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As older buildings go under microscope, historians say many should be preserved

Historians don't want a structure's age to decide whether it should be replaced as cities determine how to prevent another tragedy like Surfside.
Historians don't want a structure's age to decide whether it should be replaced as cities determine how to prevent another tragedy like Surfside.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – As building officials and engineers start to focus on the life line of older buildings in Miami-Dade County, preservationists are also keeping a close eye.

Compared to the rest of the country, South Florida is a younger community where sometimes in the name of growth, history takes a back seat.

“The shelf life of a lot of buildings isn’t as long as it would be in other communities,” historian Paul George said.

George believes preservation should always have a seat at the table as officials move forward and figure out what happened in Surfside.

“People shouldn’t rush to think that just because a building or a condominium building was built more than 40 years ago that it’s not safe,” said Dona Spain of the Dade Heritage Trust. “It varies from building to building. The main idea is to look at the history of the building.”

Those who watch what goes up and comes down want to make sure there is a conversation about the historical meaning of buildings.

Typically, buildings 50 and older are closely watched. But even younger buildings could be important because of the architecture and/or cultural significance.

Of course, there is always the financial reality. The decisions of whether to spend money to renovate and update or tear something down.

“It’s always cheaper to save the building,” Spain said. “If a building is worth saving, it should be saved.”

And some cities take it seriously.

For example, in Coral Gables, there is a law in place from 2003 that requires the historic preservation officer to look at any demolition, even if a building was built recently.

But what about older buildings? Downtown Miami is packed with historically significant buildings.

“I think places like downtown might drive in a more positive way the idea of historic preservation because they have so much there already, and we can use that as a textbook example of what preservation can do to a community,” George said. “I think it’ll really move forward.”


About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.