Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking Architectural Review too Far in San Francisco?

Normally I read an article title like "San Francisco's Difficult Path to Home Renovation" and immediately think - yeah right, someone isn't going to get to pull out their original wood windows and put in vinyl and they are upset about it, give me a break. I am pretty unforgiving on my stance that when you buy a historic home, a home in a preservation district, a home with great historic features that you know going into the purchase that you have a responsibility to maintain that character and to be a good steward of the property. Especially if you are buying in a preservation district - find out the rules and follow them, no excuses.

Okay, blah blah blog.

After reading the article I have to say I was less able to defend the city's preservation planners than I expected to be. As a former (and I say former with much relief) preservation planner for a municipality I was confused by a few of their decisions. Specifically their interpretation of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation regarding additions. Standards 9 read as follows:

9. New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.

The key concept - the controversial concept - is the differentiation between the old and the new. Many preservation professionals take this to mean that an addition should not be an exact replica of the original, that you should be able to tell the old from the new without the benefit of professional training. The second part of the concept is that the addition still must be compatible - presumably compatible materials, design, etc. Not an exact copy, more of an homage. It is a fine line to design and to review.

I have seen some additions that utilize the same materials as the original structure but simplify the ornamentation. Or, on an interior space, where the original woodwork was able to be retained it was left stained but where replacement pieces were used it was painted. Is this too subtle a difference? Would the casual observer even understand what they were looking at?

At the heart of the article is whether the need for differentiation is being taken to the extreme in San Francisco. One local architect expresses a concern that the way this Standard is being implemented is leading to "architectural chimera," a reference to the mythological creature with a lion's head and a goat's body. We have all seen historic buildings that have an...let's say...unfortunate addition. Another architect was quoted as saying, "The focus is on a stylistic separation that clearly defines the old versus the new, and it comes at the loss of congruity for the structure." He further referred to a recent addition to a stucco-Marina style house as George Jetson in nature. Here is the house and the addition -
Certainly one of the first questions has to be is the original structure historic? What is its existing integrity? Then move on the question of the appropriateness of the addition. What do you think?

Another issue was the remodeling of a carriage house for an apartment. Based on the pictures included in the article I am completely with San Francisco's preservation planners on the decision to not allow that remodel.

posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for The Landmark Society


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's easy being GREEN!

We are accepting donations of ink cartridges, toner, cell phones and all their accessories and pda’s. Recycle It will donate the proceeds from these items to us because we are a non-profit. We have a drop off box here and there is free parking here too! If your company has been tossing these out and filling up landfills, call us (585-546-7029 x10) and we can have a collection box set up at your work place. It is easy and GREEN!

Recycle It was recently featured on Channel 13 with Norma Holland, check it out here.

Posted by Carole Lombard, Finance Officer

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fake vacation?

Do you plan to go to any “real” places on your summer vacation?

I just returned from 5 days in what many historic preservation enthusiasts might consider a destination with the Devil – Las Vegas. After all, what other vacation spot offers the chance to purchase DVD’s of multiple building implosions as a souvenir? It must certainly be the least likely place for visitors to gain an appreciation of architecture or history.

And yet – I witnessed many visitors from across our country oohing and ahhhing over the architectural wonders in Vegas. They marveled at the many columns, pilasters, heavily ornamented pediments and porticos of Caesars Palace. They gasped at the faithful recreation of St Marks Square, the Doge’s Palace, and the campanile tower at The Venetian. They snapped many photos of the Arc de Triomphe and rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris. They strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge and paid tribute to the fallen heros of 9/11 in front of the Statue of Liberty at NYNY.

What about history? Although “Elvis has left the building” (and this worldly existence) he has not left Las Vegas. Numerous Elvis tribute artists offer performances in shows across town. You can also enjoy a recreation of The Rat Pack with performances by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop; meet Caesar and Cleopatra, and tour Mobster Vegas with one of Bugsy Siegel’s “associates.” Vegas visitors actively seek out the opportunity to re-live other eras.

Does it matter that they are fake? The columns’ capitals may be carved from foam, the Elvis impersonator has glued on sideburns? Can an appreciation for the real stuff grow from the fake?

In some ways, I think that Las Vegas’ “fake” environments are more honest than an historic house museum or village environment. No one at The Venetian Casino and Hotel thinks they are really in Venice, no matter how convincing the Grand Canal. But what do visitors think when they visit Colonial Williamsburg – or Monticello – or the Stone-Tolan House Museum. Many of them believe they are seeing things “as they really were in the old days.” Of course those buildings are “real” – and we strive to make interpretation as accurate as possible. But until a time machine is invented, we can never really know how accurate –or real – our portrayal of the past is at these sites. We must make compromises for our current time and place (ie a nice lawn at Stone-Tolan in suburban Brighton, fire extinguishers and burglar alarms in our house museums, etc.)

I’m sure some are shocked that someone like me, working in the historic preservation/history field, chooses to visit Las Vegas. Yes, I actually go there of my own free will! But I see much in common between the Las Vegas experiences and historic site experiences. They are both designed experiences, with a goal of eliciting responses from the visitor. They are both authentic, within their own parameters. And both can be enjoyable and educational ways to spend your vacation time

What are your vacation plans? Will you be seeking out “real” experiences? What does a “real” experience mean to you?

posted by Cindy Boyer, Director of Museums and Education


Ten ways to turn your old building green

The new issue of the Landmarks Observer, the newsletter of Greater Portland Landmarks, Inc., has a helpful article on sensible, sensitive things owners of older houses can do to make their homes greener. The article appears on page 2 of the newsletter, available as a pdf.

If they can do it in Maine, we can do it here!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I can't believe I get paid to do this!

Friday morning (5/16) I had my breakfast on the steps of the Stone Tolan House, The Landmark Society's 1790/1820 house museum in Brighton. It was about 7 am as I sipped my coffee and watched 45 people pile onto the bus to go to Buffalo to tour the Darwin Martin House and Graycliff, both designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. To this point I had only ever driven past/through Buffalo on the highway and was excited to see something of the city. As far as Frank goes, I have been to Taliesin West and driven past the Boynton House in Rochester, but had never been inside any of his commissioned houses. Cap the day off with lunch at the Roycroft Inn and I was in for an exciting day.

The Darwin Martin House was indeed spectacular. Not only because of the architecture but because of the story of survival and resurrection of the complex. The main house was constructed in 1905 and abandoned in 1937, other buildings on the site - such as the carriage house - were demolished in 1962 for construction of apartments, the University of Buffalo owned the structures for a while, and finally the site was turned over to the Martin House Restoration Corporation in 2002 and reconstruction of the demolished buildings began soon after. The neglect is still apparent in the main house as windows are undergoing repair, flooring is missing and inappropriate treatments are being dismantled and removed. The long, horizontal lines of the building, the Roman brick courses, the concrete Purple Martin houses (where Purple Martin have never lived) are stunning. A $50 million restoration effort is underway, something that preservationists have only ever dreamed about. To be able to view this progress was tremendous.

A short bus ride later we were in East Aurora having lunch at the Roycroft Inn, home of the Arts and Crafts movement in America. The Landmark Society was instrumental in preserving the Inn and seeing it restored and brought back to service years ago. It was a happy partnership to contemplate as we listened to a history of the complex and the town. Lunch was delicious.

We spent the afternoon at Graycliff, the summer home of the Darwin Martin family overlooking Lake Erie. This home is also in the middle of a substantial and inspiring restoration. On the deck off the bedroom on the second floor the numbers can still be seen on the stone work from the meticulous dismantling and reassembling that took place. The tour guides were all animated and knowledgeable with great stories of Frank Lloyd Wright's ego driven design versus Isabelle Martin's needs and desires for form and function in her home. It was a satisfying, educational and inspirational day.

Then on Saturday morning (5/17) I walked over to Ellwanger Garden to spend a few hours "working" in the Garden. It was sunny off and on and rainy off and on but in just a few short hours Beverly Gibson and I had seen 90 people through the Garden. The tree peonies, tulips and lily-of-the-valley are stunning. I couldn't help thinking as I was leaving that afternoon - I can't believe how lucky I am to get to do these fun things for a living, to get to spend time in such beautiful places, to see this history preserved and enjoyed.

What a great weekend.

written by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for The Landmark Society

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The New, The Old, and the Hype

A special advertising section in today’s Democrat & Chronicle made me see red this morning.

It's one of those advertisements that is written and laid out to resemble an actual newspaper article, but is really a paid advertisement, in this case paid for by the Rochester Home Builders’ Association (as the fine print on the top of the page reveals). The text of the ad claims that thanks to the many new energy-saving products out there, new houses are superior to old ones.

Of course, given the source, all the people quoted are affiliated with the home-building industry, so it’s their job to sell new houses, replacement windows and vinyl siding. In a couple of spots, the author of the ad throws in a reference to retrofitting existing houses, but – surprise! – nearly all the text is devoted to convincing us that, as the 2008 president of the Rochester Home Buyers Association is quoted as saying, “In everything from HVAC systems, lighting and appliances to the entire outside, a new home is better than an older home.”

Well, I for one don’t buy the one-sided hype of faux articles like this. Of course these people who sell new houses and all the products associated with them want to convince us how great their products are. But nowhere does the ad mention the environmental costs of all those new houses. Nearly all of them are built on former farmland or other undeveloped open space – where’s the environmental benefit of that? All those materials had to be manufactured, many of them, like vinyl, in environmentally damaging ways – where’s the environmental benefit of that? All those materials had to be transported to the site – where’s the environmental benefit of that? Chances are the new house is on the fringes of our area, in a neighborhood with no sidewalks or anything to walk to, far from work and everywhere else its owners might go - where’s the environmental benefit of all that additional driving?

A new house may be more efficient to operate than an existing one –although given the many environmentally friendly features of older houses, like operable double-hung windows and shutters, sensitive site placement, mature trees, porches, and more, even that is not a given. But it is the epitome of wastefulness to build something new if it means throwing out the old, and in our region that is not experiencing population growth, doesn’t every new house equate to an abandoned house elsewhere?

What especially bothers me about this ad is how easy it is for those who want to sell new houses to get their message out, and how much harder it is for those of us who understand the benefits of conserving and reusing existing buildings to get our message out. The home builders and vinyl salespeople profit when someone buys a new house or wraps their house in plastic. Who makes money when a conscientious homeowner repairs her existing windows, ensuring that the irreplaceable old-growth wood survives into the next generation rather than being sent to the landfill?

This has been a hot topic in preservation circles, and there are more and more resources aimed at addressing this disparity of information and getting the tools out there to help us make our case. For example, an online “Embodied Energy Calculator” enables us to come up with an estimate of the embodied energy of an existing building (the energy that went into the construction of that building, and that would be thrown away if the building is demolished), the energy involved to demolish it, and the energy it would take to build a new building to replace the one that was lost. This information is not found in those articles and ads that only compare the energy it takes to operate a new building versus an old one. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Sustainability Initiative is providing national leadership on this very important issue, working to provide the resources and facts all of us in preservation need to get our message out and counter the misleading claims of the salespeople. We’ve been working on spreading the message locally, through our newsletter and website, an article in the Democrat & Chronicle’s Speaking Out column last May, and more.

We’re going to be thinking a lot about this issue in the months to come: how do we reach the people who haven’t yet gotten the message that (in the words of National Trust president Richard Moe) “we can’t build our way out of the global warming crisis” and "historic preservation has always been the greenest of the building arts."

I’d love to hear what you think we can do to spread the word.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator

Friday, May 16, 2008

Preservation Assistance Online

Did you know that the Preservation and Advocacy section of the Landmark Society website has tons of great information for anyone interested in historic preservation?

Our “Preservation News” section includes information on current preservation issues, such as our position statement on the redevelopment of the Midtown site. Scroll down to find our “How to” section – this is where we collect the best resources we can find regarding building maintenance and repair (including the full text and illustrations of our highly regarded publication “Rehab Rochester,” an old-house-owner’s manual full of great advice), the nuts and bolts of landmark designation and historical research, and the all-important preservation funding section, where you’ll find information on grants and other sources of funding for rehabilitation projects.

We are always working to improve this section of the website, so if there’s something you’d like to see here, let us know!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'll take a V-8 with a size of preservation, please.

I had one of the V-8 moments today. You know the ones…when you realize you've been oblivious to something that's right in front of your face? Yeh, one of those.

See, I'm a newbie to this preservation thing. That's a fact. There is honestly not a day that goes by where I don't learn about some other facet that falls under the all-encompassing umbrella of "preservation." I've learned there is much more to this preservation thing than just keeping old buildings standing. Since I've been with The Landmark Society, I've become fascinated by the study of recent past architecture, green architecture, adaptive re-use, horticultural preservation….the list goes on.

I could wax poetic about the importance of preserving irreplaceable resources. Perhaps in another blog. But right now I want to get back to the point of this rambling brain dump, and that is to share with you my V-8 moment. To do that, I have to explain that I hike and camp in national forests all the time. In fact, one of my favorites is not too far from here – the Finger Lakes National Forest. If you've never harvested wild blueberries from this area and had open-fire-cooked griddle cakes in the morning, you haven't lived. And, if you're looking for some really interesting history, check out Camp Fossenvue and learn about this progressive incredible piece of history right in our backyards.

So why am I telling you this? I never once thought about how all of these things I love to explore with my family all fell under the umbrella of preservation. DUH.

V-8 moment, meet Laura.

Next time you're out hiking in one of our national forests, take a moment to look around at all the unique character and history within. In fact, next time you venture outside your door, take a second to check it out too. I bet the things you appreciate will be things that maybe, just maybe, also fall under "preservation" as well.

And what I'm really trying to say is read the article below. It's good.

Sites in National Forests at Grave Risk, Study by Preservation Group Indicates

This structure, dating from 1924, was used as a lookout for fires and is in the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho. The National Trust for Historic Preservation lists the structure as a cultural resource that needs proper preservation. (Courtesy of The National Trust For Historic Preservation)

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 15, 2008; Page A13

Millions of historic sites, crumbling and collapsing in national forests around the country, are in danger of being lost forever, according to a study set to be released today by a prominent preservation group.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation estimates that only a small slice of about 2 million "cultural resources" that sit on 193 million acres managed by the U.S. Forest Service have been properly preserved.


posted by Laura Zavala, Director of Marketing

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Same as it ever was? Nope.

Interesting Interpretation of Adaptive Reuse. Perhaps.

I stumbled across this article in my daily geekery reading on Of course it's not your typical preservation article, but in terms of adaptive reuse of space, you have to admit it's pretty clever. It made me think about uses of space for public art. How fantastic would it be to have something like this showcasing some of the fantastic structures we have in Rochester? We walk by so many buildings every day -- ones like this Battery Maritime Building -- and see them as mere structures of wood, steel, brick and stone. To see music in architecture, however, is a magnificent thing.

I wonder what could happen if more working art was created in open, abandoned spaces rather than letting abandoned structure sit and rot? How about interactive exhibits like this to draw people into some spaces they've never been?

Kudos, David Byrne. You may be a bit kooky in your big suit, but you're a genius.

David Byrne Converts Building Into Giant Instrument
By Scott Thill
May 12, 2008 5:14:56 PM

As an architect of the legendary Talking Heads, David Byrne once offered up an album called More Songs About Buildings and Food. These days, he's tripping into architecture and turning a building into food for the ears. I think I just stopped making sense.

Let's start over. Starting May 31, visitors to New York's Battery Maritime Building will be able to take part in Byrne's interactive music installation called simply "Playing the Building." Like its self-explanatory title implies, the Battery will be fitted with devices that will allow visitors to make music off of the piping, pillars and more. It's an interesting way to view the structures we take for granted in everyday life. According to Byrne, it could be the future of music itself.

"I'd like to say that in a small way it turns consumers into creative producers," Byrne explains on his official site, "but that might be a bit too much to claim. However, even if one doesn't play the thing, it points toward a less mediated kind of cultural experience. It might be an experience in which one begins to reexamine one's surroundings and to realize that culture -- of which sound and music are parts -- doesn't always have to be produced by professionals and packaged in a consumable form.

"I'm not suggesting people abandon musical instruments and start playing their cars and apartments," he adds, "but I do think the reign of music as a commodity made only by professionals might be winding down. The imminent demise of the large record companies as gatekeepers of the world's popular music is a good thing, for the most part."

posted by Laura Zavala, Director of Marketing

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Annual Summer Special Hits the Streets

2008 Summer Issue of Landmarks Offers Something for Everyone

May 12, 2008 - Our annual tabloid issue is chock-full of great stories for your enjoyment. Find out about the relationship between the mortgage crisis and preservation, read about how strip malls may be the next frontier for preservation efforts, learn maintenance planning tips, join the celebration of 100 years of Pike Stained Glass, experience preservation in pop culture through the eyes of your favorite Landmark Society staff members, and much more! And, as always, there are plenty of Landmark events to add to your calendar - Coffee Walks, Architecture for Lunch and Full Moon Flashlight Tours, just to name a few.

If you're a Landmark Society member, your copy will arrive in your mailbox this week. If not, you can pick up a copy at several locations around town or by stopping into our offices at 133 S. Fitzhugh Street in Rochester.

(Of course, you could save yourself the gas money and join The Landmark Society today - we'll conveniently deliver Landmarks to your door four times a year along with many other great benefits. Memberships start at just $35 - what a bargain! Click here for more details.)

The Summer Special looks like this:

Read it. It's good stuff.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Preservation Districts and Green Preservation in City

Landmark Society staffers are featured in two fine articles in City Newspaper’s recent Home Design section. Rebecca Rowe is the featured interviewee in an article about preservation districts, and I worked closely with the author of an article about energy efficiency and historic houses. I was glad to see that the author of the latter article absorbed what I told him about the environmental advantages of historic buildings, and interviewed experts who could tell him about some simple fixes for common complaints about the energy performance of older buildings. If you’d like a printed copy of this special section, please stop by the Landmark Society – the fine people at City let us take the extra copies, and we’re happy to distribute them.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator

Friday, May 2, 2008

Visiting the Alcoa Aluminum House

This past Monday, I spent a couple of hours in the Alcoa Aluminum House in Brighton, taping an interview about 20th-century architecture with Brenda Tremblay of WXXI for the program "Need to Know." Brenda wanted to discuss some of the buildings that have been entered by the public into our "Archipedia" survey of recent past resources, so this was a perfect opportunity to visit a house I'd wanted to see for a while.

I spend a lot of time these days trying to encourage people to appreciate mid-century architecture, but this was the first post-World War II house I've been in that I thought I could actually own. I loved this house! Every detail is so well thought out; the interior and exterior spaces are integrated so seamlessly; the rich colors that permeate the interior are gloriously aglow, even on a dreary day like we had on Monday.

The owners bought the house last summer, when they were out to breakfast, stopped in at the open house (like me, they go to open houses for entertainment) and decided on the spot to buy the house - although they were almost finished rehabilitating their 19th-century Corn Hill house and had not intended to move for some time. They report that they love living in the house and especially appreciate the easy flow from inside to outside.

The house was designed by architect Charles Goodman for the Alcoa Aluminum Company, which faced a post-war surplus of aluminum and sought new commercial uses for the material. The post-war housing boom presented many opportunities, and in addition to aluminum siding, trim and windows, the company experimented with new house designs that would integrate aluminum. The design combines aluminum with brick, wood and glass, demonstrating how the material can blend with more traditional materials; in addition to aluminum panels on the exterior and aluminum window and door frames, the house uses aluminum in innovative and colorful ways.

Despite the company's glossy advertising brochure and sales offices throughout the country, just 23 of these houses were built, apparently because they were too expensive for most families. The one in Brighton is a designated Town of Brighton landmark, and has survived with very few alterations.

Brenda Tremblay also interviewed the owners of the house, and got footage of two other buildings that have been entered into our online survey: the fabulous late-1960s gas station on Stonewood near Lake Avenue, and Donuts Delite. The program airs tonight on channel 21 at 9:00 and Sunday the 4th at 12:30 p.m., and will be available via podcast; the architecture segment will be a short piece about halfway through the program.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator