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NY's Historic Financial District Added to List of Endangered Historic Sites - 2001-10-16

The World Monuments Fund has added the historic financial district of lower Manhattan to its list of the most endangered historic and artistic sites.

Every other year the fund releases its World Monuments Watch List of the 100 most endangered historical, cultural, and architecturally significant sites in the world. The non-profit group works to preserve the sites on the list.

This year, for the first time, the group lists a 101st site the historic area of Lower Manhattan that was hit so hard by the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

The 4 kilometer area includes 65 landmarks and six historical districts, including Chinatown and the financial district. Lower Manhattan played a crucial role in the evolution of the United States as its first capitol and the major point of embarkation for millions of immigrants.

World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham says the designation of Lower Manhattan was an emergency response to the terrorist attack to ensure the well-being of one of the most important historical areas in the United States.

"We have already learned that Trinity Church has sustained substantial damage, that St. Paul's has broken windows, that the ash that has fallen on all of Lower Manhattan really needs to be removed by professionals," she said. "And Federal Hall, which is our great public monument, has had its air circulation system completely wrecked and clogged by the dust. All of these are going to create needs that are beyond the normal resources of these institutions. They are going to be reaching out for help."

The World Monuments Watch list helps raise money to preserve sites and calls attention to monuments of importance, often spurring local governments into action.

"It has been said that architecture is the most visible expression of man's culture," said John Stubbs, vice president for programs. "Whether the endangered architectural heritage of the world is far from where we sit today or in our midst, our duty is to try and preserve what we can and that is of the utmost importance."

Since the Fund's founding in 1965, an astonishing array of monuments across the globe have been saved, including mosques, hospitals, castles, archeological sites and historic town centers. Some are well known, like the Great Wall of China. But lesser known sites, like a small mosque in Ghana, also have great cultural significance.

Bonnie Burnham says the Voice of America has helped the group hear about undiscovered treasures.

"Maybe the most poignant story is shortly after I gave a broadcast on VOA some years ago, we received a telephone call full of static from someone in Africa who turned out to be the priest of a Roman Catholic Church in Uganda," she said. "He had heard this broadcast. He ran straight out into the street, he did not have a telephone, and called us from a pay phone booth and said that he needed our help to help him preserve the cathedral in Uganda, which is the oldest Roman Catholic Church in the continent of Africa."

This year's list of endangered sites includes 42 places in Europe, 20 in Asia, 17 in Africa and the Middle East and 22 in the Americas.