Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Cities manage to live on despite threats of destruction

I was driving past Manatee Memorial Hospital today on my way back from getting my car’s oil changed when I saw a familiar figure on the side of the road.

It was a guy I’d talked to a few years ago. The man, who was and probably still is homeless, at the time was camped out in front of an old building on Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton, and he was trying to stop the destruction of an old building that was slated to be torn down.

On June 2, 2015, he was standing with a large cross on the corner, waving at drivers and calling on them to repent and accept Jesus.

He’s been doing this for some time now, and after he was unsuccessful in warding off the knockdown of the decrepit old building that had once been a church, he apparently found a new gig. I did, too.

What brought his effort to mind was something I heard on the public radio program “Marketplace” on the way to get my car worked on. The news, which broke the previous night, was that the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham had decided that the university needed to have its football team back. This is a sad day because the initial decision to end football because of its financial burden on the college was the right one, and one that needs to be made at many other universities.

Listening on the radio to the reporting, there were of course no dissenting voices. One woman insisted that the continuing state of “no football” at UAB would somehow “destroy” the city of Birmingham. The demonstrations in favor of football reminded of the infamous “Joe Paterno riots” at Penn State.

How absurd it is that people lose their minds over football at the college level. And how absurd it is to believe that if you don’t get your way, your city deserves to be destroyed.

But the reality is that people often make these outrageous claims to local governments to bolster their view that the commission or council should vote the way they want on a bill. I might add that this is their right, of course, but we should be aware that their arguments are often more rhetoric than reality.

For example, it is commonly stated at meetings that the approval of a housing development or business at a location will somehow “destroy” the county. Officials have to sit back and allow all sorts of high-flown rhetoric about how the entire history of the region depends on something not being allowed, and the warnings of destruction are repeated over and over.

What’s funny is that there are people living in subdivisions and developments whose construction, the same commissioners were told, would somehow “destroy” the county but didn’t.

Flights of fancy
The building on Manatee Avenue West, called the Bradenton Revival Temple, caused no small amount of wild rhetoric, to the point where police officers had to be posted at the Bradenton City Council meetings. Talking to the opponents of the destruction, their arguments mainly were along the lines that the owners of the building were scumbags and pieces of shit and the professional architectural firm they hired to evaluate the building was run by an asshole who didn’t know what he was doing.

Here is my story on the building getting a reprieve. Another story appeared a few months later.

Their presentation on the building was detailed and thorough. The building was built long before building codes existed in Florida, in the 1930s, and the building was used as a church for much of its existence. Eventually, the use as a church ended and the city ended up with the building until the current owners bought it. Unfortunately, its odd-looking façade hid a rather ordinary building that had multiple structural faults and the inability to withstand strong winds.

Homeless people had been breaking into the building and using it for shelter and as a toilet, the wooden rafters showed evidence of a terrible termite infestation and it was clear that the building had not been maintained in years. The owners had rather foolishly bought the building without an inspection and believed that they could fix it and use it for their legal business, with its proximity to the county courthouse, but now found that the only value left in the place was the lot itself.

Those in favor of its destruction included the owner of the building next door.

Many people of a religious bent talked with fervor of establishing a “24-hour prayer center” and other activities in the building, which in their view was not in such bad condition.

Camped out
I became aware of the building when I saw this man camped out in front of the building with signs declaring that America and Bradenton were doomed if the building came down. I sent a reporter to talk to him, and later talked to him myself, and it was clear that he had some, well, issues.

He insisted that if the building came down, the city of Bradenton would be destroyed by fire and possibly meteor strikes sent by a wrathful god.

He attracted a minute following, and pretty much went nuts when the building finally was approved for demolition. Here’s my story on it.

I was there as the demolition work began, and the man told me that America was doomed now, as was Bradenton.

Here is my story on the demolition.

The building is gone, but Bradenton lives on despite the threats. So, apparently, does the man.

Addicted to old buildings
Let’s face it. Buildings sometimes have to go. People who do not own or pay taxes or try to maintain an old building might feel a sentimental attachment to it, but those who do have to pay the bills have to be able to do what they think is best.

We live in an era of property rights, and that might be disturbing, but there are limitations in place that prevent egregious destruction, and a process to make sure it’s done according to the rules, but I can see an owner’s position on a building as well as the opponents.

In Sarasota County, one of the biggest fights ever was wages over a school that was not a very pleasant place but had been designed by a famous architect, Paul Rudolph.

While there was much emotion by people who didn’t attend the school and who claimed a coming tsunami of crime and misbehavior from students when they realized it had been knocked down, the school was knocked down and rebuilt.

Students and staff had complained that the building had a mold problem, its classrooms were outdated, it leaked like a sieve in heavy rain and students had to dodge puddles in the hallways.

The main argument in favor of the building seemed to be that Paul Rudolph was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay. Also, he was gay.

The community around the school would be destroyed, and wasn’t it worth it to go to school in an architectural marvel designed by a man who was gay?

The school district wanted to be done with the building because of its code violations and hazards, and finally managed to get the approval to knock it down amid threats that never came to pass.

Apparently, if you own a Paul Rudolph house, it’s not really yours.


June 2, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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