A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon The Seattle Times building while on vacation.
What a sobering site.
Built in the early 1930s, the limestone-clad newspaper building has been a historical landmark since the 1990s.
You couldn?t tell that by looking at the place, which was boarded up and covered with graffiti.
Transients camped out inside the once proud building and set fire to the place. Now it?s facing demolition.
The Seattle Times moved out five years ago and sold the property to foreign owners, who have left the landmark to rot. A new high-rise complex is planned for the site.
This summer, I was visiting New Orleans and watched them taking down the sign from The Times-Picayune newspaper?s iconic clock tower. The Times-Picayune is now being printed in Alabama, and the big building that once produced thousands of newspapers every day has been sold.
All across America, newspaper buildings are being boarded up, shut down and sold off.
The last time we saw the demise of such familiar landmarks was in the 1970s, when so many of the great railroad terminals began to close their doors.
Of course, ink-stained newspapers offices were never the community centerpieces that the great train stations were. But in many cities, the newspaper buildings were a touchstone for generations of residents.
Now they are fading away.
?A newspaper was one of the first hallmarks of a community or town gaining legitimacy. It was a growing and vibrant town if there was a newspaper, or several,? said Mark Doty, the city of Dallas? historic preservation office. ?Oftentimes, the newspaper became the conscience of the community. Look at the front of the (Dallas) Morning News building ? those are powerful words.
?Newspaper buildings were anchors of their downtowns and spoke to their role in the community at large,? he said. ?It?s like when downtown libraries are abandoned or demolished ? it?s sad.?
With the evolution of digital media, newspapers are downsizing and streamlining and no longer need the grand business palaces that housed the publications for decades.
New generation ?digital newsrooms? work just fine in standard office suites, and selling off oversized, outdated downtown buildings can help a struggling newspaper?s bottom line.
Sometimes the old newspaper buildings find new life. In Fort Worth, the former Star-Telegram building is being renovated by a local preservationist.
The Herald Examiner building in Los Angeles will be converted into a mixed-use development.
Others aren?t so lucky.
The Houston Chronicle moved out of its more than century-old downtown building this year, and it?s being demolished by developers. The plan is to leave a parking lot behind until there is need for another skyscraper.
Of course I?m ruminating all this while The Dallas Morning News prepares to leave its 67-year-old downtown building.
Built after World War II, the four-story building on downtown?s southwest side was once touted as the most modern newspaper building in the country.
Back then, there were huge printing presses in the basement and clanking linotype machines setting type with hot lead on the third floor.
I remember the first time I came into this place in the mid-1970s ? I was knocked back by the energy and influence contained inside. I always look for the sign on the skyline when I cross the river.
But the presses are long gone, and The Dallas Morning News only needs about a third as much space as it has in the grand building. Like my almost century-old house, it?s frightfully expensive to keep the old place running.
What will happen to the property after the newspaper departs is anyone?s guess.
Doty said it?s a positive that The Morning News plans to use a former Dallas Public Library building as its new home. The library building ? constructed in the 1950s ? was once threatened with demolition but is now being revived.
With luck, The News? building will survive for new uses, just like the train station across the street did.
But the newspaper that created the landmark will have moved on.