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Preservationists blast IKEA - Swedish giant is blamed for losing historic documents

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Irreplaceable records charting the rise of a Brooklyn shipyard to a position of national dominance have been lost forever, vanquished to the trash heap by Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA. Even as the skeleton of IKEA’s superstore is beginning to take shape along Red Hook’s waterfront, preservationists still worry about the cost of its construction. According to the blog Gowanus Lounge, IKEA destroyed the shipyard records despite requests from Todd Shipyard, the onetime owner, that they be preserved. The records covered the period from the foundation of Todd to its growth as the largest shipyard company in the country, according to the blog. The documents detailed the workings of Todd, which occupied the site from 1915 until the 1980s. A shipyard had been on the site, which was at one time home to the U.S. Navy, since 1867. IKEA insists it did nothing wrong. “IKEA has been in full compliance with the terms of an agreement signed with the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation detailing exactly what types of historic preservation and recordation activities were required during construction of our store in Red Hook,” spokesperson Joseph Roth said. “It is important to note that there were no conditions related to any materials that may have been left in the buildings by the previous owners after the sale of the property,” Roth said. “We have met and will continue to meet all of our required obligations under this agreement as we move forward,” he added. Carolina Salguero, the founder of PortSide NewYork, a waterfront themed cultural and educational institution, said she tried desperately to preserve many of the documents. Before IKEA took ownership of the site in 2005, Salguero spent five years photographing the dock and piers. Only months before IKEA took over did she learn about Todd’s corporate files, Salguero said. “They included contract negotiation (and therefore certainly ship plans), accounting, and employee records from the 1920s through the 1940s,” she said. “I recovered several thousand mechanical drawings from another part of the facility, plus foundry molds, plaques from the bridge cranes that were being scrapped and other odds and ends. All these artifacts are in storage with PortSide collections. We will be discussing return of the mechanical drawings with Todd.” However the vastness of the collection was impossible for Salguero to recover alone, as an unfunded start-up organization. Salguero said she hoped to negotiate with IKEA to save and interpret the records for future use. Mary Habstritt, chair of the Preservation Committee of Roebling Chapter, Society for Industrial Archeology, a preservationist group, said IKEA had a “corporate responsibi­lity” to at least attempt to save the records. Instead, she said, “They were loaded and dumped in a pile and taken away with the trash.” She said the documents represent the history of the company and what it built there, as well as the history of the workers who carved out a life along the waterfront. “It explains a company that became really a global company and then shrank down to one yard in Seattle. A lot of the records were personnel records which would have told of people who worked there. Back then, it was people that lived in the neighborhood who worked there.” Habstritt said she contacted Seattle-based Todd Pacific Shipyards, “the last remnant” of the company, and said they were very “excited” to recover the documents. John Lockwood, the director, marketing and business development for Todd Pacific, did not return an e-mail request for comment at press time. Meanwhile, construction is proceeding for the $100 million, 346,000-square-foot store on 22.5 acres on Beard Street. The site’s graving dock, which has serviced ships since the 1860s, is being filled and most of it will eventually serve as the store’s parking lot. The Municipal Art Society has filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers and IKEA for allowing the company to build over the graving dock, calling it “an irreplaceable piece of maritime infrastruc­ture.” The store is expected to open in late 2007 or 2008.

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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