F O R H I S T O R I C P R E S E R V A T I O N
JULY 28, 2017
by Steve Glassman
With building's change, we inch closer to Anywhere, USA | Opinion
One could justifiably argue that the signature architecture of Fort Lauderdale is mid-century modern. At the Southeast corner of U.S. 1 and Oakland Park Boulevard, the Times Square Shopping Center remains one of our Fort Lauderdale architectural masterpieces, but not for long.
As designed by the architect Charles McKirahan in 1954, Times Square embodies a modern (circa 1954) assemblage of buildings into a coherent whole. Times Square follows in the great tradition of Florida shopping streets like Espanola Way in Miami Beach or the Via Parigi and Via Mizner in Palm Beach. Times Square is the only one with a mid-century modernist vision.
Charles McKirahan was the most noted mid-20th-century architect in Fort Lauderdale. His buildings strongly influenced other contemporary architects with his unique and creative designs. The Times Square Center is a virtual catalogue of modernist architectural forms and materials including screen block walls, geometric forms and glazed curtain walls. McKirahan’s architectural studio was located in the Center after 1960. He wed his architecture school girlfriend and together they created an architectural firm of more than 100 professionals based in Fort Lauderdale, with other offices in Chicago, the Bahamas and Brazil. He tragically died in an automobile accident at the age of 44.
One curved building at the Times Square Center, the most prominent in terms of its visibility on U.S. 1, is currently having its defining historic architectural characteristic — an undulating red brick screen wall — dismantled and demolished. Unfortunately, a valid demolition/construction permit was issued by the city to remove the historic curving red brick wall at the second floor and replace it with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that you can find in any suburban strip mall. Yet another local landmark is demolished and a part of our community spirit is gone forever. The dismantling/demolition of this historic landmark is erasing an important part of our city’s architectural heritage and significantly diminishing the character of the original design. Contrast the cool vibe of Times Square with the bland, box buildings of the shopping center just across the street on the Northeast corner of U.S. 1 and Oakland Park Boulevard.
The city’s Historic Preservation Board should discuss this issue at its next meeting on Aug. 7 at 5 p.m. We would further ask that the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) send a communication to the city commission requesting that the commission authorize staff to begin the designation process for the entirety of the Times Square Center, and that the owner halt all further demolition at this property. Take advantage of the economic benefits of historic preservation — especially the tax abatements for commercial buildings.
Additionally, a suggestion for discussion at the upcoming HPB and city commission would be to request when buildings of a certain age (such as 50 years or older) submit requests for building permits, the Historic Preservation Planner be notified and asked to review the submission with regards to architectural significance of the original design.
Furthermore, the city needs to, once and for all, work on determining what architectural jewels we want to preserve for future generations. In addition to neighborhood surveys, let’s also consider the body of work of our most prominent architects such as McKirahan, Abreu, Ironmonger, Hansen, Avery, Peterman, O’Neill, Sherman, and more and catalogue buildings by the architects who designed them. In addition to designating buildings individually or in a district, perhaps we also designate by architect.
Our historic resources are dwindling at a rapid pace and we must do more to maintain our sense of place; otherwise, we will eventually be just Anywhere, USA.
Steven Glassman is president of the Broward Trust for Historic Preservation.