The sad -- for some -- conclusion of the attempt of local preservationists to save two Wawbeek buildings from demolition to make way for a new seasonal home should serve as a powerful lesson for all North Country communities: Know what you have and what's worth saving, just in case.

The Wawbeek was one of the Adirondack Great Camps built around the turn of the 19th century. Decades after its construction, it was annexed to the Wawbeek Hotel. Only two of the original nine buildings remain -- the Mountain House and the restaurant. The hotel was destroyed by a fire after a staff party following the 1980 Olympics.

The complex was built in the Adirondack style, of course, meaning it was constructed of hewn native logs set high on a bluff overlooking Upper Saranac Lake. The main house has five bedrooms, each with its own bath, and a Great Room with a massive stone fireplace. The walls and ceilings are original knotty pine.

The restaurant is also spectacularly typical of Great Camp character, with an enormous fireplace and a bar highlighted by a massive head of a moose said to be killed by Theodore Roosevelt before he was whisked off to Washington to become president upon the assassination of William McKinley.

According to what is seen on the Wawbeek Web site, if you conjure up what you think those fabled buildings would look like, you're not far from what they actually are -- except they are by most accounts in poor condition. Preservationists argue they can be salvaged; the new owner and others believe not.

When the Wawbeek and its 40 acres were purchased, new owner Dick Sittig of Malibu, Calif., offered disappointed local residents a chance to move the buildings off the site for preservation -- but quickly, as he wanted to strip the property of the buildings to begin construction of his own vacation house. Local fervor for the project grew quickly, but Sittig had specified a deadline, which the movement missed.

The locals feel more protective of the buildings' historic value than Sittig, who said the buildings had undergone substantial changes since their construction. They were not protected by historic-preservation statutes.

We, in this region, feel a natural affinity for retention of indigenous things in which we sense worth, whether from historic or any other significance. A Californian may share that affinity or not.

Nevertheless, it is his to do with as he pleases. He spent $6.25 million for the privilege. Sittig's zeal to get the project under way is understandable, though so is some townspeople's dismay at losing such a local treasure.

Every historic community -- and what isn't around here? -- should profit from this Tri-Lakes experience: If preservation is important, conduct an inventory and begin exploring whether assets are vulnerable. What could be done to forestall or prevent their loss? Are they really worth what sentimentalists might think?

Preservation should be done according to a plan -- not a crisis.

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