A Review of Historic Preservation and Community

As people we often define ourselves within communities, often multiple communities. It does not have to be a geographic community; perhaps it’s a community by profession, by lifestyle, by activity, by genealogy, or by interests. Whatever it is, we all fit into at least one community. So it makes sense that community is a very critical aspect of historic preservation.

Historic preservation is a field and an umbrella term for many sub-fields including architectural history, planning, museum studies, archaeology, and oral history. Collectively historic preservation seeks to improve the quality of life by involving the heritage of a community with its present and future. It involves the idea that having roots in a place or at least understanding how that place evolved is what makes it important to people. How can we move forward if we do not know from where we’ve come?

Consider this: in the historic preservation world we are inevitably working for a community. Without a community, our projects would not hold value or worth because generally our work responds to a community’s needs and wants. Within a community we might be addressing how future development will impact the historic integrity of a site. The rehabilitation of a city block might inspire a chain reaction of commerce and positive development of other city blocks, bringing life back to the center. Museums, cultural events, activities, and parks can show people the beauty and value of where they live. Local businesses on Main Street keep money in the community, provide quality jobs, and keep a community unique.

Too much of America is becoming Anywhere, USA. Historic preservation is not looking to stop progress; but, rather, to encourage people to remember the characteristics that make each place unique and valuable. Theories of historic preservation often relate to a sense of place (also referred to as sense of community and pride of place).

My basic philosophy on sense of place is that if people value where they live then they will likely care for its past, present, and future. And when people take pride in their hometown, their region, etc. then quality of life improves. Yet, while the philosophies can be applied from place to place, each community will have a different definition of history and different way to express their pride. In other words, good quality of life and sense of place do not result from Disney-fication and gentrification. It results from people caring about that place and realizing that all aspects of life are connected: work, home, resources, transportation, commerce, culture, health, etc.


Previous Preservation in Pink posts related to community:

Lessons from Jane

The 350 Project

The Best Place to Live

Upon Further Consideration

The Good Part about this Bad Economy

Preservation + Smart Growth + Environmentalism = Friends?

Abstract Communities

Gated Communities

This Place Matters

About (Preservation in Pink)

Preservation Photos #7

IMG_8558One entertaining photographs from my Townshend, VT barn survey (including agricultural related structures. Yes, outhouses, too).

Gut it? No Way.

Do you ever browse the New York Times real estate section slide shows? I find them endlessly entertaining, whether it’s for the purpose of gazing at beautiful houses I’ll never afford, gawking at monstrosities that I would never want to afford or own, loving historic, rehabilitated or renovated houses in neighborhoods across the country, or just feeding general curiosity of what homes look like on the inside. So when a slide show entitled “In Need of Some Work” appeared for apartments in New York, it sounded interesting. There is an accompanying article, “For the Right Price, the Right Fixer-Upper” by Elizabeth A. Harris (1o.30.2009).

As I’m reading the captions and looking at the photographs I saw some less-than contemporary improvements like wall-to-wall carpeting and wood accordion doors. There were some wonderful features like 1930s sinks and tile bathroom floors. Classic. But, wait – those captions kept referring to the kitchens and bathrooms needed to be gutted. What!? Sure, the kitchens needed to be upgraded in terms of appliances, but why get rid of a sink full of historic character and definition? Take this statement from slide 24, “The kitchen, which also looks “prewar,” needs a total overhaul.” Excuse me? Why is “prewar” given the connotation of something horribly out of style? Some people like that look. I would love a prewar kitchen.

And I’m not saying that everyone has to love that. Maybe some people like those accordion doors, too. That’s great because we all have different tastes. But why is there this judgment on everything just because it’s old? Call it a fixer-upper, but don’t assume that everyone will want to toss away the prewar kitchen or the bathroom floor. See, how cool is that prewar kitchen? Check it out at Levittown, PA: Building the Suburban Dream.


The "Prewar" Kitchen

Weird Buildings

Part roadside architecture, part crazy architect, part classic American culture… whatever it is, weird buildings are always entertaining and often a welcome site (assuming they have not replaced a demolished historic structure). This Kansas City Public Library parking garage just might be my favorite.


Creative Commons: David King, Flickr, click for source.

I searched for strange buildings around the internet and found a few entertaining sites that just might make you want to take a road trip.

Weirdest Buildings in the US

Weird Architecture – Strange & Unique Buildings in the USA

Unusual Architecture

50 Strange Buildings of the World

And then sites start to repeat each other.

What do you think of unique architecture? Does it detract from the existing environment? When does it have a place? And will these be considered historic landmarks?

Preservation Photos #6


Sometimes historic resources are just too large to scan. This one covered the length of an entire library table. Thank goodness for the digital age. This is the beautiful McClellan’s 1856 map of Windham County, VT.

A Life in the Trades: November 2009

Series introduction. October 2009.

By Nicholas Bogosian

Modeling, Molding & Casting

Molding compounds, long ago, were made from animal by-products. The molds would, in turn, attract all sorts of vermin. The shelf-life of the mold was brief. Today, the mold maker can still be found – in fabrication plants, in art studios, in special effects labs, and in the preservation trades, to name a few.

Since the days of edible molds, we’ve come quite far in our scientific development of more durable and lasting molding materials. Today the mold maker can select from polyurethane and silicone liquid rubbers as well as latex, alginate, and wax. The decision on which to use is not a mere preference, but rather dependent on what material you will be casting with, as well as the shape characteristics of the piece. The litany of casting materials is much more extensive: wax, concrete, plaster, epoxy, polyurethane, polyester, acrylic, and metal. Along with casting material and the shape of the desired piece, there are many other factors to consider before choosing your materials. These considerations can be found in molding and casting materials catalogues.

Model and mold making, for the preservationist, can be one of the few avenues to be creative and artistic, especially if he or she is given a restoration job. Say a Federalist style home has had many occupants through the years and many additions – and say one of those additions was dropped ceilings in a front office for a realtor. After research has been done on the property, it is decided to restore the ceiling to its characteristic decorative plaster ceilings which no longer exist, complete with an elaborate plaster medallion. It is then your job to create the Federalist ornamentation from scratch, with the aid of photographs and diagrams of the period’s style.

In a recent project at Belmont Tech, we were to find some section/piece of decorative architecture (whether in print or in real life), render the example, model the example from clay, create a mold of the model, then cast the mold with plaster.

I found my example out of a Gothic Architecture book – a small section from a c. 1500s woodcarving that encased a window. Then I rendered the photograph into an image that was the size I needed.


Paycocke's house. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Second, with my design, I needed to roll out the clay to get a uniform thickness.


Clay press. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

“Tracing” the image onto the clay is done simply by using a modeling “poker” to poke holes in the clay along the lines.


Clay Trace. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Then the process of carving out the image begins. Here, ready for touchups:


Clay Carve. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

The degree of detail that one pursues on such complex modeling designs will be dependent on the time available, and the placement of the object in the structure. Our professor gave an example of someone trying to remove each and every fingerprint from the clay for an enormous medallion in a historic theatre which will be not only in half-light most of its life, but nowhere near enough its admirers for fingerprints to be seen. And at this rate, the preservation artist ends up making barely twenty-two cents an hour!

Next, a clay dam is created around the model to contain the molding compound as it cures.


Clay Dam. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Because my model had fairly deep crevices, lips, and some delicate shapes, it was best to go for a molding compound which would be soft enough to maneuver from the plaster once cast. I used a 74-30 Polyurethane Liquid Rubber, which has two parts: the 74 classifies the resin and the 30 classifies the hardness. Every molding compound has specific instructions for preparation. The two parts are designed to produce a chemical reaction when mixed, and will only do so if mixed properly. This particular polyurethane was a one to one ratio. The molding compound is poured into the dam and allowed to cure for a day.


Mold Cure. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Once the mold is retrieved, gypsum casting plaster in powdered form is mixed with warm water till a dip of the finger shows no skin. Once the mold has been sprayed with Spray-Release, the plaster is poured into the mold. The plaster should not sit in the mold for more than a day, as it will be more difficult to remove. The still-wet plaster casting can be removed after a half-hour and left to cure in the open.


Plaster Cure. Courtesy of Nicholas Bogosian.

Brush-on molds may also be utilized in pieces which are still attached, such as decorative cornices, capitals, or lion’s heads. In these situations, there would be no way to remove the object, and there would be no need to.

Having the technology of model and mold making makes the preservationist’s job efficient and more cost-effective because of the variety of materials at your disposal. If actual decorative pieces can be retrieved and molded, the modeling step is taken out altogether. Once a mold is created of a single object, it can be duplicated easily for repetitive patterns and used for many years to come.