Preservation Round-Up: The Supersized Edition

Posted on: January 7th, 2011 by Jason Clement

Here's to that! (Photo: Flickr User HoyasMeg)

If you're a passionate reader of the Preservation Round-Up (we sure there's a few of you out, you know to expect a heaping helping of preservation news every Monday and Thursday. That being said, you may have noticed that yesterday was, by all accounts, devoid of any rounding up. We can explain.

It started at 6:30 a.m. with a sore throat. By the time the alarm sounded after snooze number three, things had progressed -- or rather deteriorated -- into shivers and/or feverishness. By snooze number five, I was an achy mass of hazmat struggling to thumb type a sick note. While feeling under the weather is never fun, I am aware that some people can actually make the best of it with comfort food, hot tea, and daytime television. I, however, am not one of those people; after the thrill of watching The Today Show with my feet up wears off, I become a restless basket case.

Thankfully, yesterday wasn't your average sick day.

At precisely 11:46 a.m., mere moments before I was about to start organizing my sock drawer, I received a phone call from a local news station. A reporter had seen something I posted on a neighborhood listserv about a beyond-egregious McMansion going up in my community -- a quaint little corner of Washington full of bungalows and beautifully-shaded lots. Moments later, I was outside my 100-year-old home getting my preservation on. Hence our theme for today.

While I was on camera pointing to infill successes and failures in my own neck of the woods, the good folks over at were entertaining a similar discussion about development in nearby Montgomery County, where reports show teardowns continue to rear their ugly heads. Starting with a subdivision map from 1951, the well-researched post tracks the various owners and mortgage transactions that lead a 1952 "Belvedere rambler" to be replaced by what the author dubs a Cliffs Notes Home. For those of us unfamiliar with the term, an entertaining, yet dead-on definition:

Cliffs Notes houses are buildings that are out-of-scale and character of the settings where they are built. They draw from a wide array of architectural vocabularies and present them in greatly abbreviated fashion: Revival styles (Colonial, Tudor, Mediterranean), Craftsman/Bungalow, Victorian, and even modernist styles. Elements are sampled from these historical sources and are reconfigured in the exteriors of single homes. For example, a single Cliffs Notes home may have a Queen Anne tower attached to a main block that features a clipped gable roof with false half-timbering details, quoining, Italianate window surrounds, Palladian windows, and a Greek Revival full-height front porch.

Cliff Notes Homes, Starter Castles, Big Box Victorians: Regardless of what you call them, what we're all talking about is development that simply doesn't fit our neighborhoods. The post on Montgomery Country and my own interview inspired me to take a fresh look at the many resources the National Trust for Historic Preservation offers to fight mansionization, which include a toolkit and a glossary. It also left me with a question -- or perhaps an existential crisis -- as I pondered the future of my street, where we have a handful of empty old homes that have seen better days: How long until this issue gets really close to home?

And with an audible gulp, let's shift focus to some of the other preservation-related headlines that caught my eye this week. First the bad news (it's always better that way): Some of San Antonio's missions recently got an unwanted paint job, Georgetown (S.C.) has a lot of abandoned buildings that need some love, a farmhouse and a barn (both historic) face uncertain futures, and Hamburger Heaven -- where the grub ranged from "excellent" to "really good" -- is gone.

On the flip side, it's a brand new day for Buffalo's beautiful Genesse Block. These buildings, which "have fascinating stories to tell about the lives of business and tradesmen in Buffalo," have come a long way after decades of neglect, demo pressure, and misguided rehab attempts. Also, Baltimore Heritage reflects on why the West Side matters (note: an amazing story), things are always be discovered at President Lincoln's Cottage, and the Sustainable Cities Collective muses on the benefits of small town sense of place.

And to close us out, I present something you probably will not being doing this weekend. (PS: Can you believe that beautiful train station?)

With that, enjoy both your Friday and your weekend. We promise to return on time -- and hopefully in full health -- on Monday.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for This weekend, he will not be exploring the hidden tunnels of the District of Columbia.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

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