Read the full Beckley Historic District Report
Beckley officials should follow established laws to save their city’s endangered downtown historic district, according to an assessment released by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.
Though alterations have harmed the integrity of the district, the assessment identified multiple recommendations that should help protect its federal status as well as financing for future development.
The 27-page assessment performed by alliance staff and an AmeriCorps member over the last five months included a building-by-building review of the district and a review of the codes, bylaws, and guidelines that govern the Beckley Historic Landmarks Commission, the architectural board established to manage its development.
The alliance initiated the assessment after the downtown was added to the West Virginia Endangered Properties List. The declaration was the first in which the alliance had included an entire National Register historic district.
The declaration came after the State Historic Preservation Office warned that mounting alterations could trigger the district’s removal from the National Register of Historic Places — a warning that had been issued with growing intensity since alterations and demolitions began to occur in the late 1990s.
Thankfully the assessment found that city laws were in keeping with state enabling legislation and the standards set forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior and that adjustments to current laws would not be necessary.
There are no gray areas here, and saving the district will probably require only that the landmarks commission follow its laws and seek expert counsel when faced with questions.
As in many historic districts nationwide, alterations to building exteriors and public spaces such as those in downtown Beckley must be approved by a landmarks commission and provided a certificate of appropriateness.
Buildings in the downtown, many of which were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s, are to be returned to their original appearances, according to municipals laws enacted in the 1990s when the national historic district was established.
The assessment also includes case studies of practices in other historic districts in West Virginia and suggestions for preservation practices relevant to the architectural problems in the district.
The alliance recommends that downtown property owners organized through the Downtown Beckley Business Association work toward engaging the National Main Street Center in its effort to revitalize the district. Other cities across the U.S. have accomplished this, and we see no reason why Beckley officials cannot through due diligence achieve the same excellence.
The assessment includes information relevant to tax credits, preservation tips, and eco-friendly rehabilitation practices of which property owners should be aware.
Preservation Alliance would especially like to thank Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps’ Nicole Marrocco for her efforts preparing the assessment. Marrocco’s position is made possible through an AmeriCorps state grant administered by Volunteer West Virginia and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Preservation Alliance would also like to thank the Downtown Beckley Business Association for requesting the assessment, and the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office for providing input regarding the report.