Dismantling History: A Reflection on Salvage

Posted on: April 26th, 2013 by Scott Austin Sidler 5 Comments

Historic Lake Eola home. Orlando, FL. Credit: Scott Sidler
Historic Lake Eola home

This post originally appeared on The Craftsman Blog.

I recently helped my friends at Florida Victorian Architectural Antiques with the salvage of four early 20th-century homes on the banks of Lake Eola here in Orlando, Fla. We were busy removing any parts of the home that may be of some value to someone in the future. Old wood windows were removed and sold off to a house in Daytona Beach. Heart-pine flooring was pulled and cleaned before being delivered to a home somewhere in south Florida. And I busied myself removing old shiplap siding and rough sawn cypress subflooring.

It was a sad sight to watch these once-magnificent homes being dismantled day after day. By the end of the week they hardly seemed like the houses we started with on Monday. Windows and doors were removed and boarded over. Siding peeled off its sides. Shadows remained where shutters once hung.

As awful as I felt about having to dismantle these historic homes so the city can make room for more “green space” (as if we need another lawn to mow in Orlando!), it felt good to be saving as much as I could. The wood I was salvaging would be used to repair any number of old homes in the area. The shiplap siding I was collecting would likely be used on an upcoming project to restore the Montverde Town Hall that my company, Austin Home Restorations, is doing.

Salvaged floor boards. Orlando, FL. Credit: Scott Sidler
Salvaged floor boards

It gave me hope that even though we were unable to save these four buildings, there were other people who recognize the value of historic buildings and historic materials. They want old buildings and the stories they tell. They appreciate walking into a home and feeling the warmth that generations of families have imparted onto the walls of what was once their home.

The stories that these homes told me as I peeled back the layers were equally intriguing. As I removed the subfloor from the upstairs of the house pictured, I found evidence of a fire at one point. Nothing to cause any structural damage to the house, but enough to blacken the floor joists and subfloor bottoms just inside the porch.

Then, as I removed each board of shiplap siding I was greeted with an unusual surprise. I found cedar shingles hiding just beneath the siding. As I moved down the wall board after board, the shingles eventually gave way to log siding (which is a rare sight in my part of the country). When had this been covered up? Why? It seemed to be in good shape still and not in need of replacement. So, I grabbed as many of the shingles as I could, hoping to find a project that they would be perfect for in the future.

Old cedar shingle siding. Orlando, FL. Credit: Scott Sidler
Old cedar shingle siding

After a week of salvage our work was mostly complete. We packed up our trucks with one final load and left the homes sitting there broken and gutted. I’m sure the new park space will be enjoyed by the residents, but too soon the memory of these houses will pass into oblivion just like much of Historic Orlando already has.

But as I pulled away, I almost felt like the houses were watching us. Like they knew what was coming. As I look at the picture at the top of the post, I see a beautiful old house, battered and beaten, gathering its final shreds of strength to stand proudly where its builder meant it to be. It bravely prepares to face its coming fate with the same strength and dignity it has held for over 90 years. And the least I can do is write this short post so that someone, somewhere may know that it once stood when all that remains is a well-manicured lawn.

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Scott Austin Sidler

Scott Austin Sidler

Scott Austin Sidler is the owner of Austin Home Restorations in Central Florida, and spends his time blogging about all things preservation, salvage, and historic on his blog, The Craftsman.


5 Responses

  1. SEPCO-Solar Lighting

    April 26, 2013

    It is sad to see these historic homes go to waste. Instead of fixing them to their former glory, they are being ripped apart and torn down. Kudos on sending as much of the useful material on to another project so that at least a piece of the history can be reused and remembered. The cedar shingles are amazing and the overall home was gorgeous. Thanks for sharing and giving this home some place to not be lost forever.

  2. T

    April 26, 2013

    Nice article Scott being raised in Orlando has given me and many others the opportunity to see much of the beauty and history of Orlando before everyone came in and tried to change it. I remember these homes as I played at Lake Eola as a child. It does hurt when I see places like this destroyed (so many fond memories now gone) for so called “progress.” Last time I went down town it had changes so much I barely recognized many of the wonderful landmarks I grew up with that made “O-Town” the City beautiful. Wonderful find on the Cedar shingles as many other items in these homes reveal so much history. As a child I saw many removed or covered with stucco to give the older homes a facelift. I imagine it was covered at some point in time as a facelift (no benefit to removing them) as most of these homes were giant fire traps (non-code) and had things like paper stuffer in the walls as insulation. Which is why many of the older homes had fireplaces. Interesting as to the layers of the home as you go back in time seeing how things had changed as you hit the core of the home. I’m glad you and others are recycling & reusing most of these materials instead of it going to some landfill.

  3. Scott Austin Sidler

    April 26, 2013

    Orlando definitely has a short memory when it comes to it’s built history. I know how you feel about all the changes. The house have been razed since I wrote this, but I’m glad we still have the pictures. We may not have been able to save this one but there is always another one that CAN be saved.

  4. Shouldn’t Miss News of the Week | Preservation and Place

    April 28, 2013

    […] Dismantling History: A Reflection on Salvage: A wonderful blog post from the National Trust for Historic Preservation on architectural salvage written by someone who does the salvage work as well as restoration projects using those materials. […]

  5. Cheryl

    April 29, 2013

    Wow.. this is really unfortunate. I used to live around the corner from Lake Eola. One of the highlights of this beautiful historic neighborhood was not only the old oak trees and cobble stone streets but the beautiful historic homes. Doesn’t Orlando have enough homogenized track homes? The city should appreciate those gorgeous old houses and work to protect the history and unique quality of the downtown neighborhood.