What is a landmark worth?

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission defines a landmark as a building, property or object that has a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation.

Sometimes, in order to understand the value of something, you look to see how it (it being a word, idea, or thing) spreads into other areas. In this instance, the word “landmark” has itself been used to describe things of great significance, as in a landmark court decision, or a landmark development. So, to say something is a landmark is to say that it is of critical significance and importance.

Landmarks anchor the identity of a community. The State theater marquee. The covered bridge at Duck and Island Parks. The sunken fountain at Culligan Plaza. The flat-iron Centennial Building at 1st and Chisholm. Little Red lighthouse at the mouth of the harbor. The colorful Make a Splash fish mural on the side of The Local Basket Case. There are more to list, but those are some of the more recognizable, significant and unique identifiers residents are familiar with.

Remove any one of those major identifiers, and Alpena’s character changes.

All of those landmarks are included in many of the marketing and promotional videos we create to share Alpena with the rest of the world. They are visual representations of some of the best qualities of our community. They represent our maritime and logging history, our connection with fishing and our water resources, our ingenuity, our art culture, and our perseverance. They help illustrate our quaint, small-town charm, balanced with modern convenience, our humble beginnings and hope for the future.

Recently, the theater marquee was prominently featured as a backdrop in a street scene promotional video for Ram trucks. The video aired during a fishing show on the Outdoor Channel. The fountain at Culligan Plaza is almost always featured in video work done to promote Alpena. When former residents return for visits, those landmarks let them know they have arrived home.

As residents, we often become complacent with what we see every day. We become bored by the usual, apathetic to the significance of the familiar. But every now and then, we remember.

Last year, the heartwarming effort to save the “State” letters above the theater marquee proved not only successful, but ushered in a passionate reminder of the importance of community landmarks. The marquee was scheduled to be removed and efforts to contact the headquarters of the corporation that owns the theater went unremarked. In an attempt to save the sign, the community wrote emails, made phone calls, and circulated a petition. It wasn’t done out of anger, but out of love for the significance of what may have seemed like just a mundane sign on a building to someone who doesn’t live here.

I was inspired to write about landmarks as I was remembering how comforting it was to see the familiar sights when I returned home from college every summer.

Residents also enjoy incorporating some of our popular landmarks when commemorating important life milestones. I’ve seen pictures of surprise marriage proposals taken at Culligan Plaza, with a return visit for photos of the wedding party at the fountain. Family photos on the covered bridge and in front of the fish mural. Our landmarks are featured in the art of local photography students every year, in fine art by local artists, and sought out and photographed by visitors.

Thank you to all who have supported the creation and maintenance of those priceless identifiers in our community.

May they continue to be beacons to anchor future generations to their hometown.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s “Inspiring A-Town” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.