Who Wore it Better? 

Facades on similar buildings, architecturally speaking, who are neighbors on the same street in Johnson, VT. Take a look.

Typical New England, two-story, gable-front commercial buildings.

An altered first floor porch, but looking vibrant.

An altered first floor porch, but looking vibrant.

And it’s neighbor:

Original porch and window details, but some alterations evident.

Original porch and window details, but some alterations evident including the bracketed roof over the fire escape (safety in New England winters).

These two are not the same exact building, but strikingly similar at first glance to stop and gaze. What do you think? Is one better than the other? No wrong answers, just pondering evolution of streetscapes.

Streets of Old Quebec City

Quebec City (Ville de Quebec, in French) is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec and one of the oldest European settlements in North America. Chock full of history, to say the least, and the architecture is spectacular. For preservationists (or heritage conservationists, as Canadians say), architectural historians and those who simply like to look at or photograph pretty buildings, every single building around every corner proved picture-worthy.

Narrow streets, stone buildings, casement windows… it was almost too much to handle. And what continued to be striking: just how neat and tidy and clean every street was. Seriously, one of the cleanest and tidiest cities I’ve seen. Rather than ramble on and on, I’ll let you ramble through these images of the streets of Old Quebec City.

View from dinner.

View from dinner.

So lovely, even without any trees.

So lovely, even without any trees.

Stone and colors!

Stone and colors!

Looking down the street to one of the many University of LaVal buildings.

Looking down the street to one of the many University of LaVal buildings.

Street after street.

Street after street.

Impeccable.

Impeccable.

Down another street.

Down another street.

See? You could take photos for days.  Left to my own devices, I’d still be there doing just that. And that’s only part of Quebec City. Stay tuned. Have you been?

Preservation Pop Quiz

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Bonus points if you know this location!

Happy Monday! Here’s a pop quiz. (Anyone else think actual pop quizzes are just about the worst thing in school? Luckily this if for fun, not grades.)

How would you read this streetscape? Specifically, why is there a fire hydrant in the street?

Preservation Photos #178

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Spring and warm, sunny weather make Vermont’s downtowns even more appealing. Shown here is Brattleboro, VT.

Street Observations: 10 Questions

Sunshine, flowers, spring foliage, light rain, no more snow, more daylight hours – what more could you want? While some people love cold weather (skiers, for example), eventually, we all are craving sunshine and warmth. The streets are filled with bicyclists, walkers, runners, kids, adults, and everyone is happy in the sun.  Here in Vermont, March and April are not always the prettiest of months (some call it stick season, some call it mud season…there is a lot of brown), so we eagerly await the springtime foliage and warmer days. If you live further south, you’ve been out and about for months in warmth, I know.

Regardless of when this resurgence of green and spring is for you, it is an excellent time to take a look around your streets and your town and to really think about them.  Think about street that you like. Have you thought about why you like it? Could you describe it to someone? I’d bet that there are specific aspects of the street that help to shape why you like it over another.

For a fun mental exercise, below are 10 questions to ponder the next time you are out and about. Perhaps you think about these already or maybe it’s a new topic for you.

(1) What do your streets look like? Are they wide enough for two lanes of traffic and parking lanes? Are they narrow city alleys? Where do cars park: on grass, on gravel, formally, informally?

(2) Do your streets have sidewalks? Are the sidewalks level with the travel lane? Are they concrete or asphalt or brick?

(3) Do the sidewalks have distinct curbs? Or is it just a slab of concrete or poured asphalt with a nondescript edge?

(4) Do the streets have green strips? In other words, is there grass between the traveled lane and the sidewalk?

(5) Are the streets filled with trees or void of trees? What types of trees?

(6) Where are the power lines?  Overhead or buried?

(7) Where are the mailboxes? At the curb or on the house?

(8) What types of buildings are on the street? Is it commercial or residential or both? Can you name the architectural style? Are they one-story, two-story or more? Are they single family homes, duplexes, apartment buildings, row houses or something else?

(9) Is there street furniture such as benches and trash or recycle bins? 

(10) What do you think of this street? Is it pleasant? Loud? Quiet? Aesthetically pleasing? Ugly?

So, what else would you add? Did you discover anything new about your streets? Beware, you may never stop thinking about this now that you’ve noticed these nuances. But, that is a good thing! Understanding your environment aids in understanding your sense of place and in defining why you prefer one place over another.

Preservation Photos #119

Planning a late winter/early spring vacation? Here's a shot from the flamingo spring break trip to Miami, FL in 2006. Lovely streetscapes, art deco hotels, beach front -- lovely! (However, 6 years after not labeling this photograph, I cannot remember which street this is or what the circumstance of this picture was. Anybody have an idea?)

Historic Preservation Basics No. 2

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation.

No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation.

Every field has its jargon, historic preservation included. Some may be shared with architectural history or planning, for example, but most of the preservation vocabulary has unfamiliar connotations to those who are in other fields. So here is a list of words that will help you to understand and participate in conversations about preservation. Without a doubt, there are many more than I include here, but these represent my most commonly used technical words.

You’ll notice that many of these words tie into the definitions of each other, and many derive from federal regulations. The explanations are

Adverse Effect:

An alteration to the historic resource that will diminish the property’s integrity and its characteristics of integrity that qualify it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Usually referenced in discussion with Section 106 and regulatory review.

Context:

When discussing context, it often refers to understanding a resource within its historic context (e.g. an art-moderne gas station within its context of roadside architecture and the associated context of the growing United States and automobile industry, etc.). Resources out of context are at risk for losing their significance (e.g. a lone Queen Anne house that was once part of a neighborhood, but now sits lonely among a sea of strip malls). Concerning the National Register, “historic contexts are historical patterns that can be identified through consideration of the history of the property and the history of the surrounding area.” Read more about historic contexts and the NR here.

Historic:

Listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Typically, such properties are 50 years or older, though that is a guideline, not a rule.

Integrity:

When referencing historic integrity there are seven aspects to evaluate: location, design, setting, workmanship, feeling, association, and materials. Integrity will convey the significance of a property. When integrity is lost, the property is no longer significant, which is why alterations must be carefully reviewed. Read more about integrity from the National Register Bulletins.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:

Often abbreviated NHPA or NHPA 1966 (16 USC 470). As explained by the National Trust, this is the “primary federal law governing the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States. The law establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections which encourage the identification and protection of cultural and historic resources of national, state, tribal and local significance.”

National Register of Historic Places:

Called the National Register for short, or “NR,” it is the scale for significance — how we know what is important.  The National Park Service clearly explains it as, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”

National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Abbreviated NTHP or referred to as the National Trust. From the National Trust “about us” section: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story. Staff at the Washington, DC, headquarters, six regional offices and 29 historic sites work with the Trust’s 270,000 members and thousands of preservation groups in all 50 states.”

Old:

Referring to a property that does not possess historic significance or historic integrity. Not eligible for listing in the National Register.

Preservation:

The maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time. (Protection and Stabilization have now been consolidated under this treatment.)

Reconstruction:

Re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.

Rehabilitation:

Acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character as it has evolved over time.

Restoration:

Depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods.

RITC:

Abbreviation for Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. Also called the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit. From the National Trust, “The federal rehabilitation tax credit encourages the preservation and reuse of the nation’s built environment by offering federal tax credits to the owners of historic properties. Since it was enacted in 1976, the tax credit has generated over $50 billion in renovation and revitalization dollars. As a disincentive to demolition, it allows the owner of a historic building to receive an income tax credit of 20% of the amount spent to rehabilitate a certified historic structure. There is also a 10% credit for older, non-historic buildings…To qualify for the 20% rehabilitation credits, a building must be a “certified historic structure.” A certified historic structures is one that is listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places or located in a registered historic district and certified by the Secretary of the Interior as being of historical significance to the district. In addition, the rehabilitation work must qualify as “certified rehabilitation.” A certified rehabilitation is one that is approved by the Secretary of the Interior as consistent with the historic character of the building and, where applicable, with the district in which the building is located. All elements of the project must meet certain standards to ensure that the historic character of the building is preserved in the process of the rehabilitation.

Secretary of the Interior’s Standards:

Sometimes referred to as the Secretary’s Standards or Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties and sometimes Standards for Rehabilitation. The Standards for Rehabilitation are the most common, but there are four sets: preserving, restoring, rehabilitation, and reconstructing. Read all about the Standards for Rehabilitation from the National Park Service. From the National Park Service, “The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. For example, they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to make essential decisions about which features of the historic building should be saved and which can be changed. But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work.” These Standards are the benchmark for work on historic properties and for maintaining a property’s significance.

Section 106:

Federal regulations (36 CFR 800) implementing the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This process determines the effect that a project has on a resource and then seeks ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the effects. Section 106 is applicable to all federally funded projects. Read more about Section 106 from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.

Section 4f:

Section 4(f) of the DOT Act stipulated that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other DOT agencies cannot approve the use of land from a significant publicly owned public park, recreation area, wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site unless the following conditions apply: (1) There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land and (2) The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use. Read more from the Section 4f interactive training site.

Sense of Place:

Without finding a technical, regulatory related definition, sense of place refers to the feeling of a defined place, whether it be a town, village, landscape, park, etc. Sense of place means that people understand the built environment and how each element ties together. Sense of place gives people pride and connection to their environments, which is an important part of understanding historic preservation. To understand, consider sense of place in reference to a small town or a big city — both have a strong sense of place, usually. But then consider sense of place among highways of strip malls and run down neighborhoods. It’s not there, right?

SHPO:

Abbreviation for State Historic Preservation Office (or Officer, depending on your state). Pronounced S-H-P-O by some or ship-po by others. Established by the NHPA 1966, the SHPO has many roles including: surveying properties across the state in order to determine their significance, nominating properties to the National Register, administering grants, assisting local agencies, conducting and consulting on Section 106 review, reviewing applications for federal investment tax credit projects.

Significant:

In relation to the National Register, significant means historically significant. In order to be historically significant a property must have high levels of integrity and be significant under one of the criteria for evaluation of the National Register. Local, state, and national levels of significance may be different; i.e. a property may be significant locally (perhaps a barn where defining town events happened) but not nationally (as it would have to be important to the shaping of the nation). In short, when you read significance think historically significant and National Register.

Streetscape:

Streetscape refers to the massing of buildings, the street plantings, the physical environment and feel from the ground, from the human experience. It often goes hand-in-hand with view shed.

Viewshed:

This is a term often used in analyzing the effects of a projects. Essentially, will the view from or to a property be adversely affected by this change? Often the viewshed contributes greatly to the setting, feeling, and association (integrity!) of property or district. The Wilderness Battlefield case addressed viewshed.

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What vocabulary words would you like to add?

And, as a side note, thank you for the very positive response to the beginning of this series. Please let me know what you would like to read! I’m not sure on the length of this series, but for now, I’ll try for Wednesday and Friday posts for a few weeks.

The Rear of a Building

Have you ever thought that the rear elevations of buildings are often neglected, sacrificed, or overlooked? This unfolds in a myriad of ways:

First, alterations are mostly made to the streetscape, since people want the public to see their style, updates, etc. The back of the house or the building always seems to be next on the list, and if it is the current project, it will receive less attention than the front of the house. This leaves the back of a building with a story to tell. Perhaps the windows or siding is original. Or in city blocks, alleys give hints as to the former arrangement and alterations of doorways, shed roofs, and coats of paint. This is where you can learn the most about a building (according to Prof. Gary Stanton of UMW during vernacular architecture field trip in downtown Fredericksburg).

Second, consider that the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (#9 and #10) often relegate additions to the back of a building in order to preserve the streetscape, massing, feeling, and historic architecture. Suddenly, the rear doesn’t seem to matter too much. An addition will block the original wall and sometimes, especially on city lots, goes on and on until it is larger than the original historic structure; a view from the side elevation loses all perspective in size. The rear of the house has been sacrificed.

Third, the majority of architectural surveys occurs from the street or public right-of-way, so the back of a building is just left out. Those stories from the back are ignored.

I don’t mean to say that additions should be in the front of the building or that additions should be outlawed or that we should all start traipsing across private property just to get a good luck at the building. After all, architectural history centers on buildings facades; the facades are how we read the styles, generally speaking.  Rather, I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t forget about the rear elevations of our historic buildings, in terms of research and in terms of rehabilitation, maintenance, or repair. And we should give them more thought. Why should the front get all of the attention? Many of us spend a lot of time in the backyard.

What do you think? Do additions need to be even more sensitive? Or is this something we just have to deal with as the needs of houses and buildings changes? Do you think that more than the streetscape matters?