Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Strategies workshop: There's still time to register!

There's still time to register for next week's "Green Strategies for Historic Buildings" seminar, which will be held June 4 in the Eisenhart Auditorium of the Rochester Museum & Science Center. This daylong professional workshop is aimed at architects, developers, property owners/managers, planners, engineers, and anyone else who works with historic buildings and wants to improve their energy performance.

The presenter will be Jean Carroon, Principal for Preservation at Goody Clancy, a Boston design firm. She has received national recognition for her achievements in the field of sustainable design for historic buildings. Our colleagues at the Preservation League of NYS, who heard Jean give a similar presentation last year, report that she is an excellent speaker and exceptionally knowledgeable about the topic. I'm very much looking forward to learning from her!

Learn more and register now for this exciting educational opportunity!

The workshop is presented by the National Preservation Institute; cosponsors are The Landmark Society, the Preservation League of New York State and AIA New York State.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Your Old House: Masonry Repairs

I am a little delinquent in writing up my impressions of the April 27 “Your Old House” workshop, featuring Marty Naber of Naberhood Restorations. My tardiness is in no way a reflection of my enjoyment of the workshop – it was a very informative session, and I learned a lot!

Marty Naber has been spending the past week on the roof of our headquarters building, the historic Hoyt-Potter house in Corn Hill, where he is faithfully reconstructing our chimneys. Some masons do not particularly enjoy working on chimneys, steeples, or other locations high in the air, but Marty and his team thrive on it! Chimney restoration is his favorite type of masonry project.

Most homeowners will not (and should not!) attempt to restore their own chimneys, so the portions of Marty’s talk devoted to his work with chimneys were not so much about hands-on projects that homeowners should attack themselves, as about what a contractor should be doing. For example, Marty mentioned that most homeowners do not go on their own roofs, cannot see all sides of their chimney, and may have no idea that there is a problem with their chimney until a roofer mentions it. In that situation, ideally, the chimney should be repaired first, followed by the roof, but in reality, roofers will often finish their project first, then tell the homeowner, “by the way, you need your chimney rebuilt.” Marty’s team can deal with this sequence, but he said it is much better to do it the other way around. Marty showed illustrations of the right and wrong ways to repair chimneys, some of the most common types of repairs his company makes, and explained why these repairs are necessary.

In addition to their chimney work, Marty’s company does stucco and cobblestone repairs the old-fashioned way (with results virtually indistinguishable from the original work), and repairs brick and stone walkways, steps, and so on. His presentation showed fine illustrations of all of these types of projects.

Our workshop participants (including myself) came prepared with questions about their particular masonry dilemmas, and we discovered that our group included people with early-19thth century. century houses all the way up through the early-20 I was glad to find out that the discoloration on my stucco house, which initially really bothered me when I bought my house but which I’ve since come to appreciate as a “patina,” can be cleaned if I want to do so but is a normal and harmless phenomenon. I was also surprised to find out that Marty is not opposed to all masonry sealants; he said there are some one-way sealers that form a barrier while allowing the masonry to breathe, and under certain conditions, these products can be helpful. (That said, I wouldn’t advise anyone to experiment with these unless you know what you’re doing!)

We warmly thank Marty for his presentation, and for his careful work on our historic building!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Thursday, May 21, 2009

LEGOs + architecture = WIN

I was doing my daily geekery reading (i.e. checking out and stumbled across something pretty cool.

Frank Lloyd Wright LEGOs. let me say it again: Frank. Lloyd. Wright. LEGOS! Click here to see for yourself...I fully hope you will squeal with joy along with me.

The set is the first release in what looks to be a new LEGO line - architecture. This begs the question of to whom LEGO will market these "toys" - is this for fanboys and fangirls of architecture? Or, instead, will this be positioned to spark an interest in architecture in kids, perhaps spawning a future generation of architects and designers? Both? Regardless, it's pretty cool.

LEGO, along with several other building-type toys, helps to foster a love of construction, building, form, function and yes, creativity. I wonder how many architects were spawned based on an early love of LEGO. (Speaking personally, if my childhood LEGO creations were any indication of a future career path, I should be in the business of building alien spacecraft with chocolate milk ray-guns right now....and we'd all live in houses with very oddly-colored and strangely-angled shapes. Obviously a great architect I was not meant to be, but as Frank Lloyd Wright said, "regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral." Boy, did I build a lot of figurative chicken houses...)

What architects would you like to see included in future LEGO:Architecture releases? What structures could you only dream of seeing in LEGO form? And how hilarious would it be to see a new LEGO video game tie-in as well?

The possibilities are endless.

(photo from

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, director of marketing


This Place Matters

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a cool photo project going on: they are asking people to photograph themselves, holding a sign saying "This Place Matters" (the theme of this year's Preservation Month), in front of a favorite historic place. Send them the photo, and they'll add it to their Flickr photostream and pin it on their map - and now they're assembling all the photos into a photo montage of their own headquarters.

We need some Western New York sites on there! How about enjoying this weekend's lovely weather by getting out with your camera and a sign, and getting some photos of one of your favorite historic places. When you send your photo to the National Trust, send me (kcomeau "at" a copy and a sentence or two about what the place is and why it matters to you - you can be our next guest blogger!

You can download the sign and find instructions for uploading your photo at the National Trust's "This Place Matters" website.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services

Photo is from the National Trust's website:


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Passes Finance Committee

Good news from Albany: The expanded Historic Rehabilitation Tax credit has passed through the NYS Senate Finance Committee, and will be available for a floor vote beginning next week. The Preservation League of New York State is working to secure an economic and fiscal benefits study to assess the revenue and stimulus impacts of this legislation. They have raised over $13,000 in pledges to date, with a goal of $50,000, and are looking for any assistance in identifying parties to underwrite this study; if you would like to contribute, or have ideas of potential funders, contact the League.

The following is a press release from Senate Majority Leader Malcom Smith:

Program will bring unprecedented redevelopment to distressed areas; Legislation Expected to Pass Senate Next Week

(Albany, NY) The New York State Senate Finance Committee today passed the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (HRTC) (S2960-A/Valesky), sending this important economic stimulus and community revitalization legislation to the full Senate.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure next week.

HRTC strengthens the State program first launched in 2006 and will make New York State more competitive against the nearly 30 other state’s with similar programs, who have had more success. The changes will allow the state to target reinvestment to distressed communities, as determined by the U.S. Census, and incorporate cost savings to the administration of the program.

Because of these changes, New York State will be among the most effective and cost-effective redevelopment programs in the country.

Senator David J. Valesky (D-Oneida), Vice President Pro Tempore of the Senate and lead sponsor said, "The Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit will provide real incentives to stimulate Main Street and downtown development that will create jobs, increase property values and provide a better quality of life for all Upstate New Yorkers. This program has great potential to revitalize the Upstate economy and reduce the strain on urban, suburban and rural communities alike."

“This program will aid communities, in particular urban centers across the state, by reinvesting and rehabilitating structures and strengthening our population base,” said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. “Not only will this beautify neighborhoods and reinvigorate residents’ sense of pride, but it will help us attract new businesses and families back to communities that have suffered from urban flight.”

Features of the Senate’s legislation include:

* Increase the cap on commercial credit value from $100,000 to $5 million; the residential credit value will increase from $25,000 to $50,000. These are over the course of the program, which is 5 years.
* Limit the availability of the residential and commercial credit of the program to “distressed” areas, which is defined as being located within a Census tract identified at or below one hundred percent of the median family income.
* Increase the percent of qualified rehabilitation costs that can be claimed for the credit from 6-percent to 20-percent, allowing for a higher percentage of qualified rehabilitation costs.
* Make the credit assignable, transferable, and conveyable within business partnerships, to allow for greater flexibility on the part of the investor, and attract out-of-state financing to in-state rehabilitation projects.
* Offer the rehabilitation tax credit as a rebate to make the program a stronger financial incentive for homeowners without significant income tax liability.

“As a cosponsor of this important legislation, I support the effort to create economic stimulus and community redevelopment especially in western New York,” said Senator William T. Stachowski (D-Lake View), Chairman of the New York State Senate Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business. “Many historic buildings throughout upstate are currently vacant, underutilized, and deteriorating. By providing a tax credit for the rehabilitation of these properties, we can encourage their restoration to their former beauty and build up many distressed neighborhoods.”

"In these difficult economic times it is more important than ever to pass legislation that will stimulate the economy," said Senator Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. "This bill will significantly promote growth in distressed communities by creating an incentive to rehabilitate deteriorating historic buildings."

“Historic preservation tax credits are a cost effective incentive for increasing homeownership and property values,” said Senator Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent), Chairman of the Senate Upstate Caucus. “Preserving our past is an important part of preserving our sense of community. Tax credits and other incentives for historic preservation have been proven to attract new business and
investment, which improves our economy and builds pride in our communities.”

“A Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit will provide an incentive to maintain and renovate infrastructure throughout our state and help protect valuable historic structures,” said Senator Brian X. Foley (D – Blue Point). “This measure is part of larger efforts by the Senate to boost economic development and stimulate New York State’s economy.”

"This legislation will spawn investment, increase property values and create jobs," stated Senator Antoine M. Thompson (D-parts of Erie and Niagara Counties).
Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Windows - an addendum

My post from yesterday inspired Jay Rowe, a blogger for, to draw my attention to a piece he wrote last month, which was based on information from a talk I gave last September at MCC (got all that?). I remember Jay because he came up after the talk to ask me a bunch of great questions, and followed up with a really nice email saying that before he heard my talk, he wasn't sure if he was doing such a "green" thing by sensitively rehabbing his house in the city, but I persuaded him he was, indeed, doing one of the greenest things he possibly could!

There are lots of pieces about windows out there (and believe it or not, we only post a tiny fraction of them here) but I really think Jay's is one of the best and most thoughtful I've seen - maybe it's because I'm flattered that he mentioned me so nicely and that he remembers my talk all these months later, but really, I think he lays out the issues and what a homeowner can do in a very straightforward and helpful way.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Monday, May 18, 2009

Debunking the window-replacement myth

This weekend's Washington Post had an article saying what we keep saying: there are much more cost-effective (not to mention historically appropriate) ways to increase your house's energy efficiency than wood window replacement. Our colleague Erin Tobin, a Rochester native who now covers eastern New York State and New York City as a regional director of technical and grant programs for the Preservation League of New York State, had this comment on the article:

At least this article debunks the myth that replacing windows will save lots of money in energy bills, although it does repeat the falsehood that replacement windows will last for "decades" (how about "decade" if you're lucky). I'm glad to see the quotes from some of the energy auditors, but who is talking to the federal Energy Star people? Not even a mention of storm windows? And nothing about screens and summertime efficiency (aka fresh air).
The point Erin makes about the short lifespan of replacement windows is one I make in my own talks on sustainability, and I like to cite Donovan Rypkema, a historic preservation expert who says: "Regardless of the manufacturers’ 'lifetime warranties', thirty percent of the windows being replaced each year are less than 10 years old." Throwing out vinyl windows after less than 10 years doesn't sound all that "green," does it?

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Repairing Historic Windows

Final Session- Your Old House Workshop Spring Series

On Monday, May 11, 2009 as part of the “Your Old House” series, Steve Jordan, a historic home and window repair expert for over 30 years and the former rehab advisor for the Landmark Society, shared with me and 20 other eager listeners how to replace broken sash cords and pulleys, and how to maintain the energy efficiency of original double-hung windows in homes built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to Jordan it is important to restore and maintain these windows because they are built of sturdy old-growth wood and are designed to keep cold air and noise out of a house for many years. This older wood from the forest is well aged and not as affected by damage from water and insects as is wood from newer trees. The mechanics of these windows are also well built. In windows that are being used consistently it is common for sash cords to last 30 to 50 years before replacement is needed. If a window is not opened or closed very often sash cords will be in good condition for 100 years or more. Jordan is also an advocate of maintaining historic windows because they are an integral part of the original architectural design of the structures from which they come.

Jordan reviewed how to replace a sash chord by showing examples of what kind of “Spot” cord to use for replacement cord and how to access the pulley and the weight in the window frame. He also showed the alternative less durable sash tape and sash chain and pulley systems. Jordan reminded us that if a window is painted shut it is important to remove the paint seal around the entire window with a pry bar before starting any work because, “paint is stronger than wood” and the window might break otherwise. Many times repairs are required because paint has gotten into the pulley system or has dripped onto the sash cord and made the sash hard to move along the rope.

Jordan showed how to add flexible bronze weather-stripping at each opening where air might seep through a closed window — between the frame, and the sash, and the meeting rail, where the sashes come together. He also explained how sashes should be regularly maintained to ensure that air is not coming through any part of the window especially were the glass panes are placed into the sash at the muntins. According to Jordan, by adding weather-stripping, and storm windows, historic windows are just as energy efficient as modern replacements. He pointed out that many times the restoration cost of historic windows is much less expensive than purchasing many new windows.

This talk was interesting to me because I have lived in a home built between 1910 and 1930 for most of my life and I enjoy learning about architecture — but had never studied windows before this workshop. I had not realized how many important working parts there are to a window. I am now inspired to look at the six windows in my downtown Rochester apartment, built in 1921, to consider how I might restore each one to make it more energy efficient.

To learn more about the work that Steve Jordan does with historic window restoration and in other areas of old-home repair please contact him at

Posted by Padraic Collins-Bohrer - a long-time Landmark Society volunteer and an enthusiast of Rochester architecture and history.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Young preservationists-in-training in Nashua, NH

Here's a fun idea: a Student Historic Preservation Team! This is a group of students in Nashua, New Hampshire, who became interested in a historic building that was in dire need of rehabilitation and pitched in to help make it happen. I wish the article gave a little more information about what role the students played in the actual rehabilitation project; a comment on the article posted by a city staffer who had direct involvement in the project's early days sheds some light on this. The students received an award from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance yesterday. Wouldn't it be great to have such a club at one of our local schools?

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Director of Preservation Services


Ellwanger Garden: flowers, hedges - and flesh eaters?

Imagine a series of secluded, fragrant, multi colored outdoor “rooms.” The carpet is a lush green of the lawn. The ceiling is blue and cream from the ever shifting sky. The walls are many colors – and change daily, as the perennials in each flower bed reach their peak of bloom.

I love working at Ellwanger Garden in the spring. For just a few days, Ellwanger Garden really shows off during its most spectacular season – spring and early summer. That’s why we open this special historic landscape to visitors during the Lilac Festival - this week! From 10 am to 4 pm the Garden is open for your enjoyment.

The “walls” of the 6 outdoor rooms in the Garden are filled with a great variety of perennials, some quite rare, others familiar and beloved by gardeners everywhere. Tidy boxwood hedgerows line the paths that intersect the garden areas. Continuously cultivated since 1867 by the Ellwanger family (of noted 19th century horticulturist George Ellwanger) The Landmark Society has been caring for the site for over 20 years.

Staff and volunteers enjoy welcoming visitors to see this remarkable “living museum.” But I have to confess, not all visitors are given a nice greeting. We’re always glad to see the people that arrive. The ground hogs, rabbits and the deer are not given a happy welcome. In past years they‘ve considered Ellwanger Garden their own private “all-you-can-eat-buffet.” Fortunately this year the hungry critters must be on a diet, as the garden looks pristine.

We do enjoy seeing the song birds that gather in this protected area. Many familiar backyard birds enjoy the space, and we occasionally see a really interesting one – a Baltimore oriole, for example.

Even though I have been to the garden every spring for 22 years, I was really surprised by bird visitors on Monday. I spied gigantic wings on the roof of the carriage barn, behind the garden. I walked up as quietly as is possible on a gravel driveway, and was rewarded by the site of five huge turkey vultures, wings spread to catch the morning sun.

As soon as they saw me, the wings went in and they started uncomfortably shifting along the roof ridge, moving away from me. I guess that’s a turkey vulture compliment – I don’t look like carrion to them.

The group took off from the roof, and swooped around, quite low. It then occurred to me – what has their attention, attracting such a large group
Fortunately, a careful search and sniff revealed no vulture breakfast specials on our grounds. Just the fragrant smells of the viburnums, the iris, and many other glorious blooms.

If you’d like to see the parade of bloom at Ellwanger Garden this spring, come on over to 625 Mt. Hope Avenue during the Lilac Festival. Just look for the sandwich board saying “Garden Open Today.” On weekdays, you may park on side streets (the north entrance to Mt. Hope Cemetery is only 1 ½ blocks away.) On weekends our good friends at the University of Rochester offer their parking lot a half block south of the garden – there are signs directing you.?

If you miss the Lilac Festival you’ll have another chance during Peony Weekend, June 13 and 14 – or Tuesday evenings starting the end of June from 5 to 7 pm.
We look forward to welcoming all visitors who aren’t going to munch on the plants – even the turkey vultures.
Posted by Cindy Boyer, Director of Museums and Education.

Hardwood Floor Repairs – Lee Bradley & Craig Dupra

Fourth in Your Old House Workshop Spring Series

On May 4’09 the Landmark Society had its fourth session of Your Old House Workshop Spring Series. The speakers for this session were Mr. Lee Bradley — owner of Bradley Flooring Inc for over 30 years, and Mr. Craig Dupra- a National Wood Flooring Association, certified instructor and Hardwood flooring contractor for over 20 years.

Mr Dupra started the evening by speaking to each of the attendees and understanding their motivation behind participating in the workshop. It was an interesting way to familiarize with the audiences’ needs and address them specifically. He mentioned that Hardwood Floor Repairs is not a licensed industry in New York State, so it is extremely hard to find a qualifying contractor, and especially being a homeowner it is difficult to discern between a good and a bad contractor. Yellow pages are not the solution as it is very expensive to place an advertisement in them and most contractors can’t be found there. The best way to find a hardwood repair contractor is to consult a fussy neighbor who got a job well done.

Following the primer on how to find a hardwood floor contractor, Mr Dupra gave an overview on hardwood floors which included the type of woods, their characteristics, sizes, Janka scale, sawing techniques and finishes. He said that Rochester region either had white or red oak hardwood floors. This area used 5/16 sized lumber as they are moisture stable and have less expansion and contraction due to their thin size. A typical hardwood floor lasts for a minimum of 100 years. He talked at length about various finishes including shellac, lacquer, poly-urethane, Swedish finishes and water based finishes.

Mr Bradley then educated everyone about scratches, wear and tear and routine maintenance of hardwood floors. The best way to clean hardwood floors is by vacuuming and sweeping with a bristle brush and sometimes with a special wood cleaner. It is never a good idea to use a sponge or a traditional mop with soap on a hardwood floor as soap increases the solvency of water, which leaves a film on floors. For re-coating hardwood floors hard waxes and cross-linking oils can be used.

Mr Dupra brought with him a lot of abrasive samples for refinishing floors and explained the various techniques for the same. The final part of the workshop was a visual treat for the attendees as they got to see various samples of hardwood floors. Some of the samples were of reclaimed hard pine, distressed hard pine, hand-sculpted wood, engineered floors and hand-scraped floor. He concluded the workshop by breaking the misconception that cutting trees is a bad thing. He said “A forest that is never cut is a forest that is dying”.

It was the most interactive workshop in the entire series so far. The session was nicely interspersed with regular question and answers in between. We look forward to having you all for many more of these series and would very much appreciate your comments and feedback. . Last but not the least, we would like to thank both of our speakers: Mr Lee Bradley and Mr Craig Dupra for their valuable time and effort. A special thanks to Mr Bradley for bringing home baked cookies for everyone. They were a real delight!

Posted by Nimisha Thakur, Preservation Associate