation awards. They’re given each year by the Manchester Historic Association to those who’ve done good work to preserve or restore the Queen City’s built environment.

A key honor is the People’s Choice award, bestowed each year on the city’s “most treasured structure.” This year, it was St. Anne Church, the huge and historic building that’s unfortunately been closed for the past few years due to deteriorating conditions.

The building’s fate remains uncertain, but the Catholic Church clearly isn’t interested in putting money into cavernous inner city churches. So the building could be sold, which means it could be turned into a parking lot, if Penn Station-style short-term thinking prevails.

But with St. Anne Church officially recognized for its historic importance, that’s a little less likely to happen. And that’s a good thing, because even if we don’t have the money or resources to make full use of this structure right now, the time will come when someone will.

And as you often hear, they don’t build them like they used to.

• Speaking of history: A little bit of it was made this week by the debut of the Manchester Daily Express, a new free five-day-a-week paper for the Queen City. Now Manchester residents have two daily newspapers covering the local news, and that’s a good thing.

But what’s new is old: the Express marks something of a return to the old days, when newspapers were much more competitive than they often are today. The Union Leader covers Manchester, but we felt there was a need for a different news source that focused on the city and delivered the news in a completely different format.

Though the Daily Express was created by The Hippo’s owners it’s an entirely separate newspaper with its own staff and deadline cycle and ad rates and so on. Just so it’s clear, The Hippo won’t change at all—it’ll still be the same great weekly newspaper, the state’s largest and best.

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