Whether the Lawrence Preservation Alliance is successful in preventing the demolition of the Old English Lutheran Church at 1040 N.H. and whether the building really deserves to be saved remain to be seen. But the church's case is a good example of how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
One LPA representative told city commissioners last week that the LPA didn't usually get involved with historical buildings until a building was in danger of being lost. But by that time it often is too late.
The church building had been empty for some time. No one was making any effort to stabilize or restore the structure. If the LPA was interested in seeing the building preserved, the time to start working on that project was years ago before the building had deteriorated to the place where at least some architects believe it would be economically impossible to restore. It also should be noted that it is easy to talk about saving and restoring older buildings, but more difficult to determine who is going to pay for these costly projects.
Lawrence isn't the only community that suffers from this problem. The historic opera house in McPherson provides another good example. Preservationists waited so long to come to the building's aid that while court battles were in progress to save the building from demolition a whole exterior brick wall of the structure collapsed into the street. It miraculously caused no injuries, but it made the restoration of the building virtually impossible.
Such cases may be a lesson to groups such as the Save the Depot group in Lawrence. Save the Depot members succeeded after years of hard work in obtaining the depot for the city and eliminating the necessity of it being moved. These are wonderful accomplishments, but the group must be careful to proceed with the project before the depot deteriorates further. Every month that it stands empty will make it more difficult to restore.
Preservation groups serve a good purpose in making citizens aware of the historic value of buildings and their importance to the community. They might find, however, that they would gain more support from the community if they didn't so often find themselves in the position of fighting what seems to be a losing battle.