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"Anything that helps to enlarge the vocabulary of common heritage . . . is of incalculable value."

- Norman CousinsFire licked the walls of the Lewis Building in 1884, destroying it. Located in Provo on the northeast corner of 300 West and Center Street, the blandly squarish two-story building had been home of the fledging Brigham Young Academy from the time of its founding in 1875.

For the next seven years, classes were held in stores and warehouses donated by local merchants until a new building could be constructed.

The new Academy Building, completed in 1891, was a marvel of culture and commitment, serving the community for almost a hundred years. Hardly a soul in Utah Valley and the Mormon community at large has not felt the shadow of its influence.

For years it served as the heart of what was to become Brigham Young University. Provo's University Avenue (originally Academy Avenue) owes its name to the building.

As the university slowly moved onto Temple Hill, the Academy Building, later called the Education Building, continued to serve the school, functioning as a training school for new teachers.

When I entered BYU in the early 1960s, the old Education Building housed the College of Fine Arts. I remember the high ceilings where studio classes were held and the faint sound of drama students rehearsing in the old auditorium. I recall Crawford Gates' music echoing from his office near the broad stairwells on the east side of the building.

Still, those impressions belong to a time somewhat removed from current perspectives. For even though the old Education Building still stands, it has seen the ravages of time and neglect.

Vacant for years, a high chain-link fence surrounding the building has not prevented vandals from breaking out most of the windows. The wood trim and majestic central tower are curling for lack of paint, and portions of the brick facade are beginning to crumble. There is even a small bush growing, like a shameful blemish, from a crack in the arch above the main entrance.

As we drove slowly past the old Academy Building after last week's horrendous windstorm, it was obvious that the grand old structure had entered the last waning hours prior to its almost sure demise. Torn from their roots, two massive sycamores had blown over in front of the building - one enshrouding the front entrance, the other crushing a corner of the roof on the north annex.

Restoring the building now seems like putting a broken body on life support when there is little hope for survival. But an old building is not the same as a wornout body. Fortunately, a building in decline can be given a whole new lease on life. It usually comes down to a question of how much commitment there is toward saving it.

I think of the old Salt Lake City-County Building, which almost collided with the wrecking ball before someone decided that it could be restored. It took tremendous community support, expense and risk of criticism to make it happen. But it was saved, and an artifact to our culture (built, by the way, about the same time as the Brigham Young Academy Building) was transformed into a practical asset and a jewel of the community.

The same holds true of the old Hotel Utah, redesigned to function in a whole new format.

We have come a long way in our commitment to heritage and our attitudes toward historic preservation. But not far enough, when a building as pregnant with history as the old Brigham Young Academy Building cannot be saved from demolition.

Valiant efforts have been made to save it. But none of the proposals put forward has been "practical" enough for consideration. I cannot help but wonder, even at this late hour, that there must surely be an innovative solution to the building's revival.

It seems that the administration of BYU would not rest until it had committed itself to preserve this most significant tangible artifact of its history. But that has not as yet happened. Granted, it would be a costly resuscitation, but one well worth the effort. Certainly, the cost of restoring it now would not begin to compare with the sacrifices made to build it.

How often we have looked back, after the fact, and regretted the destruction of a valuable historic edifice.

Sadly, we are about to do so again.