As the country’s best-known architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable’s influence was felt far and wide. If you’re looking for examples, you need look no further than the North Shore.
Huxtable, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic who died Monday in Manhattan at age 91, wrote two articles that had a major impact on development and historic preservation in Salem and Beverly.
Her 1965 piece in The New York Times on urban renewal in downtown Salem is credited with stirring opposition to the plans and helping preserve the city’s historic character.
More than three decades later, in 1996, she wrote a story for The Wall Street Journal praising the transformation of the United Shoe Machinery Corp. factory into the Cummings Center office park.
Huxtable, who lived for part of the year in Marblehead, also served as an adviser on the major expansion of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem in 2003.
“She’s really an important part of Salem history,” said Bill Tinti, a Salem lawyer who was involved in the historic preservation efforts of the 1960s and ’70s.
Huxtable’s 1965 story, spread across eight columns in The New York Times, was headlined “Urban Renewal Threatens Historic Buildings in Salem, Mass.” It detailed a plan to tear down historic buildings around Old Town Hall to make way for an expandable parking garage and a new retail block, and to build a four-lane road past the Peabody Essex Museum.
Tinti said the story helped slow urban renewal projects not only in Salem but around the country and led to federal legislation that encouraged historic preservation.
“In large measure, her article was a pivot point from the standpoint of people paying attention to preservation,” Tinti said. “I wish I could tell you that it stopped urban renewal, but it didn’t. We lost a lot of important buildings, but a lot was saved, obviously. It certainly helped to shape public opinion. Sam Zoll was able to take advantage of that when he became mayor and turned the process on its head.”