Author Archive

 

Written by Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB

For more than 30 years, historic preservation tax incentives have been helping architects, builders, and private citizens transform historic buildings for new uses, preserving architectural heritage, and benefiting communities all over the country.  I should know, because using tax credit incentives has been key to my business for just as many years, allowing me and one of my partners Mike Binette to save clients money while restoring more than 150 historic commercial,  industrial, and educational structures -- many of which can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.

We are proud of what we’ve achieved in and around Boston -- an American city rich in history and beautiful old buildings -- but we’re also excited about how these incentives have helped Boston and cities like it all over the country.


Bourne Mill, one of America's oldest cotton gins, in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

The recent debate over historic preservation tax incentives is long on political orthodoxy but short on common sense. The benefits of these tax credits are indisputable. By redeveloping historic buildings, tax credits save our architectural heritage and spur new private investment, create construction jobs, and set the stage for new economic activities, such as tourism.

There’s nothing like a broken window to scare off businesses. Any savvy investor will agree that commercial activity gets a bump when abandoned buildings are brought back to life, or derelict properties are restored to their former grandeur. 

But there’s much more. Many historic buildings serve as the visual gateway to entire towns and neighborhoods. They anchor their communities, and often had a central role in making them happen. Examples are everywhere -- churches, town halls, first settler homesteads, factories, schools, mills, lighthouses, and office and institutional buildings. Our architecture firm has spent four decades restoring and adapting old mills and other historic structures throughout New England and along the East Coast -- each of which has precipitated in some way the rebirth and growth of the community.


St. Aidan's Catholic Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, where John F. Kennedy was baptized.

Why does this matter? First, these landmarks are part of the fabric and collective memory of their communities. Generations of families made their living inside those factories, connecting the old stone walls with their family history. They root us to the place.

More so, these old buildings have great bones and can reinvigorate their neighborhoods once again. Many adapted mills have taken on new lives, such as commercial, hospitality, community centers and a wide array of residential type uses. In this way, these historic structures have brought their towns and neighborhoods back to life.

Preservation is also the greenest thing we can do. For example, in Dorchester, Mass., the 1765 Baker Chocolate Factory grew to employ hundreds. After shuttering in 1969, it sat mute and untended until its conversion to a community of apartments, assisted living, and more. The work took decades to complete and recycled tons of brick, granite block and many hundreds of massive wood beams and deck.

Today, Dorchester Lower Mills not only has hundreds of new residents, it has become a vibrant downtown with cafés, boutiques, and a bustling grocery store. People visit for fun, ambiance -- and history. In this way, historic tax credits create a valuable commodity: hope.


Baker Chocolate Factory (side view) in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Proof of old and historic buildings' attraction and economic value is everywhere. And many of our friends and clients -- mayors, real estate developers, bankers, and residents -- will vouch that the same results never would have been accomplished without historic federal and state tax credits.

Our country’s history deserves better than a wrecking ball. If you believe in America’s past -- and our chances for a better collective future -- historic tax credits are something you can and must believe in, too.

Robert Verrier, FAIA, NCARB and Michael Binette, AIA, NCARB, are partners at The Architectural Team, Inc., a Boston-based architecture firm specializing in master planning, hospitality, mixed-use, multi-family housing, and historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to raising awareness of the importance of the historic tax credit and advocating for a few strategic improvements that would expand its already impressive track record of saving places, creating jobs and revitalizing communities. You can help! Visit SaveHistoricCredit.org.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Written by M. Rosalind Sagara

After nearly three and a half years of legal proceedings, the 4th District Court of Appeals of the State of California recently issued a final judgment invalidating the City of Riverside’s approval of an office development that would have destroyed a National Register site -- my community’s historic Chinatown.


Left: Author Rosalind Sagara in front of the archaeological site. Right: Built to honor the Chinese settlers who came to Riverside in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this Chinese Pavilion is located in front of Riverside's Downtown Library.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, Riverside’s historic Chinatown dates back to 1885 and is considered to be one of our nation’s best-preserved early Chinese settlements.  The lawsuit to protect the historic archaeological site centered on the validity of the purchase sale agreement and whether or not the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the state’s regulations protecting historic sites threatened with demolition.

A panel of judges ruled that the city failed to consider reasonable alternatives to the proposed building plans and location.  The Court also found that the EIR contained insufficient analysis for the City to consider the environmental and cultural impacts of the proposed development. The final judgment sets aside the City’s certification of the EIR, its statement of overriding considerations, and approval of the project.

The legal ruling is a victory for the Save Our Chinatown Committee and our network of allies -- educators, preservationists, community groups, students, archaeologists, and countless individuals who’ve rallied to give voice to our preservation campaign.  We also share this victory with those who believe citizens must have a say in how their communities grow and develop.  We look forward to providing city officials with guidance in using preservation principles as an equal component in future planning processes related to the historic site.

This preservation campaign has taught me that engaged citizens -- who are willing to speak up, write letters and emails, organize and attend meetings, contribute money and ideas, learn and listen to others -- are as important as legal tools and good luck.  Preservationists must be willing to pull out all stops because we believe a place is worth it.  But it’s about more than just saving places, it’s about people, building community and creating a sense of place.

M. Rosalind Sagara is a community organizer and filmmaker.  She is a co-founder and board chair of the Save Our Chinatown Committee

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Written by Dana Saylor-Furman

In July of 1900, architect Lansing Colton Holden submitted plans for a Beaux-Arts masterpiece structure to his client, Lackawanna Steel. It was to be the crowning jewel of the vast Lackawanna Steel grounds. Bethlehem Steel bought out Lackawanna Steel in 1922, and closed down in 1982 -- but the place still looms large in the memories of generations of Western New Yorkers.

Built of brick, terra cotta, and incredibly detailed ornamental copper, the elegant-yet-imposing Administration Building spoke to the power and influence of Lackawanna Steel owner John J. Albright and the giant corporation for which he secured the land. Today, that same building is in danger of demolition, and local preservationists are rising up to convince company and city officials that the building is still worth saving.

 
The entire site has been owned by Gateway Trade Center since 1985, but “Old North," as the Beax-Arts building was affectionately called, was allowed to deteriorate with little to no code enforcement by the City of Lackawanna.  The city recently condemned the building, claiming that its roof and floor collapses have made it a public danger. The Mayor and inspector continue to push for controlled demolition, wherein the entire building is torn down and sent to a hazardous waste dump due to possible asbestos and toxin contamination. No part of the structure would be reused or saved. ... Read More →

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Written by David Alpert

I recently visited an American city with many downtown buildings from a long-departed industry. The city's downtown is now experiencing new life, and many of the historic buildings are finding new uses after sitting vacant for many years.

 
This is a complex of old warehouses which have now become retail and offices. The developer added a really amazing water feature, a long river which cascades down waterfalls at various intervals. There are small footbridges across the river and even stepping stones to cross in one place.

The old chutes for the products remain and now serve as decorative flourishes. In the center is an old railcar, like those that once transported goods to and from the facility.

 
At another location nearby, people have turned several old garages into bars and music halls. They've also become a popular spot for food trucks, and two were sitting outside as we passed by on a Saturday.

 
Both of these [examples] demonstrate the preservation concept of "adaptive reuse." Old, historic buildings can become a valued part of a changing community by taking on different functions that residents need today. The distinct architecture of the structures and the small details that nobody would build today adds character and interest.

Can you guess the city?

[Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington]

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington. He has had a lifelong interest in great cities and great communities.

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Written by Karri A. Sensenig

In my reading about the history of Philadelphia's Independence State Park (located directly in front of Independence Hall), I discovered that in the early 1900s, when the park was first proposed, the architects decided that the actual setting of Independence Hall wasn't good enough and set about creating what they determined to be a "fitting setting" -- by clearing the half-block of buildings between Chestnut Street and Ludlow Street in front of the Hall.


Philadelphia's Independence Hall, in it's current context. (Photo: IceNineJon on Flickr)

Early proponents of Independence Hall's preservation recognized that the surrounding low-lying vernacular architecture stood in stark contrast to the iconic brick structure, what it represented, and what the public's expectations were regarding its preservation. So they tore them all down to "beautify" the area and set a proper stage for the feeling they wanted to create.

But what's so terribly notable about making judgement-based changes and improvements as we preserve buildings and places? Don't we do that all the time? Absolutely. ... Read More →

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.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.