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PRESERVATION ISN'T JUST FOR 'OLD' BUILDINGS

Remember when Rich Products knocked down Broderick Park Inn? Or, more recently, when the Harbor Inn was demolished?

We were mad. We fumed. And rightfully so.

But where were the voices raised in protest when Carpet Land was brought down?

You know Carpet Land. Until a couple of years ago, it was to the Town of Tonawanda what the Statue of David is to Buffalo. It loomed over the corner of Sheridan and Eggert -- one of the busiest intersections in the world. Bright yellow lights spelled out Carpet Land in cascading, throbbing letters.

Carpet Land stood for the '60s. The world is the poorer for its disappearance.

Don't laugh. I'm only half kidding. eBay has taught people to examine our junk carefully before tossing it. A community should think the same way. Knocking down a building is so final. We should always think before we do it. Too often, we don't notice the treasures in our own back yards. Especially if those treasures aren't 80 or 100 years old.

Preservation expert Timothy Tielman suggests that the suburbs can be especially clueless.

"They all have very lax, if not non-existent, preservation ordinances," he says.

Not long ago, Tielman shocked a Clarence gathering by showing slides -- not of the town's colonial houses -- but of its '50s motels.

"I have a special fondness for the Clarence hotel strip," he says. "We try to convince people that things like this can be, in fact, historic. It doesn't have to be a 19th century schoolhouse, or an original settlers' cabin."

Even in the history-savvy city, people need wake-up calls.

Right now, Tielman and his colleagues are trying to save the Adam, Meldrum & Anderson flagship store on downtown Main Street. Public outcry over its planned demolition has been faint perhaps because it dates not to 1900 but to, ho hum, the 1940s.

"This was the coolest store Buffalo has ever seen," Tielman says. "In 1948, they were selling airplanes on the fifth floor!"

AM&As, back then, had an aircraft beacon visible for 150 miles and a psychoanalyst on staff. Its stylish ads compared old trains and suits with modern, streamlined versions.

"It's a great landmark," he adds. "The roof line is just like New York's Museum of Modern Art. But people are dismissive. They say: Gee, it was built after World War II. How can it be valuable?"

Folks recognize certain mid-century masterpieces -- Temple Beth Zion, say. "My favorite '60s building," says author Cynthia Van Ness.

But we shouldn't ignore other gems. Think of the Holiday Showcase restaurant on Union Road, or all of the majestic, remaining Red Barns. Think of the Lackawanna City Hall. As one observer puts it, admiringly: "It looks like someone's VCR."

Ugliness can be only skin deep. Take turquoise-blue Delaware Tower, at 1088 Delaware Ave.

"It's goofy, trying to impress with Jackie Gleason Miami Beach style," Tielman says.

For him, that's a compliment.

"Some buildings are designed so earnestly -- that's an American trait, earnestness -- that when time has passed, you forget architectural awkwardness and inappropriateness and reward earnest goofiness," he says.

The point is, look before you scorn, and think before you condemn. That could even apply to the Park Plaza Airport Hotel, casually slated for demolition. As the Executive Inn, it housed the Playboy Club. The place was the '70s in Western New York.

Should it be thrown away, like a cracked mirror ball?

Maybe it should. But we should at least briefly consider the question.

Remember, Americana doesn't always look like a Norman Rockwell painting.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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