Alison Hardy from Window Woman of New England joins me to discuss the state of window restoration.  If you’d ever wondered what preservationist discuss this episode is for you.  We discuss:

  • Can your windows be saved or are they really beyond repair?
  • Repair vs. Replacement mindset
  • The education process to combat the replacement window marketing machine

Contact information for Alison plus additional resources:

Alison Hardy – Window Woman of New England

978-532-2070

https://windowpreservationalliance.org/

Bio:
Alison Hardy is owner of Window Woman of New England, Inc. Her company restores windows in the North of Boston/Merrimac Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people she works on restoring her 1850’s farmhouse in Topsfield, MA.

Transcript:

Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning in to the Practical Preservation podcast. Please take a moment to visit our website practicalpreservationservices.com for additional information and tips to help you restore your historical home. If you’ve not yet done so, please subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, and Sound Cloud. Also like us on Facebook.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Practical Preservation podcast hosted by Danielle Keperling. Keperling Preservation Services is a family owned business based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania dedicated to the preservation of our built architectural history for today’s use, as well as future generations. Our weekly podcast provides you with expert advice specific to the unique needs of renovating a historic home. Educating by sharing our from the trenches preservation knowledge, and our guest’s expertise balancing modern needs while maintaining the historical significance, character, and beauty of your period home.

Danielle: Thank you for joining us for the Practical Preservation podcast. Today, we have Alison Hardy. She is the owner of Window Woman of New England, Incorporated. Her company restores windows in the north of Boston Merrimack Valley region. Alison has a BA from Denison University and an MBA from Boston University, only some of which is useful when scraping paint. When not restoring windows for other people, she works on restoring her 1850s farmhouse house in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Alison, thank you for joining us.

Alison: Thank you for inviting me, Danielle.

Danielle: Thank you. I know that we have met in person a couple of times, so I’m excited to have you here to share your knowledge and expertise. How did you get started in preservation? It kind of sounds like it was a meandering road, similar to mine.

Alison: Indeed, this is about my third career. I actually trained to do textile design and costume design and did that for many years, and sold large format printers for printing textiles. Then when my husband and I bought an old house, suddenly like most people in preservation, you start looking at your old house and appreciating your old house and getting interested in old houses. It really came about from owning a wreck of a house with windows in terrible condition. I said, “This is crazy. I must be able to fix these somehow.”

Danielle: Very good. Did you start at restoring your windows yourself? Did you learn yourself or did you take some classes? How did you figure out what you needed to do?

Alison: I am self-taught. Luckily, my husband builds furniture as a hobby, so he had a wood shop which was very handy. Then I am one of those people who will just go out and research a project to death, so I read as much as I could, went to some events on preservation and talked to as many people as I could, and just started chipping away at paint and figuring out how to re-putty a window, which is daunting at first, but after you do a couple hundred you get really good at it.

Danielle: Right, we joked that people, if they’re going to try to do it their selves should start in the back of the house.

Alison: Definitely, definitely somewhere you don’t want to see. In fact, the house that we’re in now, the first windows that I did are embarrassing.

Danielle: Oh no.

Alison: They’re my walk of shame every day. I’m like, “Oh, I really should redo those,” because I just didn’t have the patience for getting all of the paint off and doing all of the repair techniques that now we do.

Danielle: Right, and the little details do matter. We try to impart that, too, to our employees. That, just because you’re scraping paint doesn’t mean that that’s not one of the most important things that you’re doing on this window.

Alison: True, and it’s funny, we just had a batch of windows come in that had been scraped by an abatement company, and my crew was horrified at how badly they were done. I’m like, “Well, that’s why we insist on being neat and tidy and doing things so that you don’t harm the window, you actually make it better.”

Danielle: Yes, yes. Important lessons. How did you get started then selling your services to the public?

Alison: Well, funny enough, a friend of ours bought an apartment building in a town not far from us and said, “It’s got a bunch of windows in horrible shape. Do you want to tackle those?” I thought, “Sure, why not? I’ll give you a hand.” Which, turned out to be a huge project. I’ve never seen so much nicotine on a window in my life. That was sort of the cutting teeth to, yes I think I can do this for other people.

Alison: Then, you know, God bless America, you can hang out a shingle and start a business. That’s pretty much what I did and started off with some projects for friends, and then those friends knew other people. The good thing about the old house world is that they all talk to each other about products and services and suppliers. Luckily the word got out quickly.

Danielle: Right, that’s one thing I’ve noticed too is that, people are very willing to share their knowledge and information, which is very helpful. You know, even contractors and crafts people, they will share the information because it’s not, even though you might be a competitor, everybody is working towards the same goal.

Alison: It seems like once you find people who cherish older houses and older buildings, we want to support those businesses and we want to let other people know that this is a contractor or somebody who gets old houses just like we do, instead of the “rip them apart and make them into planned cottages.”

Danielle: Yeah, that kind of takes us into my next question. Why do you preserve windows? What makes you passionate about this?

Alison: I do so many estimates now, and it’s always amazing to me the condition of older original windows. You know, to somebody who’s not as observant as I am about windows, they may look terrible. The paint’s peeling, the glazing’s falling off, but to me, I’m like, “But look at the corners and the joints. They’re still in really good shape. They’re still beautifully built. They’re still serving their function. They fit the building. If we just do a little bit of repairs to them, they’ll be beautiful again.” It’s exciting, because most people who call me in kind of know that in the back of their mind, so it’s a validation of saying, “I thought they looked pretty good.” I’m like, “Yes, they are really good. Let’s save them.”

Danielle: Yes, you don’t have to listen to the person that told you, you just need to get new windows.

Alison: Right, I always use the analogy, if you got a flat tire, would somebody say you had to throw out the car and get a new one? It’s the same thing. You have a broken sash, it’s not the end of the world. It can be fixed.

Danielle: Right, right, very, very true. Since you kind of have been learning as you go, what do you wish that you knew when you started that you know now?

Alison: I think if I had any idea how much time was required for doing windows, I probably would have been terrified. You have to acknowledge that it’s a very labor intensive process and there’s not many shortcuts. If you do take shortcuts, it usually ends up costing you in the long run. I think if I really had thought about how much time was involved, I probably would have had a different idea.

Danielle: Yes. That’s true, and that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to explain to people. The majority of our cost is labor. We’re paying people to do this work.

Alison: Yes, glass isn’t a big of expense, wood isn’t a big expense, it’s just the people.

Danielle: Right, right. Have you made any major mistakes that you’re willing to make a public confession about?

Alison: I think undercharging in the beginning made my life a lot more difficult. Once you start charging fairly, your life gets a little bit better.

Danielle: That is really true, and from a business standpoint, that’s I think pretty typical for people who, especially are doing the hands on work, they do undervalue the contributions that they’re making.

Alison: It’s true. It’s hard to believe that people don’t really know what kind of value and cost to assign to window repairs. They know what replacement windows cost if they’ve been shopping around, but they really don’t know, and so it’s up to us to give a fair price. That we know how much time it’s going to take and we know what we need to do to get it done right, and it’s going to cost. It’s not a cheap process. We try to be as efficient as we can, but at the end of the day it’s still labor hours.

Danielle: Right, yeah.

Alison: I have to say, yeah, the other big mistake that I am always teetering on the edge of is I got asked to look at a project and the client said, “Well, you know, I had your competitor work on my last house and I don’t want to have them back.” I get all puffed up and go, “Yes, because we’re better.” It turns out that that’s a very bad mistake, because they’re usually very bad clients. I’ve learned to not get my ego all puffed up and think that we’re better than the other guy. No, sometimes they’re just bad clients.

Danielle: Yeah, and that’s true. Sometimes you do have to kind of see those warning signs and see how the development process goes before you make a commitment to them.

Alison: Yeah.

Danielle: What is the biggest challenge that you see in preservation, or even just in your corner of preservation?

Alison: I know, my very tiny corner of windows. Really, the hard thing is awareness. I can’t tell you how many times people say, “I had no idea anybody did this type of work. I had no idea anybody did this type of work.” It’s frustrating because we don’t have the big advertising budgets of the large replacement companies. We’re very small voices out in the world and it’s hard to get the message out there. I think that’s why we’re so grateful to word of mouth, is that that’s the most efficient way we can to spread the message, but it’s slow and painful and there’s nothing worse than finding out that somebody replaced their windows unnecessarily because they just had no idea that they had an option.

Danielle: That’s very true. We’re fighting the mentality of the past 50 or 60 years of being product installers rather than crafts people too, and looking at it as something that’s repairable rather than just having to replace it. All of that has been pushed by advertising. That is a very big challenge within preservation.

Alison: I think we all sort of cringe at the TV shows that people just take sledgehammers to buildings without even stopping to think about it, or at least not on camera they stop to think about it. It’s so maddening as a preservationist. You know, “Why are they just taking it down in the most destructive way possible? You can take a cabinet off a wall without having to take a sledgehammer to it.” It just drives me crazy.

Danielle: Right, it wouldn’t be as good TV.

Alison: Yeah, right?

Danielle: Do you see any trends in preservation? Any maybe glimmers of hope?

Alison: You know, I have been doing some estimates recently for young couples who are buying their first house and I keep hearing this, “I want to do it right. I want to be real. I grew up in a house with vinyl windows, I grew up in a house with vinyl siding and I don’t want my children to grow up in that kind of house.” I think this whole makers movement, you know, people wanting to get their hands dirty and to do projects and to build things is very encouraging, because once you do get your hands on something, then you start to appreciate it more. That, to me, has been exciting to hear people talk about they want to save things instead of throwing them away. I’m like, “Thank you, finally we’re getting to that point where we understand how bad all of the debris we create is.”

Danielle: Yes, yes, and I think it is values and it’s a mentality because I’ll even take shoes to get fixed and clothes to the tailor. It is, it’s a different mentality of you don’t have to just go out and get new, you can fix what you have, especially if you have a good quality. Then it’s really not more expensive, because you’re not paying it over and over again.

Alison: Right. We’ve had great success of going to some of the green fairs, even a lot of events that focus on local and sustainable foods, because that same mentality carries forward into your house. If you don’t want to eat fake food, why do you want to have fake windows? There’s a continuum here that it all sort of makes sense. Why would you want to create acres of trash and then demolish parts of your house unnecessarily? It all kind of goes together.

Danielle: It does, yeah, that’s very true. How do you keep up with trends in preservation?

Alison: I love to go to events. I think that’s probably the hardest thing for a lot of people who are working in the trades, is that they don’t have big travel budgets and they can’t get out to things. Making an effort to go and meet with fellow preservationists, we just had a wonderful meeting in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in February with the Window Preservation Alliance. This is a trade group that was formed two, three years ago now to bring together window restorers to raise awareness of window restoration, that we actually got started because there was a preservation conference that had one of the big replacement window contractors as a sponsor.

Danielle: Oh, yes.

Alison: We said, “This is crazy. How can we represent our side of the argument when we don’t even have a seat at the table?” The Window Preservation Alliance, we’re a trade association so we now have funds so that we can sponsor events so that we have the other side of the argument, we’re at the table so that we can be part of those discussions. It’s exciting how we’re finding more events, we’re helping to sponsor events.

Alison: There’s one coming up in Cincinnati in May that I’m going to where we’re going to be restoring windows in two buildings. There is one in San Antonio coming up. Then in September in Detroit the Preservation Trade Network will be putting on an event too, so I’m excited about the number of opportunities that we have to meet with one another and talk about what we do. We’re kind of an obscure little profession here, and it’s nice to meet other people who know what you’re talking about.

Danielle: Yes, and that’s exciting that you’re going all over the country. I wouldn’t necessarily think of restoring windows in Texas. There are buildings there that have windows to be restored, so that’s going kind of off of what people would necessarily would think about would be where the historic places are.

Alison: It’s nice that they are people who do this for a living mixed in with community people, because a lot of times homeowners do want to learn how to do things, how to get involved, but they don’t necessarily want to tackle the whole project. As my colleague Steve [Coullion 00:16:23] calls it, “The pros and the Joes working together,” we get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Danielle: Yeah, very, very exciting. That also helps build awareness in the community that there are other options. I know my mom used to sit on the Historic Commission here in Lancaster City, and people would come in wanting to put vinyl windows in, and they would say, “Well, there are other options,” and people would say, “No, there aren’t.” Then it’s a whole education process. That’s a way to do it before even those decisions are being made. That is very, very exciting. Do you have a favorite resource?

Alison: Since May is preservation month, last year was the first year we tried to get all members of the Window Preservation Alliance to hold an event for preservation month. We did one called a sash revival, so we encouraged people to bring in their windows, which most of them have broken glass, and we showed them how to cut glass, fit glass, and glaze a window. It was a really fun event. My crew had a great time working with people. Most of them came from the next town over, which has a fabulous collection of old houses.

Alison: There were actually events all across the country and we’re hoping to do that again this year in May. We had everything from, they did a driveway pop up, they just put a tent in their driveway and had people work on glazing windows. Somebody had a booth at a farmer’s market talking about window repairs. Then some people like me opening up their shop to have the public come in and learn more about what we do and actually get their hands on a window. It’s really fun to have events like that to, again, trying to raise awareness of what we do.

Danielle: Yes, that sounds like fun. To tie it into the national trust, making their whole push for preservation too for that month, it helps build awareness on multiple fronts, so I think that’s really great and exciting. I’m kind of sad that I didn’t think of it.

Alison: Some days you just have, and again, a lot of times it’s just hanging out talking to our other fellow window restorers going, “How can we do this?”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: “Well, what if we just had people bring in windows?”

Danielle: We’ve even had classes before, but we never had people bring their own windows in, but that makes so much more sense. Then they leave with something that’s done. They don’t have to go back and kind of tackle it themselves.

Alison: I was trying to do the sad face/happy face as people came in and left, but I didn’t do so good at capturing my photographs. It was nice to be able to have something they accomplished in one day.

Danielle: Yes, yes, yes, and it makes it a little bit less daunting I would think for them. They know that they can at least, if a pane of glass breaks, they know that they can fix that and it doesn’t take all day.

Alison: Right. I think we’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to get glazing putty to look neat. We’ve got a couple tips and techniques that we can show people to get them over that frustrating stage of, “It’s just all goopy and it keeps pulling up and it makes a lumpy mess.”

Danielle: Right.

Alison: I don’t know what to say. We’ll help you.

Danielle: This will make it easier.

Alison: Right.

Danielle: What do you think makes you different from other businesses that do this work?

Alison: You know, I’m finding there’s more similarities than dissimilarities in what we do. We’ve become one of the larger shops. I have 10 employees, and so we’re able to tackle bigger projects. I think we’re also fortunate that in the Boston area there are a number of window restoration shops, so if we have a really huge project, we can divvy it up and all work together. It’s very much a collaborative type of business, which is great. It makes it much more fun than being a competitor.

Danielle: Right, yeah, I definitely agree with that. Okay, well thank you so much for joining us today. Why don’t you let us know how our audience can get a hold of you.

Alison: Probably the best way is through our website, which is window-woman-ne.com. There is a contact us page which has our email address on it, or you can always call the workshop at 978-532-2070.

Danielle: Very good, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Practical Preservation podcast. The resources discussed during this episode are on our website at practicalpreservationservices.com/podcast. If you received value from this episode and know someone else that would get value from it as well, please share it with them. Join us next week for another episode of the Practical Preservation podcast. For more information on restoring your historic home, visit us at practicalpreservationservices.com.

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

1999 – Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm, Green County

historic preservation in pennsylvania, preserving pennsylvania's architecture, architectural preservation, historic preservation
Photo from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

 

• SAVED! (Sort of…)•

The 1851 brick farmhouse and the associated outbuildings and fields that comprise the 102-acre Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm reflect the agricultural heritage of southwestern Pennsylvania from the mid 19th century until the onset of the Great Depression. In 1999, the structural integrity of the farmhouse was threatened by longwall mining, an underground coal mining technique that removes whole panels from a coal seam without leaving columns of earth in place to support the mine ceiling. As the land above the extracted coal seam drops between four and six feet, an event known as subsidence, the surrounding land slumps and shifts. This movement results in damage to land and buildings, often disrupting or eliminating the natural water supply.

In an attempt to protect their historic farm from longwall coal mining impacts, the property owners engaged in an expensive, all-consuming multi-year legal battle. They opposed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which issued a permit for longwall mining under their property despite the clear potential for adverse effects to this historic property. Rather than choosing an alternative that would avoid or minimize harmful impacts to the historic farm, the DEP allowed the mine operators to proceed as long as they agreed to repair the damage or compensate the property owner for their loss.

Recognizing that the DEP’s standard subsidence control and mitigation plan was insufficient, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the federal Office of Surface Mining, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, and the DEP in 2001, allowing longwall mining to proceed under the farm, provided that appropriate repairs be carried out afterward.

Despite bands and cables wrapped around the house in an attempt to hold the structure together during mining and the subsidence that followed, cracks more than 1 3⁄4 inches wide formed in the exterior walls of the 1851 brick house. Upon completion of the longwall mining, an entire corner of the house (more than 15,000 bricks) had to be reconstructed.

Large crews spent months working to repair the damage. It is fortunate that the MOA was in place because the level of work required to repair the house was well beyond what the DEP’s standard subsidence control and mitigation plan would have repaired.  Despite a monumental legal battle to prevent damage to the farm, longwall mining was still allowed to occur. While the Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm was technically “saved” from destruction by longwall mining and has been cosmetically restored, the integrity of the building has been compromised. The owners still hear subsidence cracking more than 10 years later and worry that the house remains in danger.

While the Thomas Kent, Jr. Farm was technically saved from destruction by longwall mining and has been cosmetically restored, the integrity of the building has been compromised.

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″]Longwall Mining:

Today, longwall mining still threatens historic resources in Pennsylvania.  Plantation Plenty (the Isaac Manchester Farm) was listed in Pennsylvania At Risk in 2010 and was included in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places as a result of proposed longwall mining.  Preservation Pennsylvania continues to work with our partners to protect this historic farm and other properties from damage by longwall mining.

historic preservation in pennsylvania, preserving pennsylvania's architecture, architectural preservation, historic preservation
Photo from Act 54 Reform

[/sws_grey_box]

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1998 – Hazleton High School, Luzerne County

Hazleton High School, Luzerne County

 

• SAVED!•

Hazleton High School, affectionately known as “The Castle on the Hill” to local residents, is one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks.  Built in 1926 in the collegiate Gothic style with elaborate medieval-=style towers and concrete parapets, the building was later converted for use as a junior high school.  Despite its continued use, the school suffered from years of deferred maintenance.  Serious structural problems resulted from water penetration; outdated heating and cooling systems resulted in broken pipes that damaged the wood floors.  When a section of the concrete parapet above the building’s main entrance fell and struct a parent, the school board voted to demolish the historic school.

With vocal opposition from the community and support by a mayor who refused to issue a demolition permit, local residents rallied and called for funding to repair and rehabilitate the building.  Following changes in the composition of the school board, claims that the building was beyond repair were questioned and its condition was reassessed.  When the building was listed in the Pennsylvania At Risk in 1998, the board was divided, and the community was polarized over the issue; many saw preservation as counter to the school’s need for improved technology and other upgrades to the educational curriculum.  After much public debate, the school board voted in May of 2004 to renovate the building for use as an elementary and middle school rather than demolish it.  Renovation of the school occurred relatively quickly, with the new Hazleton Elementary/Middle School opening in the old High School in 2007.

During this renovation, the auditorium was stabilized but not rehabilitated.  Members of the community worked to preserve the auditorium and raise funds for its rehabilitation.  Using a variety of funding sources including grants, private donations, and a large contribution from the school district, the auditorium was fitted with new seating and reproduction aisle standards, digital theater lighting, theater rigging, audio and visual systems and more, and opened as the Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center in 2011.  The facility, which is owned by the school district and leased to a nonprofit organization that operates the auditorium, received a preservation award in 2012.

To support the Wiltsie Performing Arts Center at the Hazleton School, please visit www.wiltsiecenter.org.

 

[sws_grey_box box_size=”630″]

In 1998, Preservation Pennsylvania dedicated its entire At Risk list to endangered schools.  With help from Arthur Ziegler at the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, Preservation Pennsylvania brought attention to the fact that the Pennsylvania Depart of Education’s policies for reimbursement encouraged the construction of new schools over the continued use and preservation of existing and historic schools and began working to improve the situation.

Since 1998, Preservation Pennsylvania has continued to focus on the school issue, working with the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other partners to keep the issue of retaining historical school buildings as schools in the forefront and to encourage the smart siting of new schools in locations where at least a portion of students can walk or bike to school.  Preservation Pennsylvania just completed a policy recommendation on Capital Maintenance Reimbursement and the Joint Use of Community-Centered Schools in Pennsylvania.  The Community-Centered Schools page on our website has the most up-to-date resources and success stories. [/sws_grey_box]

 

 

 

Preservation Pennsylvania has released their “Pennsylvania At-Risk: Twenty-Year Retrospective of Pennsylvania’s Endangered Historic Properties, Where Are They Now” edition. It’s a fascinating look at preservation in action and we’ll be posting a look at each property in a series of posts over the next several months.

INTRODUCTION
Preservation Pennsylvania established the annual Pennsylvania At Risk list in 1992, making us the first statewide preservation organization in the United States to have an annual roster of endangered historic properties. Since 1992, we have listed and worked to
preserve more than 200 endangered historic resources, including individual buildings, historic districts and thematic resources statewide. For 2012, as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of our organization, we are presenting a 20-year retrospective edition of Pennsylvania At Risk. In this issue, we revisit some of the amazing historic places across the Commonwealth, some of which have been rescued from extinction through preservation and rehabilitation efforts, and others that still need our help.

Approximately 18% of Pennsylvania’s At Risk properties have been lost, having been demolished or substantially altered. Another 32% have been saved or are in a condition or situation where the identified threat no longer poses a problem for the historic property. Approximately 50% of the 201 At Risk resources remain in danger, or we have not been able to confirm their current status as either saved or lost.

By monitoring these properties over the past 20 years and working with individuals and organizations trying to preserve them, we have learned many valuable lessons. Those lessons are called out throughout this publication.

 

1997 – Coal Oil Johnny House, Venango County

Coal Oil Johnny

 

• SAVED!•

Commonly known as “Coal Oil Johnny,” John Washington Steele was the Pennsylvania oil boom’s prodigal prince.  Adopted at a young age by the McClintock family, John resided in this circa 1850 wood-frame farmhouse for much of his life.  In return for decades of helping the widow McClintock run the farm and manage oil leases on the property, John inherited the estate when Mrs. McClintock died in 1864.  His inheritance included well royalties of $2,000 to $3,000 per day, plus a huge reserve that the widow had stored in a safe in the farmhouse.

Almost overnight, John stopped working hard and started playing hard.  He left his wife of two years and young son in western Pennsylvania and adopted a flamboyant, expensive lifestyle that included extended stays in New York and Philadelphia, where he rode in a bright red carriage decorated with pictures of oil wells gushing dollar signs.  According to local lore, Johnny once spent $100,000 in a day; he bought a hotel for  a night; he lit cigars with hundred-dollar bills; and diamonds dripped from his fingers.  His life was reflective of the boom and bust of the industry.  After living the high life and drinking heavily in cities along the eastern seaboard while poorly managing his money, Coal Oil Johnny quickly depleted his fortune.  He returned to this farmhouse and his wife and son in 1866, and filed for bankruptcy in 1867.  Johnny returned to work.  After hauling other people’s oil to market and dabbling in business, he moved his family farther west, dying nearly penniless in 1921.

After sitting vacant for more than 50 years and subjected to water infiltration as well as insect and rodent infestation, the structural integrity of the building’s foundation was in jeopardy. Its support beams had rotted, and the building’s exterior cladding was damaged beyond repair.  Unable to find a new owner for the house, the owners announced plans to demolish the building in 1996.  By 1997, when the house was listed in Pennsylvania at Risk, the Oil Heritage Region, Inc. (now Oil Region Alliance) had stepped forward to coordinate emergency stabilization measures.  Making good use of both public funds and private donations, they succeeded in moving the house across Oil Creek to the Rynd Farm in Oil Creek State Park in 2001, where they were able to rehabilitate the house over the following years.  The Coal Oil Johnny House is open for special events, an annual open house, and by appointment.  The immediate threat of demolition has been overcome, and the building is currently safe from harm.  But the Oil Region Alliance could still use additional financial support for expanded programming at the house.

To support this project, please contribute to the Oil region Alliance via their website: www.oilregion.org.

 

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Lessons Learned:

Intervention tools such as grants and tax credits are helping to make preservation projects possible.

The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission’s Keystone Historic Preservation grants make a significant impact on the ability of municipalities and non-profits to preserve endangered historic buildings for public use. At least 48 grants have been given to 25 of Pennsylvania’s 201 At Risk properties as a result of the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund. The federal Save America’s Treasures program assisted at least six additional projects that were once at risk of being lost. At least nine additional endangered historic properties in Pennsylvania have benefited from grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). The NTHP has invested additional funds into initiatives started to address the threats identified in Pennsylvania at Risk, such as the demolition of historic properties for construction of new, large houses and stores, and addressing problems common among specific property types, such as churches and schools.

At least 20 historic properties that were included in Pennsylvania At Risk over the past 20 years have benefited from the federal Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. All relatively large commercial rehabilitation projects, these projects are scattered all around the state, occurring in Allegheny, Bedford, Blair, Crawford, Dauphin, Erie, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, and Philadelphia Counties. With the new state tax credit in place, rehabilitation tax credits will certainly continue to provide important financial incentives for preserving Pennsylvania endangered historic properties in years to come. [/sws_grey_box]

 

The Central Pennsylvania Preservation Society recently hosted representatives from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for a presentation on the brand new state historic tax credit program.  You can read their summary of the presentation here.

 

 

 

 

Today I am working from home, in my living room, with inaugural coverage running on the TV, a feverish 5yr-old brewing an ear infection snuggled on my lap, and three other children who all have the day off school, one of whom mercilessly and relentlessly practices his basketball dribbling skills despite my pleas for peace and quiet.

Among it all, I am contemplating Martin Luther King, Jr.  (And not just because he’s the reason I’m working in noisy chaos today instead of blissful silence.)

There are so many legacies that King gave us, and most of us are intimately familiar with them all.  We’ve learned about him from the time we were small, adding more and more insight as we grew older, applied that knowledge to our understanding of freedom, equality, revolution, peace.

But what can we preservationists learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.?

We aren’t generally the violent sort and have already embraced his lessons on peaceful protest and civil disobedience.  We already value freedom and equality and aren’t known for our attempts to suppress the rights of others (unless by “others” you mean McMansions).

Then I wondered, but what lessons might we learn if we studied the man and not just his ideals?

Here are the ones I learned thinking about him today…

 

Maybe sometimes we should be a little less diplomatic and politically correct and just confront things head-on.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was rather blunt in his manner of speaking, he certainly didn’t mince words or dance around difficult subjects.  When King talked about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation in his 1962 “I have a Dream” speech, he said:

[sws_blockquote align=”left” alignment=”” cite=”” quotestyles=”style01″]But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.[/sws_blockquote]

If you’ve read MLK at all or listened to him speak (and if you’ve done neither you need to remedy that) you already know he’s good with words, tone, and inflection.  The man was a master orator.  Part of what made his words so powerful was his refusal to pull any punches – he told it like it was, in all its horror, as straight-forward as he needed to be.

He didn’t worry if he was going to offend someone, he didn’t put things in gentle terms or strive to be politically correct in his speeches – he just confronted reality head-on without putting any pretty wrapping paper on it.

[note color=”#f8f8f6″]Questions this made me wonder…

What realities are we preservationists hesitant to confront?

Are we too diplomatic in our confrontations?

Do we dance around difficult subjects for fear of reprisal?

The next time we confront a preservation reality, how can we do so in a more powerful way?[/note]

 

We should follow our confrontations with powerfully moving visions for the future.

King loved to use stories and metaphors and all sorts of literary elements in his speaking.  When he did so, he engaged the hearts of his listeners and inspired them to challenge the status quo.  And they did.  By the millions.  His ability to articulate a vision for the future that appealed to listener’s values, wants and needs, hopes and aspirations was one of the most effective aspects of King’s leadership.

[sws_blockquote align=”left” alignment=”” cite=”” quotestyles=”style01″]I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”[/sws_blockquote]

Who can read or listen that without tearing up? It’s sheer poetry.  And it isn’t just the use of vivid imagery and powerful storytelling – he’s tapped right into a dream that many of his listeners can instantly relate to, and then he’s given them a powerfully moving vision of the future of that dream.

[note color=”#f8f8f6″]Questions this made me wonder….

Are we preservationists using enough stories to communicate our cause?

What stories can we be using to engage the hearts of the people we are speaking to?

What are the dreams of our listeners?

How does historic preservation

Are we articulating the powerful vision we see for the future of our built history?

Are we articulating that vision in a way that makes others want to achieve that future?[/note]

 

And just because this speech, his voice, the cause he championed, and how it turned out is all so amazing, here is his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech for your enjoyment today:

httpv://youtu.be/jw1R_JBuHEQ

 

 

 

 

Last Wednesday, the Lancaster County Planning Commission hosted strongtowns.org’s “Curbside Chat” presented by Charles Marohn at the Manheim Township Public Library.

“Curbside Chat” is strongtowns.org’s program to discuss the financial realities facing our cities, towns, boroughs, and townships.  The Chat started with the history of what Marohn called the “Suburban Experiment” of new development that shifted homes and businesses outside of towns and into outlying areas.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”” quotestyle=”style02″] We often forget that the post-World War II American pattern of development is an experiment.  We assume it is the natural order because it is what we see all around us, but our own history – let alone a tour of other parts of the world – tells a different story. -Charles Marohn[/sws_blockquote_endquote]

How New Development is Financially and Economically Unsustainable

Marohn noted that the financial viability of the  “Suburban Experiment” is based on two assumptions that have not proven to be true:

1: New growth encouraged by suburban development will continue to be ever-accelerating.
2: New growth will create enough revenue to pay off debt incurred to create the infrastructure needed to support suburbanization and pay for the maintenance of that infrastructure.

He went on to present multiple case studies that established a pattern of suburban development (through the creation of infrastructure by local governments) that would take 50 to nearly 100 years to pay off – NOT including the cost of maintenance.    These case studies were not just focused on a particular neighborhood demographic, they included examples from low-density neighborhoods, medium-density neighborhoods, high-value properties, traditional neighborhoods, industrial parks, and commercial districts set in both rural and suburban areas.

Marohn followed the growth studies with a sobering chart on the long-term financial ramifications for local governments using this type of development: after just 20-25 years, the income created by suburbanization (after the expense of maintaining the infrastructure) begins to plummet much more rapidly than it increased during the initial years.  After just 35 years, the expenses of maintaining the development becomes greater than the income it produces and never again returns to a positive cash flow.

Note: The following chart is based on new growth models that include the assumption that new development will be implemented every two years.  If new development is not implemented every two years, the results look even worse than the chart below.

Cumulative Cash Flow - MP2LC

Sobering indeed, isn’t it?

Read more about this “Growth Ponzi Scheme”, including five articles delving into the details of Marohn’s presentation.

 

How Preservation is Financially and Economically Sustainable

It’s not as thought most of us didn’t already know that historic preservation supports financial and economic growth and stability, but the second part of Marohn’s “Curbside Chat” did include solid, and sometimes surprising, evidence for how that happens.

Marohn once again had a wealth of case studies to make the case that the preservation of existing development (even when its at its worst of transient occupancy and rundown buildings, in a state he called “Old & Blighted”) has consistently demonstrated a higher assessed value (that will produce more tax revenues) than what he called the “Shiny & New” big-box model of development that typically includes a single businesses on the same size development lot that traditional development houses multiple businesses and even residences on.

Using an ROI (Return on Investment) based on property taxes and the revenue stream those taxes produce, Marohn’s case studies show that even “Old & Blighted” vernacular downtown areas are valued significantly higher, almost doubled when looking at an overall average, than the “Shiny & New” big box development.

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”” quotestyle=”style02″] “Our problem was not, and is not, a lack of growth. Our problem is sixty years of unproductive growth. The American pattern of development does not create real wealth; it creates the illusion of wealth. Today we are in the process of seeing that illusion destroyed and with it the prosperity we have come to take for granted.” – Curbside Chat Companion Booklet, page 5 [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

Not only that, Marohn pointed out that “Old & Blighted” development can be stimulated and improved (adding value which would increase the revenue stream) with a much lower investment than those plots that new development sits on.

Perhaps the most interesting example he gave here was an avant-garde approach used by a group of citizens in Memphis, Tennessee.  After repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, petitioning the city to paint parking spots, crosswalks, and bike lanes into a particular downtown area of small, storefront businesses to encourage the community to support those businesses – the citizens decided to take matters into their own hands.  Spending $500 on paint, they painted the parking spots, crosswalks, and bike lanes themselves. Within six months the storefronts were filled, the businesses were doing well, and one landlord reported being able to collect twice the rental fee he has previously been able to charge.  

Marohn then outlined the strategies he suggests for turning unsustainable development models into thriving economic centers that will stand up to the test of time and create a method of placemaking that yield a higher return on public investments:

STOP: Do no more “if you build it they will come” develop and instead focus on small, incremental investments in places that are already productive

TAKE STOCK: What and where is already productive?  Where is the revenue stream coming from?  What is the tax base that produces that revenue stream?  What are the tax subsidies that reduce that revenue stream?  What are the debts that impact revenue?

START TRIAGE: Ease the suffering of “most broke” development that won’t make it and isn’t sustainable and move on to treat and improve the already productive “somewhat broke” that can be sustained, saving the “least broke” development for last.

COMMIT TO ALWAYS ADDING VALUE: Adding value with placemaking strategies encourages the kind of growth that produces positive revenue streams that can be sustained, without debt.

REORIENT SYSTEMS & APPROACH TO GROWTH: Develop a capital improvements plan that takes a hard look at the scale of infrastructure inventory, maintenance obligations, when that maintenance will come due, what that maintenance will cost, and what funding sources they rely on, to create a realistic “balance sheet” of the public’s future obligations.

The “Curbside Chat” chat companion booklet is available online, and is absolutely a must-read.  As is the information, statistics, websites, and strategies for more productive growth and placemaking preservation approaches available on the strongtowns.org website.  You can also view Marohn’s presentation schedule, as well as sign up to schedule a “Curbside Chat” presentation in your town.

 

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THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

Why have we not been implementing growth based on ROI (Return on Investment)?

How can we get our cities and towns to start thinking about growth in terms of ROI (Return on Investment)?

What kinds of inexpensive changes and improvements can be made to our neighborhoods and downtowns to add value?

What “high amenity” areas offer the potential for an increased level of public investment and engagement?

How can we add value to those “high amenity” areas?

What are incremental strategies that can add value to existing development in cities and towns?

How can we articulate the ways that historic preservation continues to that value?

How can we communicate that to our towns and cities?

How does creating a sense of place with historic preservation contribute to the placemaking principles that Strong Towns advocates?

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Rhonda Sincavage (Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs at the National Trust for Historic Preservation) talks about what historic preservationists do, and what they look like (we’re not the little old, blue-haired women most people think of, she points out).  And most importantly, how historic preservation encourages economic growth, incubates independent and small business growth, promotes green building practices and sustainable construction, and builds a sense of community.

httpv://youtu.be/zwSPIRceSi0

This list was taken from the Directory of Preservation Resources complied by the Historical Architectural Review Board in the Borough of Columbia, PA.

Encouraging regular maintenance (true preservation) rather than quick-fixes that will fail in a short amount of time this list highlights seven common “repairs” or “upgrades” that do more harm than good.

1. Repointing bricks using mortar with a high content of Portland cement. Instead use a flexible mortar with a high lime content.

2. Sandblasting, using high-pressure power washes, or harsh chemical cleaners to clean or remove paint. This will remove the hard outer shell exposing the soft brick. Always use the gentlest method possible to clean.

3. Applying vinyl or aluminum to wrap the building (walls, sills, soffits, and eaves). The installers regularly remove architectural details. In addition trapping moisture can accelerate structural decay.

4. Replacing original wood windows (unnecessarily). Repair rather than replace. Wood windows can be made energy efficient using weather stripping and storm windows.

5. Ignoring peeling exterior paint. A good paint job will provide a protective coating against insects and moisture.

6. Hiring contractors without the necessary skills or experience working on old buildings. Modern materials and construction techniques are not always compatible with older buildings. A contractor unfamiliar with traditional buildings and methods cab permanently damage the building.

7. Introducing “mix-and-match” period style detail. Respect the original period-style of your building. Fight the urge to make it appear newer, older, or fancier in style than it really is.

The April/May 2010 issue of Old-House Journal listed the top ten restoration mistakes. Following these tips can help to save time and money (in the long run). The entire article can be found at: http://www.oldhousejournal.com/top-10-restoration-mistakes/magazine/1673

  1. Cheap Paint (good paint is hard to find – we are trying linseed oil paint on our house available from http://www.solventfreepaint.com/)
  2. Poor Paint Prep (paint will not adhere to dirt or loose paint)
  3. Mixing Metals (unlike metals can react)
  4. Epoxy Overuse (I would also add using the wrong type of epoxy, such as, marine or automobile filler on wood)
  5. Waterproofing Exteriors (houses need to breathe and moisture trapped behind the coatings can cause the underlining materials to rot)
  6. Waterproofing Interiors (use holistic building approach when solving water infiltration – look at source of water and ways to direct away from the house)
  7. Removing Masonry Finishes (removing paint or formstone from a brick wall is often not recommended because of the likelihood of damaging the brick by removing the veneer)
  8. Removing Wood Finishes (take care that the paint prep does not damage the wood underneath)
  9. Using the Wrong Mortar (use soft lime-based mortar with older brick to stop the damage from the thaw-freeze cycle – a good source is http://www.limeworks.us/)
  10. Bad Design (use water-shedding designs for all exterior repairs)
Historic Preservation Incentive Program (HB 221) is a piece of pending legislation that will help preserve historic structures across Pennsylvania. The legislation is designed to encourage people buying, selling, or dealing with historic buildings to be sensitive to the buildings history. This legislation will give more incentives to homeowners and developers making more grants and tax credits available for the preservation/rehab of historic structures. This legislation would help the state in multiple ways: preserving our collective built history, encourage economic development, and reinvest capital in our cities and towns. Twenty-nine other states have already enacted similar legislation.

What can you do?
The budget negotiations are going on right now and are scheduled to conclude next Tuesday, July 1st. Contact Governor Rendell, your State Senators, and House Members. Let them know how important our historical resources are to you. For more information regarding HB 221 contact the National Trust for Historic Preservation at http://www.nationaltrust.org/ (information is available on the advocacy page of their website along with a letter to e-mail to your local representatives and Governor Rendell).