One of the most rewarding things about historic restoration and preservation is constantly learning about new things and new places.  Last week, we learned that we have a National Postal Museum in a former Post Office building in Washington D.C.

The National Postal Museum is a Smithsonian museum in Washinton, D.C.
residing in the old Post Office building next to Union Square.
Beautiful isn’t she?  Built in 1914, she served as the city’s Post Office for 72 years.  Now she houses the Postal Museum’s exhibition spaces, research library, and store in order to achieve their goal of  “preservation, study, and presentation of postal history and philately” with “exhibits, public programs, and research”.
And she’s every bit as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
But the fact that our country has an entire Smithsonian museum dedicated to preserving our philately heritage wasn’t even the most mind-boggling thing we contemplated on our walk-through of this historic building.  The thought we kept getting stuck on (and have been ever since) is:

How did we go from features like the ornate, hand-crafted ceilings commonly seen in historic buildings like the Post Office building to fiberboard drop
ceilings customary in modern buildings in just a little over 50-60 years?


Achieving energy efficiency without compromising historic integrity in old buildings is always a high priority, and sometimes surprisingly easy….. when you learn to compromise on the right thing.
Recently we restored an early 1900’s wood exterior door for a private residence.   When this door was constructed there would have been no door sweep or weatherstripping and restored to original condition this door would have a high rate of air infiltration – leading to moisture damage and high energy losses.  Fortunately,  we do not have to choose between energy efficiency and historical integrity – non-original features like door sweeps and weatherstripping can be added in a historically complimentary way.
Instead of the commonly used plastic door sweeps, a sunken bristle door sweep can be installed to limit visibility and eliminate an obvious visual intrusion on the door’s historical features. Brass or bronze weatherstripping can be used in lieu of plastic to remain in keeping with materials and styles one would expect to see for that period.

Strike the right kind of compromise by choosing historically complimentary options and you too can have energy efficient historical preservation.

Ever wonder just exactly how the magic of historical restorations happens? How do we take something that no longer exists, or has deteriorated so badly you can’t tell what used to exist, and restore it to something that looks exactly like what was originally there?  

One of the most important parts of the restoration process is the mock-up. These very early prototypes allow us to test the construction of detailed designs and give us a working model to use for verification that the recreated details are historically accurate.  Initial mock-ups aren’t necessarily constructed out of the materials that the final product will be made out of and can often be somewhat rough-looking, but don’t let their looks deceive you – without their “rugged” functionality, we wouldn’t be able to produce the refined finished product.

This mock-up is for the Franklin Street Station restoration project in Reading, PA.  Since most of the existing trim at this project was either missing or deteriorated badly, Historic Restorations created this working example of the architectural profile for wood trim around a ceiling for the design approval process.  

3. Replacing Original Wood Windows.
      Technology and architectural styles have shaped the design of windows throughout history. The windows are one of the few parts of a building that serves as both an interior and exterior feature, and they usually make up 20-30% of the surface area of a historic building. It is for these reasons that windows are an important part of the character of a building, so removing or radically changing them has a drastic impact on the building’s character.
      Conduct an in-depth survey of the conditions of windows early in the process so that options to retain and preserve windows can be fully explored. Many make the mistake of replacing windows solely due to peeling paint, broken glass, stuck sash or high air infiltration. These are not indications that the window is beyond repair.
      In fact, weatherizing and repairing doors and windows is often the most practical and economic maintenance plan. Also, repair window frames and sash by patching, splicing, consolidating or otherwise reinforcing. Repair may include replacement in-kind of parts that are missing or deteriorated. Do not obscure historic trim with metal or other material, strip windows through inappropriate designs,change the number, location, size or glazing pattern of windows.
      Windows that are too deteriorated to repair should be replace in-kind using the same sash and pane configuration. If this is not technically or economically possible, then use a compatible substitute material. Use historical, pictorial and physical documentation to replace windows with an accurate restoration window.
      Protect and maintain existing windows with cleaning, rust removal, limited paint removal and protective coasting on a regular basis to prevent deterioration.

Taken from the Historic Wood Windows tip sheet from the National Trust for Historic Preservation – maintenance is important for all areas of a building to help insure that it will continue to perform without costly repairs. Preservation is maintenance and it is a lot less expensive than replacement.

Four Wood Window Maintenance Tips:
1. Keep exterior surfaces painted (keeping the water out of the wood);
2. Repair glaze – reglaze entire window as needed;
3. Don’t paint the window shut – so that it can operate as intended; and
4. Don’t paint the sash cord.

For more information read “The Repair of Historic Wooden Windows” Preservation Brief Series #9 –

Wrecker or Builder
I watched them tearing a building down
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho-heave-ho and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.
I asked the foreman, ” are these men skilled,
As the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed;
Just common labor is all I need.
I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builder have taken a year to do.”
And I thought to myself as I went my way,
Which of these two roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Am I shaping my deeds by a well-made plan,
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Clarence E. Allerton, Local Union 439, Orange, N.J.

On Sunday, October 19, Chuck, Lois, Jonathan, Danielle, and Josh attended the Architectural History Tour of the Northeast Lancaster Township Historic District. The tour was appropriately called “Mansions on Marietta” and highlighted buildings built as the first suburban development in Lancaster County.

The oldest house on the tour was built in 1828 and is Wheatland home of 15th President James Buchanan. The other six homes on the tour (private residences) where built between 1920 and 1939. These houses reminded us of the “old” (at least 100 years old) building on the West Coast.