Church Turned Condos in Toronto

Large churches struggle to find alternative uses once they no longer serve as houses of worship. Whether located in a small town or a large city, too many churches sit empty and abandoned. Once in a while you’ll come across a success story. This church in Toronto has been converted into condos. Take a look at the photos and let me know what you think.

The Victoria Presbyterian Church converted to condos.

The Victoria Presbyterian Church converted to condos.

Only being able to see these from the outside you can see that floors have been added. The balconies are clear glass. The original windows have been removed, but the fenestration remains.

Only being able to see these from the outside you can see that floors have been added. The balconies are clear glass. The original windows have been removed, but the fenestration remains.

Another view of the church, now condos.

Another view of the church, now condos.

A bit about the Victoria Lofts:

Converted from a turn-of-the-century church into 38 gorgeous units, this building is beautiful, rooted in history, and ideally located.  Boasting soaring ceilings and gorgeous architecture including a dramatic sloping roof, a copper-trimmed steeple, romanesque arches and curved brick columns, suites range from 600 to 1800 square feet over one or two storeys.  Originally the West Toronto Presbyterian Church, this stunning building has been a vital part of the Junction neighbourhood since 1885, when it first opened its doors.  Renamed the Victoria Presbyterian Church to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, this structure is one of several historic buildings in the area.  Located near the West Toronto Rail Path, a multi-use 4km path that links several Toronto neighbourhoods, the Junction is well-connected and a haven for any one seeking to reduce their carbon-footprint.  Spend an afternoon checking out the Junction Arts Festival, a neighbourhood display of music, dance and visual art, or take a fifteen-minute stroll south to High Park.

Apparently, converting churches into lofts is a thing in Toronto. Check out this post and this post. Do you want to live in a church? What do you think? A good idea? I’d like to see the inside. But, from the outside it looks pretty good. The windows would be better intact, but perhaps that wouldn’t work for the residences. In that case, the structure remains as a landmark in the neighborhood and it is legible.

Do you have a church in your town that could serve as a residence?


Flamingos in NYC: The High Line

The flamingo crowd spent a September weekend in New York City, this year’s edition of our annual get together and oh! the sightseeing we did. One of the highlights of the trip was definitely The High Line.

What is The High Line? It’s an elevated railroad on the West Side of New York City converted to a public park. Check out maps here for a better idea of its location. Yes, a landscaped park above city streets. It’s unlike any park most of us have seen (one exists in Paris, but otherwise none have been created yet). This elevated rail line operated as a freight train from 1934 to 1980, serving the meatpacking industry on the West Side, as well as the post office. Portions of The High Line were demolished between the 1960s and 1990s, but 1.45 miles remain and 1 mile is open to visitors.

Mr. Stilts was along for the ride, of course.

Mr. Stilts was along for the ride, of course, just observing people strolling on the High Line.

Here’s a brief history of the creation of High Line from the Friends of the High Line website:

Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. It is now the nonprofit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget, and to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the High Line at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure, which runs between West 30th and West 34th Streets.

The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. The first section of the High Line opened on June 9, 2009. It runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.

Simply put, The High Line is a unique, amazing part of New York City. It is landscaped with plants and seating areas, self watered, rail lines are incorporated into design. Some areas are narrow, some wide enough for cafe areas. Sections pass under buildings, between buildings, all with interesting views and a captivating landscape. Historic preservation, landscape design, rehabilitation, urban planning, and community efforts all come together for one big win! Tae a self guided tour and check out some photographs from our flamingo adventure.

View on The High Line.

View on The High Line., near the southern entrance.

Some areas of The High Line are narrow like this and traverse under buildings.

Some areas of The High Line are narrow like this and traverse under buildings.

On The High Line.

On The High Line.

Other areas of The High Line are wide and have grassy areas like this one where visitors can relax and enjoy the scenery, like in any park.

Other areas of The High Line are wide and have grassy areas like this one where visitors can relax and enjoy the scenery, like in any park.

View from The High Line.

View from The High Line.

On a September Saturday afternoon, it was a very crowded spot!

On a September Saturday afternoon, it was a very crowded spot!

More surface and landscape.

More surface and landscape.

Permeable surfaces and plantings throughout the park.

Permeable surfaces and plantings throughout the park.

Laurel and me on The High Line, fellow flamingos.

Laurel and me on The High Line, fellow flamingos.

An excellent adventure on the High Line! If you are New York City, it’s definitely worth a visit, and it’s worth strolling the entire mile, though there are many access points.

New Interior Storm Windows

Historic windows are some of the most significant defining features on a building; windows hold the potential to completely alter the appearance and impression of a structure. Sometimes, as we know, the windows are replaced completely. Other times, the wood storm windows are removed and if replaced, it is often with aluminum triple track windows. When talking energy efficiency, storm windows can be one way to retain the historic windows and meet energy standards. Yet, new storm windows (assuming they are not wood like the originals) can change the building’s historic integrity. Original storm windows (such as those in yesterday’s Preservation Photos #144) are a rare sight.

A creative solution is to use interior storm windows, which retains the appearance and integrity of the building’s exterior.

Interior storm windows on Debevoise Hall located on the campus of Vermont Law School in South Royalton, VT.

Interior storm windows.

However, the windows are then altered on the interior: losing the depth of the window casing and losing the window sill, and some of the feel of the historic windows. What is your impression?

Interior storm seen from inside the building.

So, if you had to choose, what would you do? Interior storms? Exterior storms? Good replacement windows? Perhaps interior storms that are not white would be a better fit, and could fade into the background. This is an issue that is often considered with tax credit projects and energy efficiency ratings.

Lecture: “The Power of Preservation”

The Yestermorrow Design Build School in Waitsfield, VT is hosting a summer lecture series addressing sustainability through different avenues. One of those avenues is historic preservation.

On July 27, Jean Carroon (FAIA, LEED AP) presented “The Power of Preservation: Understanding the Environmental Value of Older and Historic Building Conservation.” Carroon is a principal at Goody Clancy in Boston, MA; she is well known and highly regarded for her work combining historic preservation, sustainability and architecture. Her book, Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings (Wiley & Sons) was published in 2010.

Chances are, if you are involved with historic preservation or sustainability or a related field, you have heard the same facts and theories over and over.  As a profession, we are still struggling with green initiatives and compromise and doing our best to decide if the long term benefits are in fact what they say they are. It’s going to take some time before we can evaluate the best practices of today.

While lectures can blend together, Carroon gave a superb presentation, one that sounded fresh and insightful. Her words proved way above the same old ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire lecture. She began (1) by asking the audience if we believed in flossing our teeth and then (2) saying that preservation is shooting itself in the foot. What an intriguing beginning!

Rather than reiterate the presentation, I thought I’d share some snippets that I found particularly interesting and thoughtful (I’m a habitual note taker to insure that I do not forget anything — though my disclaimer is that these bullet points are not exact words from Carroon; some may have my interpretations. Read her book for her exact words!)

* Preservation is the keystone to sustainability. If you want to save the earth, then you have to save the largest objects on it – buildings. You have to save buildings in order to save the earth. In the 1970s, the motto “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” came about, though we have since dropped reduce and reuse. We should always reduce and reuse before we have to recycle (i.e. in the case of buildings, before we have to tear apart a building for salvage). Similarly, if you want to save the polar bears, you have to save the buildings. [We’re all connected!]

* Today’s work on buildings is often taking out the “miracle materials” of yesterday. New materials should always be suspicious, even the green products can have environmental impacts. New construction is the #1 source for toxicity according to the EPA, which places it ahead of coal fired electric plants.

* Sustainability is not about embodied energy; it is about avoiding impacts.

*Sustainability is not something that is finite. It means stewardship. We’ll never be done with it; just like building maintenance and historic preservation is never done. There is no such thing as a maintenance free world  (hence, the flossing).

*The GSA has documented evidence that its older buildings are 20% easier to clean (20% less chemicals are required). The older materials are more durable, cleaner, and can be repaired.

*Regarding the non-historic building stock, such as those from the 1960s/70s: these present more of an opportunity because there are fewer aesthetic negotiations.

*Why don’t we talk about building density? A “Zero Energy” doesn’t mean anything, especially if it’s not populated. These are not sustainable. Buildings should function as networks, not individuals. Smart streets planning and complete streets projects are undertaking such ideas.

*Sustainability is also about the sustainability of institutions and the quality of life of people who live/work/play there. A sustainable area means nothing if it’s not inhabited.

* Sustainable = stewardship = daily action = great rewards.

*The preservation community needs to be a compromising agency, not an agency of no. If we keep fighting battles (i.e. windows), we’ll lose the war.

*We need to create a culture of reuse or repair. We need to recognize what we have and what exists.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear Carroon speak or to say hello to her, you should. She is lovely and brilliant.

One reason I’d recommend hearing a talk by Jean Carroon is due to the fact that she dazzled me as a listener, but her talk also inspired me to internally ponder and respond to issues she mentioned. Keep reading for my response to an issue that struck me as important.

I found Carroon’s talk to be refreshing, especially the discussion about sustainability never being reached (in the sense that it will always require stewardship). However, I strongly disagree with her about the windows battle. Everyone has a different opinion, but replacement vinyl windows will never be okay according to my own preservation standards. Reproduction windows are a different story. To me, windows will always be important because they define styles. They tell stories. Windows are not the greatest cause for lost heat in a building. Once they’re gone, it cannot be undone.

I do not find historic preservation to be an agency of no; though I see how it comes off that way. But, I imagine, any time that a resource is being protected, there will be the word “no” involved. And although as preservationists it is imperative to get a grasp on sustainability and to learn to work together with environmentalists and professionals of similar fields (and really all fields), we must remember that it is still our mission to protect and preserve our heritage. The definition of historic preservation is drastically different than it was 50 years ago, but I believe that the roots of the field still take top priority. Roughly, I refer to the roots as the documentation, sharing, teaching and caring of buildings, trade, culture and landscape. Preservationists before us understand that so much of value could be lost without their efforts and at the same time, so much of the past could be valuable to the present and to the future.

Thus, I mean to say that I am constantly amazed by the intertwined existence of professional fields today and how well we can mesh; I love how preservation can be a huge umbrella, as can environmentalism and sustainability and planning and so many others. It proves how connected we are. Yet, I believe that historic preservation must remain true to itself. We can rethink and adapt and fit with other fields, but let’s be sure that historic preservation is still historic preservation and not a green retrofitting fad with history on the side.

What do you think?


If you have the opportunity to attend a lecture at Yestermorrow, I’d highly recommend it. Yestermorrow is a lovely, intimate venue for lectures

Pro Preservation Advertisement

These ads are all over the Dulles International Airport. They made my night! How cool is this to see in a public space? Love it.


Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Do you normally associate Earth Day and historic preservation? By now you’ve probably heard the buzzword combination of sustainability + historic preservation. The greenest building is one that’s already built. (This is credited to Carl Elefante, if you’re wondering.) Read his article  in the Summer 2007 National Trust Forum.

Think about it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that an existing structure does not demolition, removal of materials, manufacturing and delivery of new materials. That’s why an existing building is a money saver, generally.

Would you like to proof for yourself or to convince others of this? Check out The Greenest Building created by the May T. Watts Appreciation Society.  On this site you can use an energy calculator to determine the embodied energy in a building and the energy used and lost by demolition. Compare existing energy v. new energy.

Also check out the May T. Watts blog, The Greenest Building is the one Already Built, which has relevant information, despite its lack of updates. The blog talks mostly about embodied energy and how to calculate it.

“Preservation saves energy by taking advantage of the nonrecoverable energy embodied in an existing building and extending the use of it.”

– ASSESSING the ENERGY CONSERVATION BENEFITS of HISTORIC PRESERVATION: Methods and Examples, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

Have you read the National Trust’s position on sustainability? In a nutshell it is this:

Historic preservation can – and should – be an important component of any effort to promote sustainable development. The conservation and improvement of our existing built resources, including re-use of historic and older buildings, greening the existing building stock, and reinvestment in older and historic communities, is crucial to combating climate change.

Browse through the National Trust’s Flickr set called Reuse It! — some images are more heartbreaking than others (like an abandoned school in Montana or an abandoned train depot in Texas), but some are fun (art deco buildings in Iowa). A lot of pictures show buildings just dying for a new use; they are in still sound and in cities and just need a vision.

Aside from the actual building materials, existing structures are already sited with infrastructure and opting for new development means new roads, utility lines, further trips for emergency services and so much more.

Earth Day is about making the earth a better, healthier planet and taking care of our environment. Historic preservation wants to do the same thing. While the environmental and preservation approaches may have differences, they share the overall vision. So this combined movement of sustainability and preservation may be complicated in instances when “green” methods interfere with historic features, but it’s a learning process and we’re on the right track. Like all of the best ideas, it’s a combined effort to see it through.


Let’s not keep repeating the fate of Land’s End.

Save the Windows

Historic windows are being massacred across the nation. They are the scapegoat for energy efficiency problems. Windows are the first to go. The media and the vinyl replacement window business seem to scheme together to get the general public to believe that vinyl double pane or triple pane windows will solve homeowners’ problems and save them a bundle. Rather than considering other solutions and analyzing whether or not replacement windows achieve their claims, beautiful, character defining windows are ripped from their frames and tossed to the curb.

A building that loses its historic windows loses so much of its character. Architectural styles are very much defined by window type: shape, frame, number of panes, type of glass, inset depth, and how the sash operates. The typical single pane replacement windows just destroy a building’s image. Interested in understanding why? Read “Repair or Replace, a Visual Look at the Impacts” — a colorful, image-filled, 18 page booklet put together by the NTHP. Want to learn about window styles and architectural styles? Read “Window Types – A Residential Field Guide” — a beautiful, colorful, helpful guide put together by the NTHP that will take you through window vocabulary and the uniqueness of each style

As a preservationist, I know I am not alone when I say that the windows suffering as the scapegoats makes me furious. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is continuing their stance on the benefits of historic windows with their new Save the Windows site — Why? Historic buildings are losing to new windows at an alarming rate and the amount of misinformation being shared is ridiculous relating to energy savings, sustainability, and historic preservation.


First of all, heat escapes through the roof. Is the roof insulated? What is in the attic?

Second of all, why would everyone believe all of the made up or likely altered statistics about windows spouted by the commercial industry selling vinyl replacement windows? Well, if you ask the industry, of course the new windows are better. It’s corporate America, people. What do you think they are going to say?

Third, new windows are NOT GREEN. Read this from the National Trust:

Tearing out historic windows for replacements wastes embodied energy – the energy required to extract the raw materials, transport them, make them into a new product, ship the product, and install it. What’s more, when we keep our existing windows, we avoid all the negative environmental impacts associated with the manufacture of new windows. For example, the manufacturing of some windows produces toxic byproducts. And, the new wood that manufacturers use today can’t begin to match the quality of old growth wood in older windows.

And here’s the kicker. New windows will often have a life span of just 10 to 20 years. Historic and older windows, when properly maintained, can last for many more decades. Furthermore, studies have shown that with proper weatherization and use of a good storm window, older windows can be made nearly as energy efficient as new windows – even in severe climates such as the Northeast.

Fourth, new windows are only maintenance free in that YOU CANNOT MAINTAIN THEM. They will have to be replaced, not repaired. From the National Trust:

Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit and are maintenance-free only because, in most instances, the components cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, the entire unit must be replaced. By comparison, older wood windows are composed of interlocking parts made from natural materials, and any part can be repaired or replaced.

Fifth, new windows will NOT SAVE YOU MONEY. Again, from the National Trust:

Window manufacturers are quick to tell you that their products will save you money. While replacement windows could save you about $50 a month on your heating or cooling bills, those savings come after you spend $12,000, on average, for replacement windows for the typical home. So if you heat or cool your home, say, six months a year, the savings are about $300 annually. At that rate, it would take 40 years to recoup in energy savings the amount of money spent on the new windows! And, by that time, your replacement windows will have needed replacing!

Did you see that — new windows will take 40 years to earn their keep. 40 YEARS!! There are so many things wrong with that. Are you even going to live in your house for 40 years? The savings only come after you’ve spent a ton of money on windows. And what happened to those old windows? They are sitting in a landfill, right? Well then you’ve used twice the energy: from the embodied energy of the existing windows and the resources required to manufacture new windows. And those new windows are likely off-gassing chemicals that you do not want floating around your house and in your lungs.

Do not believe everything (or dare I say anything) you read from new manufacturers.

How can you help? Share the information about the many, many benefits of keeping historic windows (financial! environmentally! historically!) by visiting Save the Windows, sharing it on twitter, on facebook, sending emails to your friends and family, sending a quick note to your senators, and by talking about historic windows!

Learn what you can do to keep your windows, save your money, and improve your energy efficiency. Start here: TEN REASONS TO REPAIR YOUR OLD WINDOWS.

Be green, be thoughtful, be respectful – save the windows! Love the windows!

Preservation Activities in Vermont

Planning your June weekends? We have lots of good stuff going on in Vermont throughout the next few weeks. Check it out:

1. VERMONT DAYS! This weekend, June 12 and 13: All Vermont State Parks and Historic Sites are FREE to the public. Visit Historic Vermont (click) and use the drop down menu for a list of sites. Also, click on the sidebar to choose houses, shipwrecks, presidential sites, or the Revolutionary War.  You can also visit the Vermont History Museum (click) for free! There are so many options, rainy weather or sunny weather. I hear the Calvin Coolidge Historic Site is one of the best.

2. Modernist Architecture Comes of Age: Preservation Meets Sustainability – Friday June 25, 2010. It is a symposium held in Burlington at the University of Vermont, “exploring the preservation of historic modernist buildings and how to rehabilitate them to be sustainable and functional in the 21st century.” The speakers are excellent, including the keynote speaker Christine Madrid French, who is the Director of the Modernism + Recent Past Program at the National Trust.  The cost for the full day is $100 for adults or $60 for students. Registration is open until June 18th. Come join us, it will be amazing!

3. Vermont History Expo 2010 – Saturday June 26 – Sunday June 27 in Tunbridge, VT. $10 for adults, $5 for students, 1/2 if you attend in period costume. There will history exhibits, a parade, an auction, music, entertainment, movies, food. It looks like a lot of fun. Read more here.

Show Vermont some love – get out and about!

Surveys For Those of Us With Opinions

Who is opinionated? Most of us, right? Well good, because there are a few surveys around the internet that need some well-reasoned, fairly opinionated preservationists (and others) on the case.

First, how important are trails to communities? Do you think they’re great? Spotsylvania County, VA is currently running a survey to find out what people would like to see in the area. For those of you familiar with Spotsylvania County (Mary Wash grads!) take one minute to fill out the survey and help Spotsy create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists. For the survey, click here.  (You do not have to live in Spotsylvania County — just be familiar with it — the quiz asks for your location, but can otherwise be anonymous.) Thanks to Andrew Deci for sending the survey.

Second, preservationists and those familiar with the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation, you are aware that preservation + sustainability are natural friends, but we haven’t quite figured out how to meld them into guidelines that aren’t so incredibly case-by-case or trial and error.  Do you have ideas and thoughts as to how the guidelines should or should not incorporate sustainability? This is the perfect survey for you. Sent from Andrew Deci via Megan J. Brown at the Historic Preservation Grants Division at the National Park Service:

As the custodian of the Secretary’s Standards and of the Guidelines for interpreting them, the National Park Service is beginning the process of expanding the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings in order to address questions raised by the current emphasis on sustainability. Before we begin to draft any expanded Guidelines, it is critically important that we hear from those who rely on the Standards and Guidelines to preserve  their local communities. We need to know what general concerns you have, and we need to know of specific issues you have encountered where historic preservation values and sustainability were or appeared to be at odds with each other.  In all of the current discussions concerning historic buildings and sustainability, an important component is the relationship between the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the various recommended building treatments designed to attain more sustainable communities and energy efficient buildings. While there is a growing body of information on how to undertake these alterations, there is not yet a set of official guidelines on how to make such changes in ways that appropriately maintain the character of historic properties.  Please take a few minutes to complete this online survey before June 1. The survey will no longer be available after that time.

To take the survey click here.

Thanks everyone!

Preservation Month 2010

It’s Preservation Month! May 2010’s theme is “Old is the New Green.”  It’s my pleasure to use the National Trust of Historic Preservation’s proclamation for Preservation Month (get it for your organization and community too!)

WHEREAS, historic preservation is an effective tool for managing growth and sustainable development, revitalizing neighborhoods, fostering local pride and maintaining community character while enhancing livability; and

WHEREAS, historic preservation is relevant for communities across the nation, both urban and rural, and for Americans of all ages, all walks of life and all ethnic backgrounds; and

WHEREAS, it is important to celebrate the role of history in our lives and the contributions made by dedicated individuals in helping to preserve the tangible aspects of the heritage that has shaped us as a people; and

WHEREAS, “Old is the New Green” is the theme for National Preservation Month 2010, cosponsored by Preservation in Pink and the National Trust for Historic Preservation

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Kaitlin O’Shea, do proclaim May 2010 as National Preservation Month, and call upon the readers of Preservation in Pink to join their fellow citizens across the United States in recognizing and participating in this special observance.

What can Preservation in Pink help you do for Preservation Month? It’s simple — share what you’re doing and make your own proclamation. Preservation + Sustainability and “green” can be taken in so many ways. What does it mean to you? Local shopping? Environmentally friendly products and building materials? Walking? Visiting historic sites? Heritage tourism?

Share your thoughts and ideas here — and stay tuned for fun Preservation Month posts (and goodies, perhaps) from PiP throughout the month!