Preservation group declares Lincoln U. building 'endangered'

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Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall, listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a gem at risk, is the oldest building on the Chester County campus, built in 1865.

The oldest building on Lincoln University's campus now is on a list of the country's most endangered historic places, buttressing calls by an alumni group to save structures from demolition at the nation's oldest degree-granting historically black college.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation said Wednesday that it had named Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall to its 2016 list of places that showcase the country's architectural and cultural heritage, and are in danger of being destroyed.

Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall, a two-story brick building erected in 1865 and located at the main entrance of the campus, is named after the first presidents of Nigeria and Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah, who were both alumni of the university in southern Chester County. After some Lincoln alumni heard in 2013 that the university was considering tearing it down to build a welcome center, they formed the Lincoln University Heritage Initiative to lobby to preserve the hall and other campus buildings.

Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the national preservation group, said Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall "stands as a symbol of enlightenment and opportunity for students pursuing higher education across the country."

"The educational and cultural significance of Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall is unparalleled," Meeks said in a statement. "At a time when people across the country are publicly contributing to the ongoing conversation on racial justice, we must recognize that some stories can only be told through the places where they happened."

Her group is asking Lincoln to hire a preservation architect to assess Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall and to develop a plan for using it.

Other buildings

Richard Green, the university's interim president, said in a statement that the university appreciated inclusion of the hall on the list. "However, the state-funded redevelopment of this building as a new welcome center had been publicly designated and authorized almost 20 years ago," he said.

He mentioned the university's plans to renovate Amos Hall, built in 1902, and to evaluate the conditions of other older buildings.

In 2013, then-president Robert Jennings wrote a letter to alumni saying a firm hired by the commonwealth evaluated Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall and found it was in "poor to fair" condition, would require "a significant amount of work," and should be demolished.

Since then, the National Trust and other preservationists have been working to preserve the building, said a spokesman for the national trust.

In fiscal 2015, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission awarded $25,000 to the university to develop a plan "to preserve its historic cultural assets." After several requests from the commission, the university thanked the agency for its interest in Lincoln but turned down the money.

'Not feasible'

In a letter to the commission in February, Green said: "Upon further review of the university's infrastructure and physical facilities, as well as movement on various projects underway with the Department of General Services, we have concluded that it is not feasible to move forward with the preservation plan project at this time."

The alumni group has proposed creating a historic district consisting of 15 buildings built in the 1800s and early 1900s. Leaders of the group say university administrators have not been willing to work with them to obtain the historic designation.

"How can you call yourself a historically black university if you don't value the historic buildings?" said Robert Ingram, vice president of the Lincoln University Heritage Initiative and president of Lincoln's alumni association.

Ingram said the group was "grateful beyond measure for this recognition" from the national preservation group.

Green, the interim president, said in his statement that Lincoln appreciated "its history, culture and traditions."

Carol Black, president of the alumni historic preservation group, said Azikiwe-Nkrumah Hall and the other buildings were "part of our legacy."

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207@MichaelleBond