Green

 

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.

 


Alcatraz's main cellblock at night.

I admit, I hesitated before boarding the ferry to spend the night in a prison cell on “the Rock.” Over the summer, the volunteers restoring the Gardens of Alcatraz (partially funded, incidentally, by a National Trust grant) were offered the chance to sleep over on the island as a “thank you” for their hard work. Being the “history guy” and all, I was invited as the guest of a gardener friend.

It didn’t exactly sound like a relaxing Saturday night. But when another friend looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You can’t not do this,” I decided to hop on the boat.

Alcatraz is a four-acre sandstone island, jutting 130 feet out of San Francisco Bay. First fortified by the military to defend California’s gold rush riches, it became the nation’s most feared and secretive federal penitentiary from 1934 until it closed in 1963. With no media permitted, it was a place of great fascination to the American public. And with approximately 1.5 million visitors each year to the island, now managed by the National Park Service, it still is.


National Park Service staff lead a night tour.

At Alcatraz, the human imagination is forced into gear as soon as one steps off the boat. Its architecture and design was devoted to maximize the government’s control over some of the most dangerous felons. The visitor must ask: how would I fare if confined to the narrow walls, iron bars, extensive fencing, and 24/7 surveillance with hundreds of other inmates who have done things far outside of acceptable moral standards?

And, as you might imagine, Alcatraz after dark provides even more fodder for the mind. On the night tour offered to the public that evening, we heard stories of attempted escapes, notorious prison personalities, and the monotony of daily life behind bars. You know, kind of like the ghost stories at summer camp -- except real.

After the public left on the last ferry, we overnight guests were free to choose our accommodations. I inspected, but opted against, the solitary confinement cells in the D block. Instead, I chose to sleep in the cell of Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”


Then and now (r. to l.): a historic photo of Stroud in his cell, and the cell as it looks today (with the addition of Brian's sleeping bag).

Stroud kept birds while in the pen in Leavenworth, but he was prohibited from keeping them after he was transferred to the Rock. Because of his “unpredictable and violent outbursts,” Stroud spent six years in solitary, and the remaining eleven of his life isolated in the hospital wing cell where I stayed. Despite his antisocial behavior, he published two landmark books on bird illness while in jail.

I rolled out my sleeping bag on the cold, concrete floor and stared at an old picture of Stroud during his incarceration in the same room. That's when history started coming alive. Unsuspecting heritage travelers, take note: August on the San Francisco Bay is brutally cold. That night, while the rest of the country sweltered under heat, Alcatraz had whipping winds driving a dense fog. Old, creaky pipes rattled incessantly. The wind tunneled through the corridors that seemed to be almost deliberately designed to accentuate its howls.

When the lights shut off, Alcatraz’s isolation was fully apparent. I glimpsed the deep loneliness the prisoners must have felt. There was no way out. The waters are not only frigid and constantly turbulent, but guards also convinced prisoners that sharks circled the island. (They don’t, but it helped thwart any notion that escape was possible.)


Camping out in Alcatraz's operating room.

At 5:30 a.m., proud to have made it through the night, I woke up my friend who chose to sleep in the prison’s operating room. Yes, the operating room -- in which the main object is a lone surgical table. We put on warm layers and went to take photographs and watch the dawn break. At the top of the island’s lighthouse we gazed upon the sensitively-installed 1,300 solar panels recently installed on the cell house roof.


A view of the solar panels (minus the sun) atop the main cellblock.

After returning home the next day I read about the lesser-known inmates of Alcatraz, the stories that challenge its infamous reputation. There were those who are redeemable in history’s eyes: a conscientious objector to the First World War, and a group of Hopi Indians who refused to send their children to government boarding schools. Other inmates defied the violent stereotypes; they tended gardens and even babysat the children of guards.

So, even though I left knowing that the conventional image of Alcatraz is sensationalized, I was still quite glad to have an escape.

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.

Brian Turner

Brian Turner

Brian Turner is an attorney in the National Trust's San Francisco Field Office. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of the nation's cultural and natural heritage.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Green Your Historic Home

Posted on: August 14th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 8 Comments

 


Job Corps students help restore Grey Towers National Historic Site to make it a more sustainable facility.

We walked you through 10 easy ways to weatherize your historic home a couple weeks ago. Now we want to help you take it a step further with these simple approaches to making your home more sustainable.

But what exactly do we mean when we say “sustainable,” at least in the context of historic preservation? Well, we’re talking about using what we already have -- in this case, buildings, and the features and materials that make them unique and historic. Many older homes were constructed with energy efficiency in mind (when home owners once had no choice, because things like central AC weren’t an option), so their “environmental friendliness quotient” is already high.

Today it’s up to us, the current caretakers, to continue retrofitting and reusing these places in ways that both honor their original construction and also reduce their environmental footprint in a modern world.

So let’s not waste any more energy -- here are 10 tips for greening your historic home.

1.    Keep original windows intact. Studies show that older windows can perform as well as vinyl replacements. Weatherstrip them so that they seal tightly, caulk the exterior trim, and repair cracked glazing or putty around glass panels. You'll reduce landfill waste and the demand for vinyl, a non-biodegradable material that gives off toxic byproducts when it's made.

2.    Use light paint colors for your house's exterior. Lighter colors reflect heat better than darker ones. Many older homes were typically painted with light-reflecting finishes, so you can be sustainable and accurate in one fell swoop.

3.    Insulate the attic, basement, and crawl space. About 20 percent of energy costs come from heat loss in those areas. Just take care to avoid materials that can damage historic fabric.

4.    Reuse old materials such as brick, stone, glass, and slate when making home improvements. You can also scour local salvage shops to find contemporaneous materials (and save it from going to a landfill).

5.    Plant trees. Evergreen trees on the north and west sides of your house can block winter winds, and leafy trees on the east, west, and northwest provide shade from the summer sun. Use old photos of your house to try to match the historic landscaping. (Don’t have photos? See our tips on researching your home’s history!)


Example of a well-shaded wraparound porch on a historic home in Oxford, North Carolina.

6.    When appropriate, open the windows and use fans and dehumidifiers, which consume less energy than air-conditioning. Many old houses were designed with good cross-ventilation; take advantage of your home's layout. Ceiling fans lower the perceived temperature in summer, lessening reliance on air conditioning and saving energy. And in the winter, they draw warm air down from the ceiling, saving on heating costs. So again, double benefit for one change.

7.    Keep doors airtight by weatherstripping, caulking, and painting them regularly. Recent studies suggest that installing a storm door is not necessarily cost-effective. Better to keep your doors in fighting shape -- and ideally in keeping with the character of the house.

8.    Install fireplace draft stoppers, attic door covers, and dryer vent seals that open only when your dryer is in use. An open dampener in a fireplace can increase energy costs by 30 percent, and attic doors and dryer vent ducts are notorious energy sieves.

9.    Restore porches and awnings. Porches, awnings, and shutters were intended for shade and insulation, plus they add a lot of personality to your home. To further save energy, draw shades on winter nights and summer days.

10.    Inspecting, maintaining, and repairing your existing roof is the best way to "go green" by using what you already have. Depending on the materials, installation, and ongoing maintenance, some roofs will last longer than others. We hope to present more info on solar-powered roof systems in future 10 on Tuesday posts -- stay tuned!

And as we mentioned in our weatherizing post, an energy audit is the best place to start. It will help you determine what you need to do now and exactly how much you’re likely to save.

Happy greening!

Want a ballpark estimate on the cost of going green? Check out our Green Guide to get a sense of how long it might take to recover the dollars you invest.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

Preservation Round-Up: One-Dollar Movie Theater Edition

Posted on: July 30th, 2012 by David Garber

 

Why I Restored and Reopened the Closed-Down State Theatre and Started the Traverse City Film Festival -- MichaelMoore.com

"I asked the Rotary group to give me the theater for a dollar, and we eventually settled on a dollar. I set up a community-based non-profit organization that would own the theater. Four others and I donated all the money needed to bring the theater back to life. I promised that we'd complete the entire rebuild in 6 weeks. And we did."

New Park in Downtown Los Angeles Inspires Grand Hopes -- LA Times

"This week, after a $56-million renovation, that 12-acre rectangle from the top of Bunker Hill to the base of City Hall will be christened as L.A.'s Grand Park, providing downtown with its first sizable amount of open space. [...] The park begins along Grand Avenue with a dramatic view of a renovated Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain and the tall white crest of Los Angeles City Hall. Parking ramps that once hid the fountain from pedestrians have been torn down, and the fountain is now programmed to run a colorful light show."

Local Museum Lands Sante Fe Sign -- Chicago Tribune

"The Illinois Railway Museum will take possession of the sign that advertised the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway from the roof of Chicago's Railway Exchange Building at 224 S. Michigan Ave." [...] Volunteers for the nonprofit museum will refurbish the sign, said Dave Diamond, the general manager for facilities. Once ready for display, it will join a collection of other Santa Fe equipment and railroad signs, many with roots in the Chicago area. [...] "It's a unique artifact that's tied to Chicago," Diamond said. "It keeps a piece of that in the area where it's still viewable to folks to understand Chicago's importance as a rail transportation hub."

Pittsburgh City Council Seeks Historic Preservation Limits -- Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced legislation Tuesday that would prohibit people from seeking city historic status for properties they don't own, a bill that grew out of the yearslong effort to save the old St. Nicholas Church building on the North Side. Mr. Burgess said third parties shouldn't have the right to interfere with owners' property rights. He said the city's historic designation 'should not occur without the landowner's consent.'"

Behind the Scenes: Teddy Roosevelt's House -- Washingtonian

"Ben Barnes has a Washington player’s résumé. He’s a Democratic lobbyist, he’s made a fortune in real estate, and he’s a former lieutenant governor of Texas and speaker of the state’s House. But there’s another side to him: history buff, art collector, preservationist. These are embodied in his building on 19th Street in downtown DC, where he has set up the Ben Barnes Group, a team of six including partners and staff. It’s the former home of Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith, who lived there when Roosevelt served on the Civil Service Commission."

When Values Collide: Balancing Green Technology and Historic Buildings -- NRDC Switchboard

"I believe that historic preservation in the right context -- a healthy neighborhood -- can be intrinsically green.  Most historic buildings, at least the ones constructed before the days of freeways and urban flight, are on walkable streets in relatively central locations.  They represent embodied energy and materials that would be consumed if the same amount of space and the same function had to be constructed anew. [...] But, by definition, historic buildings do not have the latest technology unless it is added many years later."

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.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Weatherize Your Historic Home

Posted on: July 24th, 2012 by Julia Rocchi 1 Comment

 

Do you live in an older or historic home? Could your energy bills use a little bit of help? Are you wondering how to lower them without affecting the unique features that give your house its character?

Today’s 10 on Tuesday guide -- a new feature on Preservation Nation that will share preservation-friendly tips, tools, and ideas -- is all about how you can increase your home’s energy performance in a way that maximizes energy savings and preserves your home’s historic character.

Most of these recommendations will work for a home of almost any age or style. In fact, many traditional homes were built with locally sourced materials and environmentally-friendly features such as thick walls, light-reflecting finishes, operable windows and shutters, vents, awnings and porches to provide shade.

So if you’re the owner of an older or historic home, you can feel good about living in a building that has served well for 50, 100, or 200 years or more. Here are 10 ways to keep it that way for another century:

1. Consider a whole-house approach. When you weatherize a home, you are equipping it with everything it needs to be more energy efficient. So look beyond just one area or component of the house, and take into account how the whole structure is working together.

2. Identify problem areas by conducting an energy audit. Local utilities and state energy agencies now frequently offer audits -- for free or at minimal cost -- to help homeowners target leaks and identify cost-effective options for sealing them.

3. Seal cracks, holes, and gaps, especially around windows, doors, and other areas with high potential for heat loss. Think small cracks don’t matter? A gap of just 1/8 of an inch under a standard door lets in as much air as having a 2.4 inch-wide hole in the wall. And remember: For every cubic foot of heated or cooled air (that you pay to condition) that leaves your house, one cubic foot of outside air enters!

4. Reduce drafts with simple steps such as closing curtains, blinds, shades, or shutters at night in cold weather; using draft “snakes” at doors (or simply a rolled towel); and closing your fireplace damper when fireplace is not being used in winter.

5. Check for proper ventilation to spaces you aren't heating or cooling to protect from the effects of condensation.

6. Repair older windows and doors with new glazing. Install storm windows where appropriate. (More on window repairs in a future 10 on Tuesday!)

7. Make sure water is properly draining away from a building through gutters and downspouts, combined with foundation waterproofing and drains.

8. Install insulation, where appropriate, around ducts, pipes, and water heaters, as well as near the foundation and sill.

9. Maintain watertight roofing and siding.

10. Establish a baseline for your energy usage so you know a) if your changes are working, and b) if you’re really saving money. One way to track your energy usage is to analyze your energy bills for the last twelve months (or longer if available).

As you can see, weatherizing your home doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be effective. You can take on plenty of low-cost DIY projects to save energy, and put those extra savings toward the fun projects (or perhaps another historic property…?).

Have you weatherized your older or historic home recently? What were some of your experiences?

Wait, there’s more! Check out these oldie-but-goodie videos from the Preservation Nation vault about weatherizing your home in summer (see below) AND winter (so you can get a head start).

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the associate director for digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.