Reading List: Historic Preservation & the Built Environment

Large, mature trees contribute to the historic streetscape and historic properties.

Thank you to the Wilmington Library for having me as part of their summer lecture series. I thoroughly enjoyed talking about historic preservation and the built environment with community members and visitors. As promised, here is a reading list of related books:

  • Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe
  • The Motel in America by John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle
  • The Gas Station in America by John A. Jakle and Keith A. Sculle
  • Diners, Bowling Alleys, And Trailer Parks: Chasing The American Dream In The Postwar Consumer Culture by Andrew Hurley
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon
  • Main Street to Miracle Mile by Chester Liebs
  • Once Upon a Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo
  • A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester

Have any suggestions of your own? Add them in the comments. Happy reading (don’t forget your coffee). Cheers!

Reading List 2016

What are you reading in 2016? I have four definites on my list, three of which have been on my to read list for years. This is the year I read them. Why? My reasons are below.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time, and my mom gifted this to me for Christmas. A novel is a good place to start.

Roads to Quoz by William Least Heat Moon. Blue Highways is another one of my all-time favorites, and my sister Sarah gave this to me years ago. A good Americana-road tripping book is always a good idea.

A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester. The update of the essential historic preservation/architectural history classic. I could use a refresher in architectural history and some new lessons on the suburban development.

The Great Bridge by David McCullough is about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. I started this book about 3.5 years ago and never continued despite the fact that I know it will be great and it’s been recommended to me over and over. Time to focus and read.

I’d love to know your planned reads. For fun? For school? For career development?

(Proper credit: post inspired by Bernice’s post. Thanks for the idea!) 

Early Roadside Memories

Warm spring days bring bare feet, ice cream, sunshine, frisbees, open windows, good moods, bustling downtowns coming back to life, patio tables, sidewalk cafes, festivals and the desire for adventure. The best and easiest way to get somewhere in the USA tends to be via automobile. Road trips, maps, coffee, cameras, new roads, backroads, music, intrigue – whether a trip lasts one day, one week or one month, the open roads continues to be a metaphor for American freedom. Filled with the pioneer spirit, many of us are always wanting to go somewhere. Unlike pioneers, 20th and 21st century travelers are not sleeping in covered wagons. This age of lodging options has a fascinating history that speaks to the changing American culture.

The Motel in America

Maybe the burst of spring weather and a constant dream of another road trip are reasons why I finally chose this book from my bookshelf: The Motel in America by John A. Jakle, Keith A. Sculle, and Jefferson S. Rogers. While I have more to read, I managed to devour quite a few chapters in the Sunday sunshine. The beginning will capture a roadside lover’s interest right away:

A drive of more than 450 miles in a single day was an accomplishment in 1948. Up before dawn, we drove until dark, crossing northern Ohio and then dropping south to Pittsburgh and the new Pennsylvania Turnpike. In the early days of the automobile, auto touring was championed as a way of traveling leisurely through landscapes beyond the control of railroad timetables and the corporate powers that those timetables represented. Motoring was promoted as a means of getting to know the country through the slow, firsthand encounter. As highways improved, however, touring became increasingly a matter of “making time” between big attractions more distantly spaced. How quickly Americans came to trade landscapes glimpsed rapidly through train windows for landscapes glimpsed rapidly through windshields. Our family was no exception. {The Motel in America, page 3}

The authors begin with their earliest memories and associations with motels, as part of giving readers their own context and background, and in turn it invites readers to ask of their own recollections.

I grew up in a family of four sisters; with so many of us, we didn’t vacation every year. However, road trips are well worn into my memory. Aside from playing cards with my sister Sarah in the backseat of the Dodge Grand Caravan or playing stuffed animal games with sisters Annie & Erin, too, our family had travel traditions. We packed a cooler of food – sandwiches, drinks, snacks, and some candy(!) – and at lunchtime we’d stop at one of the interstate rest areas. Mom set out a table cloth, we’d gather around the picnic table and eat our sandwiches. Then we’d stretch our legs before getting back into the car. The picnic areas were budget savers to a big family.

Mom always loved the AAA guide books and the TripTiks for directions to our destinations. We never made reservations ahead of time, but when we were getting close to being done for the day (that probably means that we four girls were getting restless and hungry), Mom would browse through the guide book to see which hotel might suit our needs. The four of us always pleaded for a pool. We needed something to do after being stuck in the car all day, and we did not have a pool at home, so it seemed like a real vacation luxury to us. One time we pulled up to Howard Johnson’s and the pool was green. As we always checked out the pool status first, we did not stay there!

Mom & Dad preferred a hotel that included breakfast, and rooms that would somehow sleep six people. (Relatively unknown family fact: on one occasion or two, the youngest sister slept on chairs pushed together so we could all fit in the room. She was little!) On some occasions we were able to negotiate a good deal for two adjoining rooms; this is when we were older and actually needed more than two beds.

The motels we choose were often the type with outside entrances. They were easier for loading and unloading and usually cheaper than the interior corridor entrance style. The chain hotel names that stick in my childhood memory are Days Inn, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge, and Howard Johnson.

Over the years, we’ve stayed in many lodging types. My mom, Sarah and I have pitched a tent in the dark in a campground field (reminiscent of auto tourists who simply stopped on the side of the road). I’ve stayed in motor courts with the preservation girls. I’ve camped in state parks, at KOAs, and independent campgrounds. Bed & breakfasts, chain hotels, mom-and-pop motels, I think I have most of them crossed off the lodging list. And each type has a good example and a bad example, but all make for good memories (even if they’re only good after-the-fact).

And as for my continued fascination with roadside America? What could be more exciting than traveling the country and seeing our evolving culture manifested itself in the built environment? What are your earliest recollections of roadside travel? Where did you and your family stay? How did it change as you grew older?

Build a Playhouse!

Yesterday we talked about a dream house from a child’s perspective along with children’s impressions on the built environment. To follow up on that topic, I wanted to share a few pages from a book I found last summer in an antique shop in Barton, Vermont. It caught my eye because of my ongoing interest in playgrounds.

The cover of the Children’s Playhouse booklet from The Home Workshop Library, published 1950 by the General Publishing Company, Inc.

The Home Workshop Library was a series of books for the industrious DIY-ers in the post World War II era, that reprinted articles from Popular Homecraft magazine.

Inside cover.

“A playhouse is in the largest sense, a child’s castle. It is also a safe haven for young energy and a storage place for a child’s priceless treasures.”

Table and contents and the first design.

Ranging from playhouses to playground equipment to bunk beds to playhouses, the pages are filled with plans and specifications and equipment needed.

page 6 and 7 – directions for the playhouse

Pages 8-9: info about construction and post foundations.

“A Wee House for Wee People”

Who wants an elephant slide?

I think I will build a playhouse in my backyard (someday). Anyone else? Have you used old plans to design a structure, whether a slide or a house? The Home Workshop Library also includes household furniture. Anyone have a copy or something similar?

Friday Travels in Images

I am out and about this Friday for a whirlwind trip for a friend’s wedding. Left to my own devices this morning, I am free to wander around the great city of Boston and turn whichever direction I choose. Since I am not an expert with the iphone camera, I am practicing and taking better photos with the real camera. But for the sake of a picture week, here are some happenings from today.

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I will share more on flickr throughout the day so check the blog sidebar. Happy Friday to all!

A Life in the Trades: November 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010. September 2010. October 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

In the Advanced Materials Science class of Belmont Tech’s BPR program, students plan a focused study in a particular building material (plaster, wood, masonry, ceramics, metals, etc.). Students are mentored by a faculty member, but ultimately organize their own learning program.

My interest in wood conservation began my first quarter with a paper I wrote on wood preservatives. Subsequently getting to witness great timbered structures like the nationally registered barn of the Kinney Farmstead or seeing evidence of powder post beetle damage to hand-hewn joists of the 1820s Lundy house further cemented my interest. After taking the Theory of Structures class, I fine-tuned my interest in wood to its structural functions and began to wonder how engineers, preservationists, and timber framers deal with the conservation of our historic wood-framed buildings.

Split beam of historic carriage house. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

So, for the Advanced Materials Science class this quarter, I have set out to study timber conservation and how to implement the various options of repair. Though I want to have a basic understanding of wood science and the chemistry involved with resins or the physics of different joints, the ultimate goal is to develop technique in implementing the various options of repair and to understand the appropriateness of each to different situations.

At this point, all of my research has been compiled and I’m 20% through the implementation procedures.

Books which have proven very useful are Brian Ridout’s Timber Decay in Buildings, David C. Fischetti’s Structural Investigation of Historic Buildings, Weaver’s Conserving Buildings as well as Wheeler & Hutchinson’s article “Resin Repairs to Timber Structures.” Ridout’s book is interesting primarily in its intent. The book is meant to educate on the science of wood as well as offer thorough explanation on the various agents of decay. His goal is not to educate on the various repair techniques, but to give preservationists or concerned building-owners a foundation by which to understand what repairs, if any, are necessary. He laments the reactionary use of preservatives or irreversible repairs when all that may be necessary is reducing moisture levels in the building environment.

Preservation engineer Fischetti’s book addresses the conundrum of historic buildings, bridges, towers, and mills which have stood the test of time, but cannot pass current testing for structural soundness despite actually being quite sound. He argues that there must be something wrong with our testing procedures. But Fischetti is not blinded by nostalgia – he’s a schooled engineer and understands the complexity of dealing with structural issues in historic buildings. His book is laden with case-study examples of various investigations and repairs to historic buildings all over the country. Martin Weaver’s book has been helpful in its chapter on resins and polymers as well as his succinct pictorial descriptions of various timber repair techniques.

In designing my project, I ideally would have worked at an actual site, but that wasn’t feasible. It would have been very unlikely that I would have found such a structure that provided all the necessary situations to carry out the various repair techniques. So I decided to create mock set-ups. The actual wood I am dealing with is old-growth timbers retrieved from various historic buildings and which display some level of rot or insect damage.

Old growth oak. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

So far, I have retrieved a knee brace from a barn that fell down in Cadiz, Ohio which displays wood rot and likely powder post beetle damage. I was recently offered rotten sills from a historic spring house a mile from my house which are being replaced. The sills will act as my other two mock-pieces.

Repair Techniques which I will be exploring:

– wood splices

– replication of historic joinery (tenons)

– mechanical fasteners

– Wood Epoxy Reinforcement (WER method)

– BETA system

BETA system, as depicted in Martin Weaver's Conserving Buildings. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

Currently, work has begun on a splice repair to the knee brace in which a complicated scarf joint has been carved out. This test piece will incorporate the replication of a missing tenon into the splice and the use of mechanical fasteners (in this case, bolts) to join old and new. The “new” wood has been salvaged from a knee brace from the same barn and will have a high degree of grain matching.

Splice repair in progress. Photo by Nicholas Bogosian.

In the end, I would like to have concrete, hands-on examples of various repair techniques as well as a supplementary manual for a conservation-focused repair methodology. This manual would have basics on the agents of decay, investigative techniques, environmental controls, appropriateness of various repair options, and positives and negatives of the various repair options.

Ultimately, my goal is to make sense of “minimum intervention” when it comes to the conservation of timbers. It seems that much of the conservation world is not only defined by its sensitivity in intervention, but also its sensitivity in the diagnosis. Once all other variables have been dealt with, if wooden members have, through thorough testing and deliberation, been found to require physical repair then the skills outlined in my project should prove useful.

A Life in the Trades: September 2010

Series introduction. October 2009. November 2009. December 2009. January 2010. February 2010. March 2010. April 2010. May 2010. June 2010.

By Nicholas Bogosian

While earning my B.A. at the University of Houston, the ritual of buying new textbooks for each new semester was a chore. Perhaps I was just unfocused or insincere with the major I had chosen. I looked forward to the possible returns when I would be able to sell them back at the end of the semester. Of course, I kept a few.

Now that I have found my way into the Building Preservation & Restoration program at Belmont Technical College, the acquisition of new books each quarter feels like a true investment. I wouldn’t give up a single one. For a program that has a reputation for an intensive hands-on curriculum, our book load seems equal to my B.A. studies, if not more. Perhaps this should come as no surprise.

I recall a past PiP post in which Kaitlin offered photo of her school books with pride [see here and here]. This month I wanted to do the same and let readers in on the great books to which the BPR program has introduced me.

Keeping Time by William J. Murtagh. A concise study of the history and theory of preservation in America.

The Decoration of Houses by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr. “…it might be argued that it is among the most influential books about decoration and architecture ever published in the United States.” (Richard Guy Wilson)

Downtown by Robert M. Fogelson. An in-depth history of the rise and fall of “downtown.”

Structures or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J.E. Gordon. A richly colored exploration into the world of Building physics.

The Blacksmith by Aldren A. Watson. Beautifully illustrated and nostalgic manual on the life and work of the early blacksmith.

Science for Conservators Volumes One & Two by The Conservation Unit of the Museums & Galleries Commission. The definitive textbooks for anybody entering the field of conservation. An introduction to the chemistry of materials and the chemistry of cleaning.

Construction Contracting by Richard H. Clough, Glenn A. Sears, & S. Keoki Sears. A very thick book with ant-sized type exploring the entire world of Construction: estimating, bidding, management, labor laws, insurance, etc.

Conserving Buildings by Martin E. Weaver. The preservation classic that explores the various techniques for conserving various materials in various types of deterioration.

Everyday Life in Early America by David Freeman Hawke. A brief social history of early America. Topics include: floor plans, “what they ate,” recreation, language, etc.

The Reshaping of Everyday Life (1790-1840) by Jack Larkin. A Distinguished Finalist for the P.E.N./Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction in 1989. The second part in the social history series.

Fundamentals of Building Construction by Edward Allen & Joseph Iano. A mammoth book on the complexities of building construction.

Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner. A truly comprehensive and easy-to-understand manual on all the various wood finishes. Considered the “bible of wood finishing.”

Basic Plumbing with Illustrations by Howard C. Massey. Uncluttered visuals pack this very handy manual.

Recording Historic Structures, edited by John A. Burns. Documentation from the perspective of the National Park Service. Rich with illustrations and photographs of case studies.

Structural Investigation of Historic Buildings by David C. Fischetti, PE. Fischetti is in the rare breed of “Preservation Structural Engineer.” Not only does the book explore many case studies of structural stabilization, but gives impassioned advice to structural engineers who tend to discredit our historic built environment.

Historic Preservation Technology by Robert A. Young, PE. An introduction into the world of Building Pathology & Preservation methodology.

The Very Efficient Carpenter by Larry Haun. Larry Haun invented the phrase “no nonsense.” All the “tricks of the trade” in one concise manual for basic building carpentry.

Architectural Graphics by Francis D.K. Ching. Introduction into the world of the architect: essential drawing tools, principles, and techniques designers use to communicate architectural ideas.

The Complete Manual of Woodworking by Albert Jackson, David Day, & Simon Jennings. Wonderfully detailed and clearly illustrated manual on all aspects of wood working: wood science, joinery, machine tools, chair making, marquetry, etc.

Plastering Skills by Van Den Branden/Hartsell. An in-depth manual on the science of various plasters, their various uses in buildings, plaster tools, and even work ethics.

Dictionary of Building Preservation, edited by Ward Bucher. With more than 10,000 terms, I can always count on this dictionary to have what I’m looking for. Everything from “King of Prussia Marble” to “out of plumb” to “State Historic Preservation Office.”

Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture, edited by Cyril M. Harris. Over 5,000 important terms complemented by over 2,000 line drawings. Everything from ancient ruins to 20th-century Modernism.

House Histories by Sally Light. Light’s house curiosities become infectious. She is able to communicate the entire process of historic research for our historic structures for preservationists and non-preservationists alike.

The Lost Art of Steam Heating by Dan Holohan. Holohan is vividly in love with steam heating and I couldn’t help but become engrossed myself.

Tiny Apartment Love

Our ca. 1900 colonial revival house is divided into three apartments; two on the first floor and one on the second floor. Other houses in Burlington are chopped into 5-6 apartments, and it’s quite obvious based on the fire escapes, extra exits, carelessly inserted windows and doors… you get the idea. Aside from the terrible replacement windows, our house looks whole from the outside. However, this colonial revival house is moderately sized compared to the elaborate Queen Anne houses further down the street.

Now, when I say this colonial revival is divided into three apartments, I really should say two and one-half. Our apartment is more like a small studio, luckily it is more than one room. It is in the range of 350 square feet for two people and three (!!) cats. Really it should be for one small person and maybe one cat. Whatever, call us crazy.  We picked this place over the summer, with few other options, but decided this one would be our best bet because of the location, the southern exposure, permission to paint inside and permission to have cats. At the time it was not the prettiest apartment; it was dirty and bland. But, we could see the potential.  As we drove up here in August it suddenly struck me that I had signed a lease without ever looking at the bathroom. I panicked.  By the time we stepped foot in the apartment on a hot August day, dropped just a few of our bags and the (then) two cats, the space seemed full! How were we supposed to live in 350 square feet with one exceptionally small closet? (At least the bathroom was fine.)

We went to work: cleaning, scrubbing, painting, organizing, selling excess furniture, and moving boxes and boxes of books. (Since one of us, ahem, Vinny, is an English teacher, we live in our own personal library. Okay, there are some preservation books in there.) And by the time school started two weeks later, we were settled nicely and everything had found a place. Granted, our couch is a loveseat, and we don’t really have space for dinner guests, but it works for now.  Beyond grad school, it probably won’t be a functional space for us anymore. It’s a cozy, charming space, if you want real estate terms.

But for right now, Vinny and I love this place, particularly because we painted it the colors we wanted and put in a lot of work to make it sort of ours for a few years.  The kitchen floor has two different styles of linoleum, some of it cracked, and the floor is noticeably on an angle, but there is a breakfast nook in at the end of the galley. I love that our living is the former porch with all windows and a southern exposure. I love that it’s so small that heating it doesn’t cost too much. I love the strange built-in cabinets in the kitchen and the drawers underneath one set of shelves. I love the door frames and the clues to the previous arrangement inside the house. I even sort of the bathroom sink that is so old and stained by the separate hot and cold water faucets. Washing my face is a sport, trying not to burn or freeze my hands. See, character? And lots of it.

From the living room we get a glimpse of Lake Champlain and have beautiful sunsets. The houses across the street are beautiful and wherever we go, we walk through a historic district. And sure, maybe we could find something better or bigger (maybe not both), but we love it for all of its quirks and we are now experts on storage  in small spaces and making tiny places desirable. Wanting to stay in 350 square feet — talk about some tiny apartment, old house love.

Grad School, Round Two

Here we go again. Grad school semester two began last Tuesday and my classes are pulling full steam ahead — forgot that easing into the semester week. Readings, homework, projects, field work, field trips, everything is marked in my planner. And just one glance through the next few months says that it going to be one challenging semester. Of course, a challenge is always bitter-sweet; something that is often difficult while it’s occurring, but highly appreciated and worthwhile when finished. Luckily, historic preservation tends to be enjoyable even when it’s difficult.

Last semester was often a complementary review to my undergraduate studies; by this I mean that material was familiar, but presented in a new way, one that allowed for a different approach to the subject and one that allowed me to apply my skills to new projects. This semester seems to be new material, that of which I am less familiar with and have not had an opportunity to study or practice in-depth. My courses include Historic Preservation Law, Historic Preservation Practice Methods (think Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits and National Register Nominations), Architectural Conservation I, and History on the Land (think reading the cultural landscape past to present). I am excited by the projects and research and by the vast amount of information that I will learn this semester. We first year students are also figuring out summer internships and some of us, thesis ideas.  This semester will certainly call for a lot of coffee. However, it seems that my classmates and I are up for the challenge.

Just some of my books for the semester. I had to rearrange my bookshelves, particularly to make room for those binders, which are filled entirely with course packets and reference materials.

The benefit of graduate school, aside from the obvious, is the great improvement to my preservation related library. I love receiving a new syllabus and ordering new (well new to me, but always used) books and waiting for them to arrive in the mail. So often in college I could not wait to sell back my books after final exams, unless they were preservation books. I kept those. Now I don’t get any money after final exams, but I do have a nice collection of books that interest me in and out of classes.

Stacks of other books for my classes lie elsewhere around the apartment because they do not all fit on the (many) bookshelves.

(For anyone interested in the UVM Historic Preservation Program visit the website here or read the course syllabi here.)

School related posts will appear throughout the semester. Any other preservation students want to share their semester anecdotes and lessons?

The Importance of Preservation Education

Preservation in Pink January 2010

Heritage education as a concept has many definitions and is used to refer in a generalized way to integrating historic preservation aspects into lesson plans or activities. Heritage education is slowly finding its way into classrooms and museums all over the country. The built environment is one of the most accessible and familiar resources to students of all ages, and by formally educating students to its worth and societal contribution they will be more apt to protect and venerate historic elements.

To read more of “Foundations in Education: The Importance of Heritage Education” by Kerry Vautrot turn to pages 10-11 in the January 2010 issue. See also her recommended list of Historic Preservation books for kids