On this episode of Practical Preservation, we speak with Don Foster of Masonry Cosmetics Inc. about his career in masonry and the art of brick making.
Tom Brennan, co-founder of The Green Garage and the El Moore, in Detroit, MI, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss these properties as innovative examples of sustainable working and living spaces. We covered multiple topics, including:
- Background information about Tom and his wife and co-founder Peggy, and how they came to initiate and complete these sustainable adaptive reuse projects
- How Tom’s retirement plans changed significantly after he and Peggy were inspired by a sustainability project in Monroe Michigan
- How the Green Garage embodies working sustainably in action, functioning as a coworking space while also existing as an excellent example of combined adaptive reuse and sustainability
- The rebirth of the El Moore – a true example of sustainable living – and how the current inception pays homage to its innovative 1898 roots
- Details of each of the 2 projects’ novel approaches to making sure each building was as sustainable as possible
- Information on how the Brennan’s plan on addressing the third part of sustainability – eating and playing – via the El Moore Gardens and the in-progress El Moore Seasons Market
- The ways in which each project pays deference to Detroit’s history
Tom believes that while pure preservation certainly has an important place in the landscape, projects like Green Garage and El Moore are just as essential to keep preservation vital and relevant. Read more about their story in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s feature article.
Tom also shared two pieces of advice to listeners who care about preservation, history, and sustainability: learn as much as you can from others by staying connected to a community of like-minded people, and take time to get a project right, as sustainability especially is a journey. Essentially, be practical.
As COVID restrictions lessen in the future, Tom encourages interested parties to come to the El Moore and take a tour and learn more about its fascinating history!
COFFEE BREAK RECAP – This month’s “coffee break” video recap focuses on various questions and answers related to historic buildings, preservation and restoration. Watch below.
- Focus: Questions and answers
- Questions: What is an appropriate Colonial fireplace design? How do you tackle mold on siding? Does an asymmetrical façade/porch on a duplex imply that modifications were made? What are plantation shutters vs. louvered shutters?
- Solutions: Danielle and Jonathan discussed answers to the questions and provided other information:
- COLONIAL FIREPLACE ANSWER – know your period style
-Consider design in keeping with your time period of choice. In this case, the home dates to the mid-1700s, but the room in which the fireplace in question is located includes updates from the 1950s and the 1970s. Knowing these approximate time periods and style differences is an important starting point when deciding what to preserve or restore. This information suggests that restoring the fireplace to fit the home’s original build period of the Colonial era is the best way to create a seamless aesthetic. Danielle suggests referencing the book Early Domestic Architecture of Pennsylvania by Eleanor Raymond for more ideas appropriate to the time period.
- MANAGING MOLD ON SIDING ANSWER – sometimes the simplest answer is the best
-Consider simple options first. In the example case, a barn was converted into a house. A few years ago they put pine siding onto it. Unfortunately, it is plagued by mold and mildew and typical treatments were not working. However, OxiClean did an effective job as a spot-treatment, and the homeowners planned to follow through on the entire project by hiring a power washing company who planned to use bleach in the water. Jonathan suggested the addition of a soft bristle brush to extend the work of the power washing.
- ASYMMETRICAL FACADE ON DUPLEX ANSWER – asymmetry may suggest updates
-Notable asymmetry on an otherwise symmetrical/mirror image duplex often indicates modifications were made to the original design. In this case, as you’ll also see in our previous video, the historic duplex’s changes to the porch on the left side reveals visual clues indicated it was a later update.
- PLANTATION VS. LOUVERED SHUTTERS ANSWER – same style, few differences
-These styles are essentially the same with minor differences. Plantation shutters are a type of louvered shutter, typical of large plantation homes of the south. Jonathan and Danielle discuss the main differences between the types of louvered shutters.
- COLONIAL FIREPLACE ANSWER – know your period style
IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING THAT CAN BE UNDONE, FEEL FREE TO DO IT –
otherwise issues like some of those above will be significant in the future.
- Watch to the end of the video to see our guest viewer’s home’s historic fabric and unique historical features!
John O’Brien, Director of West Chester, PA’s Business Improvement District, and Jim Brown, Vice-President of Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, in Lancaster, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss their organization’s respective responses to COVID-19. We covered multiple topics, including:
- Background information about John and Jim, and on both West Chester PA Business Improvement District (BID) and Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County (HPT)
- The heritage of West Chester – including notables, historic streetscapes, and a thriving local business community – and how the BID functions to serve downtown businesses in a way that supports the community as a whole
- The history and mission of the HPT – and how it was conceived as part of a grassroots movement to save one of Lancaster’s most historically-significant homes
- Tactics both BID and HPT have utilized in order to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 – including increased outdoor events and services and heavy use of social media to reach the public
- Tips for downtowns and the general public to support – and hopefully, help to save – local business, downtown communities, and places of historic and cultural significance
WEST CHESTER BID
Website – notably, the website will be under construction and officially relaunch early 2021
HPT OF LANCASTER COUNTY
Please consider following West Chester BID and HPT of Lancaster County on social media links listed above to keep yourself apprised of special events and updates, even in the time of COVID.
John Renne, Ph.D., AICP, professor in the department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida Atlantic University, located in Boca Raton, FL, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the ways in which urban planning, transit oriented development and historic preservation intersect. We covered multiple topics, including:
- John’s academic background and how work with his mentor, David Listoken, Ph.D., inspired study of the connections between historic preservation and transit oriented development (TOD)
- John’s current roles in TOD as a land use and transportation planner, looking at how land use and transportation systems interact with one another
- Defining aspects of TODs, being dense, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around functional rail systems
- Connections between historic preservation and transit oriented development (TOD) – including how most TODs are in historic locations but only 1/3 of active train stations are in TODs
- Challenges and trends related to TOD, including its current correlation to gentrification and unaffordable housing prices, incentives that work against preservation when planning high-density development, as well as moving the 60-70 year trend of centering urban planning around the automobile back to being centered around people
The Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions (CUES) at FAU includes periodic free programming, such as virtual webinars on relevant TOD, planning, climate change information, and historic preservation’s relationship to these topic areas – check the linked website above to stay up-to-date.
Read John Renne and David Listoken’s Guide to Facilitate Historic Preservation through Transit-Oriented Development.
John reminds listeners that historic places tend to be more interesting, vibrant, and sustainable – something for prospective buyers as well as planners, developers, and officials to consider!
ADDING ON TO A HISTORIC HOME – You’ve found your historic or old home. And it’s nearly perfect…..BUT, maybe it does not have enough room for you. Or maybe you need to make adjustments to age in place. Maybe you want to add a room on your first floor, or even expand a tiny historical kitchen. Most of us want to protect our old homes’ historic fabric. So…HOW do we do this sympathetically in a way that is not distasteful, intrusive, destructive, or irreparable? Because additions can change the historic character irrevocably, consideration of an addition is one NOT to be taken lightly.
Photo of a sympathetic addition on the rear of a 19th century home in eastern Lancaster County; work by Keperling Preservation Services.
WHAT ARE SYMPATHETIC ADDITIONS?
A sympathetic addition is a newly built addition to an old house or building that is harmonious with and corresponds to the original part of the home. These additions may be attached to the side, or include an extension from the roof. If following the general guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior for New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings and NPS, the key is to preserve the historic character or fabric of the original building, particularly if that building is listed on the National Register. An easement would likely have stricter limitations and may even prevent an addition, particularly if the easement is written so that you must maintain the exterior as when the easement was granted. Although there is a shared feeling between old and new, NPS guidelines and standards indicate that the new addition should still be differentiated from the original. This differentiation may seem counterintuitive, but since additions fall under rehabilitation vs. restoration or preservation, and since NPS emphasizes protecting historical character, integrity and significance by making a visual distinction between old and new, there must be a difference so one can still identify what was newly added and what is original.
IS A SYMPATHETIC ADDITION NECESSARY?
Reasons NOT to add on. Some reasons not to add on include cost – sometimes an addition is so cost prohibitive it would be cheaper to move altogether! If you are not willing to move, you must consider other alternatives. Also, if you anticipate selling in the future, or even just want updates to essentially give you a return on investment if you do not plan to sell, you must consider market forces and make sure the change is worth the cost. Another reason not to add on is zoning restrictions. If you’re project plan cannot be adjusted to meet these, the restrictions will make the decision for you. You may also be restricted by National Register Status and an easement, as noted earlier.
Reasons to add on. NPS recommends that sympathetic additions only be completed if one has already considered (and ruled out) other options, including altering non-significant interior spaces. Although many homes before central heating and cooling were built with small interior rooms for efficiency, today we often prefer larger spaces to accommodate our lifestyles, and also because modern heating and cooling allows us to. However, smaller rooms can not only be charming, cozy, and private, but they also often contain much of the historic fabric – moulding, fireplaces, plaster ornamentation, pocket doors, built-ins, etc. – and destroying these distinctive irreplaceable features for the sake of a modern “open concept” trend is not advisable (in fact, if you insist on that, you probably need to buy a new, modern house instead and leave the old house to someone who will protect the historic integrity).
Even so, sometimes change is necessary. Maybe you have examined your interior spaces and realized there are not any non-significant ones. Or, if there are, even altering those will not suffice to meet your needs. In such cases, additions – even a small vestibule or other entry modification – may be required. Justifiable reasons for additions may include helping you age in place, meet code requirements (especially if the building is a business), or for general adaptive reuse, including expanding as you raise children and their needs change. It’s important to be able to enjoy the space you live in.
PLANNING YOUR SYMPATHETIC ADDITION
Zoning and Codes. One of the first things you should do is reach out to your local municipalities to find out what zoning restrictions exist. For instance, generally you cannot build all the way to lot lines, and sometimes there are height limits on projects. Knowing the lay of the legal land can save you a lot of time and money by preventing you starting something that you legally cannot finish. A design professional and/or contractor well-versed in historic buildings can also help with this.
Budget. As we’ve said before, planning ahead allows you time to save money for the project. Put money aside to save for a project as soon as you start seriously considering the project. Before consulting with professionals, make a list of your wants and needs, how you plan to use the space, and your ultimate goals so that you can prioritize what to pay for first. You should also have an estimate of the square footage. All of these will help contractors and other necessary specialists determine approximate cost. You should also determine which professionals and specialists you will need based on your lists.
Getting Help. Once you’ve determined that a sympathetic addition is appropriate, you can begin your plan. If it’s anything bigger than a dormer, you should definitely get the help of a professional contractor. If it is an intricate design, you should also consult with a design specialist or architect – most building permits for modifications require a design professional to essentially stamp/sign the drawings under the modern building code.
Design. As always, the emphasis of any update should include being as harmonious and unobtrusive to the original design as possible (with the least possible loss of or damage to historic, character-defining materials). Specifications are listed below (and NPS has more information):
- An addition should not be highly visible to the public, and is preferably placed at the rear of a building, or other “secondary elevation” (i.e., anything that is not part of the front façade and is not visible from the streetscape).
- If the addition does not fit the above conditions – for instance, a side addition – it is best to recess it a bit from the main structure, possibly using a breezeway to connect it.
- An addition’s color and content should be in keeping with the historic part, but not match it exactly (as discussed earlier about differentiating to distinguish the addition from the original building). This often contentious and confusing point has been debated, and is really a matter of personal judgment (outside of situations that are restricted by National Register status or easements). We recommend keeping the addition similar enough to the original building so as not to detract from the historic building (a standard that is decidedly different than is seen in many European cases, as can be viewed here and here).
- The addition’s size in relation to the original building should be smaller, with a lower roof and smaller overall footprint (an exception being a rear addition artfully designed to be unseen from the streetscape).
- Massing can be complicated to explain and understand, but it is essentially the perception of a building in shape (1 dimension perspective), form (3 dimensions), and size. Ingenious designs for additions may make them appear less significant than the original structure, while inside they may be superior in space and capacity.
- Rhythm in architecture refers to repetitive use of visual elements to establish a pattern. If the original structure has a rhythm including windows and doors with a decidedly vertical feel, this rhythm should be repeated in the addition as well.
For further resources and reading:
Chris Vera, president of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society in Columbia (Lancaster County), PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss Columbia history, legends, and lore. We covered multiple topics, including:
- Chris’s background as a child growing up in Columbia, whose passion for local history developed from working for elderly neighbors – people who preserved local heritage through storytelling
- The Columbia Historic Preservation Society’s role as a center for local Columbia history
- The Society’s own preservation and adaptive reuse story: transforming and reinventing itself from a circa mid-19th Century Lutheran Church to a historical society, and its brush with destruction due to a case of severe mold contamination, and one former staff member’s desire to tear it down rather than save it
- Unique aspects of Columbia history – its nearly becoming the capital of the United States, rich African-American and underground railroad history, the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge Burning, and its historical role as a beacon of industry and railroads
- Local legends and lore – from cryptids like the Albatwitch (or “apple snitch”), to ghosts said to haunt the buildings and local trails and hills, and the many events celebrating these folk tales
- Trends and challenges in history and preservation – funding being the number one challenge, followed by garnering interest in and support for these areas
Contact Information – General contact info located at the bottom of this page
Chris encourages supporting local Columbia heritage by visiting the nearby natural and trail areas (start here), as well as learning more about the history of the region from the Columbia Historic Preservation Society and other interesting historical sites to visit. You can also discover more museums, activities, and yearly events, here.
There are several opportunities to explore the legends, lore, and supernatural side of Columbia, including the 7th annual Albatwitch Festival on Saturday, October 17th, 2020 – including Albatwitch and Haunted trolley tours – as well as a “Fright Night at the Museum” Saturday, October 31st, 2020
AGING IN PLACE IN A HISTORIC HOME – Aging in place generally comes with necessary change to your home, but this is even truer of situations involving a historic home. As with many adaptive reuse projects, one must determine the balance between maintaining historic fabric and making adaptations suitable for aging.
WHAT IS AGING IN PLACE?
Aging in place refers to exactly that: aging in the place where you already live, at home. Before the advent of the modern skilled nursing facility, many people aged at home. But for those who were unable to care for themselves or did not have family, they often were relegated to the predecessors of skilled nursing facilities – almshouses, poor houses, and convalescent homes (you can read more about this history here, here, and here). Although modern facilities have improved upon these old systems significantly in recent years, the quality and price of these facilities run the gamut. As the 65 and over population steadily increases, more people are choosing to avoid low-cost poor quality sites and high-cost high quality sites in favor of staying at home. A Porch.com article notes some of the benefits of aging in place, including maintaining independence, staying near friends and community, increasing comfort, saving money, and even slowing the advancement of memory loss. We’d also like to add that if you’ve made the investment in a historical home, you may consider that investment another motivator for aging in place.
HOW TO AGE IN PLACE – IN AN OLD HOME
Timing. Time is of the essence – the sooner that you begin your planning for aging in place, the better. It is best to start the process while you are still physically and mentally functional (this young woman and her husband have already begun this process – along with their overall historic home renovation – by modifying the floorplan and layout on the first floor). Timing is also important for budgets, as it is best to plan things in phases as your budget allows. Finally, it’s also good to have a timeline in place for retrofits and renovations; prioritize a plan for which areas to address first based on safety needs and budget. You may want to start with the entrance, followed by the bathroom, and then the bedroom, as these areas will be used the most heavily in the long-term.
Budget. Budgeting is always an important factor in any project. Just like timing, it is important to begin as soon as able so things can be addressed over time, rather than having to pay all at once. For instance, making small changes over time can be less costly than a total renovation done all at once.
Safety. Safety is the top concern when planning updates to your home to age in place successfully. You can find general safety tips for old homes in our previous post, here.
Retrofitting. The key is addressing age in place needs while also maintaining (read: DON’T DAMAGE) the historic fabric where possible. Here are links (here, here, and here) regarding general retrofits to homes, and a short post on aging in place in a historic home (here). These should supplement our material below specific to historic homes.
- Any changes to make the house more accessible (ramps, etc.) should be made on a secondary façade (not the front of the house). They should be installed in the least intrusive manner to make removal easy and less damaging to the historic fabric. The goals is to balance aesthetics and accessibility.
- ADA height toilets and grab bars can be installed without damaging the historic fabric.
- Using levered faucet knobs rather than knobs make turning faucets off and on easier.
- Any changes to the bathtub/shower configuration (especially if you have an original claw foot tub, for example) should be made in an addition (if possible) – a first floor addition is a good idea/compromise.
- You can repurpose a first floor room (if you haven’t already) into a bedroom, or put a sympathetic addition onto your first floor.
- Door knobs can be switched to lever, and you can keep originals on-hand for future reinstall
- Lighting is essential for safety, and many historic lighting companies have ADA lighting with brighter fixtures. Light switches can be switched to reproduction old style buttons, that are modern code compliant.
- Smooth flooring – can usually be done without much intervention.
- Cabinet heights can be adjusted to require less bending over.
For further resources and reading:
Dominique Hawkins, founder and managing principal of Preservation Design Partnership based in Philadelphia, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss flood mitigation in historic areas. We covered multiple topics, including:
- Dominique’s background in design, architecture, and historic preservation, including her early career transition from architecture for housing developments to the world of historic preservation, and her appreciation for the technology involved in saving old places
- Preservation Design Partnership’s purpose for acting as a voice for clients in figuring out the most sympathetic way to achieve clients’ goals, while also meeting regulatory requirements and historic preservation needs
- Dominique’s reasons for working in flood mitigation, including working on projects directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina
- How translating preservation design guidelines for clients prepared her for flood mitigation planning, by bridging the gap and interpreting the language of all involved parties – from preservationists, to FEMA, to floodplain managers, to clients
- The methodology of flood mitigation problem-solving: determining flood needs first and tailoring approaches to each individual situation
- The myriad of challenges – namely, the collective minimalization and (in some cases) total disregard for the severe impact of increased flooding on historic places – and the hard choices that are being made reactively rather than proactively by communities to address these
Dominique also advocates for individuals and communities to become aware, engaged, and proactive regarding flood mitigation for historic properties and communities, especially via meaningful conversations. To see examples or get involved, view a previous talk hosted by the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center’s Climate Change Academy, here, and keep a look out for upcoming Fall workshops and talks, here.
Communities and other organizations can also read a sample flood mitigation plan compiled in part by Preservation Design Partnership, here.
Briana Grosicki, associate principal of PlaceEconomics based in Washington, D.C., joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the economic benefits of preservation. We covered multiple topics, including:
- Briana’s background, including growing up regularly visiting local battlefields in Virginia, volunteering with her main street district as a teen, to working with Donovan Rypkema
- Briana’s additional roles as chairwoman for Preservation Action and board of director for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions
- PlaceEconomics’ specialized consultation services at the intersection of economics and historic preservation, including research and city-wide studies, and educational talks and workshops
- Specific economic benefits of preservation, including that for every 100 preservation/rehabilitation projects there are 186 jobs created elsewhere in the community, vs. 135 new jobs created per every 100 typical construction projects
- Dispelling typical myths about preservation, including that historic preservation is a major cause of unaffordable housing, when in reality historic districts are more likely to include mixed-income housing than neighborhoods with speculative development (i.e., flipped houses and airbnbs)
- Challenges in the field of preservation, such as increasing preservation’s advantages for and accessibility to all people
For individuals interested in getting help with preservation in their community, Briana encourages they contact her or other staff at PlaceEconomics – they are always open to discussing if they are right for a client or community! You should also tell your local officials about PlaceEconomics’ services!
Briana also suggests that individuals who may be less likely to work with PlaceEconomics’ firm directly continue to work on preservation at a grassroots level – from government involvement with organizations such as Preservation Action, to simply maintaining their own historical buildings, investing in existing resources, and using local resources to fund the local economy.
Briana encourages everyone to consider involvement in Preservation Action’s virtual auction this year, scheduled for October 27th, at 7PM